I step out of the taxi and light up a cigarette. I’m in front of a Korean wedding hall. Today, I get to see a real Korean wedding!
Lots of people in suits and dresses are milling about outside. I look down. Blue jeans, black shoes and a dressy button down. I feel self-conscious. “Don’t worry, they understand,” April says. “You’re a foreigner.” Yeah, maybe. But I wish I had bought a suit.
I enter the lobby. One by one they notice me. White skin, big nose, round eyes, shaved head, poorly dressed. How conspicuous I am! Most give me a brief glance, then look away. Only babies and old folks stare. Their gazes aren’t unfriendly, but neither are they inviting. But I’m used to it. I’m a foreigner.
Some people are gathered over by a little room. I wander over with April. Its the bride and groom in the Photo Zone. April says, “Go get your picture taken with them.” “I’ll do it later,” I say. I think I’d just make them feel awkward.
I watch the bigscreen TV. A slide show of the marriage couple, now and then. Cute. Very cute.
April goes up to a table. She takes an envelope, stuffs cash in, writes her name on it, and hands it to a man. She writes her name in a book. When she gets married, she’ll get the exact amount back.
The wedding is about to start. We enter the main Hall and find a seat. I’m comforted to see familiar things: white decorative chairs; nice white flower arrangements along the aisle; an altar; candles. Women dressed like stewardesses seat the guests. Up front, one of them rolls out a big wedding cake from behind a curtain. Somehow it seems out of place.
I’m waiting. Nice music begins playing. I look around at everybody. They’re all talking, laughing, reuniting with old friends and family. Very festive, very noisy. I glance up at the altar, surprised to find the bride and groom in place, the ceremony already started. “Aren’t they going to be quiet and listen?” I ask. April smiles, “No. It’s Korean style.”
They kiss. Someone sings a song, someone gives a speech. The stewardesses help turn the bride around, she walks out with her new husband to everyone’s applaud, and it’s over. A happy feeling is in the air.
The stewardess pushes the cake back behind the curtain. I point over longingly, “Aren’t we going to eat it?” “No,” says April, “It’s not real.”
Out in the lobby, I wander over by the Photo Zone again. The bride and groom are back in there. I want to go get April to take my picture now, but something’s wrong. I look again. It’s not the same bride and groom. I look to the bigscreen. Its not the same cute photos. I scratch my head.
We go downstairs. There’s a buffet hall. Looks like a big restaurant. April hands the lady two tickets. She lets us in. Wedding crasher checkpoint?
We go in. It’s a huge buffet. Korean food, sushi, pizza, even hotdogs for the kiddies. We fill our plates with enough to feed ten. We search for a table. No room except by a group of old men, already deep into a bottle of soju.
We eat. I see the gentleman next to me has an empty shot glass. I take the bottle and refill it. He smiles heartily, takes the bottle and fills my glass. We toast, throw back a shot, smile, then ignore each other again.
The wedding party enters the hall. They’ve changed into hanboks – colorful little deals that really make them look Chinese. They circulate among the guests, stopping at every table. Hello, thanks for coming!
I wipe my hands, ready to congratulate them. They walk right past our table. I turn to April, again baffled by what I’m seeing. “They’re just nervous,” she explains, “You’re a foreigner.” Yeah, I get that a lot.
Things are winding down, people are leaving. I have the sinking feeling there’ll be no band, no dancing. No chance to meet other people. A woman in uniform enters and starts talking loudly. “What’s going on?” I ask April. But I don’t need an answer. People from the next wedding are at the checkpoint, tickets in hand.
We leave. Out in front of the wedding hall again, I crush out my cigarette. We step into a waiting taxi and drive off.
I watch the city pass by, quietly contemplating the experience. It was a beautiful wedding, I’m glad I went. But it was nothing like I had expected.