Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three Weddings and Two Festivals

Hello again. Dont tell anyone but Im penning this at work. I also spent all morning working on some accounting homework I was too tired to do last night instead of working on lesson plans or school-related stuff. My 1st graders are in Jeju on a class trip this week so I had no classes yesterday and only one today, and Ill have only one tomorrow and none on Friday due to some test. The nice thing about this job is that there almost always seems to be a day or week off when you really need it. It could be an unexpected holiday (the anniversary of the school founders death, for example), an unexpected test, the countys sports day, a mid- or end-of-semester exam, the week before an exam when your co-teachers ask you to allow extra classes or student self-study during your class period, Koreas national end-of-high-school exam The list is endless. Its almost enough to make a guy feel put upon when he actually needs to teach a full week of classes with no weird scheduling conflicts. Almost.

It was already several weeks ago, around the time of the midterm exams (which were absurdly early this semester we only had about 4 1/2 weeks of my class before the mid-term break, in part because of Chuseok and that self-study week before the exam) that I started to reflect on just how quickly time flies here. It seems like only yesterday that I was coming back to school from the summer session and contemplating how much longer I should wear my short-sleeved shirts to work, and already today I had to wear a cardigan to work for the first time since last winter. (It was 3 degrees outside this morning and still the school has all the doors and windows in the stairwells open. I would like to put forward the motion to recognize that COLD AIR IS NOT FRESH AIR, PEOPLE.) Winter vacation in Malaysia, my brief jaunt home to the States and even the next contract are all looming near-future events now. Its a strange thing to contemplate. Maybe I just dont have enough to occupy my mind here other than the intricacies of the US tax code (its a course Im taking this quarter) and the passage of time. Maybe I need a new hobby. Maybe I should get a pet. No, wait, I already abandoned one pet back home, I dont need to put another living thing in limbo here. Maybe I should grow a plant instead. Meh. I should probably wait until next spring to do that. Oh well

The news this time around is all pretty bland. Ive been using my schools fitness room daily and Ive dropped some weight. Im already down a pant size and I was using yet another new notch on my belt for a couple days before I brought that pizza home from Costco last night. I wonder if my friends will even recognize me when I come home to visit. (Not that Im bragging or anything.) I went to the Jinju Latern Festival earlier this fall with some other foreign teachers from my town, but we didnt want to spend the night so we had to run to the bus station just as they were launching the fireworks and lighting the lanterns on the river. I had a good time, though. I likewise made an underwhelming trek to the Liquor and Rice Cake Festival in Gyeongju. Originally I was planning to make a weekend out of it to explore the city maybe even rent a bicycle and cruise the sights, which Ive been meaning to do, if only as an excuse to ride a bike again. As it turns out one of my co-teachers got married that weekend (more on that in a moment) so I decided to do the festival as a day trip instead. I left early to make the trip up to the Seokguram stone grotto in Gyeongju (which was a little bit of a disappointment the interior is behind glass and the exterior is covered by rocks and grass so its hard to get a really good look at the impressive stonework involved in building the thing) and was supposed to meet up with some friends from my town at the festival later in the day, but my friends cancelled at the last minute. It didnt make sense to try to get in touch with people I know who live in Gyeongju at that point since it was obvious I wouldnt stay too long, so I circled the festival, bought a ceramic shot glass on a string that resembles a bell (I can see where that might come in handy in the future at least), ran into the same English teachers I usually see at festivals that involve heavy drinking (theyre nice folks, dont get me wrong, its just funny how it always seems to be the same people), dodged an angry Phillies fan who didnt much like my Cardinals cap, sucked down all the free samples I could, bought a largely unremarkable bottle of makgeoli and headed back home. Its good to acknowledge when you cant force a trip to be a good time and know to cut your losses.

So yeah, one of my co-teachers got married. I found out about the wedding at the beginning of the week when it happened. Before that I had briefly met her boyfriend, but I had no idea they were even engaged until I got the electronic invitation. The invitation was pretty impressive, albeit delivered only a short time span before the impending nuptials. Apparently theres a thing they do here for modern style weddings where the bride and groom get together before the wedding and do a photo shoot at a photography studio for the invitations. The bride and groom wear different dresses and tuxes (respectively, of course) and pose together in various rooms with various complementary tchotchkes. (There was kind of yester-tech-y feel to some of the stuff in my co-teachers pictures old television monitors and stuff like that which appealed to my inner geek. I would share the pictures but Im not sure if the invitation is still online and Im sure that would be an egregious violation of my co-teachers privacy.) They threw in the obligatory hanbok photo at the end of the set as well, to keep the traditionalists happy. My first reaction was, Hey, the grooms not supposed to see the bride in the dress before the wedding! but that reaction was soon mitigated by the realization of how much made sense about the arrangement. The way I see it, theres all this pressure on a bride to pick the right dress for the wedding, and then she wears it once and stuffs it in a closet either forever or until she feels like pulling it out and making herself feel bad about how much weight shes gained. With this photo shoot thing, the bride gets to try out every dress that she could possibly want for the wedding, and gets a souvenir for the effort to boot. So the bride can try out the short and flirty dress without worrying about scandalizing the great aunts, or go for the dress with the ridiculously long train without worrying about practical issues of mobility, or whatever. Plus, if youre going to only wear the thing once, why not buy one and rent five? Makes perfect sense to me.

The wedding itself took place in this purpose-built wedding hall that was a little like a giant wedding airport. There was another wedding scheduled for my co-teachers wedding terminal something like 50 minutes after our scheduled start time, which I knew because everything scheduled in the hall was listed on big LCD monitors all around the building. The employees at the wedding hall were already setting up flowers and photos for the next wedding as my co-teacher was completing hers. When I met my co-teacher just before the wedding, she was perched in an out-of-the-way annex in her dress (she went bold and got the one with the long, unwieldy train, by the way) on what I could only describe as a bridal throne. This was a slightly strange experience for me, since my reaction was, I know you, I see you and work with you every day at work, but now youre in a strange room on a throne. What am I supposed to do here? Luckily it didnt last long. All the staff from our school was invited, and everyone who came showed up without their spouses or families, the same way you wouldnt consider bringing your spouse or your family to any other work function. The ceremony was mercifully brief, with a big showy light show and a song from the groom, and everyone who attended talked through the whole thing like it was no big deal to be talking through a wedding. After the ceremony we all filed down to the banquet hall for a buffet dinner, except for the bride and groom who were apparently spirited away to some other private family ceremony. I was in and out of the place and on my way home within an hour and thirty minutes. Honestly I have to admire the efficiency.

Some of you are probably reading this and thinking, Oh, how awful, theyve Westernized their marriages and its so terrible because its so us and white and not at all them and Asian. As you may have guessed from my tone, Im thinking that your thinking is full of shit. Lots of people in the modern world choose to have modern weddings instead of traditional weddings. I think most of the best weddings Ive been to have dispensed with as many traditions as possible. One set of my friends, for example, had a non-traditional wedding that I thought got everything exactly right. When they got married, they put everyone up in a hotel for the weekend (not a super fancy place, but a very nice one), wore regular clothes to the ceremony, brought their dog, did the vows like it was no thing, and had dinner and everything else immediately after the ceremony, more or less in the same room. (My gift to them was to convince all of our mutual male friends to grow moustaches for the wedding. The wedding pictures are freakin amazing.) In my opinion, this is the way to do a wedding. No prince and princess shit necessary. Just let all of your friends and family get together in one place at one time, get everyone a little tipsy, get them to buy you some appliances and celebrate your relationship. Lets be fair, whatever realization you had that you wanted to be together, and whatever promise you made that you would stay together, probably happened long before the wedding, and if making that promise legally binding really means that much to you then youre probably not very good at keeping promises. So in short, and especially as someone with a Y-chromosome, I like the wedding-in-a-big-box concept. One-stop shopping. Find the best product at the best price and pay the guy. No muss, no fuss. Wedding traditions are all kind of ridiculous anyway. One of my other co-teachers told me that traditionally Korean couples had two weddings, one in the brides hometown and one in the grooms. The ceremony took place and the spouses parents house and the whole village was invited. Ive also been told that traditional Korean ceremonies involve a LOT of standing, bowing and more standing, like to the point of being kind of brutal to watch. Also, traditionally it was the first time the bride and groom had ever met. A wedding like that, while a nice tradition to preserve and cherish, doesnt really work in the modern context. So theres no reason not to have a modern Western wedding for your co-workers and extended family and do the traditional stuff somewhere else while your co-workers and family fill up on ham and raw salmon. Traditions are great and all but there also comes a time for them to step aside and let modernity take over. For example, when my cousin got married she had a non-denominational ceremony outdoors. Nothing unusual about that in this day and age, really. Up until the moment just after the toast, when one of the grooms relatives yelled, Mazel tov! I had never thought about the fact that my cousins new husband was Jewish. (My cousin, like most of my family, is extremely blond and Lutheran.) Im guessing the religious differences werent all that important to my cousin and cousin-in-law, or they had found a way to work them out, since they got married and all, but if they opted for a strictly traditional ceremony they would have had to argue about whether theres going to be a priest or a rabbi and who has to convert and all that shit. Theres no reason to have to do all that personal stuff publicly. So anyway, the moral of this story is, if you insist on getting married for some dumb reason, please keep shit short and simple like they do in Korea. And please have an open bar, because cash bars are lame. Also please feel free to get totally gay-married because theres no reason to make a fuss about that either because marriage is lame anyway. Meanwhile, I will be here, remaining single, and being not at all bitter about it.

Alright, thats enough local color commentary for now. Nothing that exciting is looming in the immediate future. Im currently in first place in my friends fantasy football league and looking forward to the fact that this situation could never possibly change and theres absolutely no way that I will suffer any sort of comeuppance. (Not that Im bragging or anything.) Im bound for Busan this weekend to enjoy Halloween and a hopefully not-cancelled-due-to-rain fireworks festival. And one of the other teachers is asking me to go to the fitness room now so Id better wrap this up. Mazel tov for now, suckers.

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