A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
I didn’t think I’d be invited to my sister’s wedding. With all the tension between my family and her fiance’s, I didn’t think they’d want to tell them that my mother had to put me up for adoption.
I was half right. My sister invited me – but her fiance’s family didn’t know about me. Apologetically, she said that I would not be able to sit at the table of the immediate family.
Everyone I told this to was horrified. But I didn’t mind. I was oddly amused about the idea of being a secret relative. It didn’t really matter anyway. I’ve met her fiance before and I doubt I would ever meet his family again. Plus I got to spend time with my extended relatives.
It was my first time going to a Korean wedding. Everyone who has been to a Korean wedding told me they were short, weird and seemed artificial.
Uncle Seong, who speaks English, picked me up in the car with his wife and daughter to take me to Daejeon. It was a relief to be able to speak English, and they all seemed to enjoy talking to me. I forget that Koreans spend so much time learning English but rarely get to use it.
“Your boyfriend… has yellow hair?” giggled my aunt.
“Yes, he does!”
Giggle, giggle. It seems to annoy a lot of foreigners, but I love the breathless glee some Koreans have when they say something in English, like they’re doing something daring and naughty.
His daughter didn’t say much, but she’d jump in and translate between us when the conversation lulled.
“Daejeon is a very famous hot spot,” said Uncle Seong as we pulled into the city.
“… I don’t know.”
We arrived at the wedding hall, which felt more like a busy hotel lobby or an airport. Hundreds of people rushed back and forth. I peeked into a room and was blinded by white. Sister 3 sat in the middle with her fiance, glittering silver and pearls.
I’m not the kind of person who gets sentimental about weddings, but before I could think about it I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and found myself fighting back tears at the sight of Sister 3 in her wedding dress. Is this how you’re supposed to feel when your sister gets married? I’d never thought about it before.
The rest of my relatives waved me over to a line waiting to enter the white room. Everyone was taking turns posing with the couple and taking photos.
Sister 3’s fiance left the room and saw me on the way out. “Joo Hye!” he cried, hugging me. “Good to see you!”
My other sisters were waiting at the front of the line and waved me over for photos.
“You look beautiful,” I said.
“Thank you for coming,” smiled Sister 3.
As Sister 1 and I smiled for the camera, I completely forgot about the scandalous secret relative thing. There was so many people around – in-laws, friends, people from other weddings, even my own relatives who I didn’t recognise.
After a few photos, my uncle ushered me over to wait with the rest of my cousins. The loud high school graduate I met at Seolnal shrieked “HELLO!” and high-fived me. I met another new cousin who had been away in the army during the family holidays. I briefly said hello to Umma and Appa, who stood at the gift registry to greet everybody. Umma wore a flowery hanbok, her perm higher than usual, with grinning Appa in a tuxedo and cute white gloves.
“Okay, let’s go,” said Uncle Seong, pointing to the main part of the wedding hall. This was where the ceremony was going to take place.
Inside looked like a high school formal – round tables in front of a stage and soundsystem. Except there were hundreds of trailing white flowers, candles and a whopping great big catwalk down the middle.
I looked up to see the bride and groom posing for photos with a huge crowd of people. They were a bit far away, but…
“Er… I don’t think that’s Sister 3 and her fiance,” I said.
I heard my aunts and uncles saying “that’s another couple!” in Korean and giggling.
“Oh my gooooooood,” said my loud cousin.
She fished around inside her bag and pulled out a bag of gummy bears.
“Do you want candy?” she asked in English.
She shoved a gummy bear into my mouth as I laughed.
“You want candy?” she asked Uncle Seong in English.
“Yes, you do! Eat candy!” She chased my uncle around the back of the hall, gummy bears in hand.
Imagine munching on candy at the back of someone else’s wedding in a Western country. Nobody seemed to care.
The other wedding concluded and the rest of my relatives filed into the hall. A big photo slideshow at the front showed cute couple photos of Sister 3 and her fiance. So THAT’S why Korean couples take so many photos of themselves.
The lights dimmed. Umma and Sister 3’s mother in law appeared onstage wearing silk hanboks. They slowly bowed to each other.
Bride and groom appeared at the end of the catwalk. Several assistants ran around Sister 3, putting her epic bridal train into place. Someone else was running around in front of them, taking photos and shouting at them to pose.
Music started, and the couple strolled down the runway. Sister 3’s fiance waved like the Queen and everyone cheered. As he carefully held her hand and helped her – and her giant dress – up the stairs to the altar, I was suddenly struck with the urge to cry again. Despite Sister 3’s jokes about getting married quickly when you’re in your 30s because time is running out, this wasn’t a sham marriage – Sister 3 and her fiance really did love each other.
They reached the end and the music abruptly stopped.
A lady wedding celebrant made a long speech about the usual wedding stuff – love, committment, being together forever, being a good husband and wife, blah blah blah. The couple recited their vows together and signed their marriage certificate. Their friend stood up and sang a song. The couple turned to Umma and Appa and bowed, then did the same to Sister 3’s in-laws.
The newly-married couple walked back down the runway to the strains of Bruno Mars’s “Marry You”. But then they walked back up to the altar again for an enormous family photo. I estimated that there was at least 100 relatives on our side of the family, who squished onto Sister 3’s side of a choir rise.
“Oh my gooood,” said my cousin again as we clung onto each other, restraining our two little boy cousins who were wiggling around and nearly fell off the rise.
As soon as the photographer finished up, it was time for lunch! Everyone ran off.
The enormous lunch buffet area was not only filled with guests at Sister 3’s wedding, but other guests too.
“What are Australian weddings like?” asked Uncle Seong as we ate 10 different types of food piled onto our plates.
“Well, the bride and the groom have about 5 or so friends who walk up the aisle. Then the bride walks up with her Dad to meet the groom at the front..”
The more I explained Western weddings, the more I started to question why we do things the way they do. I’ve never liked the “father giving the daughter” away part. It always struck me as a bit sexist. I liked that both parents were involved in Korean weddings. Sister 3 didn’t have to deal with organising a crew of bridesmaids. And why did they go for so long anyway? There’s so much more to organise in Western weddings – the food, the music, the booze, the decorations… and Sister 3 didn’t have to do any of that. The only part I disliked about Korean weddings was the presence of people attending other weddings. Other than that, they didn’t seem that weird to me.
2 hours after we’d arrived at the wedding hall, my relatives said goodbye to each other and I went to go meet a friend in downtown Daejeon for drinks. If Sister 3’s wedding had gone for forever like Western weddings, then I wouldn’ve had the pleasure of seeing a taekwondo demonstration, a Nongak band and bar with an enormous phallus hanging from the ceiling. It was a good day.