Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Girlfriend's Sister's Wedding

Last weekend Heather's older sister got married. Heather has three sisters and one younger brother. I had been to a wedding in Korea before, but this time I knew who was getting married so it was a different feeling.

Most people in Korea get married in special wedding halls which are sometimes built into council office buildings. Heather's sister chose the Busanjin council office which was rather convenient because it's only five minutes taxi from my apartment. I turned up on the Sunday morning, eager for the day's events to unfold.

Relatives came from all over Korea and there was a lot of catch-up talk and hugging going on. Some of them tried to talk to me, but older Koreans tend to have very strong accents that I have difficulty understanding. Heather's auntie told us that it was our turn to get married next.

Here I am in my new suit with Heather and the bride. The bride was very pretty and seemed relaxed throughout the day. This was the photo room, where relatives came to have their photos taken with the lucky couple. I stayed around and took some photos with my new camera.

A lot of the relatives wore traditional Korean hanboks for the occasion. Hanboks can get very expensive (hundreds of dollars), but they always look nice.

Here's the bride with her older sister who is already married and has a daughter. Her daughter is the first grandchild in the family and is very cute. She gave me a kiss on the cheek when she first met me, but she doesn't speak any English.

The bride with her two twin sisters, Heather and Emily. The older the twins get, the more they look different from each other. I remember I thought they looked identical, but now I can tell in an instant. On the phone though, their voices sound exactly alike. They like to trick me from time to time. Very mischievious.

The bride and groom forming a loveheart with their hands. Koreans like to form lovehearts with their arms, especially on TV. A common one is when you put your arms over your head to form the top 'M' and cross your legs while standing up. Maybe I'll show you sometime.

Here's a video I made while in the photo room. The bride was receiving lessons on how to bow for the parents.

The wedding hall itself was nicely decorated, and special wedding assistants were running around making sure that everything was running the way it should and that everyone knew what they were supposed to do.

Closest to the camera is the father of the bride. This was taken right before the father took the bride up to get married. It was a slightly surreal moment. Behind the bride you can see one of the assistants, who was busy making sure that no wardrobe malfunctions would occur while the bride was walking. Luckily, everything went smoothly.

The ceremony itself lasted about an hour. Someone made a long speech and a lady sang a traditional Korean pansori song. There was no exchanging of rings or kissing on stage, as with the last wedding I went to. Instead, the bride and groom gave deep bows to their parents and to all of the relatives.

The wedding was split into two halves, the 'western style' half and the Korean traditional half which came later. The Korean style wedding was held in the basement of the building. Because of the high demand for wedding venues in Korea, there were at least 3 other weddings happening simultaneously on different floors in the building. In our room there was a wedding right before we started and there was a new couple waiting before we had finished.

For the Korean traditional wedding, most of the women wore hanboks, while the men wore suits. Only close family attends this part, while the rest go and start eating, but I was allowed in to take photos. That was very nice of them.

The bride's family line up on one side of the room and the groom's side opposite. The parent's of the bride and groom take turns to give advice to the new couple. I couldn't understand all of it, but I did hear the mother say "Don't fight with each other".
That's also what I tell my students during break time.

As part of the ceremony, the parents throw plums onto a cloth held by the couple. I'm not exactly sure what it symbolises, but the parents were very accurate with their shots. Maybe they used to play marbles when they were younger.

Then the family gets a chance to congratulate them and the official wedding ceremony is over.

Because of the high volume of weddings everyday, the catering is done together and guests from different weddings all dine in the same hall. A catering team works non-stop to feed the guests coming from anywhere between 10 to 20 weddings per day.

And then there's always time for a celebratory shot of soju between older relatives. These days I'm getting used to the taste of soju and can happily finish a bottle over dinner. It still doesn't taste particularly wonderful, but it's strong, very cheap and Koreans love it. If you buy it in large quantities, it approaches the price of $1 per litre.

Here's the bride after the ceremony with her sisters. She was very happy with how the wedding went and both the bride and groom looked very good together. The bride has a phD in linguistics and works on computer programs that can talk.

Friends of the groom had decorated the car appropriately while the ceremony was on. The bride and groom were then whisked off to a hotel and will be having their honeymoon in Bali.
I wish them all the best in life.

In Korea, relatives customarily give envelopes of money to the parents of the couple. This money is used to pay for the wedding and other expenses. Even some distant relatives who don't know the bride and groom show up and contribute. Each envelope has between $30 to $500 in it and because so many relatives come, it adds up to be a lot.

After the wedding we went back to Heather's house where an interesting ritual took place. We went into the bedroom and the sisters and brother (that's the younger brother in the green) started to tally up all the money. One sister counted the money, another double checked it and a cousin checked the envelope was completely empty before the brother wrote down the result in a special book. This production line was very efficient and had all the envelopes counted up within an hour. The book had a list of all the relatives and how much money they paid. What is then expected is that whenever any of them have children who are getting married, the same amount of money is contributed back. That way wedding costs are absorbed by the family and don't become a financial burden.

Here's a photo of my new camera, which I took with my old camera. My new one has HD, face recognition and anti-blur. It's also smaller and has a lot more memory, so hopefully it will contribute to the blog in good ways.
In the background one of my online poker games is running. I play Texas Hold'em these days as a way to wind down from teaching. If you look closely you can see I've got pocket aces. I ended up winning that hand.

For the month of January we had to teach morning intensive classes at work. It happens for two months of the year and means we have to teach 3 hour morning classes along with the regular schedule. We get paid more for it, but it does make you tired. The intensive period just finished, so we went out drinking at a bar to celebrate. This particular bar in Hadan has a variety of tall ornate glasses to drink from. They're named Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces, with Aces being the tallest.

Here's me finishing my Ace. It can be a little tricky at first because the beer takes a while to reach the end.

I ended up spilling the last little bit in the glass, because someone made me laugh. Apparently the bar only has three Ace glasses remaining, because patrons have managed to break all the rest.

Speaking of bars, the O'Brien's bar near Seomyeon has just finished refurbishment. They knocked out the old serving area and moved it into the corner. Then they retiled, repainted and put in some new furniture. The result is a much nicer venue with more space and an airy feeling. Recently we spent Australia Day there and enjoyed homemade pies and VB beer. Meat pies are one thing I miss about Australia. Another thing is good Vietnamese food. Mmmm.

Our pleasant smiles in this photo are due to the new decor of which we unanimously approved. We stayed around for a while and then I ended up eating late night intestines with Yang-min. Back in Australia, late night food would normally be a meat pie from the service station, but in Korea it's intestines.

For the next blog post we're off to Beijing for Lunar New Year. It will be my first time in China and I'm pretty excited. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Year 2008

Well the last blog post left you hanging in Seoul at the GOA'L christmas party, right before I lost my camera. Luckily enough, Emily (Heather's twin sister) who lives in Seoul, got in touch with a guy who found my bag with everything in it and she posted it down for me. Thanks Emily!

This is one of the photos that was in my camera when it came back. Later that night in Seoul we went out to this Spanish themed bar and it had a drinking area where everyone sits on swings and the floor is covered in sand. Pretty cool. We lounged around there for a while drinking wine.

That's Emily on the left and Eric on the right.

Christmas and New Year came and went in a typically Korean fashion. Christmas is mainly celebrated as a marketing ploy, hence the pretty lights outside the department stores. New Year's has slightly more significance, but we still worked on the first of January. For christmas I didn't have my camera, but we ate a turkey dinner at Jordan and Michelle's house which was cosy and enjoyable.

The end of year CDI gathering was at the Grand Hotel this time. It was a pretty flashy event and quite better than last year's. Our company has grown a fair bit in a year and is still expanding. If you remember way back when I arrived down here, we were the first batch of teachers to work at the newly opened schools. At that time there were 4 Chungdahm schools here, but now there are 8 and they're still expanding. In this photo are the Korean staff from our branch in Saha-Gu (represent).

And here are the big shots, all the managerial staff from the various branches. Some of them are a little odd.

I never got around to eating any of that cake. Then again I'm not really a cake person. They also provided us with all the free beer we could drink plus some left over, so I got to walk out carrying a six-pack. Now that's what I call company perks.

Over the course of the night, there were various competitions between the branches. I participated in this one, the four-person drinking relay. The race was between all the branches, with four people in each, taking in turns to drink 500mL of beer in the fastest time. I'm not that good at drinking quickly, but we still won. Apparently there's a method for drinking super-quickly that's eluded me over the years.

Then they had a dancing competition where two teachers had to dance within a box. That's Logan and Nicole in the white box. We won this event too because Logan took off his shirt. We ended up winning the whole night overall actually.

Another competition was the arm-wrestling. Johnny Diamond went in this event for us but he came second. We say the other guy was cheating, of course.

This is Mr Kang, the CEO of our company giving a speech. I couldn't understand a word of what he was saying because he speaks in a complicated form of Korean. When he finished, the foreign teachers all clapped obligingly though. Logan told me he was saying "Hey everybody, I'm rich, so clap."

The food was good. I've found that expensive buffets are great in Korea, but they all tend to be uncannily similar. I theorize that there's an elite buffet school somewhere that pops out all the chefs for the expensive hotels.

While being quite common in Seoul, snow is a rarity in Busan and I've only seen it in light sprinkles twice this year. It still gets me excited though, because I spent a good 25 or so years of my life without seeing it fall from the sky. I was catching it in my mouth and eating it, until Heather told me it was polluted 'black' snow. Great.

Here's Jin and David from the Dongnae branch after we ate a seafood barbecue. It was still snowing lightly in this picture but it didn't really show up in the photo. On the right is my girlfriend hugging Emily. For some reason, she always ends up hugging that girl at some point in the night. She's a very huggy person in general.

Charlie's Angels? More like Mr Kang's Angels. This is Becky, Christine and Emily with Heather in the middle and they all work at CDI. It's always funny to watch Korean girls meet up and talk to each other, because they get excited easily and remind me of squeaky guinea pigs.

Heather's mother has a clothing shop in LotteMart that she opened a few months ago. Heather and I hung around there for a few hours one night and I was persuaded into trying on, and somehow purchasing this suit. I've never really worn suits, so I asked what the purpose of me buying it was. 'In case there is a wedding', was the answer. Hmmm.

Our company has recently expanded into a lower age group market for English tuition by opening up two new 'April English' schools in the city. These will cater for younger learners, with the program being more interactive and simplified. On the weekend they held an open day that I went along to. This branch is in Guseo-dong, near Pusan University.

The interior design is much brighter and more appealing for younger kids. I was quite impressed. I like the apple theme.

Library and seminar room with lots of CDI and Disney-related publications.

The parents lounge was especially nice, with some sort of modern pre-school feel to it.

Best of all, some of the classrooms have these blue screen 'ChromaKey' walls. An overhead camera records students giving presentations such as news reports here. Then the computer adds a selectable background and uploads the video. When the kids go home, their parents can watch their performance at home, with something like a news studio or the river Thames in the background.

This is Jajangmyeon, a Korean interpretation of Chinese food. The sauce is thick and mild and it usually has a seafood theme to it. We found a place near our apartment that turned out to be good value for money. You can get enough for three people as well as dumplings for around $11.

In the basement of the Lotte hotel near my apartment, we recently found a nice little bar. It's more expensive than most places, but isn't as crowded and has live jazz music on some nights. These guys were playing some sort of freestyle jazz and they were pretty good.

This is Aimee. I met her at the open day for the April English branch and she's from the US. After a while she told me that she randomly found my blog on the net one day while she was browsing and that gave her the idea to come and teach at CDI. And now here she is! It's good to know that the blog is informing others around the world, rather than just being a place for me to ferret away my photos. There's two more who have contacted me too, Liz and her boyfriend from Australia, who will also be coming over in February. Good stuff.

If you've been lurking around or just waltzed in and are looking for a change in your life, try coming to Korea. For most people it's an interesting experience and a nice break from life back home.

Get in touch. Seeya!