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Thursday, July 24, 2014

WED | Jane Hwang & Gus Staknevicius, Korean-Style

Jane's mother leans forward in the p'ye-baek wedding ceremony.
The wedding coach provides them all with information on next 
steps. Couple is properly respectful before their four parents.
Note friendly paparazzi at right. Photo by JT Marlin.
Alice and I were privileged to attend a traditional Korean wedding, with a few American modifications, last weekend.

Jane Hwang, Director of Corporate Programs and Training for Social Accountability International, was married to Augustas (Gus) Staknevicius in a Western wedding with the bride in white.

Traditionally, a Korean wedding is held at the bride's family home. But when 250 guests are expected, as in this case, the wedding is often held outside the home, in a yard or hall. Every big Korean city now has a wedding hall, permanently decorated for this purpose, usually in a luxury hotel. Some cities have buildings dedicated to weddings with multiple halls for the purpose.

You can't see the bride's
face in the first photo above,
so I add one of Jane that I
took in 2013 or 2012.
The wedding in this case was in the gorgeous Asian area of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at 1000 Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, with a chamber group playing at and after the ceremony. The hill-and-pond setting gave a peaceful backdrop to the ceremony presided over by a Christian minister.

At the reception afterwards, the bride and groom changed into traditional Korean court dress. While Koreans traditionally have been restricted in wearing the outfits required at court, on the day of their wedding anyone is allowed to dress up in this way.

In a Korean-American ceremony, vows are often made first in a western ritual and are then followed (after an interval in which the bride and groom change their clothing!) by a traditional Korean kunbere ritual. The bride and groom bow to each other and seal their vow by sipping a special wine poured into a gourd that was grown by the bride's mother. In the p'ye-baek ceremony the bride and groom offer dates and chestnuts, symbolic of fertility and children, to the groom's parents, while sitting zen-like at a low table filled with other symbolic offerings to the parents. The parents in turn offer sake or other drink to the children.

As a final gesture, the parents throw the dates and chestnuts back at the bride. (Meaning? "Your turn"? "The kids are your responsibility"?) The bride tries to catch the fruit in her large wedding skirt. This part of the ceremony reminded me of the Social Accountability International SFRR training game used, for example, in Brazil, where the players try to keep a tennis ball from rolling off a sheet.

In the Korean-American adaptation of the p'ye-baek, it is commonly held at the reception, with the bride and groom in full Korean costume. This part of the ceremony is usually hosted by the groom's side where both the bride and groom are of Korean origin. The throwing of dates and chestnuts is the highlight of the event.

Korean wedding banquets can be very simple: Noodle soup is the only required dish. In fact, the wedding banquet is called kook soo sang, or "noodle banquet." The Hwang-Staknevicius wedding offered the guests just about every delicious food imaginable except noodles, but maybe I just didn't look hard enough.

The couple's "wedsite" is well done and might be useful to look at for other couples, so I provide the URL - http://www.augustasandjane.wedsite.com. Since the wedding is over, I think, the content has been erased.

Note to those who think traditional weddings are sexist or otherwise not PC: I have not mentioned that the Korean ceremony is traditionally preceded a few days before by a visit by the prospective son-in-law to the bride's parents' house, where a trunk full of gifts is delivered by a merry group in the guise of a sale. This is by way of the prospective groom to ask for permission to marry, in an amusing way. The young couple today does not have to ask their parents for permission to marry, under contemporary laws or conventions, at least in western countries. What they can do that makes traditional weddings fit into contemporary life is for the prospective son-in-law to ask for the bride's parents' blessing. They could do the same for the groom's parents.