When I came to Korea in April of 2018, marriage was probably the last thing on my mind. I won’t bore you with the backstory in this post as I’ve discussed it in others. Suffice to say, I was deliberately hitting a “reset” button on life. What better way to do so than heading to the other side of the world without any expectations? Worst case scenario, I’d be able to have an interesting experience and make a good dent in my student loan debt.
Here I am a year and a half later, writing a cheesy blog post so that the internet can know about our wedding. Have I gone mad? Probably. But at this point, I wouldn’t go back to being sane for anything.
First Nepal and Our Spicy Love Story
Those who have spent any length of time around me since my university days know that my first love is Indian and South Asian cuisine. Who knew that my first love would lead me to the love of my life? It was an ordinary afternoon in Gwangju on October 6, 2018. My friend Saul and I were meeting for lunch at First Nepal, our usual Saturday dining choice. He was late arriving from an event at the Gwangju International Center, so I was sitting at a table alone, having a cup of tea. At a nearby table was my future wife, Emily, having lunch with her friend, Paula. Paula noticed I was sitting alone and invited me to join them. The rest, as they say, is history, and I will be forever grateful.
Immediately Emily and I became absorbed in conversation, and I was amazed at how many common interests we shared (and of course, how attractive she is!) It turned out that it was Emily’s birthday, so when Saul eventually arrived, we were invited to join her for her birthday celebrations that evening. After an excellent evening of karaoke and conversation, I invited Emily to join me for a hike at a nearby forest trail. We have been together ever since, and have made so many memories in the past 13 months. We’ve been living together in Yeonggwang since I transferred schools in April, and this September, after a great trip to the U.S. and Canada where we met each other’s family and friends, I asked her to marry me. She was crazy enough to say yes!
Planning the Wedding
Although we also plan to have a nice renewal of vows for friends and family back home when we return to North America in 2021, Korea has been so important to our lives that we wanted to get married here. Of course, it’s where we met and where our relationship blossomed. Emily first came here in 2012, and apart from a two-year stint teaching in China (which included many visits in Korea) and some trips home to Canada between contracts, her whole life ever since has been here. So what better place for the ceremony than First Nepal, the restaurant that brought us together, and the place where we’ve had countless wonderful dinner dates (including 2018’s Christmas dinner!) over the past year?
At first, we were not sure this was a feasible plan. Koreans tend to be very particular about weddings, and have them at venues called “wedding halls” which are designed specifically for such occasions. Lucky for us, the legal process for getting married in Korea has nothing to do with the nature of the ceremony. So we were free to be as creative as we liked, and only at the risk of being thought odd – something I personally thrive on. We expected that Deepak, the manager, would think we were crazy for asking to have a wedding ceremony at his little second floor restaurant. To our pleasant surprise, he said “sure, of course!” and he and the owner, Rudra, were incredibly accommodating.
So, over the next few weeks, Emily and I wrote our vows, compiled some quotes and poetry to be read at the ceremony, and recruited our friend Rachel to be the master of ceremonies. We sent out our invitations to our eclectic group of friends here and gathered as many advance food orders as we could.
Finding Our Wedding Rings at Naejangsan National Park
My parents had been generous enough to send a nice ring over from my mom’s jewelry box in America which I used to propose at Gamami Beach in Yeonggwang. All that was left was to find our wedding rings for the ceremony.
It’s safe to say that Emily and myself are not wedding planning enthusiasts, and that neither of us knows (nor really cares) what a “proper” wedding ring looks like. So the way that we stumbled upon our wedding rings was quite fitting, and serves to illustrate one the many reasons I love this woman so much.
It was Saturday, October 5, and Emily and I were visiting Naejangsang National Park to celebrate her birthday and a year of being together. Both of us have a deep interest in Buddhism and love visiting Buddhist temples. We were on the trial to visit Naejangsa Temple, when we arrived at the entrance and passed the gift shop. I saw a sign that they were selling 팥빵 (Patbbang), a type of red bean flower bread, and wanted to go in to get some and have a cup of tea. It was then that Emily said “why don’t we buy our wedding rings here!?”
At first I thought it was too good to be true. You want to buy our wedding rings at a Buddhist temple’s gift shop? I knew she was cool, but she showed me a new level of cool that day. After trying on a variety of the rings sold there, and getting a couple of them stuck on my fat fingers, we finally decided on our two rings, pictured below. Hers a beautiful, bronze-like design. Mine has Buddhist mantras written in Hangul (the Korean alphabet) in type too small for me to decipher. I never knew that I could be so fond of a wedding ring, but I am, and love wearing it every day!
The Big Day
Finally, the big day arrived: October 26, 2019! Emily left Yeonggwang early in the morning to go to Rachel’s house and get ready. I went to the amazing cheesecake shop in Yeonggwang to pick up our wedding cakes. Then I met up with our friend Mitch for the bus ride into Gwangju. We arrived a couple hours early, and I was certainly nervous. I think I only ate a bagel and a scone from Starbucks before the start of the 3 PM ceremony. I went through my vows with a pen a couple of times, trying to get the wording just right. I definitely had armpit stains from sweating, but luckily I was wearing a jacket that covered them up!
As people arrived to the restaurant, I began to relax more. It was just such a nice atmosphere and felt so nice to have such fun and interesting people there. As I recall, seven different countries were represented (Korea, U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, South Africa, Iran). Emily had several of her former co-teachers from over the years in attendance, and my co-teacher Jusung also came, which meant a lot to me. Of course, when Emily arrived, it really felt “real.” We waited for a bit for the scragglers who were stuck in traffic before starting the ceremony. First Rachel welcomed everyone and they introduced themselves. Then, she read the blessings and quotes we had selected. And just like that, the the most nerve wracking part began: reading our vows!
I have never read anything so intimate and personal in front of so many people, so I was definitely nervous and my voice shook at a bit at times. But what a wonderful experience, both to read them to Emily and hear hers. We then put the rings on each other, kissed, and were married! It was then time to dig into the delicious food and enjoy the day. Our friend Corene said “Michael, you’re married now” to which I responded, “Yes, what a relief!”
Deepak was very generous to us for our wedding day, giving everyone a complementary masala chai tea and even providing two free bottles of wine on the house. We stayed at First Nepal for about 4 hours altogether, before heading with a small group of our close friends to 노래방(Noraebang – Korean Karaoke), one of our favorite pastimes here. I was really happy that Jusung joined us and shared his amazing singing skills! We had a great evening in Gwangju before heading back to Yeonggwang on the last bus, around 10 PM.
Making it Official
With the ceremony complete, all that was left was to make our marriage “official” in the eyes of the law. For foreigners like us getting married in Korea, this involves a trip to Seoul to visit our embassies and the Jongno district office, which is accustomed to dealing with foreigners given its location right across the street from the U.S. embassy.
After a leisurely morning in Yeonggwang, we headed to Seoul on Sunday afternoon and met our friends Thom and Junoh for dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Itaewon that we all enjoy. On Monday, Emily and I visited the U.S. and Canadian embassies to get a notarized “affidavit of eligibility for marriage.” Basically, this document just states that we are not presently married and that we are of legal age to be married. We then took this to be translated into Korean, and brought it to the Jongno district office, where our marriage certificate was issued on the spot. We then had this translated from Korean into English, and celebrated with an amazing Indian meal before heading back to Yeonggwang.
Honeymoon in Jeju: the “Hawaii” of Korea
At least, it was time for our honeymoon. One of the little-known benefits of public school English teaching contracts in our province (Jeollanamdo) is that you get 5 paid days off for your marriage! So, Emily and I booked a trip to Jeju island, known as the “Hawaii” of Korea. I’ve never been to Hawaii, so I can’t comment on the comparison, but the weather cooperated beautifully and we had a wonderful time. In my next post, I’ll write all about our trip. Until next time. . .