Posts Tagged ‘Traditional’

Here Comes the Bride? Marriage, Dating and Korean 30 Somethings

In The Social Fabric on May 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm

As a lady approaching the dawn of her thirties, and not really feeling a day over the dawn of her twenties, all I hear these days is marriage, marriage, babies, marriage.   White dresses and sunsets are all over my SNS feeds, and I’ve been asked countless times about when I will be doing the same.  I’m not sure what it’s like for ladies at home and what the social pressures are like, but I can’t help but notice the Korean marriage pressure.  The following are attitudes from  conversations I’ve had with my lady friends about getting hitched.

Usually for a Korean woman in her twenties, the goal of marriage is always hovering somewhere in the day to day.  Dating is great, but loving for the sake of loving is harder to find.   A lady usually has some kind of checklist for that potential husband, and that can range from limited to ultra picky.  Things like job, appearance,  family and even blood type can affect whether or not a woman will continue to date a man.  A single lady friend who is 31 and still on the husband hunt, stopped meeting a man when she found out his blood type was B.

“Every man I’ve dated with blood type ‘B’ has been quick-tempered and yelled at me in public”.

Dating in Korea is often through blind dating or introductions from friends called ‘Sogetting’, so it’s easier to be so officious when checking off the items on the list.   The element of passion and fate are absent, and replaced by an awkward coffee date where you can share score cards.  And in an ultra-consumerist society, money is one of the highest on the must-have list.

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Family pressures also abound, and yes there is still disapproval from families.  One of my recently married ladies, described how she had to secretly date her husband for a year before she could convince her family to marry him.  Rumors abounded, and it was a stressful time for the pair.

Marriage is still the end game for a lot of Korean women, as there still seems to be the idea that a woman must marry, otherwise she hasn’t succeeded in life.  So if a young lady finds herself without a long-term boyfriend, or even a potential for marriage making by the age of 30, panic tends to set in.  It’s like the best days of her life are over once you hit that 30 mark.  Sogetting ramps up and a community of the bitter singles forms, where friends get together and lament their singleness and how they hate seeing couples looking so happy.  During the cherry blossom festival, two single lady friends went to Yeoido and commented on all the couples taking pictures of each other,

“You won’t last! You’ll break up before the year is over!”

It’s all doom and gloom, like being 30 and single is some kind of death sentence, and chances of finding a husband are slim to none.  The expectation is that men will not want to date a woman in her thirties, and he will always choose someone younger.

A disclaimer of course, that this is not all women.  In fact, as Korean society does its sonic-speed evolving thing, so too are Korean women’s attitudes toward marriage.  Even though it’s seen as a success to be married, it’s not exactly a glorious life.  Korean women bear the burdens of being a man’s wife, and the responsibilities are endless.  Not just to her husband, but to her husband’s family and her own family, she is tasked with preparing traditional ceremonies, taking care of the elderly in the family, and taking care of all things domestic.  And then some.   One of the ladies in my circle refuses to date Korean men altogether for this specific reason.  She describes how Korean women think it’s liberating to marry into a Western family, where she is not obligated to fulfill such tasks.  Some modern Korean women don’t want to get married at all, and have given up on the idea completely.  One such lady who is 33 has said,

“I’ve come to enjoy my life and my time, and I don’t want that to change.  I don’t want to become a slave to someone else’s family.”

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Whilst the idea of not having to get married is a step towards the empowerment of women, it still lacks a balance.  The attitude that they don’t want to get married at all is the extreme.  Marriage can be great and it’s important to have a partner in life, and when Korean people don’t leave home until they are married….it’s not exactly a step towards independence.   What I would love to see Korean women start talking about, is what they can expect from a marriage and how they can negotiate their role in the partnership.  Not all men, women, or families are the same.  Traditional roles are important, but not for the sacrifice of love and happiness.

And what about the men?  Well they are having just as difficult a time as the women, mostly because of their financial demands.  Unemployment is still rife in Korea among the late 20’s early 30’s, and that sets off a chain reaction.   A man with no job, cannot date.  A man who cannot date, cannot marry.  A man who cannot marry, cannot have children.  No wonder the birth rate is still so low.  It’s so common it even has a term “삼푸세대”.

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Even if men have the means for marriage, they are finding it harder to find a woman who will be willing to do so.  The women who have found this ‘enlightenment’ that they don’t want to get married are too independent to tie down, or their standards are just set too high.  Korea is still a society that approaches marriage not between two people, but between two very extended families.  The decision to marry is therefore not on your own whim, but on the approval of everyone involved.

Young couples are not allowed the freedom to build their lives together unless they are legally bound .  It’s not socially acceptable for an unmarried couple to even live together,  so tying the knot is the only way they can start to really share their lives.  The idea of being in a long-term monogamous relationship without the necessity of marriage is still an out-of-the-box ideal, and one that forces impatient couples into quick marriages.

It’s difficult to go against the grain, especially when the grain has been growing in the family for thousands of years.  But the role and power of Korean women outside of traditional marriage has the potential to evolve, because they themselves talk about wanting it to.


We Love Korea Because…

In Entertain Me on April 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm

So there has a been a lack of the usual topics rolling out at Inconseoulable of late, due to a few extra projects that are on the go.  One of which is happily completed!

My friend Doyoung Kim, of the band DMZ Picnic, and I have put together a video of what we know and love about Korea.  Nothing is for nothing these days and this is for a competition run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, so I will go ahead and shamelessly ask for your support to just check it out.  We had a quite a time putting it together, and it’s pretty much a 3 minute glimpse of what a Korean day can throw at you.

Thanks as always for your support 🙂

“I Do” But Korean Style I Don’t

In The Social Fabric, Uncategorized on November 27, 2011 at 12:18 am

First off, I’ve been receiving some positive feedback lately for Inconseoulable, and I’d like to say a big thanks very muchly for the support.  It’s been a busy few months filled with job interviews and changing directions, but I have renewed commitment for what I started out to do.  Which is make sense of all things Korean.

One of the things taking up my time and mental space these days is the subject of weddings.  As I missed yet another friend’s wedding back home, I found myself attending a Korean wedding in its place.  This certainly wasn’t my first experience, having attended a few ceremonies over the years.  Yet as I took the time to select an appropriate outfit and got a little excited to be a part of a wedding, I was inevitably disappointed.  I should have known better.


Korean weddings, despite mimicking the hallmarks of western weddings, couldn’t be more different.    For starters, a great majority of modern weddings take place in custom designed Wedding Halls.  These are one-stop-shop buildings which house not only the wedding rooms, but also the buffet hall for the obligatory meal.  If you are expecting to feel special on your big day, these weddings halls are not well equipped to oblige.  There are often numerous weddings occurring simultaneously, with guests milling about in foyers, stairwells, and even peaking in on other weddings. This facilitates the need for a large army of ushers to get you to the right room, sign the right book (name only no message) and put money in the right envelope. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get a seat if you’re not early or close to the family.  And if you’re a guest running late, you won’t be de-friended on facebook as it’s just as common as arriving on time.

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After the ceremony, which lasts usually in the ballpark of 20 to 30 minutes, family and guests take part in the coordinated photos or head straight upstairs with their meal ticket.  These halls are round-the-clock function rooms, and people from all manner of weddings are often jumbled together in the one cafeteria. No dancing, no speeches, no cake, but this is the closest thing to a reception.  The bridal party is usually too busy with traditional photo shoots or other obligations to join their guests, and people may eat and leave as they please.  At this recent wedding I watched as a young woman loaded up her plate and sat at a round table all by herself, and I couldn’t help but feel a little hollow.

As far as ceremonies go, a church wedding will give at least some of the sentimentality one would expect from a wedding.  There is a familiar sense of tradition and reverence that might be lacking in a wedding hall ceremony.  There is a quieter element of romance.  But churches also have electronic queue boards which direct you to the right room, and to their own inbuilt buffets.

At first I thought it was the speed and informality of Korean weddings which unnerved me so.  However I came to realize that it’s much more than that.  As I flicked over and over through the reception photos of my friend’s wedding, I had tears of jealousy at just how much fun they were all having.  Friends and family had come from all over to celebrate not just a couple, but also to be together. It’s a social event and guests get just as excited as the bridal party. We dress up, we buy gifts, we clear schedules. We put so much emphasis on having a unique and unforgettable time to remember with the people close to us.  Friends play an integral role in a western wedding.

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Korean marriages are not just between two people, they are between two families. Family is the central unit of Korean culture, so the focus is as much on the parents as it is on the kids taking the plunge.  It’s a big important day mostly only for the families, and it’s the culmination of months of preparation. The enjoyment and interaction of friends at the reception doesn’t seem to have the same importance, partly because there is no reception.  Friends and guests attend the wedding, but it doesn’t really involve them.  Following the white wedding upstairs, there may be a second traditional ceremony that only family may attend in another room. We all have our wedding styles and traditions, but Korean weddings are more about family and ceremony than friends and parties. There are also unending pre-wedding obligations and traditions which will no doubt be another article, when I have the strength to cover it adequately.  Suffice to say, it’s no easy thing to get hitched Korean style.

And so came my disappointment that I couldn’t feed off other peoples’ friends having the excuse to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.  Instead we arrived at 11:30am and were having coffee down the road by 12:20pm.  Perhaps if I were part of the family I would feel differently.  But the rituals and bonding we might experience at a western wedding had taken place well before the Korean wedding day, and I felt a little empty.

There may be white dresses, tuxedos and elaborate floral arrangements, but an absence of the essence of what I enjoy in a wedding. Intimacy, sociability and unique memories to last a lifetime.