Our weekend started well with a low-key dinner at the cheap and cheerful place up the road. H-J had the beef rib soup (deemed “Delicious” – a 4* rating on our newly implemented Korean rating system) and Dan the good ol’ pork cutlet and rice. Excellent food, costs $9 all up so within our extremely tight budget – good start to the weekend.
We are on a tight budget at the moment as its (a) the week before payday and (b) we’re trying hard to save cash for our trip to Beijing so had made the decision to spend wisely and not do too much over the next couple of weekends.
The next day we received a phone call from our Korean friend, Soo, telling us that she had a meeting to go to near Ulsan Park that night so would we like to go out for dinner with her at a nearby restaurant. Having no plans other than lazing at home that evening trying not to spend money, we agreed to meet her at 6pm by her car.
We met her as planned by her car, where she promptly thrust her 6 month old baby at H-J. H-J assumed that she was holding the baby until Soo got organised and put baby into a car seat or something. Nope. The little projectile was to be held on H-J’s lap in the backseat beside Dan the entire car journey. Soo’s 8 year old boy sat up front engrossed in his portable Nintendo game.
After a zillion point turn to extricate her car from the carpark with all the neighbours watching, Soo then cranked up the radio (so she didn’t have to talk to us? We’re not sure…), the baby fell asleep and off we hurtled down the road. Soo often tells us about how her husband says she is a bad driver. He is right. At one stage of the journey she pointed at something, the car swerved violently in the direction she was pointing and we missed the barrier down the middle of the highway by a fraction of a centimetre. She cracked up laughing (embarrassedly, we must point out) and made another quip about how she was a bad driver. Dan replied, “I agree.” All H-J could do was think about the poor projectile baby on her lap.
We then pulled into the driveway of a restaurant called Duck.Com, where Soo promptly stopped – right in the driveway with cars tooting behind her – and she got out to have a look at where there might be a spare park. Um okaaaay. After stalling the car she then veered sharply to the left and parked up. We got out, grateful for having arrived safely.
The first thing Soo does is point out where the bus stop is. She tells us that her and her husband (who she was meeting there) would be there quite late so we should know the bus stop is in order to get home. Okay, we think, we bit odd but at least she’s warning us it could be a late one.
We walk into the restaurant where Soo promptly seats us at a table beside a mother and her two children who stare at us like we are aliens. Oh that’s right, here we ARE aliens! She then decides to order for us – disregarding everything we have ever told her about how we actually really like Korean food, about how NO its not spicy/strange for us, about how we have tried a variety of different items already and haven’t recoiled in horror to date and also about how our favourite dish in Korea so far has been a spicy duck bulgogi – and she orders us the blandest, most Westernised, boring dish she can find on the menu. And then she takes off and goes and sits with a bunch of other mothers and children in a different room.
This is now, officially, weird. It seems that the males of the company are all having a meeting involving lots of food and soju. They have all been accompanied by their wives and their children who are hanging out together in a separate area and eating. And then there’s us – the random foreign tag-alongs who have been casually deposited out of everyone’s way. Now where we come from, the usual thing when someone invites you out for dinner is to eat with them and hang out with them. Not here it seems…
We eat our bland duck, slightly weirded out and totally annoyed that this dinner is going to cost us about half of our weeks budget. We’ve gone from being totally on target to blowing our shit in one foul swoop (excuse the pun) thanks to almost being tricked into it. Oh well, we think, we’ve learnt a random lesson. When dinner is over, we find Soo, say goodbye to her, pay for our over-priced dinner and head off in the dark, in the middle of we’re-not-really-sure-where to find the bus stop.
Safely home again, we laugh about what an odd situation that was. And lament our blown budget.
The next day Soo has invited us to attend a wedding with her and her family. Now in our culture, to invite random tag-alongs to a wedding would be a complete no no but here it seems to be okay here. We went up to her carpark and after 10 minutes and a happy clappy trying ask us whether we knew Jehova (Jay Z isn’t it?), she popped down herself. This time her husband is driving (thank god) and Soo tells Dan to sit up front with him. In the backseat sit H-J, Soo with the little projectile on her lap and a whinging 6 year old boy complaining about Dan sitting in the front seat.
After about twenty minutes we arrived at a big sports centre complex. We got out of the car and Soo immediately starts pointing out where the bus stop is. Uhoh…
We walked around a bit and entered a foyer where lots of people were standing around. It was incredibly busy and there appeared to be numerous halls with lots of projectors and big screens set up.
At this stage we’re thinking it must be a very big wedding! Soo then promptly abandoned us and starts running around the complex with her 6 year old in tow, pushing the push chair through swarms of people. We stand there, sticking out like sore thumbs as per usual, waiting for some indication of what to do. (Just a further note here – Soo is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. EVERYONE ELSE at the venue is dress liked you would for a wedding. We are somewhere in between, thank god, so don’t look half as sloppy as she does. Thankfully, we knew not to trust her when she had said, “dress casual”.)
Eventually, she gestures at us from across the room to follow her so we push through the hoards and arrive at another room set up for a wedding. En route we notice that each room has a photo set up out the front of a different couple. Things are starting to make sense. We have stumbled into a mass wedding hall where numerous weddings are happening at once! It’s like a wedding factory up in here.
We squeeze into the back of the room with techno blaring and intelligent lights (with red and blue gels, no less!) flicking around the room. The noise of people chatting away almost overshadowed what happened next – a door behind us suddenly slides open and out pops the bride. She looks stunning (in a dress rented for around $200 we later find out) and floats up the aisle, all the while people chattering away, playing on their phones and generally looking disinterested. After around 20 minutes of a celebrant talking at them in Korean (and the crowd continuing on with their own shenanigans), the bride and groom bow to their respective parents and appear to now be married.
During all of this, we are standing at the back trying to look somewhat interested, in lieu of their actual guests doing so, and notice something odd through the gap of the door where the bride popped out…we can see the next bride and groom posing for photos, waiting for their turn up the same aisle! This really is a factory. Line ‘em up, get ‘em married and pop ‘em out.
After the seemingly soul-less 20 minutes past (we may have missed a lot in translation but we certainly didn’t miss the mass-produced feel or the fact the guests weren’t really paying attention!) the bride and groom turn to face away from the celebrant – and out from the wings come a comedy (we think) singing duo, with sunglasses and bad suits. They serenade the couple with what, we don’t know, but their singing was reminiscent of 4am at The Fringe Bar. Shudder.
After the performance, the bride and groom started their walk down the aisle as husband and wife…but wait, what’s happening?! The groom’s friends are running up the aisle towards to him where they jump him and attach a leash around his neck. Much hilarity ensues. The bride smiles and laughs politely. All their friends think it’s a great joke and cameras snap all around the show. This is the most interest anyone has shown the entire time.
Soo then indicates it’s time for us to leave so we follow her out, kinda overwhelmed (or underwhelmed, not really sure?!) by the whole experience and feeling rather unclean. To be fair, we probably still have that newlywed glow and memory of how perfect and awesome our own wedding was. But still, you have to wonder how special an affair in a sports complex with a zillion other couples can really feel.
Soo then tells us that we are welcome to walk around the park or find something to do while her and her family go and eat with the other guests and maybe we can meet up later to help her with her grocery shopping. She makes sure we have directions to places we can catch the bus to in order to entertain ourselves. We politely decline (see, we’re learning!!!) and catch a bus as far away and as quickly as possible.
Sunday evening now. We stick to our guns, eat mandu at home and stay inside all evening.
Ps. As we write this blog, we are drinking freshly NZ roasted Yirgacheffe after having slept on brand new sheets – a HUGE shout out to our mums!!! Care packages rule 🙂 Thank you!!!!
Fantastic ! Least you will know your way around Ulsan by bus!!!!
Wow I had no idea this sort of thing goes on in Korea…. It was really interesting to read about! I wonder what makes the couples choose this kind of impersonal venue though. Is it cheap? Convenient for friends and family to get to? Easy and low hassle to book?