Thursday, April 19, 2012

Merci-Paris, New Site Unveiling

It is no secret that I have a passion for Paris. It is what I love and what I dream about. I've made many posts here about my trips to Paris and have decided to put them all in one place in my new blog, Merci-Paris. I'll add any new tips on hotels, restaurants, photos, some of my favorite things, shopping or just my ventures of the day. So pull up a chair, grab a cup and please join me for Life with a French Twist!

Thank you to Gadling's Cockpit Chronicles for featuring me in today's post!

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Wedding

The invitations were sent out, the family had arrived from the US, and now as the guests arrived the excitement was building. Being a parent of the bride, I joined in greeting guests into the traditional Korean village for the wedding ceremony. A representative from each side of the family sat at a table to accept wedding gifts. My son, Zac, manned our table with envelopes and a pen. It is customary to give money and as a gift and this is often how it is received. A pair of white cotton gloves were given to the parents to wear as a symbol of formality, somewhat similar to the American custom of the last century. The day was a little chilly so I welcomed them on all accounts. Thankfully, we were graciously guided each step of the way on the customary protocol. Being Mother of the Bride can be a little overwhelming and especially in a foreign country. Wasn't it just recently my daughter had her hair in barrettes and was wearing flouncy dresses with bows? My how time flies. She was now being dressed and groomed in the Korean hanbok with her hair pulled back preparing for her headdress.
As the bride and groom readied, the festive drumming sounds of the samul nori could be heard in the background. The pounding of the drums mixed with the clanging of the 2 different types of gongs while the guests arrived. My daughter was taken to the palanquin and was guided as she backed into it. Two children, called chullongdong, lead the way while 4 men carried the palanquin holding the bride. A shroud covered the grooms face because his good looking face might make the evil spirits jealous. In turn, the bride keeps her eyes lowered to prevent any evil spirits from entering. The drumming and clanging continued, creating excitement as the wedding procession made its way up some stairs to the open-front traditional house. Shoes must be removed before entering the rooms. The parents were given clogs to wear (so much for shoe shopping...mine were kelly green!) and were seated on benches on either side of the room. I was still chilly and my teeth were chattering from a mix of nerves and cool temperatures. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The samul nori sat quietly during the ceremony. A table held symbolic items that were to be used during the wedding. Among them were 2 wooden ducks, symbolizing marital fidelity and joy, and 2 live chickens wrapped up to the head in a red cloth. Occasionally the chickens protested, and were soothed by someone from the wedding party. I had no idea what their fate was. At one point someone brought a small flannel covering over to me and draped it over my knees. I thought, how perceptive they were to see how cold I was. Later, I realized it was part of the ceremony for me to wrap the ducks with this cloth that sat upon my skirt. There were many symbolic gestures that took place. I was very touched by the bowing of the bride and groom to the parents as a show of respect and a thank you for all they have given. That is one custom I could get very used to!My daughter must have felt like royalty as her attendants blotted any tears during emotional moments. There were many symbols of the bride and groom becoming at one with each other, including the seocheon ritual. Seocheon is reporting of the marriage to the spirits of heaven and earth and asking the couple to live happily. Raising a cup symbolizes reporting the marriage to the heavens, while lowering it reports to the earth. Liquor was poured into the cup and the bride and groom drank from it. Then a split gourd was used to drink from, as a symbol of the 2 minds becoming one. The couple was pronounced Man and Wife, and then wedding rings were exchanged. The guests applauded and happiness and joy filled the spring air. It was such an exciting time as the Bride and Groom faced their guests now as husband and wife! Tears fell and hearts warmed. But, there was still one last custom to fulfill. In Korea, chickens are considered a sacred animal that tells us the time. The chickens also take away any bad luck during the ceremony and are offered as a prize. The throwing of the chickens seems similar to the western tradition of throwing the bouquet. A floral bouquet may have been more cooperative, but less exciting! The chickens were tossed out to the guests, and I understand that one became dinner shortly afterward. Wow!Following all of that excitement, in a private side room, the Bride and Groom shared a ceremonial tea before family photo taking began. This begins their life together. They then changed into traditional post ceremony dress for the final feast of the joining of both families....our new families. We all shared a multi-course meal together as all of our lives were now magically different through the love of these 2 people. There were hugs, kisses and bows as they bid farewell. The next morning they began the new chapter of their lives as they left for their storybook honeymoon in Bali ♥♥ I think they have a beautiful life before them.
A very special thank you to my family who didn't hesitate to be there and to my new family who treated us with such generosity and grace. xo

And thanks to my sister, Sandy, for most of these wonderful and memorable photos
I may update once the professional photographers photos come back.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Seoul, Before the Wedding

It was a family affair. My daughter was getting married half way around the world and we all had our plane tickets. Mother, father, aunts, and brother arrived at Seoul's Incheon airport from the west, the midwest, and northeast US. We were met by my daughter, Sam and her fiancé, Young Ju. What a sight for sore eyes they were! After going from Boston to Chicago to Tokyo and finally Seoul, I was refreshed just to see their faces. They had planned a whirlwind week for us and it was falling into place. We all arrived on time, which is a miracle these days, and spent the night by the airport in Incheon. Sleep was good, and meeting for breakfast to start our day was filled with excitement. The 14 hour time difference was made easier by arriving at night, so we felt pretty rejuvenated the next morning. My daughter, future son-in-law and his family had organized the week complete with agenda, hotels, and car with driver. We didn't have to think about a thing except taking in the experience. What fun it was to have the family gathered so far away. My sisters and my son had never been to Asia and we were all excited. After breakfast we made the 1 hour drive to Seoul, checked into the new hotel and met for a few gift openings before going out for the afternoon. Sam and Young Ju really wanted to show us the city of Seoul. We started at Gyeongbokgung Palace, that has a long history of building, destruction and restoration since 1395. The palace was guarded by the real and the symbolic. We had a lovely and very informative English speaking guide to lead us through the many areas of the palace. There was so much to take in. The Korean culture is proud of their history and are excellent record keepers, so there was a lot of information. This hemispheric sundial was invented in 1433 by Jang Yeon-sil. The national treasure is called, 'Angbuilgu', which means an "upward looking kettle that catches the shadow of the sun." The sun was definitely shining, and if we were here just a little later the cherry blossoms would have been in bloom making it even more spectacular. We left the palace for lunch, which was to become one of many delicious meals here. After lunch, a little shopping seemed to be in order which was a visual feast full of typical Korean wares and street food. I liked the man painting rice paper in the back of a very, very cramped store and brought home a few rolls, among other things. I hadn't changed any money yet so that held my shopping down. I was ready for a seat and tea anyway, and could have sat in this comfortable tea house all afternoon. My daughter and my sisters were still out there shopping and I didn't want to miss anything, so back I went! We had to work up an appetite for an elaborate Korean barbecue meal planned with Young Ju's uncle. What a charming and generous family he has! Arriving at the restaurant I really didn't know how I could eat all of the courses of the meal, but somehow I managed. The soup and fish courses weren't heavy so that helped. We filled leaves with several different fillings and folded before eating.Our server lit the gas pits recessed into the table and barbecued slabs of beef, tending to it to make sure it was done perfectly. When the barbecue was done, I could barely stop eating it because it was so tasty. A seaweed soup with oyster and tofu was the last course, and a cup of tea finished our meal. We left very full and satisfied. Bed looked good that night! Amazingly jet lag didn't seem to affect us, and after breakfast the next morning (how could we even be hungry again?!) we headed out for another taste of Seoul. There were happy faces all around.I finally changed some money. Young Ju said the best rate came from 2 ladies, the grandmas, who change it in the shopping district. He was right, and now I had scored Korean won to trade with the vendors. In hindsight, I wish I had taken advantage of more bargains, but not knowing what was around the corner, I spent conservatively. I'm also very aware that I have to cart it all back home, too! Street food was everywhere. The sweet, and steamy savory aromas made us stop and look. I'd like to think I'd try most things, but the ick factor of silkworms cooking away in this cauldron nixed that idea! They are an eco-friendly delicacy, but this was not going to happen. I guess I'd be voted off of the island! Instead, I bought some persimmons, hoshigaki, that are massaged and dried in a Japanese manner. It is a fascinating process and I'm sure a tastier option than the previous. We ate some of the persimmons plain which were soft, thick and sweet in the center. I think I'll make a tagine with the rest of them. It was now lunch time...more food...and the plan was to have lunch at Din Tai Fung, a Chinese noodle restaurant. So far our planned agenda was very satisfying in every way and watching the dumplings being made, I knew this would be good, real good. I was starting to feel like a dumpling myself, though, and hoped I would still be able to fit into my wedding suit. I had the skirt taken in before I left the US and was beginning to get a little worried! Problems...problems :-) A common greeting in Korea is, 밥먹었어(요)? bam-meo-geo-sseo(-yo), or "have you eaten?" I think at any point we could have given a resounding, "Yes!"

Well fed, it was time to call our driver and head out for the 4 hour drive south to where my daughter and her fiancé live. The busyness of the city slowly turned to countryside. It was a relaxing ride as we talked the whole way, full of anticipation about the wedding and the exciting new beginning to their lives. The sun was setting over the mountains as so much lay before all of us.
We had a wedding to prepare for.

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