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A Barefoot Kind Of Love

April 28, 2012

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Eight years ago today, I married Bong Jun. The photo above was taken at our traditional wedding ceremony a little more than a year after our wedding day. That wedding was breathtakingly beautiful, set in an outdoor courtyard at a traditional Korean house, with live traditonal music and everyone, including my family who travelled to Korea for the event, in colorful Hanbok.

Still, Bong and I choose not to celebrate that day as our anniversary, but the stripped down, bare bones day we legally became husband and wife. It’s the most unromantic of stories and yet the retelling of it washes my heart in a fresh coat of love for him, and for our life together.

When I called home to tell my parents that we were getting married, the first question was, “How did he propose?” There were no grand gestures, no ring  or bended knees. There wasn’t even a question. There was coffee in bed, a statement and 15 minutes of expletive-filled protests and incredulity on my part. We had been living together for several years when the university department where I worked decided to close my program, leaving me suddenly out of a job. As my visa was tied to my job, I had only one choice: leave Korea, and come back on a tourist visa to look for a new job. The morning after my last day of work, Bong and I began our usual day-off morning routine of Joni Mitchell and coffee. I was talking about going to Japan for a couple of days for my visa, and would he like to come? Bong looked at me and said, ” I guess we’d better get married.” My response? “No, we can’t, can we? That’s crazy.No F%$%^ing way! You’re kidding, right. You’re F%^$#*ing kidding.Are you kidding? No, We can’t. Can we? Are you serious?”  I never said yes. I ploughed through three more cups of coffee and 20 more minutes of curse-riddled shock before what he was saying began to make sense. If I married him, I wouldn’t have to leave the country, and would have all the time in the world to look for a new job. So, we got out of bed, and decided to talk to our parents. If they didn’t object, we would get started on the paperwork.

 

On April 28th, 2004, we woke early and got dressed. Bong wore jeans with a dark blue blazer, and I wore my best denim skirt with a similar blazer. We looked like exactly who we were: all business and tradition up top, and hippie rebel free spirits from the waist down. We went off to the district office, having made arrangements with Kyung-Deok and Tara, two of our dearest friends, to come and be our witnesses. We took a number from the machine and waited to stand in front of the sour-faced clerk who had no patience for our excitement and nervous laughter. He looked at my friend, Tara, who had done her best to approximate a bridesmaid by wearing a pretty pink blouse, and informed us that she couldn’t be my witness because she was a foreigner. So, we asked a random stranger sitting in the waiting area to be my witness – a Korean man who kindly and baffledly signed a paper saying he knew me, and to the best of his knowledge, I was free and clear to marry. We had hoped for at least a word of congratulations from the clerk upon signing. Bong and I were still standing at his wicket smiling at each other, like we were waiting for someone to say, “You may now kiss the bride,” when he rang the bell for the next customer.

Starving, the four of us decided to go to the nearest restaurant which was….a Burger King. We toasted our new marriage with paper cups of cola. After lunch, Bong and I continued to the Canadian embassy to register our marriage. I had hoped for at least a little more of a festive mood at the embassy wicket as I said to the clerk, ” We just got married!”  and took Bong’s photo next to the Canadian flag. “That’ll be 40,000 won”, the clerk replied.

Undaunted, we got in our car and drove, intent on some kind of honeymoon. I put a bottle of champagne in the trunk, and we picked a direction and drove with no destination in mind. We came across no place that really appealed to us, and when it started to get dark, we pulled over in the first little town and got a room – the  suite in a love motel shaped like a castle – the kind with curtains over the garage to hide the cars of people cheating on thier spouses.

We found the nearest kalbi restaurant, complete with blaring tv and flourescent lights, and got drunk over multiple bottles of soju and barbecued beef. Mostly, we talked of how unreal everything felt, and how we kept waiting for the big realization to kick in. We were really married, weren’t we? Maybe another bottle of soju would make it seem true.

Walking ( well, weaving ) back up the highway to our motel, we laughed each time a transport truck passed us and we’d have to run down into the ditch to avoid getting hit. Everything seemed hilarious at that point. By the time we made it to the room, we were in tears from laughing so hard. And then we saw the room.

The bed was round, and the ceiling was mirrored. Next to the bed was the strangest looking contraption covered in red pleather. It had a nice laminated instruction sign next to it, with illustrations of an ecstatic looking couple who were apparently boneless. Yes, it was  the often-heard-of but rarely-sighted love motel sex chair, with flipping panels and adjustable headrests, and a rotating seat. Bong and I stared at it in drunken wonder, suddenly heavy with the expectation of acrobatic sex when we were so incredibly tired. Bong looked at me. “Quickie?” , I asked, and headed for the bed, which, without warning, began to vibrate upon contact,  We ended our wedding day, giggling and shaken to sleep, having forgotten to open the champagne.

The next morning, we took pictures of ourselves ( fully clothed ) on the sex chair. Those pictures have long since been lost, just waiting to surface on the internet someday on a website of world’s most embarrassing photos. My “honeymoon” photos are either hidden in the sock  drawer  of some sweaty-palmed loner with a fetish for simulated interracial sex, or are rotting in some garbage heap. It seems fitting.

So, why is this the day we celebrate? In spite of every thinkable bad omen, we’ve made it – well, this far, anyway. We are a truly odd couple. Cultural differences and a seven year age gap were only the most obvious hurdles. I have a need to control. He hates to be fenced in. I get moody if I don’t get enough alone time. He has a restless spirit. We’ve had exactly the same fight about exactly the same thing for the 12 or so years we’ve been together. There were times when I wasn’t sure we’d make it. But we did. There’s still no one I’d rather talk to, no one I’d rather get drunk and laugh with.When I ache, only he can comfort me. If we weren’t together, we’d be alone. No one else could live with either of us. That makes us perfect for each other.

Sometimes, I think the glamour and fanfare of weddings puts too much expectation on a marriage. White dresses and first dances don’t prepare you for the hard work of digging your way through the most emotionally demanding task most of us will ever face. Bong and I learned from the very first day that nothing about being married would be easy.

 Except the laughter. Except the love. And for whatever problem we may face, somewhere in some seedy,dark room in Korea, there is a shiny red chair that makes even the impossible seem effortless and sexy. Mostly.

Happy Anniversary to us.

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Note: For those wondering what’s happening with SoundScribbles: I did my first interview with the lovely and talented DJ Free, only to find that my recording app didn’t catch any of it. Since then, I have been busy with our move to a new house in Yangpyeong ( blog post about that to come soon ) . DJ Free has very kindly agreed to redo the interview as soon as I’m settled, so we should be back in business in a couple of weeks.

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8 comments

  1. Happy Anniversary! I love the way you tell the truth.


  2. What a beautiful, truthful and inspiring post! I loved reading it! I,too, have been married, and my wedding wasn’t very ‘traditional’ either – but I did wear a white dress, not a BRIDE dress, but a dress. I am hopeful there are other people like you two, who see marriage and couplehood for what it really is – lots of ups and downs, lots of love, and mostly, lots of beautiful memories. Good luck with the move and I look forward to reading you soon! xx


  3. It seems to me that the wedding we attended was the boring one. You two seemed to have more fun the year before we got there. In any event we are delighted that you two are still problem solving together after all these years. When I look at your picture it seems like yesterday that we were all together for that event. It was the most important event in our lives since our own wedding. The big message here is not to waste any time not getting along. It sure goes by quickly when you don’t pay attention to the important things in life. Congratulations on your Anniversary. Love always, Dear Old Dad.


  4. Shelley…such a great story! Happy Anniversary. xo


  5. Nice post. I am sure your new home was also an inspiration for this. Looking forward to seeing you there. And thinking of you. Lovexx


  6. Happy Anniversary Shelley! I love the wedding story…


  7. Happy anniversary to you both, what beautiful memories of a magical ceremony.



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