Aisle Angst

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Aisle Angst

When it comes to marriage, only a few young Koreans perhaps believe that love conquers all. For the majority, marriage is about the practical side of, well, getting married. Before signing a certificate, there is a convoluted procedure called the wedding, much of which involves substantial amount of running around and a good outlay of cash. According to a poll by a local marriage information and matchmaking firm, the average Korean couple who got married last year spent 78.5 million won ($60,000) on wedding preparations and ceremonies, including downpayments for housing and household items. Considering that 374,000 couples get married every year, the domestic wedding market is nearly a 3-trillion-won industry.

Wedding expositions are regularly held to help would-be brides and grooms manage the tricky procedures preceding connubial bliss. One, the Korean Wedding Fair, was held last week. Almost 35,000 couples visited the event, with some 100 wedding businesses hosting booths at the Seoul Trade Exhibition Center in Daechi-dong. The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition visited the show, and found out what a couple has to endure before they begin life together as man and wife.

Get me to the turret on time

Ever wonder about those Sleeping Beauty castles that dot Korean cities? They are fully equipped wedding halls complete with elaborate lighting systems and banquet rooms seating thousands (the typical charge is 20,000 won per head). Popular alternatives include churches and five-star hotels. Those who balk at spending a mint to marry can go to city offices and tie the knot gratis - all they need is a witness.

A doggie bag for these wilted apricots, please

Pyebaek is a brief, traditional ceremony following the wedding where families exchange bows during a small banquet. In a span of 30 minutes or so, the couples pose wearing traditional attire in front of extravagant and colorful food displays. The food, traditionally prepared by the bride's mother, is now more often catered. It consists of rice cakes, dried fruits and Korean pastries. Tempting, but nobody eats at these formal banquets.

We'll be trekking Kazakstan, of course

With the ease of flying these days, the question is where to go for the trip that will be treasured forever. Lovers dreaming of white sands by clear seas jet to the tropics ?places like Guam, Boracay, Bali and Saipan. An all-inclusive three-night package for Saipan runs about 1.8 million won for two. But the favorite spot for Koreans is still Jeju Island, where a similar package costs 1 million won. Some bold couples these days are donning rucksacks, taking off with few definite plans and no return date.

God, what a gaggle of friends to invite...

The average Korean couple prints 300 to 600 invitations for their wedding, according to a local card company at the fair. Recently, high-tech-inclined couples have been sending invitations with themselves depicted as caricatures or electronic cards including video or audio of themselves. But the most popular invitations for a formal wedding are still the plain white cards with little or no ornamentation. Many cards are adorned with pairs of geese, the traditional symbol for newlyweds. Geese remain with their mates until one of them dies.

You're handin' over how much? Ya gotta be kiddin'!

Honsu, or the dowry the bride gives the groom's family, still causes "post-wedding" disputes in Korea. It is still not uncommon to see angry couples on television talk shows who divorced right after they returned from their honeymoons because the groom's family decided the dowry was too small. Honsu often includes the wedding rings, jewels and silks. The bride's parents often struggle over the dowry amount and some mothers, so exasperated by the whole business, comfort their daughters with, "It'll be our turn when your brother gets married."

Any plastic surgery will have to wait till after

The most popular hair and makeup salons are those that service many celebrity clients. At the fair, the shops posted photos of their employees posing with this or that star actress or singer. Hair-styling and makeup services cost 150,000 won to 300,000 won. On weekends at some popular shops, some 20 couples may be waiting anxiously for the top artist to do a final touch-up on their faces and hairdos.

Wanna see 14 albums of me with the cake?

Couples should be prepared to spend up to 2.7 million won on stills and videos for their weddings. A few couples at the fair said they expected to spend up to 30 percent of their matrimonial budget on photography. A videographer for a wedding consultant firm, Kim Choon-sung said couples these days prefer digital videos, which last longer and give owners more editing options. "Imagine your grandchildren watching your wedding 100 years later," Mr. Kim told one couple. The groom then walked away wearing a dazed expression .

Something old, something I gotta return

You'll soon be striding down the aisle, on the verge of tying the nuptial knot, with hundreds of eyes on you. Gasp! What are you going to wear? A gold embroidered, pearl-trimmed V-line silk wedding dress that reveals a striking silhouette costs about 3 million won - to rent, including the matching tux for what's-his-name. Remember, though, smiles are what make the newlyweds truly beautiful.

And don't forget the embossed garter

A wedding is not the place to skimp on the frills. At a wedding fair you can find myriad decorative items and accessories that boggle the imagination. The bride can get herself a lace parasol or other gratuitous luxuries to affect airs of Victorian elegance. And don't forget hiring the right band, getting souvenirs for guests and - oh yes - the all-important flowers. One wedding consultant at the fair, Kim Jae-hyun, noted that procrastinating couples often come to him asking for officials for the ceremony the night before, for which the shop charges 100,000 won.

That's about 30,000 won per toenail

Skin and body care for the bride in the days leading up to matrimony is not an extra. It's standard to ensure optimal results in the wedding album. Most consultants encourage the bride to begin daily skin care service two weeks before the nuptials. Ten 90-minute sessions including massages, makeovers, saunas and manicures and pedicures cost between 500,000 and 1 million won. One beauty salon, Belle Femme, throws in three face massages for the groom if the bride orders the deluxe package.


What about the ice carvings? Leave'em to the planner

"It's really like seeing your own children getting married," said a wedding planner, Jeon Hui-jin, when asked how it feels to see the couples she's worked with closely for months finally reach the altar.

Considering all the snags weddings can get caught on, not to mention the spats they can spark, it's never a bad idea to seek the help of a pro - think of the efficient Jennifer Lopez in the movie "The Wedding Planner" or, at the very worst, the unctious Martin Short in "Father of the Bride" - to help steer you through the obstacles.

Indeed, if you're on the verge of getting burned out by the endless details of arranging your marriage, hire a wedding consultant. From reserving wedding halls to getting you dolled up head-to-toe, wedding planners are whizzes at organizing all the facets leading up to the moment of entering into holy matrimony. They rescue you from overwhelming information and make changes tailored to your needs, all with an eye on controlling the budget.

"Couples become very sensitive when it comes to money," explained Ms. Jeon, who wore a pair of dazzling diamond heart earrings. "So I always do my best to stick within the agreed-upon estimate; fights often break out over even the smallest sums."

The average cost of a consultant is 2.2 million won, people familiar with the business say. Over the last six months, Jeon has managed five weddings, and she ended up growing very close to all the couples.

"Not only do I plan the wedding to ensure that it will be the most special event of their lives," she said, "I also counsel the bride and groom on issues outside the wedding, about life; a lot of them cry with me and we end up as friends."

by Park Soo-mee

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