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Cultures combined

East and West meld as Big Sky man marries into Korean family

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Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014 9:45 am

Prior to proposing to his future bride Chris Pigusch first had to ask Da Hee Kim’s father for her hand in marriage — in Korean. According to Mary Grace Wilkus, Chris’s mother, if the father had said, “No,” the marriage would not have taken place.

Another stipulation Da Hee’s father and Chris had to drink a bottle of whiskey so Mr. Kim could see how he behaved under the influence.

Mary Grace and her husband Thomas Johnston, who are full-time Big Sky residents, their children and other immediate family members of Mary Grace’s and Thomas’s went to Suwon, South Korea, earlier this summer for the wedding of Da Hee and Chris.

The couple met a few years earlier when Chris was teaching English as a Second Language in Suwon. The area is 19 miles south or about an hour outside of Seoul. When Da Hee visited her future in-laws in Big Sky for Christmas, she, Mary Grace, Chris and Thomas sat down with a calendar to try and find a wedding date that was suitable for all parties.

After the date was chosen DaHee’s mother visited a Buddhist monk to determine if based on the couple’s birthdates if this was a suitable day. The monk approved the wedding date, which happened to be on the Summer Solstice.

The marriage ceremony was held in at an authentic Korean Village. While it is mostly a historically representation of life in a bygone days, it is not uncommon for traditional weddings to take place at the venue.

The wedding ceremony was read in Chinese and then translated into Korean, but there was no English translation, according to Mary Grace.

“You knew what was going on based on a ceremony guide. It was extremely interesting. Most Korean weddings are more western as they love the western and American culture,” she said.

“Koreans are so respectful of their elders. It was the primary thing I came away with from the trip. There is no talking back what so ever. It is very nice.”

The traditional wedding ceremony was explained to the visiting westerners as follows: In ancient times, weddings were held in the bride’s yard or house. The groom traveled by horse the bride’s house and after the wedding ceremony the groom took his wife in a chair to his parents’ house to live. The bride and groom wore formal costumes for the wedding ceremony. Ordinary people were permitted to wear the luxurious clothes only on their wedding day.

Da Hee wore a jegori - a short jacket with long sleeves - with two long ribbons which were tied to form the otgoreum, an ornamental piece, which hangs vertically across the front of the chima (women’s skirt).

Chris wore pants and a jacket with loose sleeves.

Mary Grace and DaHee’s mother lit candles as a tradition to make the newlyweds life bright.

When walking down the aisle, Da Hee looked down so she wouldn’t see Chris’s face. She carried a heavy cloth with her the entire time and two women helped her hold it through the ceremony.

When Chris walked down the aisle he held a placard of sorts over his face so he could not fee Da Hee’s face. Mary Grace explained that this dates back to the days of the arranged marriages and is steeped in old tradition. The wedding ceremony would be the first time the prospective bride and groom would actually see each other.

After walking down the aisle the couple bowed to each other and then they greeted the sky and the earth. The wedding vows were recited and Chris and Da Hee shared a drink from a gourd to signify “separate and becoming one.”

After they were declared married Chris threw two tethered chickens in the air. It is called the “flying chicken” and according to Mary Grace they flew until they reached the end of the string then came back down.

All the men in the wedding party wore makeup. “The South Koreans want to be lighter, so the wedding makeup was applied to both the men and women. Except Thomas didn’t want the makeup,” Mary Grade laughed. She further explained that at any major event men wear makeup.

However, the men, including Mr. Kim, wore western clothes.

Chris and Da Hee then went around the village, Chris on horseback and Da Hee by palanquin, a box type chair carried on horizontal poles by four bearers. Then a meal was served and the guests departed. “There is no dancing or after-party,” said Mary Grace.

While the guests were eating, the immediate families went into a small house that was to resemble the groom’s family home.

“This was my favorite part of the wedding,” said Mary Grace. Thomas and I sat on the floor and Chris and Da Hee sat across from us. There was a small table between us. Mary Grace and Thomas then told them what it takes to make a good marriage. We gave them luck and goodwill. Then Thomas and I were given walnuts and another type of nut. Da Hee and Chris then took the large cloth Da Hee carried throughout the ceremony and made a hammock. We then threw the various nuts into the hammock. The walnuts caught represent the number of girls they will have and the other nut represents boys. Da Hee looked at the nuts and said to Mary Grace, ‘Ma, look four girls and two boys.’

“Then my oldest brother and his wife also said what makes a good marriage. My other brother did it too. The two daughters also sat down though they weren’t married. We all did shots of the local drink. The marriage is not that of just bride and groom but that of the families.”

“Typically Korean women keep their maiden name, but Da Hee took Chris’s last name and now uses Kim as her middle name,” said Mary Grace.

Chris and Da Hee met in the Paxon Bar, a local watering hole, where the bartenders literally play with fire on long skewers to entertain bar patrons. After he guests had departed for the evening, Mary Grace and Thomas rented out the bar for the evening and the families enjoyed a night of fun and fire.

While tradition dictates they live with the groom’s family that would be impossible unless they moved to Big Sky. They were offered a place to live in the Kim household but they declined. Through a government program the couple purchased a tiny apartment. In two years they will sell it back, effectively having two years rent-free.

Da Hee, who has an art major, will teach young children English as a second language through the medium of art.

Chris is working as a computer program coder and trying to improve his Korean linguistic skills. However wherever he goes, people want to practice their English with him.

Exploring her son’s new hometown was every bit as interesting for the U.S. contingency.

As Mary Grace explained, cafes are extremely popular and there could be as many as four on one corner. Or a café might be located on the third floor of a building. Stores are located on multi-levels of a building, not unlike but not quite as tall as the Water Tower Place in Chicago. However these buildings are not malls.

“We would be walking but one of the things you had to learn was to look up. We went to a dog café that was on the third floor,” she said. At the dog or cat cafes, owners will bring in their pet, pay to leave it there and then patrons can pet or play with the animals while they enjoy their beverage of choice.

In Suwon a prospective business owner can just open a business. There is no red tape or inspections. Mrs. Kim, who Mary Grace proclaims is an amazing cook, wants to start a “side-dish” take out service in a building where it seems there is no nearby competition. At each dinner or lunch there is one main course and about 15 small side dishes.

The couple will continue to visit Big Sky as Mary Grace and Thomas live here, but for right now they are enjoying life as newlyweds half a world away.

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