The Clubdate Singer Speaks: Chapter 14

Disclaimer: The following story is an actual event, as all of the vignettes in the 'Clubdate Singer Speaks' series are. For 8 years, I was a member of one of the top Orchestras in the nation. Though it was an enjoyable time, it was also at times, quite painful. I took to writing initially to assuage my distress, and this is one of those times when the pen (or keyboard) proved to be a healing tool. I have considered publishing this series, and would appreciate your thoughts...

‘Inhalation’ -  (assimilation) 2002

The bride appears from an outer chamber. As she enters the ballroom, half of the guests gasp and watch in awe as she seems to glide across the room: a vision in brightly colored, ornately decorated silks.
The other half of the room nods appreciatively, their approval more subdued, but infinitely more important to her, as this is her family, and she is about to perform the ’Paeback’ a portion of the traditional Korean marriage rite.

It is the introduction ceremony of the bride (to the groom's family) at the wedding.
Women swirl around her, making sure that everything is just right. They have all been in this position before, and the sight of her seems to invigorate them, even the elderly women present seem to glow. I am convinced that pure Joy is the secret to eternal youth. The old women prove it to me as I watch them attend to her…

Her new husband enters from the other side of the room, dressed in traditional Korean attire as well. He seems slightly uncomfortable, self-conscious, and the garments seem ill-fitting on one so tall. (This is by no means a perpetuation of any stereotype, merely the facts as they were presented.) I feel strangely gratified, seeing the tall ungainly white man in the Korean clothes. Why? Because he is, out of love for his bride, and respect for her culture, making an honest gesture, a sincere gesture. His seriousness is evident. His reverence is moving. It touched us all.

So many times on clubdates*, you see the underbelly, the ugliness of the familial and social dynamic. Normally, by the time we see the families, the ceremony is long done, the drinking has begun, and any semblance of decorum is swiftly fading. It’s our job to ‘keep it going’, ‘make the party hot’. Rarely do we get to see this part of the day. It is a blessing.

As they knelt, beginning the ceremony, the task fell to the bride’s brother to translate, and to explain the various elements of the ritual.

He sauntered up to the microphone, looking smug, almost angry. It seemed strange, but in fact it was a harbinger of what was to come. In his Perry Ellis tux and patent leather shoes, swaying, slightly drunk, he proceeded to make a mockery of the entire ceremony. From his sister’s attire, to her obviously traditional makeup, to the women that attended to her, to the groom, nothing and no-one was spared. It was ugly, and his mean-spirited ‘jokes’ made it worse.

The groom’s family and the other guests grew increasingly uncomfortable, as did the band. His family was furious, and at the end of the ceremony, some of them walked out. The band was in the hallway and we watched them as they left, speaking in hushed fervent tones, shocked and hurt. Not one of us could speak Korean, but we all understood.

Later, as I watched him, some things became clear.
I believe that this was a result of 4 things in combination:
1) His need to impress/identify with the white people that were in attendance
2) His long simmering animosity towards his sister
3) His own self-loathing. (Culturally and otherwise)
4) Alcohol

His vengefulness almost ruined the evening, (clearly it ruined the ceremony) and it was a disgrace to behold. The bride was very upset, and didn’t seem to enjoy the rest of the party. We played our tails off, and the ‘Soul circle’* was a great ice-breaker. I got the 2 families to interact on the dance-floor in a way that they had not in the church, or at dinner. Once again music displays its power to break down walls and unite. Thank God for music.

His behavior really struck me, because I understood it, just as I understood him. In elementary school is where I first began to see it, feel it, understand it. The reality is that no matter how hard you try to fit in, you really never can. No matter how hard you try to be like ‘them’ you can’t. Your skin gives you away every time. (It took years before I was at peace with it) I think for the bride’s brother, the sight of his new brother in law, taking on his culture and being appreciated for the attempt, was a comfort, an appreciation that he had never experienced, a grace he was never allowed, and to be honest, being ‘exotic’ gets stale fast…

I thought of this piece today after watching this video. I enjoyed it and hope that you will too.

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