Below is an essay written by Chang Soon-hee (Mrs. Nam) published by The Korea Times on April 21, 2014, which might ease in a way the surprised minds of the US Military personnel and also help understand more about the Korean history.
Mr. Nam, 2017 Feb 26
Riding sedan chair to wedding
Sedan chair is “gama” in Korean. It was a kind of wheel-less, human-powered vehicle for the transport of mainly bride and groom. The carriage is enclosed for protection from the cold and sun and from getting wet.
In a traditional village wedding, the groom rides a gama to the ceremony held at the bride’s home and later the bride marries into the groom’s home, also being carried by a sedan chair. The gama I’d ridden some 53 years before was made of wood enclosing a square space much smaller than today’s telephone booth.
There was a small window in the front and the side walls were made of colorfully decorated drop curtains. Yellow silk cushions were placed on the small wooden floor so I could squeeze and sit, cross-legged. I noticed I’d fall off the sedan chair if I dozed off.
There were two gama porters – one in front and one in the back – who used cloth suspenders to shoulder two wooden horizontal long rails that passed through brackets on the sides of the cage.
They wore a small black round net hat made from horses’ tails. The front man was one of my distant uncles known as the village’s champion of ssireum, or Korean wrestling.
I was heavily dressed with a newly sewed oversized traditional wedding dress in pink, golden and dark blue striped design and a colorful bridal tiara was tied on my head. I crossed my hands in front, hiding them in the large sleeves and I was told not to show my bare skin except for my face which was rouged in coin-size crimson in the middle of cheeks.
My mother and an aunt helped me slide into the gama in the yard of my farming house surrounded by the smiling eyes of well-wishers.
“Remember, today is your day, dear. You are not going to bow to anyone but your groom, and we won’t yield the way to no one until we reach your man’s home,” the big front porter told me. “Don’t worry, I’m strong enough to fight off any oncoming gama, if we happened to meet one on a narrow levee of a rice paddy or a log bridge,” he assured me.
I’ve heard about the frightful uncompromising tradition of omen that if the groom or the bride makes a concession to an oncoming gama on its way to wedding, the couple would have an unhappy marriage. So, the wrestling champion was the front man.
It was a warm early spring day with lingering snow in the shades of bushes along the foot of mountain – a beautiful day for a wedding, for other couples too.
There were some five kilometers of dirt path in the rice fields to walk, two shallow but wide river crossings with steppingstones and a single logged bridge to cross over before we can reach the destination.
Why couldn’t we just wait for the other party, who no doubt won’t concede, to get through first instead collide with, and on a log bridge? I was disturbed and the sedan chair riding wasn’t comfortable since it swayed a lot. I felt motion sickness.
“There is no gama headed this way!” a young man running toward our entourage reported breathlessly. The front man whispered back to me over his shoulder, “Your groom sent a scout to let us know the coast is clear.”
I felt for the first time I loved my groom (he is 82 now).
P.S. I think I know why we Koreans lack the concession courtesy in the modern streets.
By Chang Soon-hee (Mrs. Nam) who was born in Uljin on the east coast. This article was once published by The Korea Times on April 21, 2014)