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Brides-to-be have much to learn

Brides-to-be bow deeply to their parents at the maiden class graduation ceremony on Wednesday at Yejiwon in central Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/ The Korea Herald)
Brides-to-be bow deeply to their parents at the maiden class graduation ceremony on Wednesday at Yejiwon in central Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/ The Korea Herald)
Pre-wedding classes on wedding preparations and wifehood gain popularity


Donned in spring-colored hanbok, or traditional Korean dress, eight brides-to-be gracefully glided to the front of the room and formed two rows in front of the folding screens.

On the teacher’s cue, they raised their hands up to their eyebrows, arms held up horizontally with elbows turned outward, and bowed to their parents sitting in front of them. They repeated the deep bow, which was for “pyebaek,” the Korean traditional ceremony in which the newly wedded couple pays respect to the groom’s family after their wedding, four times.

“We should never move fast when wearing hanbok. If your skirt bustles it means you are not walking right. It should stay still,” said the teacher, spotting one of the students looking a bit lost.

Bowing was only part of the 169th maiden class graduation ceremony held at Yejiwon, an institute that teaches traditional Korean manners, in Jangchung-dong, central Seoul.

The young women showed off what they had learned during the two-month course, including the art of ceremonial tea-making. Two students ― playing the role of tea party hosts ― carefully unfolded the wrapping cloth and poured tea in complex, polished and delicate movements. 
A young woman pours tea in front of the class during the maiden class graduation ceremony on Wednesday at Yejiwon in central Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
A young woman pours tea in front of the class during the maiden class graduation ceremony on Wednesday at Yejiwon in central Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

“We don’t wash our dishes when guests are present. That is why our ladies are washing the cups now after the guests have left,” the teacher explained to the onlookers as the students poured warm water into the cups.

Mothers who came to attend the graduation looked very satisfied at the sight of their daughters impeccably mannered.

“It was a great idea to send my daughter to this institute. She is not married yet, and is taking some time off from her work these days so I recommended her to attend the classes. She was always a calm child, but seeing her so accomplished and well-behaved is another thing,” said Lee Young-sil, the mother of a student.

Established in 1974, Yejiwon has been offering tradition-focused finishing classes for over 30 years. Young unmarried women or expats can attend the classes which teach everything an “accomplished” woman in Korea should know, from speaking and styling manners, bowing, the process of a traditional wedding and interior decorating, to pregnancy and childbirth, kimchi and ceremonial tea-making and ancestral ritual formalities. The two-month course costs 700,000 won.

Kang Young-sook, head of Yejiwon, said that a lady should never forget the basics.

“Many do buy kimchi these days but you should still at least know how to make it yourself. We change the details a little but the foundation of the curriculum has stayed the same. For example, a newlywed bride had to visit her in-laws every morning to bid good morning for three months back in the old days. But now, we say that a month is all right. Unlike the older generation, the new generation of parents also finds it difficult to greet visitors every morning,” said Kang.

“Students still appear to be the same as nearly 30 years ago when the class first started, and I am thankful for that. They are still in need of the lessons. Some, like those who do not have much time to spare because they are studying abroad, come requesting a condensed version of the lessons to finish in a few days.”

Lee Yu-jin, a 30-year-old woman who is getting married in December, said that the class helped her realize what she would need to do as a newly wed.

“I was able to learn about the overall Korean traditions that a new bride has to know, from wearing hanbok properly to participating in ancestral ritual formalities. I feel that I am prepared to get married now,” said Lee.

Trendier pre-wedding classes are emerging in the city as well, to meet the sophisticated needs of today’s brides-to-be and their mothers.

Tucked away in Gungjeong-dong near Cheongwadae, Haedangwha, a lifestyle and culture institute, opened its first pre-wedding course last month. Students gathered at the kitchen on a Thursday morning, on the third floor of the cozy building. 
Attendees of the Pre-Wedding Course at Haedangwha focus on Suh Ji-hee’s cooking lesson last week. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Attendees of the Pre-Wedding Course at Haedangwha focus on Suh Ji-hee’s cooking lesson last week. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Haedangwha offers a two-month program filled with lessons on what today’s brides-to-be need to know ― from cooking, wrapping gifts, flower decorations to even picking out the dream wedding gown ― with different instructors for each section. The course costs 2.5 million won.

“Cooking for guests” was the theme on Thursday, and Suh Ji-hee, head of the institute, was the teacher of the day.

“Unlike your mothers, you won’t be staying in the kitchen for a long time. That is what our course focuses on. Most of you work, and we want to make you be able to save yourselves when you are having troubles during the times you are in the kitchen. Imagine times when you might come home from work and just realize that you have to cook for guests. The lessons will also come useful when you suddenly decide to have a romantic wine night with your husband and have to cook up something real quick,” said Suh.

Her students busily jotted down notes as Suh emphasized that cooking is all about the sauce.

“There is an easy way to make gochujang (hot pepper paste) with oedoenjang (soybean paste). It would be a smart idea for newlywed brides to make it and give it to the in-laws as a present. You’ll be loved,” said Suh.

Interestingly, half of the class looked a bit too old to be called a bride-to-be.

“More than half of the students are married. They said that found the real need to take the courses after they got married,” said an official at the institute.

“My daughter is 23-years-old. I am taking the course on behalf of my daughter, because she is too busy to take them herself. I figured that I could learn them now and teach her before she gets married. Many things have changed since I got married, and it is a good opportunity to learn these things so systematically, following a curriculum,” said Seon Mi-ja, a 49-year-old housewife.

Yang Yun-hee, a 33-year-old single woman attending the class, said that the classes are already useful although she does not have immediate plans to get married.

“I went home and cooked some things I learned here, like the porridges, and my parents really liked them. I think it will be helpful when I actually get married,” she said.

For more information on Yejiwon, call (02) 2234-3325 or visit www.yejiwon.or.kr, and for details on Haedangwha, call (02) 733-2188 or visit www.haedangwha.com.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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