Hot Travel Trend: K-Pop Style Wedding Photography in South Korea

We’ve all heard of destination weddings, but would you travel to another country just to have your wedding photos taken? That’s the latest travel trend in Asia as increasing numbers of well-to-do Chinese couples head to South Korea to have their marriage immortalized on film.

Some Chinese feel that South Korea is more sophisticated when it comes to things like fashion, makeup and urban style, and believe that getting their photos taken there will result in a more glamorous finished product — not to mention give them bragging rights among friends and family back home. The idea of South Korea as a chic destination has been growing in China thanks to Korean pop videos, such as Psy’s “Gangnam Style” as well as South Korean TV shows.Newlywed couples take part in glamorous photo shoots in the city’s upscale neighborhoods, hoping to mimic the lifestyles of their favorite South Korean celebrities. However, it’s not just real locales that provide the backdrop for the wedding snaps — interestingly, many Chinese also get their bridal portraits taken in front of facades that resemble the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and other European destinations. Apparently, the Western sets look better when you’re ditching the traditional Chinese wedding attire for a white ball gown.

The whole concept has been a big boon for South Korean photographers, some of whom see 50 to 60 Chinese couples a month. But South Korean glamour photography doesn’t come cheap — wedding travel packages that include transportation, assistants and hotels can set a couple back $2000-$4000.

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: My Secret Foreign Service Wedding

Today is my ten-year wedding anniversary, sort of. Does it make sense to celebrate a wedding that was a secret, five-minute affair that was capped off at a nearby Taco Bell over chalupas and 99-cent churros?

I asked my wife to marry me just days before joining the Foreign Service in 2002 and we had to set a wedding date without knowing what country we would be moving to or when we would depart.

When you join the Foreign Service you start out in a two-month long training class called A-100, which takes places in Arlington, Virginia. At the conclusion of the course, you’re given a flag representing your assignment and, depending on the job and the country, you can spend the next one to nine months in job and/or language training.

This uncertainty makes it difficult to deal with landlords but even harder to plan a wedding. Nonetheless, we planned an August 10 wedding in Chicago, and tried to bid on jobs that entailed as much training as possible. In late March, I was assigned to Skopje, Macedonia, with six months of Albanian language training. This meant that I’d be in the U.S. for the wedding, so we initially felt relieved.

But we soon learned that nothing happens in the Foreign Service without a mountain of red tape and logistical hurdles. Our departure for post was scheduled for early October and old Foreign Service hands, including “Dink,” our kindly A-100 course coordinator, told us that a mid-August wedding might not leave enough time for the bureaucracy to get Jen (my wife) on our travel orders.In layman’s terms, this means that the government wouldn’t pay for her travel to Macedonia or ship her household effects. Spouses of Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) need medical and security checks, and all these things take time, so Dink advised us to go to a courthouse and do a legal marriage ceremony before the real deal to get the ball rolling.

Jen was initially resistant to the idea but eventually her practical side and our desire not to pay to move to Macedonia won out. The sole condition she laid out was that we wouldn’t tell any of our friends and family members. We could get married in a legal sense but would pretend as though the event never happened.

On Tuesday, March 19, 2002, we visited the office of a kindly octogenarian named Joe Newlin, who married couples right down the hall from the Arlington Country Court House in Virginia. Joe was a delightful old man who wore plaid golf pants and had his office decorated with streamers and articles about his practice. He claimed to have married more than ten thousand couples, “some of which were still together,” he joked.

Joe married us right in his office, for a small fee, right underneath some plastic signs, streamers and a paper, wedding bell. Joe also took a couple photos of us and on the way out gave us a complimentary pen, which was emblazoned with his slogan: “I Mary (sic) U.” We’ve moved six times in the last decade and I have no idea where those photos are, but somehow, the pen has magically stayed with us (see photo).

We celebrated our sham wedding with a fine banquet at the adjacent Taco Bell and headed back to the Foreign Service Institute, where we bumped into Dink.

“Dink, we took your advice and got married,” I told him, knowing that Jen wouldn’t care if he knew of our scheme.

Dink’s eyes bulged out of his head and he crouched down to hug both my wife and I.

“Congratulations,” he bellowed, before turning around and telling several of my classmates the “good news.” Before we knew what was happening, a host of colleagues came over to congratulate us. Jen was not pleased.

“This was not our wedding,” she reminded me before adding, “not a word about this when we get back to Chicago.”

And there wasn’t a word about it – not to our families, any of our wedding guests or even the minister, who did not know that we had already been married legally for six months at the time he pronounced us man and wife. In fact, most of our friends and family members will be reading about our “appetizer” wedding for the first time here.

We’ll never know if our first “wedding” was necessary or not but it was a fitting introduction to what some call the Foreign Circus. Over the years, we’d come to learn that lots of Foreign Service couples end up rushing to the altar because of impending departures for posts or other reasons. The nomadic nature of the job can force relationships to either progress or end, sometimes before they would otherwise. We plan to celebrate our anniversary twice this year, almost certainly at someplace nicer than Taco Bell.

Photo 1 is from our “real” wedding in Chicago.
Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

Austin cabin called ‘Austin Heaven’ really is like Heaven

There’s a cedar log cabin tucked away on a 20 acre plot of land just south of Austin called Austin Heaven. I first discovered the property through Airbnb. The photos depicted a gleaming hand-built cedar cabin with modern appliances. I closed my eyes for a moment to relish the scent of cedar, a scent I’ve taken enough deep gulps of in recording studios to have it imprinted in my mind. As I clicked through the photos on the listing, I became increasingly interested in this cabin and land not solely for leisure, but for my own wedding.

%Gallery-148320%I contacted Melissa, who owns the cabin alongside her husband Mike, to arrange a visit. I drove out of Austin going south on Loop 1 and as soon as the 1 became Highway 45, the scenery began to change. The sky was wider and pine needles had collected on the grounds we passed leading up to the stoplight at the end of 45. A dirt road from that intersection wound us around to our final right-hand turn, a dusty one that pulled us into the parking lot for Austin Heaven. I got out of the car and immediately noticed a change in the air; a change that I could inhale. Again with the pine–the needles were beneath my feet and the scent was pungent in the air. Pines aren’t noticeably common in Central Texas, so this landscape struck me as a rarity.

I could immediately see that the cabin was artfully constructed. Thick logs lined the exterior walls. A long and narrow porch on the front side of the cabin faced a dense tree and shrub gathering. An over-sized porch helped transition anyone exiting from the back door out onto the 20 acres of land awaiting. Sprinkled with trees throughout, the expanse of land was mostly flat and cleared at first, but it became more dense the farther back into it I trekked. Melissa led me through a path toward the property’s pond, which she told me is normally filled with water during non-drought times. This initial visit was during the dead of summer, in the peak of a drought. There wasn’t a drop of water in the pond, and that wasn’t at all to my surprise.

The cabin’s interior was sleek and simple, not overdone, but not lacking in comfort, either. New appliances in the kitchen were immediately juxtaposed against the rustic aesthetic of the cabin. A projector and pull-down screen added a nice touch to the loft and high-ceiling area. The ‘yoga’ room in the cabin was incredibly peaceful and filled with natural light. The beds in both the bedroom downstairs and the loft were plush. A claw-foot tub and vinyl record player were pleasant surprises. I was charmed by the cabin, the property, and Melissa in no time. Melissa, a yoga therapist, graciously listened to my ideas for my wedding. Her enthusiasm about my wedding ideas was the deal-maker for me. She was open-minded and flexible throughout the entire process. I was simultaneously impressed and put at ease by her.

The wedding itself, despite all of the hard work, was a no-brainer. Many of our friends had flown in from NYC or other large cities and the property itself was all the entertainment that they needed. The stars were bright in the night sky and all was quiet outside of our music and conversations. You don’t need much else when you have all that’s included with renting Austin Heaven and you don’t have to expect sky-high prices when renting the cabin and property, either. All of it can be rented for less than $200 a night (for now).

I’ve learned through my travels that vacation rentals like this one aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes the accommodations are right, but the property is wrong. Sometimes the property is a dream, but the property owner is a nightmare. Sometimes the location is perfect as a standalone destination, but the destination itself is too far from anything else to make the trip worthwhile. Upon finding all of the right things in one concise package, I felt it my duty to disclose my Austin Heaven secret with you.

Photo of the day – Non-royal wedding

Well, it’s all over. Whether you woke up in the middle of the night to watch Will and Kate get married or ignored the deluge of media coverage, today’s historic Royal Wedding has said “I do” and we can all breath a collective sigh of relief that we can stop hearing about it. We’re still feeling a bit romantic here at Gadling, so today’s Photo of the Day is of another wedding couple leaving the scene of the ceremony, taken by Flickr user e.r.g.o. in Sri Lanka. He notes that the wedding was on a Wednesday morning, to coincide with the most astrologically auspicious time.

Photograph any happy couples on your travels? Add your photos to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use one for another Photo of the Day.

Become a monk or Muslim for a month

If you really want to “go local” on your next vacation, have you considered changing your religion? A new program in Turkey offers guests a chance to be Muslim for a month in order to foster cultural awareness. The term month is used loosely – guests can choose from nine- and twenty-one-day programs, including visits to some of Istanbul‘s most famous mosques, lessons on Islam and Sufism (famed for their Whirling Dervishes), an invite to an Islamic wedding, and side trips to some of Turkey’s most important Muslim sites. While in Istanbul, guests stay in a 400-year-old Sufi lodge and take in many of the non-religious sites of the city.

The Blood Foundation started with a “temple stay” program in Thailand, where guests can learn about Thai Buddhism, volunteer with a school on the Burma border, and stay with a hill tribe family.

Monk for a month is also offered for two and three weeks, and involves daily meditation and following the Ten Precepts of a novice monk.

Gadling readers, would you want to experience another religion on your travels?

Photo courtesy Flickr user huygens.