Wedding Stories

Writing Challenge 2016 (#weddingstories)

My fiancé recently read one of my short stories and offered some ponderings. For a man who doesn’t often read novels and is reading in his second language, he was able to offer very thoughtful ideas. The main thing he talked about was the point of view of the story. He wondered if the story might be more interesting from a different perspective. I was very impressed that he could give me the type of criticism and suggestions that a writer needs, and explain his reasons for challenging me.  I think I’ll keep him around.

One of the reasons I wrote that story in the particular style and POV I did was because a large chunk of my writing has been more naturally from First Person Singular, I wanted to try something different and in short writing this is a very popular choice, so I hoped that another POV might help it stand out. The First Person Singular POV naturally leads the reader more easily into an emotional attachment with the character and their story. What about other POV? Well, I certainly haven’t tried Second Person (that daunting ‘you’), I’ve struggled to complete a novel I am hugely excited about in Third Person Limited, and as for Third Person Omniscient and First Person Plural, well I like to focus on one character usually, so I simply haven’t approached them.

Writing my novella on this blog was a great challenge and gave me an interesting opportunity to try out some ideas, but it wasn’t as specific an exercise toward particular skills in the craft of writing. In considering how to write about my wedding preparations in a more creative way, I have become interested in the different POV I could use to better entertain and capture my audience. I don’t want to simply write from my own perspective; I want to understand more and have a wider idea of how this time is affecting those around me.  This is not a wedding or living abroad blog. While these things, and my faith, come up, the main focus is writing: the process and product.

So, the writing challenge of 2016 is: Using First Person Singular (FPS), First Person Plural (FPP), Second Person (SP), Third Person Limited (TPL) and Third Person Omniscient (TPO) in separate stories, I will share my experience about planning two weddings (one in NI and one in SK) while living as an expat in South Korea. It will not be in that order of POV (more likely the order of when the events happen), there will be no word limit and other writing skills may be explored in the process.  I may have a short passage ahead of the story to explain some of the content and give insight into some points you have to consider, while gathering legal documents etc. The stories will be based on true events, however I may have to push those boundaries as I make them more interesting or fitting for the stories. They will be labeled #weddingstories to group them together. I hope you enjoy.

By the way, the engagement story is almost complete and will be checked by my fiancé this weekend (since he is so involved in that one). It will hopefully be up early next week for all who are curious.  Spoiler alert: he did well!

The Engagement

(A short story in Third Person Limited)

He could tell she was excited, even though he had told her not to get her hopes up. She was excited because they were together, on a date, for the whole day. Just doing what they love to do - together. He knew that because he felt that way too. She had picked the places: six in total, as instructed; the rest was up to him. And he had planned enough. He hoped.

After more than a year of dating, and three years knowing her, things had suddenly fallen into place and they were at a really good point; in their lives and their relationship. He knew it was because of her that his life was so positive, so full of potential. And she had told him that he gives her the right support to do everything she wants to and all those things she can’t even know about yet.

They were still young; not yet thirty, at least in western age, and they were still enthusiastic about life. But he still had to do everything right. Not perfect; it’ll never be perfect, but it can still be amazing. Oh - she’s taking him to the river ferry. She’s trying to hide the destination on her phone, but she always forgets how easy and clear Korean is for him to read, simply because it’s always a thoughtful effort for her. “Don’t look!” But he already saw. And she knows from his smile, of course. “Did you see?”

Sometimes he wishes he could lie to her (more than the small deception he’s made today), to give her bigger surprises, or just to have something for himself. Then he thinks how lonely that would be. He can’t live his life without her, not now that she’s so entangled in who he is and wants to be. She once told him that he makes her, or at least encourages her (he can never remember the exact phrasing, be it due to the second language or the inability to listen to every single word out of the millions that she speaks) to be the better person she wants to be and to be known as. He just knows that she makes him feel ok in this world, when most other people wouldn’t. She knows a lot about him. More than she should for the smile she gives him when she looks round her shoulder searching for his.

“Oh, there’s a ferry leaving at one thirty, do you think we’ll make it in time?” They’ll try. They always do. She gets so giddy when he does silly things with her, like rush for a ferry boat or dash across the road to swing on a rope and plank of wood hanging by a beach. She used to skip along to his car late at night when he’d pick her up for a drive - not quite dating, not quite just friends anymore. She’d jump in, shoot her whole head up into a grin, say “haiii” and then “to the beach!” at his request of where to go. The beach was just an easy, nice, quiet place to go at the start, but then it became their place. They flew kites there, burned sparklers or sat in serious conversation. All special, all important.

“Over there! No! Wait, there it is, isn’t it?” Today will be fun. Even though it’s still winter. But spring would be too late. Sooner is better. Everyone’s been waiting for this date. It’s cold. Good thing he made her bring that coat she’s immediately zipping up. “Oh, no, that’s not it. And that’s definitely closed. What if the actual one is closed? Oh.” She does these cute expressions. Not overly cute and sickly. Just fun for him and her. Mimicking her face lets her know it’ll be ok, because they’re together. In a way, it might be good if they can’t go on the cruise. There are five other places to go. “Ah, there, over there. That’s the one. That’s definitely closed, isn’t it?” Yes, there are no river ferries going out of that port. No ferries even close to it. “We could go on the swan boats. But that’d be pretty tiring and we have a busy day.” Thank goodness she said that. “Okay, let’s keep walking.” He wanted to know where, although he was pretty sure with the direction they were going, but where was the first special place for them that she had picked? That was important, even if she had no idea how much. “I guess that’s part A. We’ll have part B after a bit of a walk down the river.” Part B, then. It’ll have to wait until part B.

He’d been much better at keeping these secrets, for the main surprises, than he thought he could be. She’s pretty good at noticing all the things he doesn’t normally want her to notice; like when he needs to fart, or if he’s eaten fast food that day - how does she know that on a phone call? How does she know he’s in the bathroom during a phone call too? She hadn’t noticed anything strange today, though. Not that he’d recognised. She was just excited about the day, and perhaps distracted by the control she had in where they were going.

It was even nicer than he had expected having both of them planning and making this date so unique. That’s what she wanted; something unique - a story to tell. Making a story for a writer is a daunting task, however. “Nothing too over the top or public or showy. Just something for us. That we like. A story to tell when people ask me about it.” That doesn’t sound demanding, but it’s way harder to plan, especially when you’re not the one who’s grown up in the culture that demands this awkward recital.

The bridge. That’ll be part B. She loves that bridge. He loves it too. He loved watching her laugh and try to scream at him as the trains went by. Their first date. Although, no one called it that then. They were just meeting so that he could show her around this city she doesn’t know so well. She had her hair in a plait. To the side. And she wore shorts. They were nice, but he’d hate it if she wore those now. He’s become so protective of her. She’s so amazing and she’s so smart, she doesn’t exactly need to be protected, but he can’t help trying to do any little thing he can for her. That includes making her wear more sensible shoes sometimes, even if he does think these new ones look nice. Slowing down is not good for this long walk. Oh, not this side. If she holds his arm up high right there she might notice there’s something in the pocket. Keep calm and just move her hand to hold it instead. That was smooth. He’ll be ok. There’s a task he has to perform just right, and he doesn’t want to get too nervous. As long as she doesn’t notice him doing things like that, it’ll be fine.

“Part B! Let’s go up the random elevator.” The elevator wasn’t so random. It allowed pedestrians and cyclists to descend the bridge and travel along the path by the river. She just thought it was random and they had another good laugh on their walk across. He never did understand why she thought it was so random, but it had become their joke and would always be named so. He entered the elevator after her and she watched out the glass to see the way they had just walked. This was nice; he could see her face in the reflection and come up close to hug her. He grew to adore the little dance she always seems to do when he puts his arms around her. He knew this meant she was a happy little bird, chirping with contentment, or more hopefully glee.

A few people were walking or cycling across the bridge when they arrived at the top. He was conscious of everyone all around them. It made it difficult to know when to do it, and how to do it. He could distract her, at least, so she wouldn’t be watching his movement in the pocket. “Number two? It’s a secret! Ha ha! But we have to go across the bridge anyway, so come on.” He wasn’t being slower out of choice. But right here, as the first train approaches, maybe this is the moment? All? Or just the first one? Which one is this? She’s shouting at him through the roar beside them and he’s able to smile and laugh about it, but did she catch him taking a quick peek to see that he had the right thing in his hand? Oh no. Wait. Should he do it now? Just the one?

“What’s wrong? Oh, what’s that?” Well, she’s seen it now. But it’s not how he planned. He’s still not sure. He pulls it back. “What is it? Let me see!” She looks angry, why angry? And she wants it too much, it’s more fun to hold it away and let her struggle to get it. Ok, enough, it’s time to start this. “Oh! From handsome Prince. I thought it was to you! I thought some girl had given you a note. It’s for me?” Almost tears, he’s sure of it. He’s doing well so far. “Aww.” As she reads the letter out loud, talking about this very place, all the things they did when they first knew each other and how he felt about it, another train passes, just to make it an ideal moment for them. “You wrote me a letter! And it’s long. That’s amazing. Thank you.” He’s written six. Can’t she tell? That’s why it’s six places.

He’s guessed place number two. She won’t say, but there’s only one place it could be if they’re going this way on the subway. “Nope, not telling. Just wait. Not getting off here.” Not here? If it’s not here, there’s only one other place he can remember where they had a really special time together. But she wouldn’t want to do crafts today, would she? He really didn’t want to start something like that right now. “Here!” It is the stream. He was right the first time. But they should have gotten off at the stop before. “This way.” No, that’s not the right exit. It’s much closer to go the opposite way. “Come one. I’m leading. I know the way.” Better let her have her way.

“Do you see where we’re going?” The stream is right there, but she seems to want to cross it, not go down to it. “Are you hungry?” It is lunch time. “Can you see it yet?” She’s so excited with that cheeky smile, waiting for him to catch on to whatever he doesn’t realise he...oh, there. The pie shop. She does love pie and has made him go there often. It’s not too bad, he enjoys it enough. Two meat pies and smoothies. He still has to stop himself from ordering, letting her have some Korean practice anywhere they go. Sometimes it’s nice that he doesn’t have the pressure of doing every little thing. She really tries to do things on her own, even if she doesn’t know the words, and she’s so cute doing it. Well, kinda. As long as she doesn’t get too frustrated or angry. He’s a lucky guy. He’s sure he’s making the right decision. It was clear when he wrote the letters.

After lunch she announces another “part b: the stream!” Of course. That’s better. A nicer place to give her the next letter. And he knows she must be curious about it. At the stream, they sit where they sat the first time he told her he liked her. “I didn’t think you meant like, like. I just thought you meant as a friend. But I wanted it to be more. What’s that? Ohhh!” She’s reading it out loud again. He’s happy to hear her say his thoughts and feelings. She’ll just have to do that for the rest of the letters.

Number three, up to the mountain, all the way across the country to the city they first met, he was hoping she’d take him there at some point. Everything is going well so far. But what if she picks the rocks for number six? He really doesn’t want to do it there. The last time they sat on those rocks, they were nearly shot. It’s cold, the tide will be closer to them and there will most certainly be soldiers watching, ready to shoot anyone that could possibly be a spy from the north, climbing onto land.

Four is at their favourite burger restaurant. “You’re making me cry! In the middle of the restaurant!” But then she laughs almost immediately. He’s done well with the letters so far. There’s surprise; it’s what she wants. Then on to the beach where they sat and watched the waves for number five. The crying has really started to affect the letter reading. It’s starting to affect him too. What’s he going to do at letter six? She’ll definitely cry then. And there’s far more in store for her there.

“Um, I think you might know where number six is. You’ll have to go back the way we came, sorry.” The rocks. He knew it. He really didn’t want to go there, but he’ll do anything to please her, especially today. Driving up along the coast, the shops disappear; just mountains and the sea raging against those seats they rested on that night long ago when he really made it clear to her that he cared about her and she was happy about it. It was a special place; special enough for this occasion. That didn’t make it less frightening. Three soldiers stood by machine guns in their lookout tower. There’s another one just a little further too. They won’t be happy being disturbed by an older guy who’s already done military service, who should know better and his foreign gal. “Oh, now I see them actually watching us. I didn’t notice that before. It’s kinda scary. I don’t really want to go out there.” She said it, so he didn’t have to let her down. She really is fantastic.

If not here, where should he take her? Somewhere significant to them. They’d been to all those places. And it’s too late to go to anywhere else. He was too tired to think, and almost too tired to drive, plus his nerves were using up a lot of the little energy left. “What about the park behind my old house? We walked around there together once.” That might do. At least it’s a destination. Not a destination he feels is good enough, but maybe he’ll think of somewhere else along the way. “I haven’t been here in so long.” She loved living here. All that time they weren’t together, she had her own life here. It doesn’t seem right to make that a part of their future. His brain just isn’t working quick enough. They’re nearly there. He needs somewhere that was fun for both of them. A moment where they could see their lives merging and the purpose of it all.

The pavilion! They talked about the beauty of God’s creation, how they were excited to support each other and do things together in the future. There’s a feeling that they may have had a fight that day. His hair cut maybe? It was almost a year ago, they both had a weekday off to walk around the cherry blossoms in full bloom without too many crowds surrounding them and blocking their view. It was a sunny day, but still chilly enough for jackets. They got to the pavilion and as they walked up there any frustration seemed to melt away and they just smiled for the rest of their time together. Her mother even picked a photo from that day as her favourite of the couple before she met him. It was a good day. And a wonderful place to give her the last letter. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

“The lake? Ah, good idea. No? Wait, where are you going? The beach? Oh, I see! Yes! The pavilion! That’s a great idea.” Good thing she approves. He can see the lights, good. It should be romantic. She’ll like that. Maybe they can get a good picture. He’ll do it where he took her photo before. That one he really liked. “Oh, this is lovely. It’s so quiet and pretty.” It’s all as it should be. Everything today has been right. Not perfect, but they’ve smiled and had fun. Now they can be alone in a beautiful place for this important moment. But they’re not alone. And those other people aren’t very quiet. It’s been a long day, he’s too tired and anxious to deal with this.

“Why are they screaming?” Why does something have to spoil this moment for them. They can’t find another place now. It’s too late. And they’re standing in his spot! That’s where he wants to take her to give her the last letter and ask the most important question of his life. “Shall we go inside? Do you mind?” He’s Korean, why would he mind taking his shoes off to walk around this wooden hut? He’s ready for this at every moment. “Oh, let’s go up here!” There’s levels to this pavilion. It’s quite extravagant. “There’s a third level!” She’s excited again. He loves it when she can explore and be surprised. But there’s still something to think about, to work out and plan. “Come on. Come up here.” But he can’t see the spot from here. They’ve gone! He can do it now. But she won’t stay still for him to figure this out. They can take a picture out there. That’ll be his excuse to give the last letter and all the rest. “Okay, I guess it’s a little cold, let’s go.”

No. She’ll be disappointed. It’s so beautiful and she likes it here. Maybe this is the spot. “Do you want the last letter?” He couldn’t have said anything else that would have made her more excited. Although, he can see she’s trying to contain it. She’s almost dancing as she reads his words, standing in that middle level in that vibrantly decorated pavilion. Her voice is a little too quiet for him to hear as she reads this final letter. “‘ I want to ask you something. Will you do me the honour of allowing me to ask you to marry me?’ Are you proposing?” She almost can’t say it through the tears. He gets down on his knee as he reaches into that pocket he was careful to protect all day and brings out the purple box he picked up last week from the jewelry shop. “You told me you couldn’t get it!” That little twist worked. Not exactly a lie; he just didn’t tell her he got a discount and could buy the ring.

He’s thought about this and he knew what to say, but it’s still hard to get it out the way he wants to. He’s said everything already in these letters. But he still wants to give her this moment of asking her the biggest question a man can. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes!!” What do they do now? He’s not exactly a professional at this. Does she take the ring? Thank goodness she went for a kiss. When can he get up off his knee? “You put it on.” Ok, so he’s supposed to do it. No one told him that. “That was wonderful. Thank you.” Pictures. Lots of smiles. Lots of kisses. Now it’s official: she’ll be his forever.

Visa Application

(A short story in Third Person Omniscient)

    “How many today, Jeremy?”

    “Well, it's Friday.” That means busy. A visa application appointment is a good excuse for taking a long weekend. Jeremy hates Fridays; being cooped up in an air conditioned office with back to back appointments, hardly seeing the light of day, despite the window to his right. Not quite in reach of his desk, it only gives light to the applicants (who, to be fair, need any dismal ray of hope) but might be better served if their judge had that open view of the world.

    “We can do a swap at lunch, if you want. I’ll come up here for interviews and you go down to observe incognito.” They never swap, but Alex likes to offer anything that might perk Jeremy up. He has the positivity Jeremy lost years back, absorbing any extra that’s floating about.

    “Nah. I need you on the floor. Got a few tricky ones today.”

    “Oh, yeah? Like what?” It didn't matter that by the end of a packed day Alex would crash completely from exhaustion with the over stimulation of sugar, caffeine and dubious social interaction; he was still enthusiastic every time he could get an interesting case.

    “This one couple, it might be necessity.” Jeremy’s eyes roll at the old fashioned ideas of when to get married or what for. “They only just put in the notice and from what I can tell it's all been done over here. Can’t confirm, but I think we can guess what the rush is.” These are the least interesting red flags: it usually turns out to be pregnancy related, as Jeremy clearly suspects.

    “Girl or guy applying for the visa?” Confirmation eyebrow raise says it’s a man, as Alex expected. The British woman’s family will be demanding a home wedding to try to persuade her there’s better support for their impending family with them in the UK. The Korean guy will have applied in name only, going along with whatever he has to in consequence. These ones are fun on the office side because the guy clearly has no idea what his fiancée has written, and sometimes even asks to see.

    “Actually we have two of those. A.M. and P.M.” They’re nice for the café side, too, since Alex has a way with people that persuades them that these types of secrets are safe with him and they’re settled rather quickly. Jeremy doesn’t have Alex’s people skills. Even with many more years on the job, his suspicious personality is great for flagging up problematic cases, but his manners are less subtle at smoking them out in person. At least these ones are easy approvals once the bundle of joy is confirmed. “Plus, there are a few whose answers are a little too perfect. You know, hinted at extra detail not even addressed in the form.”

    Now these are the ones Alex loves. The challengers; unwilling to show any crack, but unsuspecting of the methods the visa agency employs. “Mostly marriage today, then?”

    “Tis the season.” Why does everyone want to get married in the summer? The UK is too unpredictable; might as well go for a winter one and expect the bad weather. “You’ll like this one.” Jeremy slides out a particularly piercing stare to which Alex jumps back from.

    “It’s not her, is it?”

    “You think she’d try it on a British guy again? She failed twice already. This is someone new.”

    “Not to us. Stamp it.” The rejection stamp isn’t often used pre-interviews, but there are some personalities that call for it. Pictures can tell you a million things about a person, even the strictest passport samples. There is always a hint of personality, be it from the corners of the mouth suggesting a smile, the hair gelled back or just pushed, slight tilts of the head and of course the eyes; most not as frightening as the lady he now feared meeting today. Even through a picture, the officials can tell when it’s more determination than love that has motivated an application. The applicant might be going for a sweet look with her clothes and hair, but the eyes of that previous rejection and her emotional twin today hold enough disdain for the process that a red flag should rightfully be raised.

    “You just focus on catching her with him before she heads up here. If she’s anything like the other one, she’ll have him in tow just to keep a close eye on him and get him to pay for coffee.”

    “I was looking forward to a tearless day, Jeremy.”

    “Maybe he’ll be more poised than the other dupe. Look out for little notes he might leave around for help, though.”

    “Like ‘help I’m being robbed of all my money at fist-point for wedding preparations and she won’t let me contact my family’.” It makes them laugh, but they both take it seriously. It also gives Alex flashbacks of the poor sucker breaking down in Starbucks five minutes before he was supposed to clock off. Other than that death stare, there was nothing wrong with the application, and in any other situation that whimpering man would be tied to his soul sucker forever, but luckily for him, a loveless application is enough grounds for denial. In fact, most rejections are based on love. In this job, both Jeremy and Alex had learned that love reveals itself in different ways, but they can see it even in the brashest personalities. “What time is that one?”

    “Not long.” Alex knows Jeremy’s hints to push on, so doesn’t pause to reorganise his files. “Oh, got a pink notice this morning.”

    “That’s right, it’s getting close to the Smith-Kim deadline.”

    “They’ve got another week left.” Even when there is love, the men can predict, almost to the week, how long a marriage will last simply based on the stubbornness or individuality of a candidate; one with a slight attitude is all it takes to wreck a match. “No, this was the Harvey-Lee couple.”

    “That sweet girl with the soft voice?”

    “Yeah, I guess he got fed up with asking her to repeat herself.”

    “Or she got sick of not being heard.”

    “We’ll tell the next one to learn to lip read, then. Poor girl should have a nice guy.” It takes them both a second to move on. They’re always sad about the surprise divorces.

    “The rest pretty straightforward?”

    “No case should be considered clean until that passport is handed back to them.” Jeremy’s number one rule; none shall pass without complete scrutiny.  “Thirty minutes ‘til the first one, better get out there.”

    “I’ll take the elevator to see anyone in the lobby.” They usually have a little more time, since most people avoid the early appointments. Alex likes to take the stairs; a little exercise and much quieter. Not on a Friday, though. The early slots are more likely to approach the security guard or glide straight to the arrow buttons, but the stairs lead to the back door of the cafe, bypassing his office entrance and any chance of sussing out punctual applicants. Later appointments are prone to pop by Starbucks together, so he’ll soon be settled in time to catch a few to observe off guard during his first drink.  

    It’s usually easy enough to spot candidates; not only from their glossy paper likenesses, but their nervous, flapping entrance often give them away. Then there’s the fact that the marriage visas usually come in couples: one British, one Korean; a big giveaway. Sometimes, though, there’s a tricky Korean guy who crops up, solo and confidant. He wings it, not even look at the floor numbers, just heads into an elevator and somehow makes his way to the right place. In this case, the folder offers a hint: pink or some sparkly colour shows a woman behind the process, brown envelope unsealed shows someone trying to be practical or professional, and black is trying too hard. They never match the navy blue the office makes a point of using to distinguish themselves (that was Alex’s idea. Jeremy approved it).

    Passing as the elevator doors open, there he is, right on time: Mr Morning Appointment; wants to get this meeting over with and on to the next one that actually affects his job. Gold folder (that’s a new one) underarm and distracted by emails on his mobile, he swishes straight by Alex, not even noticing his own photo and documents held up for cross check. That’ll be up to Jeremy for approval, then.

    Alex has a favourite seat in Starbucks, but he rarely gets to sit in it. His only break coincides with that of a local security guard who swoops in while he’s finishing reviews. It’s early lunches for those surveying others. The best place for work is the tall table and stools. There you can observe all the comings and goings while seemingly engrossed in a game, book or paperwork.  Quite often, Alex is able to sit with an applicant’s notes, written in Korean, right in front of their partner while he chats.  Even those who learn good conversational Korean find it difficult to recognise notes about them, but code names were used, just in case someone would notice a name upside down in another script.    

    The door jingles and it is still quiet enough for Alex to tell, without looking fully up, that his first mission is on. The morning shotgunners. He can’t hear them, but she is doing the traditional point to the connecting door to rush her man. He isn’t affected by it, though, and while he doesn’t order himself a coffee, he does guide her to a seat, scarily close to Alex’s notes at the stools. Alex can hear them now: English, not Korean. So she’s not obsessed with fitting in. They’re very comfortable with each other and even laugh as she finally gets him to go to the interview. They’re appropriately early and even seem excited; they want to get married, even if it’s earlier than planned.

    Not to draw attention, Alex scribbles his thoughts as he closes over the leather cover he uses to look like a local businessman, rather than an agent from upstairs. He checks his watch, just to keep up the facade, but it only makes him wish he had a smart one, so his communications with Jeremy could be even more clandestine. No word from him in Alex’s messages about the early riser.

    What could be his ‘in’ with this girl sitting opposite? She pulls out an ipad and starts tapping away, with sips at her coffee. He can’t see what she’s typing, but it doesn’t last long, as she pulls out a Korean book. She must want to find a way to distract herself from the thought of rejection. She’s drinking coffee, not running to the bathroom for any reason and her clothes aren’t designed for growth. Could it be that they’re not rushing for any reason other than they want to? She’s moved on to her mobile and Alex can see the app: the Bible. Lifting his phone he types in “Christian. Must be love, not baby” and sends to Jeremy. She looks up at him, thinking her own thoughts, not meaning to catch his eye. They smile at each other anyway, so it’s a good chance to double check.

    “You’re learning Korean?” Obvious, but he points to the books anyway.

    “My fiancé is Korean, so I want to talk with his family more.” Normal answer. Not so normal accent. Are American colleagues rubbing off too much on her?

    “Learn any interesting new phrases recently?” This is a good way to help candidates open up, since it reveals what’s on their mind, or what news they’ve recently had to share.

    “I’m trying to learn some hanja, actually, so it’s vocabulary with Chinese origin grouped into categories. It’s not helping me distinguish different colours, though. I never remember which word is red and which one is blue.” She’d remember that if family were asking if she hopes it’s a boy or a girl. That ‘blue’ wasn’t so American. Is she scottish? A sly check of documents explains why Alex hadn’t heard such an accent before: Northern Ireland. Funny, he always expected to understand much less spoken from that part of the world.

    Alex senses a buzz through the table. A text from Jeremy reads, “Mr M asked about green card. Clearly no love: R.” The guy couldn’t even get the country right. Alex really isn’t on form today; that’s two he’s missed already. There clearly isn’t much point in bothering this girl anymore, so he pretends to focus more on the phone to allow her to go back to her study.
    Another jingle at the door and another couple catches Alex’s eyes to focus head-on to the almost identical face he’d been dreading. Back to the phone: “Not scary, photoshopped: lazy eye.” Sent. Then. “I give up.” Sent. Alex goes limp with the positivity leaking out; has he lost his work sense? Flipping through the rest of the applicants, his initial theories swap right in front of his eyes. That P.M. shotgun will be a newly learned fatal disease, the far too long in advance planning will turn out to be a dare and the sweetest smiling gal must have a forceful grip leaving bruises just under the t-shirt line for no-one to see. And Alex is convinced now that he won’t catch any of it. His day won’t be without sobbing if he can’t find a way to calm himself down. It’s still too early for prime seats to all be full, and much too early for the security guard’s break; Alex can finally enjoy his favourite seat, even if it is just to sulk in a comforting place.

    It’s easy to gather possessions when he’s hardly begun his day. Not so easy to get away without that cheerful bride-to-be noticing and offering a smile just as he drops into the armchair in the corner. A smile from a stranger is not so common here, even with all the foreigners that come in to support their loved ones. Somehow, that small smile squirms its way into Alex’s positivity reserves; enough to jump start them into looking around for more. A new drink is on the menu; smore inspired, yum. An alert pops up to remind Alex of his dinner planned for tonight; first date with a new girl he had been brave enough to ask out.

    Perhaps he can work in this chair for today; it could bring a new perspective. After all, it’s much better that this girl studying Korean is excited to marry a man who was born on the other side of the world from her, and that couple by the door seem to understand each other as they steal each others’ drinks and nod in wrapped attention. Another text: ‘Korean with Irish lilt, but American phrase: proper international couple. A.” Good for them; hopefully the weather will hold up for a green wedding.

Plans from the Other Side of the World

(A short story in First Person Singular)

Burrrdrdrdrdrd. Tringngngng. Beebeebeebeebeep. Am I too late? Deededededede. Whoosh. “Hello, Daddy!” Blocks of brown. Could be the wood beams. Now hair and the face I’ve imagined walking me down the aisle in a few months; always with a heartwarming smile, even if it is in odd pixilated blocks.

“He- ca- e?” Yes and no, Dad. Oh, the picture is flicking clearer so I can see the background. Those were trees, not the rafters I was expecting. “-ld on. I- -ing -ide.” Doors. Much clearer and no more jumping from one paused strange expression to another. He’s in a big room; it changes to creams of curtains and table cloths. It seems he’s joined others as I hear a conversation and another comforting voice in the background. “Your mother’s talking to the manager.” He points back at them but the perception from the camera lens makes it look like he thinks a couple of stacks of chairs are engaged in natter, too. “Let me give you a wee tour.” I’m swivelled around to see a basic function room with the usual wedding reception needs.

“Dad, you can switch me over to the back camera, if it’s easier.” Mum’s the one who showed me how to do that originally, but they always forget it exists when a moment like this crops up.

“Oh, yes. Right, so you see what I see now.” He continues his dance; good practice for the big event. This room wasn’t the reason I was interested in viewing this place so I’m not moved by the normality of it. “They sort everything, we just need to choose the menu.” That’s a plus. One of the top three so far doesn’t provide food. That’s the only concern Mum and I had about it; spectacular otherwise (from the pictures and review I got, anyway).

“What about that other room? It was a bit smaller.” And prettier.

“Yes, let me take you up there.” Now I can see Mum again, still getting to know the lady in charge. Then I’m dropped to check out the floor; well polished. There’s a squeak as Dad goes through the doors, but that leads to silence; so quiet it encourages Dad to whisper. “This is where they hold ceremonies, and obviously we don’t need that, but we can have the meal in here. We’re just not sure about the evening. It is possible to move downstairs for that, though.”

Well, that’s annoying. Wouldn’t we want the same beautiful features for the whole night? I’d be more inclined to find a caterer and at least have a beautiful house and hall for the whole day. It’s a no go, I think. Still, Mum and Dad are going to so much trouble and they’re the ones who actually experience the place. Dad’s so positive about them allowing us to use both rooms. I’ll wait for their verdict later. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“Alright, you get to bed. Oh, and send those invitations you chose out there as soon as you can so we can write them and get them out as soon as we pick the venue. Night night.”

Kisses and night night.


Burrrdrdrdrdrd. Tringngngng. “Hiya. We’re just getting some of the dresses you liked out. Tell me the list again. There was the Maggie Sottero, one with the detail on the middle and side, and one with the bits on the shoulders, the Pronovias; it was quite simple. What else did you like?”

“I just saw a new one, actually.”

“I know the one. Just added it to the sale stock yesterday.” A bright smile jooks into the frame. “Hellooo. I’m Emma. Nice to meet you. Sort of.” Emma has beautiful brown hair and she makes those full of frills dresses look like bags of feathers as she hangs them to unzip and hang each length of white up for greater viewing.

Mum moves me to have a close up of the first one. It has a kind of cape attached onto the shoulders that I’m curious about. “Nice material on this. It’s not too heavy, either.” That’s a huge plus. Not looking for a workout on my wedding day. Unless it’s on the dance floor. “The back has a lovely lacey bit.”

“Yeah, that’s what interested me about that one.” It is gorgeous. Is it too plain on the front though? There’s something sparkly or crafted on one side of each dress, but never something to make them dazzling all around. Of course I want to look good when I see myself in the mirror, but people will be looking at my back for the majority of the ceremony and your never know what angle a picture will be taken at; a bride has to think of everything.

“Let me be honest about this one. It’s a tight fit, so if you’re not sure about size, it might not be the one for you. You’re welcome to try it on when you get over here, though.”

I appreciate the frankness. There’s no dieting in this short prep time. We’ve already whizzed through two of the five months with venue visits. “Ok, we can move on.” Video is better for perusal than modeled prints online, but there’s still no sense of what the material feels like or would look like on me. “I arrive just three weeks before the wedding, but we’re away for one of those.”

“You need to come in as soon as possible, then, because you’ll need some work on the dress, even if it’s just length alterations. We know some local seamstresses you can call now to book them for that week you arrive in time to have it ready for cleaning.” Emma lists a few times for the week I get there and we settle on the day I arrive for trying on the final choices. As long as they’re still there. I might be tired, but I can wake up for this during jet lag.

“Before you go. Did you email Tracy?”

“I did and she’s already replied with ideas of how she can make the cake. I’ll forward you the email.”

“Got big plans for the cake, Emma. I don’t know where she comes up with these ideas.”

“Oh, speciality cakes are “in” these days. I’ve heard of some rather odd ones: Alice in Wonderland tea party, flower bouquets, beach scenes.”

“Well, it’s not quite like that, but-”

“Mum, I have to go, sorry. You can tell Emma all about it, if you want. Thanks so much for doing this through video call.”

“No problem, looking forward to seeing you in some of these.”

Waves, kisses, bye bye.


Burrrrrrrr- “I’m just making a cup of tea. Let me get the milk and a biscuit.”

“Can’t forget the biscuit.” Not when my brother wants a cuppa. Since I’m often in this position, I’m probably the person who gets to appreciate those pictures on his wall the most. At least I’m not looking at the ceiling.

He pops back, mug in hand and choccy biscuit in mouth. “Mmm!” With one free hand, he picks something up off camera, then white and dashes of colour wave in the full area of the screen.

The colour comes into focus to show a little Korean bride and groom formed with Korean letters to spell out “wedding invitation”. “I presume you’re coming.”

Card down, biscuit half eaten, but out of mouth. “I’m thinking about it. We just have to talk about what I’m going to wear.”

“Haha. Well, we don’t mind you wearing the suit from our last family wedding. It’d match fine with the groom.”

“No, no. I mean for the ceremony. I need to order a surplice or a Geneva Gown.”

“Okay.” Surely my silence will tell him I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“The surplice is a white cover that goes over a black robe. Some people don’t like it because it might clash with the bride’s dress. The Geneva Gown is like a black academic robe. That’s what Presbyterian ministers wear in Northern Ireland.”

“Well, we’re not in a Presbyterian church. That’s for Korea. I suppose it’ll be alright if you wear white. But you’re the only other person who can wear a white dress with me.”

My brother’s laugh is full of joy. “Alright. Now. Order of service.”

“I have no idea how to do this, so I’m glad you’ve married people before.”

The internet connection decides to break up this laugh to become an electronic seal. Of course that makes me laugh, too. We’re soon back to work as the connection settles. “So, there’s the traditional or the modern version for the language.”

“Well, I think we’d both like traditional. Is there a lot that we have to remember?”

“I can send it to you now, but there’s not a lot that you have to say by yourself, just repeat after me. We’ll practice it all when everyone gets here and we’ll do an overall rehearsal after church since everyone is in the same place.” It’s getting close; all tickets are booked and bags are mentally packed. “The order is pretty standard, but there are a couple of things you can change, like what hymns are sung and when. Oh, and you said you want communion, so we just have to decided when to do that.”

“Righteo. Well, Mum needs to send this to the printers soon, so we won’t change too much, just put the names of the hymns and Bible references in. Looking forward to seeing your white dress!”

Big smiles, talk to you later.


Do do-do doo do do-do doo do-do. Do do-do doo do do-do doo do-do. The Korean system is more tuneful. Do do-do doo do do-do doo doo do-do do doo do-do do do doo. Do do-do- “Anyong!”

“Hi sweetheart.” His hair. It’s so tall now. He hasn’t cut it still and he needed it done before I left Korea.

“Haii! How are you?” Now I’m looking up his nose. It’s hard to focus with all this shaking. And now there’s shaking on my end as I reach the phone out of little hand’s reach. “Oh, hello, wee nephew!”

Those Northern Irish lessons are rubbing off on my future husband. A finger point and another grab at the phone is my arm load’s response. I manage to hold the electronics even further from possible accidental hang ups.

“Have you left work, yet?” Going to the bus or a work dinner?

“Yes. I’m walking home. Gotta get some dinner. What are you doing?” He got out of work on time, that’s good.

“We’re getting ready to leave this wee man. I’m collecting my dress from the final touches.”

“Oooo, the found it in less than two hours of arriving dress!” Nephew is getting bored, giving little pushes to get down.

“Found and bought in less than two hours of arriving dress.” The noise of an airplane passing by settles the load in my arm for a moment; it’s easier to see when you’re up where the window is, but as soon as it’s gone, he remembers his fight to get down to play.

“Can I see?” He knows he can’t, even though if we were in Korea he’d actually have helped to choose.

“No!” My future husband really needs to cut his hair; it’s not right for our wedding.

“Well I can’t wait. But I’m more excited to come over and see you and your family. I’ll come see you soon, wee nephew, okay?” How do I subtly nudge him about the hairdressers?

“Bah! Ga-ga.” That’s a better answer than trying to hang up the call. A smile now, too.

“Everything else coming along okay?”

“Yes, all fine. Wait ‘til you see the venue! It’s gorgeous. The caterer is doing an extra sample for me to try tomorrow, too. Mum and Dad keep raving about the food, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

“I’m already hungry, no need to make me jealous. I have to cut my hair soon.” Thank goodness. “But I don’t want to do it too early. Maybe next week before I leave.”

“Don’t get it cut too-”

“Too short. I know. I’ll try to get it right.”

“Thank you.” I’ve annoyed him too much about this since before leaving Korea, but those pictures are important. “Alright, I have to go. Have a good dinner.”

“Have a good day! I love you.”

“Love you too. Can’t wait ‘til you get here.”

Kisse, byyeee.


Briiing. Briiing. What’s that? Briiing. “It’s coming from your bag, missus.” My bridesmaids are checking their make up in the mirror, giggling away as if they’ve known each other as long as I’ve known each of them. Briiing.

“She’s not missus yet!” Their smiles make me happy I got to know such fun girls. “Sounds like you’re getting a call.” Briiing.

“That’s weird, I don’t have a sim card in my phone.” My ‘Bride-To-Be’ sash slips off my shoulders and down to the floor as I get up to investigate this noise. Stepping out of it, to get to my bag, I find my phone. Sure enough, it’s calling for my attention; I forgot I had connected to the wi-fi already.

“Oh, it’s her man! Answer quick!” Our ten year friendship from high school allows her to press the green mark to connect. “Hi mister!”

“Hello ladies.” He can see the three of us all dolled up for our evening out. I’m already tired from the excitement and anticipation of the surprises my friends have prepared.

“Do you like your lady’s veil?” In Korea, she’d be my elementary school friend, because that’s when we met and started torturing our parents with continuous laughter. “It’s hobo-chic.” She’ll tell him how surprising it was that it actually costs more than the one prepared for next week. That’s been entertaining us all day. “A guy in a cafe liked it, didn’t he?”

Ah, it’s the Clements story. My other bridesmaid picks it up: “He was not impressed that we’d want a snack during a girls’ day out!”

The three of us know what comes next and get the timing perfect. “What are you doing in Clements on your hen do?” The intonation mimics that nosey guy just right.

“You’re all having fun, then?” A chorus of agreement disperses the cheerful friends to get back to their carefully discussed positions at the mirror. “I’m on my way home to pack for leaving. I just wanted to check: do you want anything from here before I leave?”

“Ladies, do we need kimchi?”

“No, thank you!” There are other things they’d like from visiting South Korea, but not that.

“Alright, you ladies have fun.”

Kiss, kiss, kisses. See you soon!

A Few Koreans in Northern Ireland
(A Short Story in Second Person)

Did you pack a coat? You know, it’s not as hot in Northern Ireland as it is in South Korea. The chill hits as you roll that massive suitcase, stocked with rations from home, toward the car and hug your son’s new family-to-be; smiling far too brightly at your own adjusting eyes that have been dried to raisins through hours of hovering above the clouds. The grins continue with broken greetings, neither you nor them sure which language to use or how to get to the next step and closer to a bed. Still, it’s a happy occasion and you’re in Europe! There are sheep in green fields that stretch beside the tiny road they tell you is the main one home. How exotic.

Bread replaces your customary side dishes; not the vegetables you’re used to, but there are plenty of those in the bowl of homemade soup in front. It becomes difficult to express a single thought without someone telling you a new word for it or taking over the tale to convert to other ears. Observations of the others show a tangle of expressions, not waiting for one to stop before the other begins; as if it wasn’t hard enough for you to decipher their particular intonation in the first place.

This big fluorescent box of goods for sale goes by another name than ‘martuh’ but has some familiar treats at the fresh produce section; enough to mix with the dried and packaged ones snuggled beside clothes and shoes, awaiting their own view of the new land. Breakfast and snacks obtained; some sort of normality can be achieved in the privacy of the thankfully separate digs thoughtfully provided.

The cottage teaches the meaning of quaint, exciting your heart back up to a waking rhythm. Your pores soak up the beautiful water in the shower to get you physically prepared for any more hits to the senses. The olympics coverage provides entertainment, allowing easy understanding despite the nonsensical commentators. You thought you’d be able to stay awake for another round of gathering round the host’s big table, but your eyes feel a new pain and that cosy bed calls your name.

It’s lunch time, your body tells you, but the sky behind the curtains says no such thing; it’d be saying ‘shhh’ if it could be bothered to rise. A brunch of the new vegetables with the smuggled rice and soup settles the rumbling, and brings you some familiarity in the world that the airplanes turned upside down. It’s hard to understand why all of that makes you so tired.

Waking up again to the wooden floorboards and rugs makes you feel like you’ve been transported into one of those foreign movies with subtitles. Sprinkling water again helps bring resolve for another full day of odd food and chatter; which begins right away, since you’ve fast forwarded to this world’s lunch. This, then is followed by a winding drive to the beach; very different in this grey sky that seems to always threaten rain. Not just threaten, it was serious, but thankfully you’re back in the car on the way to another sit down with some more side-bread.

Church is church: the tunes bring a multi-lingual choir and the verses need little explanation. You’re at home, praising with an ever extending family.

You’re driven a different road back, and when the car is turned up a narrow (you learned that word for ones much bigger) lane you see a house you’d imagine Jane Austin to write about. Your escorts take you inside where each room is decorated to continue that novel feel. They talk to new people who show them where to find different items. Boxes are brought in and one is opened to reveal little flowers made from hanji: you had wondered why your nearly daughter-in-law spoke of needing some traditional Korean paper. Untouched sheets are draped along tables to create settings organised by the vibrant colours of the delicate paper, then those crafted flowers are dropped onto any surface that can handle them. You’re taken to the kitchen, where you find the other three boxes have been hidden and each is opened to reveal paintings and pop-up frosting which you’re told is representative of her land, his land and verses from the book that brought them together. You’ve never seen cake you didn’t want to ruin by eating before.

The reason you ventured so far has arrived and as you look in the mirror one last time, you feel great, not just from a good rest, but because it’s a beautiful day with great hopes for the future. The car arrives and you’re led to the church where you wait for the union. Flashes of scenes from romantic stories acted out by famous people flash through your mind in anticipation of this very different ceremony and celebration. Other than the white dress and suit up front, it’s quite reminiscent of yesterday’s worship, only your own participation is more obvious, especially for poses inside and out.

Now begins the mystery tour in the old fashioned van with those always smiling girls in matching blue. They start a conversation which you continue and somehow the gurgles they come out with match up with the slow sentences you try to help them understand. One asks a question: it’s about your language and the couple that connects you, so you offer a range of salutations one might quote for these occasions. One seems to catch their attention and they almost sound like they could manage a wedding in your own country, if required. The 1900’s esque compact version of your own vehicle stops in front of a park entrance, so you exit to join them for photos and fun. This is not at all how you expected your son’s wedding to be memorialised.

Back in the car, you practice pronunciation with that simple phrase the girls cannot get their heads around all the way to the grand manor. Pureed soup, speeches, matured beef and gravy; not the wedding buffet you usually enjoy, but quite a delight. Games, from your home and theirs, and dancing (oh the dancing!) It’s a busy night, but a final taxi back to the cottage supplies the needed rest.

Again, a beautiful day! And you’re off to the coast; only this one is rocky, no sand in sight: only hexagons. The newly joined family tells tales of the protected volcanic landmark and it’s legendary formation. Pictures of the giants, running from their own monsters, playing their organ, looking out for their offspring and losing their boot, run through your mind as you exercise your legs in preparation for tomorrow’s lengthy return, minus one.

At the airport again, you can imagine the reverse of your arrival, but hope the familiar time-zone will welcome your body much more comfortably. Only one month to prepare for the ceremony on the other side of the world.

Man and Wife
(A Short Story in First Person Plural)

As soon as we heard “I now pronounce you-” of course we wanted to kiss, but we’d been warned there was more to our wedding ceremony. A bit of praising, some nibbling and sipping, then singing and posing before the march out. Our photographer suggested we greet everyone leaving the church, which in hindsight we’re glad he did, because, wait ‘til we tell you: there is no time to do anything you think you’ll do on your wedding day. We thought we’d have great chats with all our guests (there were less than fifty after all), but we were lucky to get three sentences with anyone after that meet and greet outside the church.

It did take a while to pose in the park for photos. We’d hoped to get some in the fort, but just like the last time we went there, the gate was locked. There were still some great ones from around the lake and grounds. We got the official photos the other week, but we haven’t decided what to print yet. Still, it’s nice to have them.

The meal took a good chunk of the day, but then again it was a blur to us. We truly wish we could eat that meal again. It was incredible! Michelin star chef, don’t you know. Well, it’s not as noticeable at other people’s weddings because eating the nice food is your only job, but we were barely finishing one course when hints were made to clear our plates or let them be taken away half eaten, because we’d tried to go around the other tables for hellos or had a request to decide on something else’s timing. By the time pudding arrived, we knew to shovel it in before slipping out to catch the setting sun rays for natural filtering of romantic images. Those ones turned out really well. Of course, the speeches were in between courses, too, so that added a bit onto eating time. Everyone was careful to keep to their time, though. Good stories, none too embarrassing.

The other thing that zapped away time was changing in and out of different outfits. We thought it might be fun to show everyone the traditional outfits we would have worn at a Korean ceremony, so before we left Korea, we took the time to get fitted and chose the material according to what the lady told us was proper and should suit each of us. Well, since we had gone to all that trouble, we had to wear them at the reception, but it took a bit to get them on and off. They did look great for explaining the Korean games. Everyone got into those and had a good time, didn’t they?

They fairly got into the dancing, too. It was awkward when we did that first dance, but, being a bi-racial couple, we’ve learned to zone out stares when we’re in public; it’s much nicer when it’s at an event where friends and family are expected to watch. Anyway, they were eager enough to have a good shake as soon as we waved them up, but it helped that a few people really got into it and encouraged everyone else. Who knew a Korean pastor could dance the night away so well?

The next day was gorgeous; just as good, if not better than our wedding, so we headed out to the Giant’s Causeway because we couldn’t have Korean family come all that way and miss it. Did we have any of the cake for lunch? Mum packed us a picnic so we stopped on the way. There were sandwiches and crisps, but don’t remember any cake then. It was incredible, that cake! Wouldn’t it have been funny if we’d taken some of the giant’s causeway cake to eat on the rocks? There’s still some of the gyeongpo pagoda in our freezer, the chocolate one. It could be finished on location, if we go there on our Korean anniversary. We weren’t the only ones who thought it’d be a good day to go to the causeway! Still, we got to see everything you ought to see there, and we even went on along the coast and had tea in Portrush. We thought about visiting the famous Barry’s, but an amusement park isn’t as fun without a couple of kids and we were all pretty hungry by then. Fish and chips would have been good by the seaside, but we ended up at an asian restaurant. At least those of us missing rice had a good fill.

The sea air must have exhausted everyone, because we all took it easy the next day, even though it was the last day for the Koreans. Oh, it was so funny when we dropped them off at the airport. Well, that part wasn’t funny, but afterwards we went to maccy d’s for a snack with our Northern Irish Mum and Dad and this guy dressed up in a suit came up and asked us about our food, then talked about his own family having an exchange student for a while. We didn’t bother to correct him, but did wonder if he’d be shocked if we showed him we’re not exchange brother and sister.

The honeymoon was short. Good, but short. It didn’t feel as rushed as the wedding, but it didn’t exactly feel like we’d imagined a honeymoon. No two weeks away in the tropics. We drove to Sligo, checked in at the hotel, checked out the river, ate pizza, slept, had breakfast, drove to the beach, ate the best battered fish in the world, walked along the sand dunes, ran as the rain pelted down on us, walked past the river, found a pub with a lovely smell of food (best French dip in the world), slept, filled up on breakfast and took what turned out to be the scenic route home, stopping to photograph waterfalls and mountains along the way. Oh and cake! We took some of the causeway vanilla cake with us and had to stop ourselves eating it all on the first night.

It was worth coming back, though, because we got to have a play with our nephew, and any more time with family is worth it for us. We had noodles, that night, didn’t we? Remember one of the containers was missing and we were all starving? Funny, how one of our final requests in the UK was something you’d think we’d get plenty of in Korea. It’s not the same in different countries, though. The last meal was a good old roast dinner after church. We had to eat and run for check-in, but Mum knows a good roast will cure any travel worries. It did mostly; not so many tears. Of course, it helped that it was both of us going back together this time. Plus, we’d see those faces that sent us off soon enough when they’d get on a flight to Korea for the Korean celebrations.