Tharp On: Marriage


It’s done. After 41 years of debauchery, debasement and delirious distraction, I finally closed my eyes, took that deep breath and leapt from the cliff into the surging ocean of respectability.

That’s right: I got married.

Let me pinch myself and set the record straight: I, a schluffy, overripe loudmouth, managed to get hitched to a fantastically gorgeous Korean girl. I’m punching well above my weight with a woman who possesses less than half of mine. I’m salivating at the chance to take to her to America for a visit next summer, where I’ll watch with glee as all the handsome young guys glare with envy, shake their chiseled-jawed heads, and mouth, How?

But until then I’ll plug away in Korea, where I am officially a card-carrying lifer. I have joined the ranks of paunchy, middle-aged dudes who, even if North Korea turns the South into a sea of fire tomorrow, will never, ever leave the peninsula. I can now look forward to spending the one night a month I’m allowed out at a certain expat sports bar with a gaggle of other married guys. We’ll eat piles of fried fat-guy food, guzzle Hite and animatedly discuss fantasy football, changes in Korean visa law, and what brands of fabric softener deliver the freshest scents.

Yes. I have arrived.

I adore my wife. She’s brilliant and hip, with killer style, a punk-rock haircut and wicked body ink: I like to call her The Girl with the Kimchee Tattoo. In fact, when I first met her, I thought that she had to be Japanese. She was simply too outré to be Korean. After all, she loved the films of Jim Jarmusch and Tarantino, along with the music of John Coltrane, Judas Priest and Sonic Youth. How was such a thing possible in Korea, the land of Super Junior and BOA?

All of my suspicions were shattered after one of our early dates, however. I took her to the Busan Aquarium, where we spent two hours walking hand-in-hand, taking in mysterious and beautiful sea creatures from all around the world. During those two hours, only one word came out of her mouth: Mashikaeta! Mashikaeta!  (Delicious! Delicious!)

That’s correct: she wanted to eat the aquarium. I knew, right then and there, that she had to be Korean.

Most Korean nuptials are performed in one of many omnipresent wedding halls, which are the one-stop-shopping of the mighty matrimonial industry. If you’ve never been to a Korean wedding hall ceremony, you’re missing out. There are lights, lasers, smoke machines, sound systems and dancers. It’s a heady, psychedelic experience, like seeing Pink Floyd in ’78. And these places are all about business. Not a second is wasted. Where, say, a wedding in India takes place over three explosive, celebratory days, the Korean equivalent is a 30-minute affair, with the guests herded into the attached buffet after the last photo is snapped, where they slop up grub from the communal troughs and then hit the road.

In and out! Bali bali, baby!

My favorite thing about Korean weddings is they don’t mess about with bulky gifts or onerous department store registries. It’s all about the bills—real cash money! Guests are expected to hand over white envelopes stuffed with notes, the amounts of which are meticulously recorded by the receiving family. And here’s the best part: you get it all back when your time comes.

My mother-in-law has been shelling out envelopes at weddings for some 40 years now. Our wedding was her chance to finally get repaid, and you can rest assured that she called on every friend and family member and friend’s friend whose wedding she had attended over the decades. The result? An army of ajummas turned up, armed with big fat envelopes.

The white envelope is like the proverbial Christmas fruitcake back home. No one really eats it; it just gets passed around in an attempt to make everyone happy. And for you all ESL cheapos out there: yes, it is possible to slip by without paying. No one is going to bar entry for not coughing up, but don’t think for a second you’ll go unnoticed once everything’s tallied up. A few folks skated at our wedding, and I’m looking forward to handing them all envelopes full of dirt on their big days.

Though the trappings were traditional, our wedding was pretty bohemian, which saved us a lot of cash and gave us even more satisfaction. Ours was the very opposite of an actually traditional Korean wedding, which involves a lot of painful-looking bowing, the employment of wooden ducks and the wearing of colorful hanboks. I swore long ago that I would never get married in a hanbok, since they make most any Westerner look like a ridiculous fat clown, which is pretty much how we’re viewed here anyway.

People now often ask me: How does married life feel?

Well… I haven’t really felt married until recently. It was almost 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, and while my single friends were out downing Jager bombs and taking off their pants in bars around town, I was with my wife, at Costco. I ran into an old acquaintance, who is also married. His exhausted-looking wife corralled two boisterous, dirty-faced little kids. A glimpse into the crystal ball? We made some small talk and briefly reminisced about the old days, until something in my cart caught his eye.

Hey man, he pointed. Is that Sunrise fabric softener?

Uh… Yeah, it is.

You should really go with Downey, especially the lilies and lilacs scent. It really gives your clothes that spring fresh smell.

I was overwhelmed with the urge to kill—him, myself, anyone—but this feeling quickly subsided when I took in the sight of my lovely wife.

One look at her and I knew it would be all right, that it was all worth it.

You can get Chris Tharp’s book Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea on Amazon or

Tharp’s Blog: Homely Planet.

Illustration by Michael Roy. See more of his work at:

Photo by Will Jackson.

Chris has been with Haps since day one and it is with the most awesome pleasure that we wish him and his lovely bride Min Hee all the best forever and for always.




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