▲ “It’s only perfect because we are different. If we were the same all the time it would be boring.” Photo by Jarrod Hall
Crossing and meshing cultural lines, recently wed couple Connie Saieva and Choi Yeong Kyu are living proof that humanity can connect on a different level stemming from love, creativity, spontaneity and similar passions. In an impromptu visit to Jeju, the couple have redefined a typical honeymoon on the island.
Opting for a more environmental setting by camping on the beach, Saieva and Choi bypassed the luxurious resorts and pensions in order to get a true sense of island life. “We left our watches in the car and didn’t worry or talk about time. We just enjoyed where we were and concentrated on ourselves, on our relationship and on our future,” says Choi.
Although they originally met in Daejeon, Choi’s hometown and Saieva’s temporary home for a year, the couple now reside and work in Gunsan. Their future plans consist of ultimately moving to Canada, Saeiva’s native country, where Choi will attend chiropractic school. Yet, Saeiva is adamant in expressing that the two will never limit their relationship geographically. “I don’t think we’ll ever live in one country exclusively because I love Korea,” she says. “It’s not like we got married to get out.”
How did you two meet? Kyu: I first saw Connie at a friend’s art show in Daejeon. I was crushing on her because I really love women with short hair, but I felt like I couldn’t talk to her or do anything except glance her way. Finally, we met at a foreigner bar called Santa Claus.
Connie: I had seen him around in cafes and bars before. We had made a little eye contact, but nothing was really happening. I knew Korean guys could sometimes be shy, so that night I was like screw it, I’m just going to do this. I asked him to be my foosball partner. So, that’s kind of how it all started. I’ve never once looked back and we’ve been inseparable since.
Was your wedding more Korean or Western? Connie: I had seen Korean weddings before and was always slightly disappointed at how it was so impersonal. It just seemed like they were shooing people in and out and trying to get the wedding over as quickly as possible. We both talked about how we didn’t like that and decided to pick an outdoor café with a garden.
How was the process of planning for a wedding in Korea? Kyu: It was really hard because I’m a man, but I had to help take care of everything and translate even though I wasn’t familiar with all the feminine aspects. I think a big issue was the dress.
Connie: I wanted to wear a hanbok because I don’t really like the idea behind wearing a white dress. I just didn’t think I was as pure as an angel. Plus, I think a wedding should be really colorful and a hanbok is gorgeous and full of color. The process of designing it just took a long time. Kyu’s English is good but he doesn’t know all the technical terms, especially for making clothes. So, I’d be in the dress, sweating and wanting to cry having no bridesmaids, no mom, nothing. It was really hard. I’d have to say the preparation for the wedding, like many brides I’m sure feel, was really difficult. But in the end it all came together.
Is this your first trip as a married couple? Connie: It is! Technically this is our honeymoon. Kyu suddenly got a vacation during my time off, so we decided to come to Jeju last minute. Since all the pensions available were really expensive, Kyu borrowed a tent from one of his students and we were like, “Boom! We’re going to Jeju and we’re going to camp!” It’s hilarious because first I got married in Korea, then I wore a hanbok in my wedding and now I’m having my honeymoon in Jeju. I’m so Korean.
How was camping on the island? Kyu: I really loved it. I felt like it was out of orbit and away from real life. We left our watches in the car and didn’t worry or talk about time. We just enjoyed where we were and concentrated on ourselves, on our relationship and on our future. I think the trip was good timing because with our busy work schedules we really needed time to connect again.
Connie: Since we were camping we didn’t really think of it as a honeymoon, but when I was there it was really romantic to camp with my husband. We worked together a lot, like when we had to set up our tent, and it was much more romantic than seeing candles everywhere and flopping on the bed. Everyone has done that. I feel like maybe we redefined the honeymoon.
What are some of the cultural differences you face? Kyu: I think there are lots of differences between Asian and Western cultures, but I don’t think I can find any, except that Connie is turning Asian.
Connie: It’s true! I fit in better than Kyu. From the beginning when my friends first met him, the first comment they made was, “Is he really Korean?” Even Koreans question him sometimes.
What did you like most about Jeju? Kyu: I’m a really visual person, what I see affects me. I’m interested in the color of the sky, the water, the sand, and the people around me. In Gunsan, all I can see is concrete and artificial color. Being in Jeju purified my eyes. When I returned home, I felt satisfied with my trip.
Connie: It’s inspiring, especially to come from a mainland like Korea that is often times stifling and polluted. I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking negatively about it, but it’s just often the reality. Without nature it’s hard to be creatively inspired, or even inspired to go outside and take a walk. So, to get to Jeju after only flying 40 minutes and finding water that was nicer than anything I ever saw in Thailand was amazing.
▲ Choi Yeong Kyu and Connie Saieva came to Jeju for an impromtu honeymoon. Photo by Jules Gauvin
What was your least favorite thing about your trip? Kyu: This is just my thought, but I think it’s kind of difficult to find regular Jeju custom food. Instead, I feel like it’s more focused on what the tourists want, like the Jeju black pork.
Connie: Because Jeju is so beautiful I felt a sense of rising frustration that no one has really come to its defense to educate the tourists on how to keep the island clean. There were so many people camping who left their garbage or let their dogs do their business on the beach only to let the tide come and grab it a couple hours later. There’s an idea on the mainland that if you leave garbage in a pile someone will pick it up, but it doesn’t really work that way in Jeju. The wind is too strong and blows it everywhere. I don’t want to take away how beautiful it was, but we’d set up our stuff on the beach and right in our line of view we would see something like a bag of chips. I know Jeju is trying to be welcoming to build up the tourism industry, but we have to keep it pretty or it won’t continue to be the gem that it is.
Did you find a favorite place on the island? Kyu: I liked Sunrise Peak, I thought it was really beautiful. I also liked the bar with the western food (Geckos). I like the atmosphere at places like that. Oh, and the quesadilla at the burrito place (Zapatas) was really good too. Connie: Kyu, really? You come to Jeju and these are your favorite places? See, he’s more Western than me! He loves Western food and I love Korean food.
For me, it would have to be Hamdeok, where we camped. I thought we had the best place to stay on the island. It was really pretty and small. Our beach was awesome and the showering facilities and bathrooms were always clean. I also liked the drive we did on the west coast. People were drying things all along the road and with the water crashing up against the wall, I felt like if the pavement and my car weren’t there, it could have been Korea 1,000 years ago.
What are your future plans together? Connie: It all depends on whether or not Kyu gets accepted in chiropractic school in Canada. That’s his plan, but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll stay in Korea for another year. I would hope that I could take the time to go back to school and study Korean at a university. When we have kids I would like to speak to them in Korean, and it would just be nice to communicate better with my mother-in-law. I don’t think we’ll ever live in one country exclusively because I love Korea. It’s not like we got married to get out.
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