By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- Attending a series of identical weddings for her friends and colleagues ahead of her own, Kim Gong-seon, 33, only became more resolute that she is not going to have hers like any of theirs.
"All the ceremonies were done so hastily in a routine manner," Kim said, referring to the time constraint on ceremonies held at local wedding halls.
Wedding halls are buildings designed exclusively for marriages, providing hall decorations and food catering. They usually allocate a number of couples to use the place on the same day, one after another.
As the majority of South Koreans have their weddings with hundreds of guests, wedding halls are naturally the most favored option to accommodate such large numbers of people.
Recently, however, more South Korean couples are opting for small and unique weddings instead of spending tens of millions of won for another cookie-cutter event.
Kim and her husband tied the knot at the Seoul Citizens Hall, the basement of the city hall last month.
Ceremonies at the city hall can last a couple of hours as it only accepts one reservation per day, while wedding hall marriages often end within an hour.
The government first opened the venue in 2013 in an effort to lighten the financial burdens on couples and help them have more frugal weddings.
The average cost of a wedding, along with related expenses, reached 82.3 million won (US$71,400) in South Korea, with the cost of the wedding venue accounting for nearly a quarter of the total, according to a recent survey conducted by Duo, a local marriage service firm.
The poll was based on 1,000 newlyweds -- 504 males and 496 females -- who had their wedding ceremonies in the last two years.
Last week, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn encouraged more couples to have smaller and more frugal weddings, saying an extravagant event imposes too much of a burden on them.
Those who have small weddings, however, say it is not just about the cost.
When South Korea's A-lister actor Won Bin and actress Lee Na-young married in a wheat field in Won's hometown of Jeongseon, Gangwon Province last year, nobody thought it was to save money.
The ceremony, which was so different from any other stars' grand-scale weddings at ostentatious hotels, made headlines. There was no room for gossip about the couple's wealth or reputation based on who came to the wedding or how luxurious it was.
Boring monotonous speeches by officiants, crowded buffets and hasty ceremonies that do not even allow the newlyweds and guests to share well-wishing remarks all the more make attending weddings an obligation for many South Koreans.
When freelance writer Kim Min-jung decided to marry her husband after nine months of dating, she thought she would get rid of all the empty formalities and vanity in her wedding.
After booking a local restaurant in the southern port city of Busan as the venue, Kim and her husband started planning programs all by themselves.
Instead of having an officiant give a speech, Kim prepared time for her father and father-in-law to read out loud letters they wrote for the newlyweds, she said.
"South Korean wedding culture is more focused on showing off rather than on the meaning of two people's new beginning," Kim said. "I even saw a couple getting loans to have a wedding ceremony."
At the beginning she had trouble coordinating opinions with her parents and parents-in-law, who wanted to invite many people.
In South Korea, weddings are often regarded as an event for parents and elderly generations think it could be rude not to invite acquaintances to their children's wedding.
The high cost of the ceremonial event, which makes it almost impossible to take place without the support from the parents, lends more weight to what they say.
The writer said that is another reason why the ceremony should be held economically independent from their parents. For Kim and her husband, 5 million won was all they needed for the one-day event.
Her parents and parents-in-law also decided to follow their children's will by treating their friends and distant relatives who were not invited to the wedding to separate meals.
Wrapping up a month of preparation for the wedding, Kim published a book titled "My Small Wedding Book" in March, reflecting a growing interest in smaller weddings.
Catching the trend, the government also started providing diverse venues to hold the ceremonial event, not just public buildings.
The slots for outdoor weddings at a citizen's park in Yangjae, southern Seoul, this year were all booked on Jan. 1, right on the stroke of midnight by people who had been lining up all day, an official said.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is now recruiting couples to have weddings on a small island in the Han River in Seoul's Banpo Ward on weekends from this month till October, free of charge.
"Today's generation is used to expressing themselves and calculating cost-effectiveness," the author said, explaining why they are more active in searching alternatives to ready-made stereotypical weddings. "The fact that the young people started to take lead in designing their own lives, including their weddings, seems like a meaningful change."
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