Elwood 5566

Rubbish on the Streets but no Tweeny Slags

Posted in Comparative, Korean children by 노강호 on May 29, 2012

Friday evening, 8 pm, and I’m walking home from work. Adjacent to me are two school boys aged around 15. They’re eating either ddokpoki or fried chicken gizzards from a cups, each boy armed with a wooden skewer on which to spear whatever it is they are eating. Finished, they simply drop the cups and skewers on the pavement; there’s no guilt or scanning the street for potentially disapproving citizens because in Korea discarding your litter on the pavement is acceptable. A few moments later, one of the boys glances over his shoulder and notices I am a foreigner, our eyes connect and I mutter something to the effect of ‘bad students!.’ I love the way Korean kids respond to being addressed as a  ‘student’ and the way that it takes precedent over any other labels such as ‘teenager’ or ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’ I find ‘teenager’ such as vacuous label and one largely commercial in origin and the equivalent to being labelled a ‘consumer.’

I’m waiting for some form of verbal challenge and am about to add how Korean streets are dirty but the boy totally disarms me. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says in English as he waves with one of those camp Korean waves that emanate solely from the wrist. As one of the boys turns back to reclaim their rubbish, I turn a corner. With some cars between us, the boys are unsure where I’ve gone. I watch carefully because I’m expecting them to simply chuck the rubbish back on the pavement once they think I’ve disappeared – that’s been my experience of similar confrontations in the UK. However, dutifully, the boy finds a rubbish bag on the side of the pavement and discards it therein.

I continue walking until I’m back in their line of view upon which both boys wave at me, smile and reiterate their apologies. God! I lover Korea! It’s this kind of behaviour that makes it difficult for me to return home.

start of a short rant…

I’m sorry, but back in the UK a high percentage of scum, anti-social kids simply couldn’t be called to order by a caring citizen without hurling back some form of abuse, or even violence. Indeed, a great many parents, all scum, would berate the adult telling their vile brat what they shouldn’t do. Poor old Britain is broke and despite the street parties and revelry currently being dutifully performed in order to celebrate our archaic Teutonic monarchy, it’s a dirty, violent, backward and boring nation. If you mention how rotten Britain is to many Brits they get upset or go into denial. I can understand this stance because if you live in shit you don’t want your face rubbed in it. Thank God Britain is class riddled because at least there are some enclaves where decency pervades. It’s a known fact that hoodlum kids don’t loiter where Mozart is played. But you can’t mention this either as Brits don’t like reminding how divided and unequal their society is and PC-ism with all its guff about how we are all equal is the ruling mantra. Ahhh! I’m ranting. Oh, and in Korea, there’s not a tweeny slag in sight and certainly no shop selling the Devil’s Panties (ie, thongs), or pole Dancing kits to pre-pubescent girls. More examples of British degeneracy!

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The Death of Nolto – When Less Equals More

Posted in Education, Korean children by 노강호 on April 27, 2012

a study room (공부방)

So many Koreans and students like to utter the phrase ‘TGIF’ but generally do so without any emotional content. My boss actually uses the phrase ‘thank God it’s Monday,’ and she’s not joking! The use of ‘TGIM’ suggest a lack of cultural understanding and is a little like uttering ‘phew’ when you’re about to run up a hill rather than when you’ve reached its summit. But such lack of emotion is understandable, after all, for many Koreans Saturday is simply another working day and hence ‘TGIF’ or ‘TGIM’ are pretty much the same.  ‘Thank God it’s Friday,’ (TGIF) is even the name of a Korean restaurant franchise whose mantra, ‘it’s always Friday,’ couldn’t be more depressing for customers who have to work on a Saturday and for the staff it’s probably their most hated day of the week.

For middle and elementary school students, nol-to (놀토), ‘play Saturday,’ is dead. Now, every Saturday is a ‘play day.’ Of course, like so many things Korean, all isn’t what it seems! Holidays are never really holidays, family vacations never really vacations – at least by Western standards, and exams are only ever final if you’re in your last year of university. In the demise of the ‘nol-to’ lurks a wolf in disguise whose emergence should come as no surprise.

some of my students now spend every Saturday morning in a 'library' (돈서실) and for a treat, go to academies in the afternoon!

The new Monday-Friday study week came into effect at the beginning of this academic year, in March, and resulted in the termination of state school Saturday study for all but high-school students. However, the changes seem to offer little real benefit to students as classroom contact time was increased and in some cases, vacation time reduced.

The reaction to the death of the elementary and middle school ‘nol-to,’ by my students was mixed and if anything, slightly more students seemed to prefer the old system where  daily study consisted of six lessons instead of seven. And to cloud the issue and perhaps weaken opposition, it seems that schools have some individual leeway in allotting the extra hours they must now incorporate into their timetable.

While ‘nol-to’ was universal for school students, I used to sense they were special days. The bathhouses for example, were always busy with children especially in mid morning and afternoons, in the streets and downtown there always seemed to be a buzz in the air and the batting cages and trampolines were occupied.

Was it the case that the ‘nol’to,’ because there were only two a month, were sacrosanct? Yes, some children studied on them but they generally seemed relaxed and were imbued with a sense of holiday. I very much suspect that now Saturday school has been banished, students will gradually be compelled to academies, study rooms, and tutors on every Saturday and worse, on Saturday mornings. Indeed, I already have students who now study in either ‘study rooms’ (공부방), or ‘reading rooms’ (독서실) from early Saturday morning until after lunch – on every Saturday.

academies, academies, everywhere - plus study rooms and 'libraries'

And so it would seem, that many students have been hit with a double whammy; not only have their weekly school hours been increased and in some cases holidays lost, but every Saturday is either at risk of becoming simply another day of study, or is so already!

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Diary: Jack, 12

Posted in Images of Innocence, Korean children, Teaching by 노강호 on April 16, 2012

Every now and then I’m handed a piece of writing from a student that encapsulates not just the uniqueness of the Korean way of life but captures some universal element associated with childhood.

박민수 영어일기. Sunday I went to the Homeplus (Tesco) with my family. First I cut my hair. Next I bought bananas, Nintendo battery, soccer ball and we bought many things.

My hair is very bad because I say: ‘don’t cut short!’ cut small! But hair dresser make mistake he cut very many hair. Now I am ashamed and very very ugly. I want to wear cap and return time.

Jack (2010)

박믄수 영어일가. I was told off by my mom because I was late my academy because I playing soccer. I be beaten with broom. I cry because my mom is very stronger looks like bear. Maybe I had many bruis on my bum. It was my mistake. Sometime all people make mistake. So broom is unfair. Fortunately, today is very many academy so I not get beaten.

Jack (2012)

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A Gully of Urine and Discarded Cigarette Ends – Vacation Finished!

Posted in customs, Diary notes, Korean children by 노강호 on March 1, 2012

Vacation fashion – the shaggy perm

These past few weeks I’ve experienced the naughtiest behaviour many Korean kids, especially boys, get up to. I live in an area of one and two room accommodations close to a university and sandwiched between high rises on three sides. One-rooms are basically studio type accommodation for one person which range from spacious and comfortable to poky and claustrophobic. Two-rooms are the same but have two bedrooms. The bathroom is always an additional room even if a one-room and often, though not always, so is the kitchen. Usually there is an enclosed veranda bordering the ‘rooms’ and in which you can hang washing, store items and is often the best location for a washing machine.  The enclosed veranda provides an excellent insulation in the winter as it effectively produces an enormous form of double glazing. I’ve lived in most of the variations. The worst was in Cheonan and though it was clean and pleasant, it was on the ground floor and as usual, there were bars on the windows. Worse however, was that the kitchen was in the bedroom area and it was small, small enough so that I could sit on my bed and prepare meals. Indeed, I could do everything either sat at my bed or by taking one-step. A ‘one-step’ would have been a far better description for this type of accommodation.

A small table pulled out from the kitchen unit alongside the bed so that I could prepare food and eat from the comfort of my bed, ideal for invalids and the infirm. Then, by standing and taking one small step, I could wash dishes and cook. For several years I was always embarrassed to say I lived in a ‘one-room’ because it sounds so much like a dingy UK bedsit but I’ve learnt there is great variation in size and comfort. My first two-room, in 2000, for example, had no air-conditioning; ten years ago air-con wasn’t a standard part of a teacher’s accommodation contract and we weren’t even supplied with a fan. My current one room is quite large and probably four times the size of my ‘one-step’ room in Cheonan. I suppose the worst thing about such accommodation, and purely based on my experience, is the lack of any view. Ground floors feel like prison cells due to the barred windows and very often the only glimpse of life beyond is that of the adjacent building’s wall. And of course, the outer windows of one rooms are generally frosted so even if you have a view it’s obstructed by this and the mosquito screen.

the alleyways around my one-room

Around and between the tightly packed one-rooms/two rooms in the area in which I live, are a maze of small passage ways. These provide access to down pipes, gas pipes and air conditioning units rather than a means of walking from one place to another. For nimble and athletic school boys however, capable of climbing over the walls which separate them, they are perfect recesses to hide from the adult world. For most of the year these passages are void of life but during vacation month they are frequently visited by groups of lads up to the Korean equivalent of ‘no good.’

a myriad of hidden recesses

So, this afternoon, March 1st, a national holiday (삼일) marking the earliest public display of resistance to the Japanese occupation which took place on March 1st 1919, the last gaggle of school boys huddle on their haunches under my kitchen window to commit some of the naughtiest acts possible for Korean teenagers. The first of these is smoking which is always accompanied by dribbling spit onto the pavement. This act has a sort of fashion to it and spit is rarely spat out but dribbled with an accompanying intense interest and fascination practiced by the performer. Next comes the pissing, which two boys do against the wall of my building. This is naughty but it’s not an altogether uncommon site in public. The third offence is their noise, boisterous and lively, but too loud! After the cigarette session, they run around a little playing chase and wrestling, almost deliriously happy. One of them throws a stone, not at a window or another person, but simply on the floor. Then I am spotted! There are a few seconds when they freeze, rather like a pack of wolves, in this case toothless, and stare in my direction, sniffing the air, motionless and silent. Then, without any discussion, they are gone. I am still able to hear their chattering and laughing but from a passage I can’t see. Their final offence is in the litter left from the visit, cigarette ends and a discarded packet. However, Koreans litter with impunity and this is only deemed an offence by foreigners. For school boys, such behaviour is about  the closest Koreans come to being hoodlums or delinquents.

Today is the last day of the long winter and spring vacation, two holidays interrupted by a few days school, which preceded the start of the new academic year. Of course, nothing is ever quite as it seems in Korea and despite the fact students have a school vacation, most attend the private academies in the afternoon and evenings or school academic camps.  High school students have hardly any vacation and attend academies on the weekend.

The long holiday period, spanning about seven weeks, allows elementary and middle school students to truly let their hair down. In academies they are often tired from playing lengthy sessions of video games or watching TV until the early hours of the morning and dyed hair, painted nails, earrings and perms are all tolerated. After seven weeks the shorts back and sides of many lads have been groomed into more lengthy and fashionable styles and I’ve even noticed boys tossing their head to flick hair out of their eyes, in a manner reminiscent of Justin Bieber.  It’s all been tolerated, even encouraged, that is until today. I’m sparing a thought for the thousands of kids who will be washing out the dye, getting their haircut and scrubbing their nails clean as they prepare for school in the morning. My fitness center will be void of  the peer groups of teenage boys and girls whose chatter and laughter have accompanied my training sessions for the last two months.  Going back to school in the UK, after the summer vacation, was always depressing but the respite of a week’s half term holiday was at the most only ever about six weeks away.  With the obsessive and intense nature of Korean education and the next vacation laying far in the distance amidst the screaming memis’ song of summer, the end of the spring vacation, the beginning of a long, long  haul marked by a chain of exams and the relentless daily trudge from one academy to another, must be especially gloomy.

a gulley of urine, cigarette ends and a discarded cigarette packet mark the remains of the long vacation

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam Il – (Bathhouse Ballads March 2011)

Korean Teenagers’ Wacky World of ‘Vacation’ Fashions – (Bathhouse Ballads July 2010)

The ‘Whale Hunt’ and Vacation Misery

Posted in customs, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on January 27, 2012

vacation misery!

Most of my lessons have at least one student whose character is strong enough to shade a class’s persona. Sometimes there are a few and usually, though not always, their characters are beneficial as they enliven lessons with their humour and marginal misbehaviour. Most of the characters, at least in classes with girls and boys, tend to be the boys but on their own or when boys are outnumbered, the characters of girls are just as entertaining. Among elementary and even high school students, girls and boys in the same class can cause a tension and rarely do they like to be partnered together. Elementary aged girls and boys seem to have much less problems working together. I’ve seen middle school and high school boys with strong and personalities, often the class comedian and prankster, totally silenced when outnumbered by girls. Indeed, nothing silences a boisterous boy more than a handful of girls, all except that is, when they’re involved in the ‘whale hunt.’

The ‘whale-hunt’ (포경) is the Korean euphemism for circumcision which many boys are subject  to on the verge of entering either middle school or high-school. The winter vacation is the most preferred season for the procedure as there is ample time to recuperate and infection less likely in the dry, as opposed humid weather of summer.

In the last ten days, a few of the boys in my classes have been muted by either having undergone the procedure, and they are often in class the next day, or muted by the impending prospect. I would imagine the Lunar New Year vacation has been totally ruined if their appointment with the ‘hunt’ falls in the next few days, as it does with several of my students.  Unlike other cultures, circumcision in Korea is not a celebrated rite of passage and apart from the obvious trepidation, seems no more socially significant than a trip to the dentist. Indeed, the procedure, currently costing between 80.000-100.000W (£40-50), is cheaper than most dental work and infinitely cheaper than in the USA where the medical profession has a history of  exploiting  the public (see link below).  Though I can understand the reasons parents and boys fall for the myths surrounding the need for this surgery, the normal rubbish about it improving hygiene or facilitating a bigger penis, I certainly can’t understand why you would ruin a boy’s vacation by booking an appointment a day or two after a major holiday and worse, sending them to school the next day!

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Searching for a Pathology to Fit the Procedure of Circumcision (Bathhouse Ballads, March 2011)

Not Perfect but Preferable

Posted in Comparative, Education, Korean children by 노강호 on December 9, 2011

Okay, I’m 56 this month and I’ll probably return to the UK late next year because I need to get a decent job that pays well before I’m too close to retirement. Unfortunately, that means teaching in a British school, a prospect that fills me with terror. I dread returning to Britain, not just because I find the place boring and the people aggressive and somewhat backward, but because I feel I am going home to die rather than going there to live. Britain, as quaint as it can be, as beautiful, has become a little like the Elephants’ grave yard.

The extensive classical CD selection in Daegu’s ‘Kyobo Books’

Britain on the one hand is rich in culture and London is an awesome city but as in so many cultural areas, its culturally void. Accessing the rich variety of British culture is both expensive and inconvenient. It’s one thing for a country to have a vibrant culture but not so great if it’s focused in a view places, thin on the ground, and expensive to access. Take going out for a meal: I eat out everyday in Korea mostly in a range of mid-standard restaurants and occasionally in fancy ones. In the UK, even on a fairly decent wage, eating out is expensive especially if you have a family. While there are plenty of fast food restaurants, and a few top-notch places, finding a decent middle of the road restaurant is difficult. In Korea, there is a restaurant on every street corner in even the smallest towns whereas my village in the UK has 3 restaurants, all small and expensive to serve a community of 55.000 people.

My local rose park. In the UK, such parks are locked at night because of vandalism

In terms of sport, patriots will boast about British prowess but the reality is that while there are excellent facilities in key locations, elsewhere facilities are poor. For example, Colchester, UK, population 155.000, has one mediocre swimming pool and no outdoor swimming facility. Further, it has no concert hall and hence you can’t see the ballet or opera, or a big pop concert. While it does have a decent theater, there’s only one. However, there are hundreds of bars and clubs to get sloshed in, mostly pumping out pop music accompanied by enormous plasma screens and juke boxes. And when you’re pissed and staggering you can lurch to any number of greasy cheap fast food places and then take an expensive taxi home. This pattern, is a major lifestyle for a great number of Brits. Yes, I know not everything is doom and gloom in the UK but my point is that if you want to eat in a decent restaurant every day, possibly twice a day, and do things, it is going to cost you! And then there’s the violence, crime, vandalism and the hordes of a what constitutes a drongo underclass that dominate the streets. Britain is not a nice country and if you think it is you are blinkered. In all my years in Korea I have never walked into an environment in which I felt threatened or intimidated but in my rather small hometown (Colchester), there are places I wouldn’t want to be even in broad daylight. And the rather nicer village in which I live nonetheless feels like a sanctuary protected by the fields and a university which separate it from less savory areas and less savory people.

‘Smart’ street information. Another Korean facility that would be wrecked by vandals in the UK

Going back to the UK is a massive step down in terms of lifestyle, cultural opportunities and quality of life and even the massive hike in terms of pay can’t compensate for living in an expensive, insular little enclave surrounded by a cultural wilderness. My home town has a crappy library designed to appeal to the towns large population of drongoes, a couple of small bookshops, no shops which specialise in classical music and apart from bars and restaurants and sport, there is little else to do. I find it hard to imagine life without PC bangs, multi bangs, singing rooms, health centers, bathhouse, jjimjil-bang, stationery stores, coffee shops, medical clinics, dentists, opticians, hospitals, taekwondo, hapkido and comdo schools, cheap taxis and the rich variety of restaurants. So much of British life and British culture is the product of a  large drongo population. We are denied so many facilities or social niceties as the scum elements we tolerate ruin them. My local town has a rather attractive public garden but it has to be locked at night because the bowls green and gardens are regularly vandalised and when resident swans pair up and produce cygnets, they are killed by local yobs.

A public bicycle pump facility (and free). Another facility British drongoes would smash

Going back to the UK sucks and I dread it! There is no doubt if I was younger I would consider buying a property here and settling long-term.

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‘Just’ – A Snigger

Posted in Just - 그냥, Korean children, Photo diary by 노강호 on October 16, 2011

I love Korean notebooks and apart from often containing bad examples of English on the front covers, they are usually entertaining.

I'm sniggering

but it's cute!

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Fit fathers, fat sons

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on September 16, 2011

the fit, fat and flabby

I arrived in back in Korea after my UK holiday a few days before work is due to begin and spent several sessions lazing in bathhouses. On Sunday, I spent almost two hours in a cool, massage pool drifting in and out of sleep and watching the weekend cleaning rituals between fathers and sons and friends. At one point, there were three fathers busy scrubbing their teenage sons but what was most interesting was that while the fathers were slim and fit looking, especially as I reckon they were aged in their 40’s or 50’s,  their sons were all pudgy and fat. Neither was it puppy fat but quite copious amounts of well established lard which far exceeds the requirements of puberty. One father and his son came and sat in my pool and the lad, despite being a foot shorter than I, was equally as broad.

flabby tummies at my old high school

The UK debate about obesity still stirs the emotions and a convenient theory is that fat parents produce fat kids. No doubt there is a correlation but my observation is a reminder that kids can turn fat independent of their parents and that the roots of obesity are complex and compound and not to be explained by one grand ‘theory.’

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I was Butt Plugged by a Korean Kiddy…

Posted in customs, Korean children by 노강호 on July 14, 2011

dirty,dirty!

Pinch a Korean man or boy’s nipple and they’ll accuse you of perversion (변태) but you can stroke and touch them everywhere else (except in the most obvious of places), and they won’t see anything wrong with it. Even the bum hole isn’t exempt a digital delving though this is a jokey pastime of kids and much more likely to occur between children or from children to adults. It would be extremely odd for an adult to start surprising his or her work colleagues with a digital ‘ddong-ch’im.’ Apparently, manual butt-plugging, as a form of humour, is widespread across east Asia and has a long history.  Naturally, there is an association between the ddong-ch’im, and that other Korean obsession, poo!

ddong ch'im - shit needle / shit injection

a popular perversion

note, how the buttocks are tightly clenched. I'm not sure about the facial expression as it somewhat resembles a blow up doll

But the actual purpose of this post was to expose an excellent Korean game I discovered, entitled JJileo-jjileo which being at the juncture where poo meet ‘the finger,’ brilliantly demonstrates more Korean customs and humour. Enjoy… (Note– I have recently noticed the game breaks down after several minutes, hopefully this is only temporary –  for an interesting insight however, it is still worth a visit).

click to enter game

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor – First Birthday Celebrations (돌잔치)

Posted in customs, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on June 10, 2011

the first birthday party – when baby is 2

Poverty and hardship have left deep impressions on the Korean cultural landscape many of which are still evident today. Korean food, often reflects former economic hardships which is one reason why black-noodles (자짱면) is still a favourite when students graduate. Though many families now go to elaborate buffet restaurants, black-noodles are still eaten to mark graduation as it was at one time considered a ‘luxury’ food. The obsessions Koreans have with food, which might be expected if you are starving, almost matches the British obsession with the weather, the result of living in an unpredictable climate. I am still not used to responding appropriately when a Korean asks me if ‘I’ve eaten’ and on so many occasions still reply with a list of what comprised my last meal or perceive it as the opening for an invite to dine together. Instead, they are really inquiring as to my general well being but so ingrained has this become that for some, even this is not implied and the comment reduced to a basic nicety void of any real meaning and synonymous to British observation about the weather.  Historically however, it developed at a time when many people were starving and was a question of much deeper significance. Dog stew (보신탕), silk worm (번데기), grasshopper (메뚜기) and a whole range of roots, woods and barks, many of which grow in the UK (shepherd’s purse 냉이, burdock 우엉, ㅡmugwort 쑥, etc, but which are no longer commonly used), reflect the former scarcity of food.

a lavish affair – Lee On-yu’s (이온유) 1st birthday. Hee-ho, On-yu’s older brother, who was the subject of an earlier post, is on the far right (Diary of a Little Boy)

Former high infant mortality rates can be attributed to the custom of a child being one year of age upon being born and with infancy and childhood being so precious, when circumcision was introduced to the peninsula, in the 1950’s, it was an ordeal sparred babies and infants and instead postponed to early adolescence. In 2006, Korea was cited by a UN report (link) of having the world’s lowest infant mortality rate of 3 (3 in 1000) compared to 45 in 1970.  A further development of the high infant mortality rate was the importance of a child’s first birthday celebration (돌잔치),  when in Korean reckoning they are two years old.

traditional first birthday attire - the dol-bok (돌복)

traditional first birthday attire – the dol-bok (돌복)

45 deaths per thousand within the first year doesn’t seem high until you consider that currently, 49 deaths per 1000 is the global average and that today’s most poverty stricken countries have infant mortality rates of around 50 per 1000.  The fear your baby may have been one of the unfortunate led to babies, pre and post natal mothers being secluded until deemed healthy. The threats to life weren’t just from disease but also from famine and the wide swings  in the Korean climate. Even today, circumcision is usually carried out in the winter rather than the summer vacation where the incredibly high humidity prolongs healing and increases the chances of infection.

Un-yu. The microphone he played with suggests he might be a future singer – he was certainly in good voice here

The first significant event to celebrate was a child’s 100th day celebration, the baek-il (백일). However, as might be expected, this was a fairly low-key affair and the baby wasn’t ‘publicly’ paraded. On the child’s first birthday, at two years of age, it was time for parents to present their baby to the world and hence the lavish dol-jan-ch’i (돌잔치) celebration.

In today’s affluent Korean society, this event usually takes place in a large, specifically designed function room to which families and friends are invited. Historically, and traditionally, the celebration varied depending on local custom. Today, the baby maybe be casually dressed or might be attired in the highly colourful dol-bok  (돌복) which differ according to gender. An elaborate buffet is provided which, along with the usual food one might expect, are foods of a more traditional and symbolic nature.

what will it be?

Now the child has survived the most threatening period of childhood, it is time to ponder what they might achieve in life and hence one of the most important parts of the celebration is when the baby is sat on a traditional duvet, propped by pillows and surrounded by objects which if played with or handled, predict the child’s future. The objects include:

pen, brush, book or calligraphy set – scholar

bow and arrow – warrior/soldier/strength (not as common as in the past)

rice cake – rich or possibly unintelligent

money -rich

thread – long life

ruler, scissors, needle – dexterous

However, numerous other gifts might appear, such as a microphone for a potential singer or a gold ball for a golf player. Nowadays, you seem to be able to add what you want.

The first birthday party has a long tradition and there are numerous variations to the celebrations which I have not done justice to in this short account. A good starting point for more in-depth information can be found at Wikipedia.

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