Elwood 5566

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.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


That Fiery Little Penis and Cocks of Greater Dimensions

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Korean children, Korean language, podcasts by 노강호 on April 27, 2010

고추산 Just opposite Penis Paradise in Palgongsan National Park. Daegu.

Last year the place was full of cocks, some of the biggest  I’ve seen in Korea and at one point a great number of them were loitering about outside an adjacent restaurant just waiting to be picked up. Some were even for sale and as I have little self-confidence, the thought had crossed my mind that, the only way I am going to get to chomp on Korean cock, is to pay for it.  Cocks in public! Not the sort of behaviour you expect in Korea! The choice was amazing, young ones, old ones, thin, fat, bent, tapering. Well, you can read about my ‘adventures’ in Saturday’s Post, Palgongsan National Park – Penis Paradise, where you will also find some photos of gigantic Korean cock!

Needles to say I was salivating, not from what you’d expect, but because next door the sizzling aroma of barbecuing duck wafted on the spring breeze.  Now, the other day, using my limited Korean, and despite all my studying, limited it is, I was telling a shop assistant that my hobby was food. I ‘d been walking around town with one of those bright yellow E-Mart bags from which sprung three enormous tendrils of burdock (우엉) . As it’s the first time I’ve bought whole burdock, I’m a bit surprised at the flexibility in those tendrils, having presupposed they were more rigid, and so they bounce about crazily. Korean passers-by give my tendrils a second glance because no foreigner buys those weird  roots. I’m quite proud of my bouncing burdock and am on the look out for one of those unfriendly westerners who constantly pass me by without ever saying hello or smiling. Smug wankers don’t talk because they like you to feel they’re totally at home in Korea even though they all eat in MacDonald’s and speak little Korean. Anyway, my burdock is a trump card, a sort of ‘fuck-you!’  However, there are no foreigners about and so I make a mental note to walk about town on a regular basis with burdock sprouting from my bag, like I’m taking out a pet.

Lee Hee-ho (이히호), my friend's youngest son

The shop assistant is bemused at my burdock and I tell her I’m making a side-dish with it. She’s even more impressed when I tell her I can make kimchi. She asks me if cooking is my hobby so I stroke my belly, ‘of course,’ I reply. ‘Can’t you tell?’ And as I laugh the burdock in my bag is wibbling, like it is laughing too. Well, my point is that food is probably my greatest hobby and I doubt many people prefer some culinary pleasure to sex but I do. I once wouldn’t answer my door to gratify the sexual urges of a very handsome boy because I was tucking into a curry. Of course, I could have let him in, we could have shared it but I don’t like threesomes. He banged on the door for a while then gave up and probably went and had a wank, or found someone else to do stuff with – of which there was never a shortage in the army. When you’re young you think that sex with an Adonis will always be available, that your pulling power will never be diminished. It’s only when you are older you regret letting such things slip past. If I could go back in time I’d have chucked the curry  in the bin and opened the door.  I stroke the burdock reminiscently and note their almost semi-rigid state. His name was Lance Elcock!

So, back at Penis Paradise, the barbecuing duck smells delicious and I am starving hungry.  I can catch up with the cocks later.  Now, I’m with my Korean friend David (이영선) and his family. I’ve known David for ten years and he’s one of my best friends. I’ve been taking a few photos of his sons, one aged 5 and the other is almost a year old in western reckoning. After feasting my eyes on those fat cocks around the corner, I find it a little amusing when his youngest son begins to chomp on a cock he’s picked up and so I grab my camera ready for some hot shots. He licks the end a few times, a little unsure what to expect, then removes it  from his mouth and looks down on it with apprehension. A strand of saliva slips onto it which my camera is too slow to capture. Then he begins sucking on the tip and I await the moment when I might capture his surprise. Oooo, here it comes!  He grimaces a few times but doesn’t stop sucking until the full force hits him, when suddenly, he starts wailing.

Mmm...not too sure!

Another nibble!

Whang! It's hot!

I feel quite bad because I’d sat, watched and photographed as the little boy munched on a very hot, small chili, the hot ones generally being the smallest. So now you know that in Korea, a ‘cock’ (고추)  refers to both the vegetable and a penis. Actually, Koreans have an idiom which I know intimately well as I repeat it  when feeling inadequate in a bathhouse: the  smallest chillies are the fiercest! (작은 고추가 맵다) Because I’d only just entered where we were eating, my friends busy poking and prodding the barbecue while I had been ‘around the corner’, I assumed they knew what he was doing. Maybe I wasn’t thinking… Eating a chili! Quite natural for a Korean, I thought.