Monday, September 28, 2009

1st Birthdays in Korea

It is story time now here at Foreign/er Joy. Last Saturday, as you know, I attended the Mass Freeze at COEX, which was a lot of fun. Afterward my friends and I went to On The Border for lunch. JH was on his way from work.

Sitting at the table I felt a little alone and left out. I was at the far end of the table with my friends sitting further away. Lately, I have been contemplating a lot about my friendships here and how I wish I had just one friend that is dear to me. Since, I am moving soon all these pals that I have met locally will soon become long-distance pals.

JH arrived at COEX but was lost for a little bit and I helped him find his way. We ate and watched everyone play together at the table. I am sure if I made the effort I could have been included, but sometimes I like to see if I will 'naturally' be a part of the group. I think that there was a really large group of us and once it gets past 4 people it's hard to keep track of what's going on.

We had to leave the fun times early because JH was invited to one of his long time friend's daughter's birthday. This was going to be one of those "First" birthday's in Korea. Actually I am not sure since the message I got from JH was kind of mixed. I am pretty sure it wasn't the 100 day bday thing because the baby didn't appear 100 days old.

But I think it was her actual 2nd birthday. Here is some information on traditional birthday celebrations in Korea:

Tol has two meanings in Korean. The most common meaning is a child's first birthday. It can also be used as a generic description for birthdays: Chut-tol (first birthday), Du-tol (second birthday), Seo-tol (third birthday), etc.
In my mind I was expecting some kind of party with me being the only-foreigner-type-situation. So on our way I felt the dread of having to encounter this situation. I had to transition from being with a group of foreigners to going back to being with a group of all Koreans.

We picked up one of his friends along the way who kept quiet on the car ride to a place outside the area of Guri. (Northeast of Seoul)

Arriving, we went up an elevator to a catering hall. There were tables with white tablecloths and plates on top. At the front of the room was a ceremonial table set up with balloons, ttoek (Korean rice cakes) and gifts. This was meant for the ceremonies performed during the event.

But first it was chow time, which was carried out by a buffet. Unfortunately, since I had eaten my lunch at On the Border I wasn't too hungry. But that's okay the fair of food was mostly Korean stuff. So I picked up desserts and fruit. However, I had one of those foreigner-dining-with-Koreans moment where the people sitting next to us commented on what I chose to eat.

"No rice?" I heard.

This caused my blood pressure to rise as I was not in the mood to deal with this situation. But I know these are JH's close friends so I didn't want to cause unpleasantness. I tried to stay warm and friendly despite feeling like the "elephant" in the room.

Not much was going on as people ate and talked, so I snuck out for a few minutes and got a cup of tea at a coffee shop outside. JH called me and I came back to the dining hall.

It was time for the ceremonial toljabee:
In this event, the birthday child goes around the table and picks up items that attract him or her. The child's future is predicted according to the what he or she grabs. After placing the child in front of the table, the child's father becomes the guide for the child to go around the table and grab whatever he or she wants. The first and second items the child grabs are considered the most important. Usually Korean parents place the items that they want the child to choose near to the edge of the table. The child's future is predicted according to the items:

-bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior
-needle and thread: the child will live long
-jujube: the child will have many descendants
-book, pencil, or related items: the child will become a successful scholar
-rice or rice cake: the child will become rich (some resources say choosing a rice cake means the child is not smart)
-ruler, needle, scissors: the child will be talented with his/her hands
-knife: the child will be a good cook
- Money
I was excited to see this in person, since I had only heard about it before then. As the family prepared this and spoke some words I asked JH what he grabbed when he had this ceremony. He didn't know so he called his mom. She told him he grabbed the thread (long life). I thought that was a good sign.

They placed the baby on the table and displayed the tokens to everyone. The MC asked the parents what they wish their daughter would pick. The father said "money" and the mother said "stethoscope". Actually, the selection for the baby didn't include all those items listed about but did include a stethoscope which means the kid would become a doctor. Guess which one the baby picked?

The stethoscope, which I feel was due to that it was a toy stethoscope and was brightly colored. But who knows maybe it is fate.

After this event there was a raffle prize give away. The MC was talking and the parents were enjoying the show. The next thing I know the MC was calling out "wai Guk in" (foreigner). And I suddenly became the center of attention.

Apparently, they were giving out gifts to those who came the farthest distance to see their baby's birthday. Since coming overseas trumps any Koreans national travels I got the prize. However I didn't really know this was going on and instead went along with it. I was called up to the front to answer where I was from and receive the gift.

JH told me I was blushing so much, indeed I was embarrassed and overwhelmed. But in a good way, for this really helped me warm up to being with all Koreans. After that I felt a little ashamed for my attitude earlier and determined that next time I should engage more and make the most of these situations.

Guess what was the gift? Ramyeon! haha

We left shortly after this and going home I couldn't help but feel as if my spirits were lifted for life in Korea. Thank you JH for including me in this special occasion.

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