This weekend, the vice president of Samkwang (the middle school attached to our hagwon) invited everyone from work to his son's first birthday party. I went with my foreign co-workers Mark and Alex, plus our Korean co-workers Ginny and Mina.
The first birthday is a big deal in Korea. In the not so distant past (read: the 60's and 70's) Korea had a really high infant mortality rate--it was a feat if your kid lived to the age of one. A big enough deal to justify a huge party, complete with tons of food, booze, and gifts--thus starting a tradition of a massive first b-day party for Korean kiddos.
(Modern Koreans still have reason to get super jazzed about the first birthday, too--Korea's birthrate is currently the fourth lowest in the world. It has been declining so much that the government is concerned about a labor shortage in the next twenty years or so)
Most dols (first birthdays) these days take place in a wedding buffet hall. The one that I went to had the most extravagant spread of Korean food I've ever seen: a raw fish bar (which Koreans are completely nuts for) with oysters and beef carpaccio, twelve different kinds of sashimi and sushi rolls, basically every Korean dish I've ever eaten and some I had never seen before, and mountains of tteok (sweet rice cakes), fruit, and Western-style petite fours and cakes. It was all delectable; I ate myself retarded.
The family all wore matching hanboks, and the baby looked super cute and was ooed and awed over by the hundred plus people in attendance. An MC corralled the family up to a podium bedecked with tteok and fruit, where they cut a cake and blew out a birthday candle together for the baby.
(The ladies in close range are my co-workers, Ginny and Mina. Hotties, no? They're also super-smart and nice, too. I'll set you up if you come visit me, homies)
And then came the cutest part of the whole dol: the baby was presented with a tray of objects, each supposed to represent the course his future might take. There was a string for long life and a 10,000 W note for wealth, along with a stethoscope, a computer mouse, and a microphone to represent future career possibilities. He ended up picking the stethoscope.
There had been a raffle set up in the front of the hall for people to place bets on what the baby would choose. Mark had picked the stethoscope, and I laughed my ass off as Mark's number got drawn from the stethoscope cup. He had to go claim his prize in front of the entire room. I snapped away with my camera, and thought "I'm so glad I don't have to endure public humiliation right now".
Ten seconds later, my number was called--I guess because Mom had wanted the baby to pick the string (what I had bet on), I won a prize too (it was a body wash/lotion gift set). I'm in touch with kidz these days, you see...that, and I think only five or so other numbers were in the "string" cup ;)
All in all, a really nifty Korean tradition. I'm continually taken aback by how helpful/inclusive/kind Koreans are to foreigners...it blows my mind that I don't even know this particular co-worker's name, and he specifically made sure to invite us foreign teachers to his family event...pretty awesome.