Baby Talk

Finally back in Korea!  I’ve been traveling for about the past month in Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand, so haven’t had much time for updating this thing.  I do need to put up some posts about my trips, but I’m not ready to delve into the task of looking through the hundreds of photos that I took  just yet.  So for now, I’ll just talk about something fun- my new baby cousin!  My aunt gave birth to him in May, so he’s getting bigger each time I return from a trip.  In Korea, after you give birth and stay in the hospital a couple of nights, a new mom goes to this sort of resort/hospital for two weeks.  Basically nurses take care of you and your baby.  Moms get massages, do crafts, learn how to breastfeed and bathe their baby, and they feed moms a whole bunch of that seaweed soup (it’s supposed to be good for you).  There are less expensive and more expensive types of these post birth spa things, it’s kind of like a very simple hotel though.  The only people allowed to visit during the two weeks there are the husband and grandparents of the baby.

These days apparently the number of young people having babies in Korea is quite low, so the government pays for the delivery (if you get a c-section it’s a little more) among other tax benefits.  Because my aunt is an American citizen, my cousin will soon get dual-citizenship, and then he will have to decide who he wants to pledge his allegiance to when he becomes 18.  South Korea has a mandatory 2 year military service for all able males.  Some choose to go before university, some after.  Recently a famous Korean star, Hyun Bin, just entered the marines so we won’t see him on tv for about two years (except for the commercials he did prior to leaving).  Here he is after getting his haircut and entering the military base.

Back to babies anyway, in Korea they don’t seem as obsessed as they used to be with having sons, although I’m sure some traditional grandparents might secretly favor the boys.  Koreans usually celebrate a 100 day birthday kind of thing (백일- literally means 100 days) which basically takes root from the days way back when the survival rates for babies were sadly low, so if they got to the 100 day mark, they were pretty much in the clear.

There is also the big deal of a baby’s first birthday (돌) where there is a bunch of food around and also the baby is supposed to pick one of several items off of a table to tell his/her future.  The items usually consist of money, pencil, spool of thread, etc.  If the baby picks up the money, then they will be rich.  If they pick up the spool of thread, they will have a long life.  In my case I picked up the pencil which meant I was to be a great scholar- yeah right.  Anyway, it’s a fun tradition as you can see from the random baby photo below.

I wonder what my cousin will choose!  His English name is Peter, Korean name is Joon-Hui (준휘).  Here’s a photo from the day he was born then one a few weeks later at home.

Toddler birthday party and Korean church time

Hope that everyone had a good weekend!  We had a busy one here.  On Saturday after making breakfast, my aunt and I got on the bus for a bit of a ride to go to the COEX mall in Gangnam of Seoul (which is most likely where I’ll be living).  COEX is the largest underground shopping mall in all of Asia with tons of shopping, 2 food courts, 16 screen movie theatre, aquarium, and Kimchi museum!  (borrowed photos again today, I’ve been lazy)

It was here that I finally saw some other Americans and foreigners, who my aunt’s husband calls “my friends”, haha.  We were here to look around, hopefully find me some casual, non-tennis shoes, and also get a present for my aunt’s husband’s niece’s 4th birthday.  Upon going into a department store, I nearly fainted because of the prices.  There are some parts of Korea where you can shop really cheap, but the toddler Burberry, Juicy Couture, and other Korean brand name clothes were absolutely ridiculous- several costing over $100-$200 for one article of  kid’s clothing.  This was much worse than the $23 dollar melon I saw at the grocery store the other day (out of season fruit is expensive here).  I tried talking my aunt out of this and going to E-Mart, but we finally found something somewhat reasonable for the birthday girl (who will probably just spill  kimchi on it or something).

After lunch and a bus ride home, it was pretty much time to go to the birthday party.  My aunt’s husband was working late so his sister-in-law picked us up.  At their apartment we met her husband, 3 kids, and my aunt’s mother-in-law.  It was all fine, not too awkward despite my poor Korean, and I read some children’s Korean books which were fun to read since I understood a lot of them.  For dinner we had miyeok-guk which is a seaweed soup, traditional for a birthday meal.  We also had some spicy pork that you wrap in lettuce leaves and it.  It was all very tasty though. 

Then after dinner, it was time for the birthday cake.  Korean taste buds don’t like things that are too sweet, like some of the terribly rich American chocolate desserts.  The cake was pretty and very light, with layers and had fruit in it.  We then sang happy birthday in Korean and afterwards in English because they thought it would be fun to do so since I was there.  It’s the first time their kids have ever spoken with a foreigner so I was part of the entertainment for the night.  All in all, the little girl had a nice 5th (really 4th) birthday party.  In Korea, when asked your age, you actually are supposed to say 1 year older than you are because they count the year in the womb.  Nothing to do with pro-lifers or hard-core Christians, I believe (I think only about 40ish% of the population are Christians) but I’m not sure why.  If anyone asks me though, I say I’m still in my 20’s.  No reason to be 30 yet!

Speaking of religion, on Sunday morning we woke up and went to Korean church.  For those other halfies reading this, you’ll understand my pain.  Korean church is a terrible Sunday tradition that halfies must endure.  Probably any kid growing up was antsy while having to sit through church, but it’s twice as painful when you don’t understand what the preacher is saying and also when the sermons are extra long.  We went to a methodist church where previously my aunt played piano and her husband conducted the choir for a couple of years while the choir head was on sabbatical in the U.S.  It was actually less painful than I thought it would be though.  This church had a better choir and also flat screens so I could follow along with the Korean.  I was able to sing the hymns with them, but the passages were read so quickly that I didn’t even bother.  The pastor did mention a few words I could understand (church and the news are difficult for me to follow) including mentioning George Washington in his sermon. 

Before church though, my aunt’s mother-in-law was with us and took us out for some seolleong tang (ox bone soup that is simmered overnight) which hit the spot with the rainy weather we had. 

After brunch and church, we went driving around through two different neighborhoods I would possibly be living in.  I was grateful for the drive because after viewing both, I changed my mind on where I originally thought I would want to live.  It will depend on a few factors, including where they place me for work, but at least I have a picture in my head now.

Now that I have my iPhone4, I need to remember to start taking more pictures of us doing stuff and not just food!  My P&S is acting up, but after using the HDR feature on the iPhone camera, I feel like I don’t even necessarily need to have one.  I’ll have my digital SLR if I’m going sight seeing or something, but otherwise for me, the 5 megapixels on the iPhone is more than adequate.