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Writer-s-Bloc

The honeymoon baby

This is the final instalment in a five part series by Riann Arkinstall on life in Korea.

Making the honeymoon baby

By Riann Arkinstall

Honeymoon how-to

In the last story, we left the newly married couple on their way to their honeymoon. 

Traditionally, they didn’t go far. In fact, they didn’t even go far enough to keep their family from helping them out on their honeymoon night.

The Korean way to make a baby is a curious affair for a Canadian (the ‘nuts and bolts’ are, of course, the same, but there are some interesting cultural aspects which make it a curious thing).

In traditional times, the bride and groom’s mothers would be in the adjacent room to the honeymooners, and would poke holes in the rice paper wall in order to give instructions. 

‘The talk’ of the birds and the bees was/is not the norm in traditional Korean culture. This job is left to sex education class at school (most likely porn as well, although porn is illegal here). 

Procreation is a taboo topic of discussion in Korea, yet one of endless paradoxes in this country is that phallus and/or explicit statues are very common. A perfect example would be ‘Penis Park’, located not far from Seoul, where you will find a collection of penises created by Korean artists for joy, spirituality, and sexuality.

The most common place for newlyweds to go for a honeymoon is the ‘Korean Hawaii’ – the southern-most island in Korea, Jeju Do, where couples who don’t have the guidance of their families to provide encouragement and hints can visit the Museum of Sex and Health for information. 

Although I have not been there, here is a quote by someone who has, “I was unprepared for the graphic nature of this museum. Raunchy sex toys, explicit video, obscene Japanese Anime action figures, fantasy re-enactment and classic pornographic literature, all housed within the walls of the most fascinating museum I have ever visited.”

Deliverance

There are specialized hospitals here that cater to pregnant women and their care, both pre and post birth, with hotel-like rooms containing everything needed to make the new mother’s life as easy as possible.  Korean mums-to-be will often spend up to a month recovering there. It is Korean custom to limit the exposure of the new baby and mother to visitors until the month period has expired.

The father’s role in childbirth is nothing like the typical Canadian role. My wife and I had to write a very precise note to the doctors and nurses, explaining that we both wanted to be a part of the whole process. The need to be so dogmatic was due to my best friend’s experience while his wife was in labour. He, too, wanted to be a part of the process, but the medical team sent him on an distraction errand in order to complete the birthing in his absence.

I had a much more hands-on job, but in the end, I still missed the actual birth, as the medical team wheeled her into an operating room to use a suction device to extract my son. Although I did complain about this separation, I realized I would not be permitted into the theatre. Period. I did get to cut the cord, though.

My wife stayed in hospital for only a few days of recovery. We drove home with my wife in the back seat holding our new son in her arms. Child safety restraints in Korea are very uncommon. I have seen mothers wearing chest baby packs while driving, and it is usual to see kids of all ages crawling around the car, completely unrestrained.

For neighbours who are curious about the child’s gender, traditionally a straw rope is placed over the door of the home to let people know. For a boy, it is charcoal and chilli peppers, a girl is denoted by charcoal and pine bows. The rope symbolizes protection against evils and illness, and visitors are not permitted to enter houses for at least 21 days.

After my son and wife arrived home, it was my duty to distribute rice cakes to all the people living in our apartment building. It is said that the baby will grow up healthy if rice cakes are distributed to one hundred neighbours.

Following the month of isolation (except for close relatives), many families will have a special party celebrating the 100th day of the baby’s life. This is a throwback to times of greater infant mortality, when medical service was poor and hardly available. Infant mortality was so high that this 100-day ‘birthday’ party was held to congratulate the baby on its survival.

Dol

At the one-year mark, a child has a very special birthday party called the ‘Dol’. At this party, the child is provided with a number of items from which to choose. This is supposed to indicate their future career.

In the past, there were only four items:

String/thread = long life
Pencil & paper or a book = scholar
Money = wealthy
Rice cakes = the child will never be hungry 

These days, more items have been added for a more modern fortune telling:

Gavel = judge
Stethoscope = doctor
Computer mouse = IT or gamer
Soccer ball = famous athlete 

It is a fun time for family and friends to celebrate that the baby has survived the perils of his/her first year of life, plus the guests get to bet on which item the child will choose.

Onward. . . .

And so began the next stage of my life in the Republic of Korea. This series now draws to an end, Thank you for reading - I hope you have enjoyed the journey!

_____

First instalment: Moving to Korea, eh?

Second instalment: “Teacher should hit me”

Third instalment: Hits from the Norae bong

Fourth instalment: Bubbles, laser, money, "I do"

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