[UPDATE: I just found this picture, accidentally taken on my phone on Saturday. Sums up the day pretty well :)]


Can you say…insane? It really was. Insane in the most exhausting and chaotic way while still being something I’m glad we did.

If I found the picture taking at the Korean wedding gruelling, taking pictures with a baby was a hundred times more complicated trying to keep hats and shoes on and making sure he didn’t crawl away, and holding a 10.5 kilo kid in slippery clothes while trying not to burst out of my own corseted dress for an hour because he decided he would not go to his dad while being photographed…And of course, the easy thing to do would be to say ‘Pictures are at 10:30 am, please meet us at this place to do them.’ But no no no. Nobody knew when they were going to be and nobody cared…until the door of the hair stylist burst open and there were people there saying ‘It’s picture time!! Picture time!!! Get your clothes on now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ And then we had to scramble going up and down elevators because nothing was on the same floor, and chiffon was flying and shoes were lost and my mum, who had come down with a horrific stomach bug at midnight, kept having to run off to the bathroom in between the chaos.

The main characteristic of the many dols I’ve been to has been a very excitable emcee and loud blaring music (often inappropriate…really…I’ve been to so many dol parties that blasted music with the words ‘whoring’ and ‘bitches’ and one of the example baby video we could have chosen used the music…I’m so serious about this…’I like big butts.’) So I won a few of the battles in how I wanted the dol to be, but I didn’t win the war on sound. It was loud, and rambunctious, and over the top….but the Koreans seemed to love our emcee (a former comedian turned Mr. Lee’s coworker), and the play list ranged from my hard fought Lumineer’s song for our entrance to Gangnam Style (Dragon’s favourite song), to some swing which was a nice classy touch in the midst of chaos.

It sounds crazy (it was), it sounds difficult (it was), it sounds tiring (omw it so was), but seriously, it was fun and funny and delightful in the way that maybe parenting is both overwhelming and rewarding.

Pictures to come…


First birthday parties are really really really important in Korea. They are important in Canada too, but whereas the typical Canadian party is an individually planned house party with close family and friends, the Korean event is a mini wedding (actually, they often happen in buildings which also include wedding ceremonies, and many wedding clothing rental shops have a birthday business on the side). The contemporary party (doljanchi or dol for short), is typically a large event held in a special hall or increasingly, a restaurant which specializes in such events. There are fancy dresses or hanboks, a professional photographer, a professional movie about the baby, a professional emcee, take home gifts, etc etc. Yes, it’s really a mini wedding.

We chose to celebrate Dragon’s first birthday here in Korea because the dol is so much more of an event here, and also because the timing meant that if we were to go to Canada, Mr. Lee would have to miss his son’s party. So instead, we flew my mum over for the party, and my sister, who was traveling in Russia just prior, came for a visit before she had to return to her studies.

I do dislike the cookie cutter aspects of the Korean dol, but in general, I like it. It’s a bit over the top…but, well, let’s be honest. Parents are usually really over the top about their kids, so it works. And things that make me cringe in Korean wedding hall weddings seem much more endearing when translated into the doljanchi.

So over the next few posts, I will discuss how we tried to make Dragon’s dol a little more our own and tell you how it all went!

On Dear Dragon (Part 6)

[From my continuing series of letters to Dragon 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

January 17, 2013

Dear Dragon

It’s hard to pinpoint what I have learned to love best about you, but if I had to choose, I think it would be how social you are. You always were an alert one, an inquisitive one, an extrovert who loved to flirt with café goers and fellow bus travelers on our many trips out, but your love for interacting with other seems to grow with time and experience.

Perhaps the most adorable of all interactions is with other kids. Daycare has made you so bold and brave in your belief that everyone is your friend. You see other children, and your eyes light up while you reach out and squeal out greetings. And what I love most is that you don’t care the age, you don’t care the sex, you don’t care the ethnicity or language abilities. You don’t care if they respond back or recoil in confusion. You just give of yourself and find joy in seeing others. I hope that as you grow older, as the world around you starts to categorize and label and respond based on categories and labels, that you will not lose this perfect acceptance of those around you. I hope you continue to reach out to everyone whether they look or talk like you.

And one of the most endearing parts of this side of you is that you have been exploring disability the past few weeks with your Auntie’s crutches. Granted, you find it difficult to avoid bouncing into her broken ankle with your continuous energy, but you find her crutches and her gait endlessly fascinating. You aren’t scared or embarrassed or reluctant when it comes to disabilities. As with children, people are people are people in your world. You just want to know more and understand and explore. As you grow, may you never lose your ability to see the beauty of difference.

And one more thing little Dragon. I love watching when kids don’t react positively to you. Am I strange? I love you even more because you.don’t.care. You don’t care if an older child thinks you’re just a silly baby, or a younger baby doesn’t babble back, or a kid points at you and calls you a foreigner. You move on to the next more receptive child. You still flash as bright a smile at the next one. You never lose your joy at seeing other kids. You carry on despite the reaction. May you always keep your ability to love and socialize no matter what the response. If kids find you too different in the future, may you never fear the next interaction. May you continue to put yourself out there, to love, to learn, to explore, to flash your smile.

May your limitless love teach me to do the same.


Just a few pictures to show you how we celebrated our first Christmas as a family of 3!

Preparing for the big day


25 advent


Christmas cookies for daycare teachers


25 cookies 2

25 cookies

Dragon enjoying and wearing his Christmas presents

25 christmas outfit

blog presents

blog dragon

A selection of the many stocking stuffers sent from abroad

25 irn bru

25 chocolates

25 pp

Including some Father-Son matching shirts

25 guns

We went for lunch at the inlaws (mandu guksu, bulgogi, and tiramisu)


And ended the night with dinner at the Hilton with our friend (no cooking for me today!!!)

hilton collage

Merry Christmas to all

xo msleetobe + fam

On My Teaching Identity

Last fall I wrote this post about the challenges of being a 30-something female teacher in Korea. After aegyo and cuteness and being admired or rejected for your looks, what kind of identity was left for a teacher of my age?

I think I got my answer today in a student feedback form:

 “Professor. You are mother like teacher. At first, I was very bad presenter. But, you helped me like mother, so I changed.”

I guess Dragon isn’t an only child afterall…

On Bedtime Stories

Dragon’s favourite Korean book is a simple story about a boy getting ready for bed. He brushes his teeth, splashes in the tub, gets read a bedtime story and…bows to his parents.

The Canadian in me shivers at this image, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Even with the smiling faces and cute bowing teddy, it seems like such a heartless bedtime ritual. It seems so formal and lacking in familial affection. How can insa ever exist in place of cuddles?

Of course, the question remains whether this picture is a manifestation of reality or an ideal vision of how it all should be in a Confucian society (two pages later the boy peacefully drifts off to sleep immediately after his mum reads him a story…and all parents know that bedtime is really always that easy!) But it’s safe to say that such an image would not normally be found in a modern day Canadian children’s book.

Now, after ten months of reading this book to Dragon before bed (snuggling together, sometimes with his arm wrapped around my shoulder), I still admit to feeling uncomfortable with the formality of it all. However, I’ve also experienced the exquisite sweetness of insa at daycare.

Dragon has a kind of girlfriend there – an older woman no less. And she’s taken to spontaneously greeting me at the door on occasion when I arrive and depart (already trying to get into our good graces!). And my goodness, when she folds her itty bitty hands at her waist, and bows slightly with a shy smile, my heart melts and everything within me screams CUTE. Her miniature attempt at a custom which seems far above her age cannot help but endear her to me, and with that feeling, I can see how a ritual that seems so cold in the abstract can actually be a very loving and affectionate gesture.

I’m not going to give up cuddles though. Ever.

On Noodles

Last night we were eating noodle stir fry, so I gave Dragon some rice noodles to see if he would like them. He immediately started cramming fist fulls of them into his mouth to the delight of his father. Because you see, you can’t be a Lee unless you want second and third helpings of all manner of noodles.

And then I heard it coming from Dragon’s mouth. The unmistakable sound of an ajosshi enjoying his meal. Mr. Dragon was gleefully slurping up noodles.

A real Korean this one.