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Posts Tagged ‘dol’

We FINALLY got the official dol party pictures back including a lovely little book of the best ones. Therefore, as part of my then/now project, I thought I would share one of Dragon at his dol party table in contrast to Mr. Lee’s dol party table 40 years ago.

dol table dragon

lee dol

Like so many things, there’s such a contrast between the home-prepared family party in Mr. Lee’s photograph and the uber commercialized/aggrandized contemporary party. I’ve been to several dols which have the traditional table laid out with the fruit and ddeok, but I’ve also seen a lot of fake fruit, or, in Dragon’s case, flower arrangements, candles, and knick knacks that obscure the traditional items (if any) from a clear view. (We did get a rather large box of fruit to take home though).

And I love that my boys have almost the exact same outfit on.

A precious set of photos.

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As I thought about what makes a Canadian birthday a birthday, I felt that other than the Happy Birthday song (also a feature of the Korean dol), the birthday cake is probably the most iconic element. There’s a cake at the Korean dol too, but in an uncanny valley way that mirrors the gap between Canadian and Korean wedding cakes.

At our venue, we blew out a candle on a real cake, but at the dol for Dragon’s friend the next day, and at several other dols I’ve been to, the cake on display is just a styrofoam show cake. Then, you cut a real cake (with an enormous sword-esq weapon), but that cake is whisked away and given to you as you are leaving the building. In other words, nobody at the party actually eats the party cake, but if they did, it would be a Korean bakery cake which has a distinctly different taste and texture from a Canadian cake. Therefore, I felt really strongly that I wanted Dragon to have a real cake that not only represented him (as opposed to a generic cake picked by the venue) but that we were able to share with the rest of our guests.

You see, dol parties often include take home presents for guests. Canadian parties would have a bag of goodies for the kids, but at the Korean party, it’s a gift for adults. When I started going to dol parties in 2007, everyone used to give out rainbow coloured ddeok (chewy rice cake). However, at some point the custom seemed to change overnight, and suddenly I began receiving miniature picture frames, tea towels, a variety of trinkets, and one time, rice (probably the best gift). Of course, it is always nice to take something home with you, but most of the time we’ve felt the same way about these presents as people feel about a lot of Canadian wedding favours…they are okay, but they often just take up space and rarely have much relevance to the event other than the name and date emblazoned on the item in some place. Thus, we decided that the cake could be both a way to honour the Canadian custom and gift our guests.

I asked my friend, who has a bakery business on the side, to make us two cakes. The first was an apple spice with cream cheese frosting. Sadly, Dragon didn’t get to eat any of this cake because he is allergic to cinnamon, but I heard it was divine. Dragon’s cake was chocolate with vanilla frosting and…and…yes it did. It had a dragon on it. Super duper cake, and the staff member assigned to our room kept squealing over it.
cake 1

cake 2 better

And yes, I really really really wanted Dragon to get to feed himself his own cake. I was slightly worried that this custom would create an uproar as the next worst thing to being COLD in Korea is being dirty. Baby-led weaning is not so popular here, and it’s custom to spoon feed food into baby’s mouths with one hand and use a wipe on the mouth with the other in one harmonious action for every mouthful of food to prevent any spillage or smearing. However, sitting in his high chair in a roomful of well-fed people, Dragon’s first taste of icing and cake went unnoticed by everyone but the table of expat mamas + 1 K-husband he was sitting at. He enjoyed the cake immensely. (Note the outfit…I didn’t want him getting chocolate on his ‘I’m the Birthday Boy’ onesie before the big day!)

eating cake

The other gift which is given at dol parties is the door prize. In addition to gifting the person who correctly predicts what the baby with choose from among the fortune telling items, there’s usually prizes given to the guest who knows the birth weight or how many teeth the baby currently has. There’s also often a prize for the person who came from furthest away, and although I’m usually from only a few subway stops away, I ALWAYS get this prize because everyone thinks it’s funny to give it to me being the sole foreigner in the crowd on most days. My all time favourite was one of those multi-packs of tissue boxes which was both bewildering and annoying to carry home on the subway. I’ve also received a mini cutting board, a couple of tea towels in addition to the take home tea towels, a single box of tissues, and some tasteless tea.

But then Mr. Lee came up with the idea of asking my mum to bring some treats from Canada. She brought 6 mugs that said ‘Canada’ on them and featured a moose, and then we filled them with flavoured hot chocolate, Laura Secord chocolate, shortbread (the Scottish side of me), maple syrup produced down the road from my childhood home by a family I’ve known my entire life, and…it may seem strange, but a ladybug chocolate which comes from a store in my hometown and reminds me of home.

mug4

mug3

mug1

mug2

I hope they were enjoyed by those who won them. If not, they can always re-gift them to me!!!

And finally, although most people give cash presents for a dol, Dragon also received three miniature gold rings which are the traditional presents. These rings are so impractical but eternally adorable. It’s something I’ll really treasure when he is an adult, and I’m able to look back and see the tiny rings that once fit on his fingers up against his grown up hands.

Rotated_photo-14

And then there was this ring we got today. Pororo does 1st birthday gold ring. Love Love Love.

ring p

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There are lots of different ways multicultural families deal with diversity during milestones. Personally, I believe that our son is Canadian and Korean, and I feel very strongly that both of those elements of his identity need to be honoured throughout his life. However, I think there’s a longer and stronger tradition of incoporating other cultures into Canadian culture than there is bringing Canadian elements into Korean culture, and I think there are fewer models for those of us trying to do so in Korea. Therefore, when we started thinking about planning Dragon’s dol, I decided that I wanted his party to have Canadian elements and that I wanted the party to represent our family (which is maybe a Canadian idea in and of itself).

The first area where I thought we could make such changes within the structure of the Korean dol party was with the fortune telling event. This is probably the most iconic part of the contemporary dol and a part that I really love. In this ritual, a number of items are placed before the baby, and the item the child picks is said to indicate his or her future. The items change depending on the venue and the parents, but they often include a combination of the following:

Money – (Wealth)

Thread – (Long life)

Rice – (Lots of food)

Calligraphy brush (traditional)/pencil (modern) – (Scholar)

Archery bow (traditional) /golf ball (modern) – (Sports star)

Stethoscope – (Doctor)

Gavel – (Lawyer/Judge)

Microphone – (Celebrity)

I figured it would be pretty easy to either put a slight twist on the traditional items or include some additional ones that reflected our own family. So we chose:

Concert bands from Mr. Lee’s favourite festivals (musician)

concert band

Cow (veternarian – because my sister is in vet school, and we are an animal loving family)

cow

Hockey puck – (hockey player – the team my family supports, and we received this toy puck on our family trip to Boston in the summer)

hockey puck

Money – (Wealth – Canadian $10 bill + Korean 10,000 won)

money

Pens (Scholar – we had planned to put pens from our undergraduate alma maters and my current place of employment together, but we couldn’t get a pen from Mr. Lee’s school, so 2 out of 3).

pens

Rope – (Long life – from our traditional wedding altar…the dol party rope is usually white)

thread

When guests arrive at a dol, they are given a ticket and asked to choose which item they think the baby will choose. If the baby chooses the item you predicted, you are entered in a contest to win a prize.

I’m sure it’s the first time the venue ever had to print off this label.

lotto

And then there was this. ㅋㅋㅋ

animal

Our emcee explained to the guests why we chose each item, and I think this change to the ritual was well received.

So what did Dragon pick?…..

Our son is going to be a wealthy man! Or…maybe as Mr. Lee mused…chosing the money means that he is going to use up all of our money! ㅋㅋㅋ

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

lovechaos

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…

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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!

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