Monday, July 26, 2010

The Baby Fair

For a country with a 'plunging' birthrate, it seemed somewhat optimistic to find a large baby fair being held at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center - or BEXCO as it's known. But as this was "The 8th Busan International Baby & Education Fair" (or if you're reading the Korean, the possibly less catchy "International Pregnancy Childbirth and Small Children Education Fair"), it's almost a tradition now. And an international one at that.

So with tales of birthrate woes regularly appearing in the media, and the Samsung Economic Research Institute suggesting that the Korean race might be halved to 25 million by 2100 (with the Korean race eventually becoming extinct by 2500), it didn't seem right that when we arrived at BEXCO it would be overwhelmed with Korean parents, pregnant women and babies.

The show was a predictable mix of pushchairs, educational equipment and other products aimed at babies and expectant mothers, though there were some more Korean twists on what might otherwise be a familiar theme the world over, such as the stand offering to create "baby's first homepage". Yes, you can never get onto Cyworld and start your social networking too early...

A couple of stands were trying to entice visitors to sign up for pregnancy photo-shoots, which I learned are quite popular here. I suppose that's not so unexpected considering the enormous amount of fuss which goes into creating pre-wedding photo albums. One thing I took away from the whole wedding shoot business was the often jarring lengths people go to here to evoke a sense of period-Western romanticism that never existed in Korea, and truth be told, probably never existed in the West either, except in movies. Perhaps that's how this pram - or perambulator as it surely deserves to be called, came to be on sale at the baby fair, confounding my initial expectations that it was merely a prop:

It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, called the Balmoral, and may just find a market among Haeundae's BMW-driving royalty. Given that a significant number of Korea's pedestrian walkways are built to the usual local construction standards and seem designed to keep the local hospitals in business, it's entirely possible that the large wheels of the Balmoral perambulator may provide a smoother ride. So it may have some appeal, though it doesn't look like you'd be going anywhere in a taxi with it, and certainly not the subway. Anyway, if you wanted it, the 'show special' price was reduced from 6,000,000 won to 5,400,000 ($4,487/£2,985!)

The big surprise for me was how relatively little technology was on display. A 'magic wand' read pre-prepared stories bilingually from a book, and there were a few electronic gadgets for baby monitoring, but otherwise the most cutting edge stands were for something entirely unexpected - biotechnology - and specifically, umbilical cord stem cell extraction...

On the evidence of the number of babies and pregnant mothers at the Baby Fair, the Korean race is safe for another couple of hundred years at least, especially if those stem cells are harvested.

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