About 'Open Mike in Busan'
Back in January I talked about the birth of my son in Korea, and how we named him. This week, I wanted to talk about another apparently important baby issue – baby photos.
Part of the significance of these baby photos is to do with the way people count days here. Actually, I found that Koreans are obsessive counters of days, formally marking such occasions as 49 days after the death of a loved one, 15 days after Seollal with Jeongweol Daeboreum, and even more modern examples, such as burning a wedding bouquet after 100 days to ensure a trouble-free marriage. Some of it is really quite inconvenient too – I used to live in Hadan, where there was a ‘Five Days Market’ - which occurs every five days, so basically you never know when to go. It would be a lot easier if it happened every Wednesday, for example.
We don’t count days a lot in England. Of course, we’re generally really bad at maths, so that wouldn't help. I find it especially confusing here because it’s not just the normal calendar you have to contend with, but also the lunar calendar. I don’t know how Koreans manage it – but maybe there’s a smartphone app that helps you with it all these days.
Apparently there’s not much counting with marriage though – when I asked my wife about it she told me “once you get married you tend not to celebrate any more” - isn’t that the truth? But babies are a different matter.
We had a few shots taken with a photographer for our baby’s 50th day, although it felt quite informal. At the time I didn’t think much of it because I thought it was part of the baby package that we’d bought through the hospital for my wife’s birth.
So we counted the 100th day for our baby, when I gathered photos must be taken. But evidently there’s more to it than this, because my wife started browsing the Internet intently for baby things, and making a lot of phone calls. Packages began to arrive. By the time the day came we had a big banner across the wall with my son’s name on it plus the words “Happy 100th Day”. And surrounding it we had the world’s entire supply of purple balloons. Then there was a cake with candles for ‘100’, which was surrounded by dishes of fruit, and of course, I had to take the photos.
So I figure we're done here right? Wrong. These were not the official 100th day photographs. No, we still had to go to a studio – except on the 130th day, because apparently this is when the baby ‘looks better’. I’m told it’s not uncommon, but then it’s all a lie really isn’t it?
So for the 130th day 100th day photo shoot we hired a studio, which was basically a big room split into six different themes with various props. And I took along my DSLR to take the photos. You can hire a camera, but this probably isn’t a good idea because most DSLRs – especially the high end ones – can take a lot of getting used to. I know a lot of men don’t mind fiddling around with their equipment, but trust me, you don’t want to be doing this against the clock, in-between bouts of baby and partner screaming, depending on the quality of the results.
It was quite stressful, and I hadn’t worked with big studio flash-lights before. Plus I had to keep an eye on what was going to be in the background to each shot, because the props were sometimes a little odd. Fortunately I noticed the words “Adolph Hitler” on the spine of a book in the background of one photo before I took it. These are probably not the words you want floating around above your baby's head in the family album.
Of course, the advantage of the self-studio is that you can take all the shots you want, but the downside is that you probably can’t take all the shots that your partner demands. And it gives you freedom, but the freedom to mess things up. So the next day it was my partner’s face that was the picture – she said only five shots were worth saving out of the 554 I took. For what it’s worth I saved 94 of the photos, but clearly it’s debatable whether it’s worth the stress; there’s something to be said for going down the professional route, rather than apparently as it was in our case, the unprofessional route.
So I thought, well, thank God I don’t have to do that again. And then my wife said to me “We have to do another photo-shoot on the 200th day”. No. You know, I do like this country, but sometimes it feels like a nightmare I can’t escape from.
The 200th day photo-shoot was booked, and my wife wanted to do another self-shoot, but I caught a break, at least, I think I did. My wife entered our baby’s photo into a photo competition run by a large studio here, and we won a free photo-shoot with a photographer.
In fact, my wife’s been entering our son into a few competitions. I think it’s very Korean behaviour, but being British I have reservations about the whole thing, because it just seems quite presumptuous to think your baby looks nice, especially when I look at myself in the mirror and think that if he does it can’t be from my genes. But it seems to be a very serious business in Korea – there was a national competition on an Internet site here, and when the last ten were announced, hundreds of mothers were so disappointed by the exclusion of their baby that they were posting lots of angry messages on the site, with levels of rhetoric almost approaching that of North Korea. I half-expected them to threaten to destroy the site in a sea of fire.
So it was quite a relief – in a way – to just be a bystander at the photo-shoot we won. Except there’s still some stress, because our baby was full of smiles before the shoot, and as soon as it started, he wouldn’t smile, and he began to cry. He did get better - but it helps to understand Korean, because eventually I discovered the photographer was complaining that he was smiling too much. Apparently the ‘concept’ was ‘being moody’. I don’t know why there has to be a concept, but there was. It seems they wanted to highlight his big eyes – and if he smiled, his eyes weren’t as big. But anyway, the photos are better than mine.
But remember I mentioned that before the competition win, we’d originally booked the self-studio for his 200th day shoot? My wife re-arranged it... for his 1-year shoot.
[to be continued...]
Inside Out Busan
Air date: 2011-04-27 @ ~19:30