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Posts Tagged ‘Korean attitudes towards children’


Koreans are fond of little kids. They are especially fond of cute ones and are fascinated with mixed-race children. Ian is cute and mixed race, which means going out with him here is a bit like being part of a movie star’s entourage.     

I’ve completely lost track of the number of times that we’ve entered a shop or a restaurant and heard people gasp when they see our little boy. Young women and school girls often squeal. Almost everybody stares.     

There was one time near Busan National University that is quite typical. KJ was getting her hair done and Ian and I were hanging out in the shopping district. We popped into McDonald’s to get a cheeseburger and the place went silent when we entered. Everybody was watching us and a few started going Ohhhhhhh and murmuring to each other. One young woman turned to her friends, held the tips of her index finger and thumb together and reported to them that Ian’s eyes are “like this!”     

Of course, I felt proud of my little guy, but I also really wished the other customers would stop staring. It’s a bit uncomfortable when you’re eating. It’s even more so when you’re holding a toddler on your lap with one hand and trying to feed him and yourself with the other, all the while making a big old mess. You’re not exactly at your glamorous best at such times. I know they weren’t staring at me – they were staring at Ian – but still.     

This sort of thing is also very common on the street, where Ian also attracts a considerable amount of attention and one of the many, many ways that Korea is different from North America manifests itself. In Korea, people feel absolutely free to come up to other people’s kids and tousle their hair, pinch their cheeks, hold their hands and even pick them up – without asking the parents. Since I’m not eating at these times, I really enjoy it. I think it’s great that Koreans are so affectionate towards kids.     

This is the face that stops Koreans in their tracks.

This is the face that stops Koreans in their tracks.

 

The other day, we were in Nampodong, which is a hip little area with a street full of trendy shops, cafes and restaurants that leads to a traditional Korean market occupying a warren of narrow lanes and alleys. In the market, KJ went into a clothing store to check out a sale. I stayed outside with Ian, parked his stroller right up against the curb and sat down to have a chat and keep him entertained.     

Just a few moments later, an ajashi (middle-aged guy, basically) came over and bent down to examine Ian. “Yepuda!” he said, which means “pretty!” He took Ian’s right hand and kissed it and spoke to the little guy in Korean. He kissed Ian’s hand again. Then Ian did something pretty entertaining. He pulled the ajashi’s hand to his mouth and kissed it. The ajashi laughed, so Ian did it again. And again.     

Then another ajashi came over and shook Ian’s hand while the first one pinched his cheek. Ian shook hands with the second ajashi a couple of times and then realized this was a good way to meet people and make friends. So he started holding out his hand to random people passing by who all had a good chuckle as they shook it. By the time KJ came out of the shop, there were about a dozen people all crowded around Ian. I even noticed an ajashi taking Ian’s picture on his cellphone.     

After KJ exchanged pleasantries with a couple of the members of Ian’s fan club, we carried on and checked out the rest of the market. About an hour later, we passed by the same spot. KJ wanted to buy a dress she had looked at before. Again, I stayed outside with Ian.     

An ajuma who had a stand in the middle of the narrow little street said something to KJ when she came out. “He must be sick of people,” she said. “He’s such a beautiful baby so people are always coming up to him. He must get tired of it.”     

Luckily, Ian is a very social little fellow and he isn’t sick of people in the least. He seems to really enjoy the attention and all the opportunities it brings for him to interact with people. And I’m grateful to be in a place where random strangers routinely show such kindness and warmth to my son, in the process giving me a pretty good idea of what it must be like to hang out with a movie star. 

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