Caesarean Sections Timed Down to the MinuteDoes it sound far-fetched to fix the time of a baby's arrival to ensure that the child starts life on a fortunate path? Apparently not in Korea. Choosing a caesarean delivery to guarantee a life without major hurdles and turmoil is quite common. In Korea, many people believe the timing of your birth largely determines your fortune in life.
"My doctor said I would need to have a caesarean and he said I might as well get an auspicious time picked for the baby," said Lee Sun-joo, 37, who had both her children by caesarean surgery.
The first child was delivered at just the right time, but things did not go so well for the second child. "We were off by an hour or so because the anesthetist could not make it on time," said Ms. Lee. Her mother-in-law, worried what this might mean for her grandson's future, consulted a fortuneteller.
"We were told the problem could be solved by having him marry a woman with a wooden element," says a relieved Ms. Lee. She explained that having all five elements; wood, water, fire, metal, and soil would bring good luck.
"I consulted a fortuneteller to pick the delivery date," said Ms. Lee, who comes from Bundang, Kyonggi Province. "I guess it was an auspicious date for a lot of people because women were in labor in the hallways of the maternity hospital, because the labor rooms were packed."
So are these women fanatical followers of fortunetellers?
"No," said Ms. Lee emphatically. "But what is good is good, isn't it?" She said knowing that her children were born at auspicious times gave her peace of mind. She also consults a fortuneteller at the beginning of the year, before taking on new projects or when things just do not seem right.
"Usually I will ask very specific questions, such whether it is the right time for my husband to change jobs," she said. Although Ms. Lee does not believe everything the fortuneteller says, she uses the advice as a sort of guide. "If something bad is predicted for a particular month, I will be extra careful," she explained. "It is really like seeing a psychiatrist on the cheap."
Her mother paid 50,000 won ($42) for a fortuneteller to choose the date for her grandchild's birth. She gave the fortuneteller the day, month, year and time of birth of Ms. Lee and her husband. Whether everyone who consults a fortuneteller believes everything they are told or not, Koreans certainly are keen to know what the future holds. And this is not the exclusive domain of the elderly, who are usually seen as more superstitions. The Internet, the very epitome of our modern life, is rife with fortunetelling sites. Just keying in the word woonse ("fortune" in Korean) will bring up nearly 200 sites. The search would probably yield hundreds more if other variants of the word "fortune" were entered.
Many Internet portals carry today's fortune predictions. They are often a portal's most visited sites. The Daum fortunetelling pages register the site's third highest number of visitors, after the e-mail service and chat pages.
"We have eight fortunetelling services that are hugely popular with our members," said public relations officer Lee Su-jin.
Fortunetelling services eliminate the need to stand in line for several hours to see a well-known fortuneteller. Daily forecasts via e-mail have found a very receptive audience. Sazoo.Com, a fortunetelling service that opened last June, reports more than 400,000 hits a day, a telling sign that even tech-savvy netizens want to know what the future holds, even though the advice may be baseless.
While most fortunetellers claim their predictions are accurate because they rely on I-Ching, or Book of Changes, a Confucian classic from ancient China, it is strange that not all fortunetellers will predict the same future.
"What makes a good fortuneteller is his interpretations," said Amy Kang, 38, a housewife who has seeing the same fortuneteller for several years.
While most of today's fortunetelling is based on I-Ching, some fortunetellers tend towards the occult. Shamans who are said to become possessed by spirits and give out their predictions are also quite common in Korea.
The economic downturn and a share market that is heading south are also sending people to fortunetellers in droves. "Most of my clients now want to know if their husbands will be fired during restructuring," said a fortuneteller in Geumho-dong, Seoul. He now gets more than 20 visitors a day, about 1.5 times more than previously. "Judging by the type of questions I get, I am more like a counselor or financial consultant," he said.
Park Hyung-yong is secretary-general of the Korea Association of Fortunetellers, which has 50,000 members.
"Even in today's modern society, where scientific thinking prevails, fortunetelling seems to offer psychological stability," he said.
Whether you believe in fortunetelling or not, here, on the right, is a forecast table for the Year of the Snake, which starts on Jan. 24. The forecast, according to your Chinese zodiac sign, is based on "Tojeongbigyeol," a divination book written during the Choseon Dynasty and widely consulted at the start of the lunar year.
by Kim Hoo-ran