Want luck for the exam? Here, have a noodle

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Want luck for the exam? Here, have a noodle

Once again it is that time of year when high school seniors here in Korea have to rack their brains for the College Scholastic Ability Test, the be-all-and-end-all exam for getting into university held on Nov. 6.

All the books have been studied, tutors consulted and brains crammed as full as humanly possible. The only source of solace in this serious hour is the serious good luck charm.

For decades, hopeful parents would present their children with yeot, a kind of Korean toffee, right before the exam. Some parents would fold 1,000 paper cranes.

On the day of the exam, it is common to see parents sticking yeot to the entrances of the most desirable universities, all the while praying to Buddha, Jesus, the spirits -- anyone -- that their child might stick to the university like the yeot to the college gate.

In recent years, however, the variety of good-luck charms has proliferated, grown more fashionable, witty and good for a laugh. Good luck apparently comes in adhesive bandages, gum, instant noodles, coffee and even chili sauce.

In the 1990s, male students were known to sneak into the girls' classrooms and steal the girls' seat cushions, the idea being the cushions that high school girls sat on would bring them luck on the exam.

But most of the time, wordplay is the key point. "My favorite is the Haxim coffee," said Han Yu-jeong, a 25-year-old office worker who was picking out good-luck gifts for her younger sister. Maxim is a popular brand of coffee in Korea, but haeksim means the gist of a subject. Combine the two and, voila, Haxim coffee.

So what did Ms. Han get when she was a high school senior, waiting for the test of her life?

"My elder sister got me a fork, a tissue and a mirror."

The fork is so the recipient will pick out the right answers during the examination. The tissue is based on a Korean pun; the word for blowing your nose, pulda, can also mean to solve a question.

And the mirror? Another pun. To look at something, boda, also means to score well on an examination.

"I think the people who are coming up with these new ideas have a good sense of humor," Ms. Han says. "I wish I had the choices that the senior students have today, receiving such witty items. There are a lot more items then they had last year"

But Ms. Han's college friend said he received a fork for his test and didn't find it too interesting. "Maybe I laughed when I received it, but that's about it," Park Hyeong-min said.

A group of girls at another store in the area were picking out gifts for a friend who was preparing for her nursing certification exam.

"My favorite is the 'Harry Tutor and the Philosopher's Pass Yeot,'" said Lee Su-hyeon, 23. Her friend's favorite, on the other hand, was the instant noodle yeot.

But another of Ms. Lee's friends, Kim Seon-hui, liked the old days when just plain yeot or chocolates were given out. "Today it's too flashy and it's too commercialized," Ms. Kim said.

According to a stationery store employee, Kim Eun-yeong, who has worked there for nearly two years, this year's hottest item is the "Italian towel."

An Italian towel is a towel used for scrubbing when taking a shower; in the bathhouse, it's common for someone to scrub the back of family members or someone close. Ms. Kim said the towel is a sign that someone is looking out for you.

by Lee Ho-jeong

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