Time to swing into 2004, the Year of the MonkeyGWACHEON, Gyeonggi
“So how do you think 2004 will turn out?”
A blank stare is the only response from Bau, a monkey kept in confinement at Seoul Grand Park, located just south of the Seoul city limits.
“What’s the forecast for this year’s economy? Any improvements?”
“Ooh, keh keh keh!,” Bau snaps, attacking a photographer’s camera while ignoring other visitors. The 1-year-old hamadryas baboon seems to be distracted by a group of photojournalists and has no interest in answering any of their questions.
Gaji, a 3-year-old crab-eating monkey, is no gentle lady as she jumps up and down and clambers over every object in sight. Bau and Gaji have been dressed by zoo keepers in flamboyant hanbok, or traditional Korean attire, and are expected to greet the new year with a traditional bow, but there has been little success in getting them to live up to their part of the deal.
In terms of the Chinese calendar, 2004 is the Year of the Monkey, so it is time to swing into the year in high spirits.
According to the Chinese zodiac, which is based on a 12-year cycle, each year is represented by an animal, such as a scampering monkey, a fire-breathing dragon or a clucking chicken. People born in any of the following years ― 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 and 2004 ― are classified as monkeys.
Those born in a monkey year are said to be talented, skilled at using tools and instruments, and extremely witty. They also are known for their natural charm, an ability to draw others to them.
In addition, they are natural actors and have a sense of humor. In other words, they pretty much love monkeying around.
But these people are by no means flawless. Among their typical character traits is the tendency to cheat and lie. They like to show off and are also a jealous bunch. They are extremely ambitious but can be quite vain.
The description does not apply to everyone, of course, but monkey-year people frequently work as brokers, business owners, writers, advertising directors or diplomats. They also may be swindlers, speculators and even illegal ticket brokers.
Some celebrities born in a Year of the Monkey are Christina Aguilera, Chelsea Clinton, Cuba Gooding Jr., George Lucas, Tom Hanks, Will Smith and Mick Jagger. Omar Sharif and Harry Truman were also members of the club.
Unfortunately for our two star monkeys, Bau and Gaji, Seoul Grand Park’s zoo curators have not prepared a party or even any special treats to help their primates celebrate the arrival of the Gregorian new year.
“They will get their usual treat, which is fruit and stuff,” says Jeon Don-soo, an animal trainer.
Visitors to the zoo will be treated, however: Gaji will perform onstage before the dolphin show every day this year decked out in her colorful hanbok.
In the primate section of the park, Juri, a 1-month-old baboon, is getting the attention of a movie idol.
Not only has she been given a birthday cake with a candle, but the infant monkey has been constantly petted and cooed over by the children visiting the park.
“She is so cute,” says Moon Hyeon-jeong, 11, as she tries to stroke the monkey on her head. “Her eyes are beautiful.”
Juri is drinking milk from an infant’s bottle and holding on to Lee Gil-wong, 62, her surrogate “mother,” as the crowd surrounds her.
Nine-year-old Kim Hyeon-mo says he would rather have Juri as a pet than a dog or a cat, “because monkeys can climb trees.”
Juri surveys the crowd with a mix of curiosity and fear. She clings tightly to Mr. Lee.
“Juri’s birth mother left the baby to die and we had to take care of her from birth,” Mr. Lee says. “Such incidents happen a lot here at the zoo and in the worst case the mother even kills her own offspring.
“Such tragedies happen because the animal is nervous and unstable when placed in a new environment,” he adds.
Mr. Lee, who has worked with primates for 38 years, says he has had to take care of Juri nearly round the clock. “I spend most of the time with Juri,” he says. “Since Juri needs me more at night than during the day, I barely ever leave the zoo.”
Mr. Lee says that even after three decades of working with primates, he is still surprised at how similar they are to humans. “At night, when Juri cries from hunger, she sounds like a human baby,” Mr. Lee says. “I really get confused sometimes.”
Mr. Lee describes how affectionate Juri and other monkeys are as they cuddle in his arms or attempt to groom him.
“She snores, hiccups and even mumbles when dreaming,” Mr. Lee says with a broad smile. “They are very much like us.”
From time to time, Mr. Lee says, he even feels that monkeys are easier to hang out with than humans; the curator reports that they make pleasant company.
“Monkeys are very naive and pure. Some people are always ruthless, cunning and faulty, but monkeys never lie or cheat,” he says. “People should learn from them.”
According to Mr. Lee, there are about 200 species in the primate order of mammals.
Primates are divided into two main groups.
The prosimians or “primitive primates,” are small, nocturnal tree-dwellers such as lemurs and lorises. The apes, which include gorillas, orangutans and baboons, are characterized by higher intelligence and tool-making ability, and a body structure adapted for using their arms to swing through tree branches.
Aside from Homo sapiens ― the humans ― the Korean peninsula is home to no other primate species. (Neighboring China and Japan each harbor other primate species).
In any case, those who were born in the Year of the Monkey are the stars of 2004. So start swinging!
by Lee Ho-jeong
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