From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

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How Koreans Celebrate Their 70th Birthday

Last Sunday, my husband’s third uncle celebrated his 70th birthday known as 고희 (gohui) or 칠순 (chilsun) in Korea. Korean seniors have three special birthdays to celebrate: 환갑 (hwanggap or the 60th birthday), 고희/칠순 (gohui/chilsun or the 70th birthday) and 팔순 (palsun or the 80th birthday). Traditionally, the 60th birthday was the one celebrated lavishly, since in the olden days, few people lived to be 60, but now that the average life expectancy in Korea has risen due to medical advancement and better quality of life, some Koreans don’t celebrate the 60th birthday anymore. Instead, the celebration is done on their 70th (or 80th) birthday.


When my 시아버지 (father-in-law) turned 60, we prepared a simple get-together in the house. There was no ceremony, just dinner and drinking. He wanted to go on a trip abroad with the family, but my sister-in-law just gave birth to her second child, so the plan didn’t push through. We will probably have the trip on his 70th birthday.  

While most Koreans have a big party in a banquet hall wherein many guests are invited, some just want to spend time with their family by traveling overseas with them. 

Normally, 60th, 70th and 80th birthday festivities follow ceremonial activities. Family members, as well as the birthday celebrator, wear hanbok on these occasions.  The celebrator is called to sit at the bountiful banquet table where piles of ceremonial food are beautifully arranged. These food include beef, pork, chicken, fish, fresh fruit, rice cake and traditional pastries that are heaped together in 30 to 60 centimeter-tall round stacks, and are placed in two to three colorful rows. The ceremonial food at the party we attended on Sunday wasn’t this elaborate, but there were fruit, rice cake, traditional cookies and a big cake on the banquet table that looked like a wedding cake. Cake was not served on 칠순 in the olden days, but today, it is a common birthday gift here in Korea. Wine was the most usual gift back then. The eldest son would bring wine for the ceremony, and he was the first one to present his parent with the wine and ceremonial meals. The celebrator’s children would all bow to him and offer him wine or other presents.

On my husband’s uncle’s 7oth birthday, it was the eldest son who was called to initiate the ceremony. There was no giving of wine, but the first son bowed to his father and gave him a message. The other siblings were not asked to bow and deliver a message, but they joined the guests in the toast. No one wore hanbok that day. I guess it wasn’t a very traditional ceremony.


In another 칠순 party my husband and I went to, the children and the grandchildren of the celebrator wore the same color of hanbok. They bowed to the celebrator at the same time, and all the children gave their father short messages and offered him songs. There was a time when guests recited poems for the celebrator, but these days, performers are hired to entertain guests with traditional music, or sometimes the celebrator’s children prepare song and dance numbers. A long time ago, the celebrator’s children would dress as infants or kids to make their parent feel younger, but my husband told me that nobody is doing that now. Thank goodness, I can’t imagine my husband wearing a diaper or carrying a pacifier on his parents’ milestone birthdays! =)



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Philippines: Too Dangerous for Koreans?

The news of the death of a Korean student in the Philippines hit the headlines this week and sparks worry about the safety of Koreans living in the country. The 21-year old student, who had been living in Manila with her brother for several years, was abducted last month. She was last seen riding a taxi in Pasay City on March 3. On April 8 (Tuesday), her remains were found in her captor’s hideout. The police were able to arrest one of the suspected kidnappers. The taxi driver is also a suspect.

According to The Chosun Ilbo, the Korean community in the Philippines “is blaming local police for mishandling the investigation, and accusing the Korean Foreign Ministry for standing idly by.” Some Korean netizens are already ‘generalizing’ the Philippines as being dangerous. One of the writers of The Korea Times has branded the Philippines as a death trap for Koreans as if every Korean going to the country has a sniper aimed at him.


Korea Joongang Daily reports:

Since 2009, there have been 40 Koreans killed in the Philippines as Koreans have poured into the country to start businesses, study English and play golf. Between 2009 and 2013, 44 percent of some 160 murder cases of Korean nationals abroad occurred in the Philippines, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Two months ago, when my husband and I were in the Philippines, a 65 year-old Korean tourist was shot dead in my hometown (Angeles City). Last week, a 43-year-old Korean businessman was gunned down in a restaurant in Angeles City while having dinner with his wife.

Last year, 13 Koreans were killed in the Philippines and four this year.

In an article from The Korea Times, Professor Kim Dong-yeob of Busan University of Foreign Studies said it is more likely that Koreans are behind the crimes.

…the majority of cases involving Korean victims are contract killings. Many Koreans flying to the Philippines have a reason to flee Korea. Many are gang members escaping law enforcement. What they end up doing is paying people to swindle money from Koreans. businessmen, students and tourists.

The Korea Times gave Cho Yang-eun, leader of a mafia called Yangeunyi  and one of South Korea’s most wanted fugitives, as an example of criminals who have fled to the Philippines to escape capture. He was caught in Pampanga in November 2013. A few years ago, news about Koreans kidnapping fellow Koreans in the Philippines  also came out.

Photo taken from

A photo of Cho Yang-eun’s detention taken from Philstar


It saddens me that despite the possibility of Koreans masterminding the crimes in the Korean community, fingers are all pointed at Filipinos.

A certain Prof. Park made this statement in The Korea Times:

You can own a gun in the Philippines. Also, it is a Catholic country, meaning people probably feel freer than those visiting Malaysia or Indonesia which are Muslim countries. And take Thailand, for example. They have better protection for foreign tourists.

I think it’s unfair to assume that everybody can own a gun in the Philippines, (that’s why crimes are rampant) and what does being a Catholic country have to do with crimes?

While we Filipinos understand Koreans’ concern for the safety of their fellow Koreans living in the Philippines, we hope that our people will not be blamed for every crime that involves tourists in our country, and that the Philippines will not be thought of as a “death trap” for foreigners. The Philippines is not the only place in the world where crimes happen. Many Filipinos were angered and disheartened by the news of this poor Korean student’s demise. Many Filipinos seek justice, too. I assure you, despite the country’s frailty and corruption, the Philippines is still a country surrounded by a lot of good people who value the life of others.




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