Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

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Having a baby in Korea can expose you to a great deal of culturally odd experiences. There are rules about staying in hospital, rules about keeping the rooms there at high temperatures, beliefs that new mothers shouldn’t shower for a week, and when the fortune tellers get involved, the minefield of baby naming to navigate. Eventually, those first few weeks pass by and you’re left with your newborn at home, and you think things might start to get a little less strange.

But when my wife came into our office and said “I need a picture of a chicken to hang upside down over the baby’s bed”, I was hardly even surprised even if I had no idea what the reasoning behind it was. Does there come a point where you’ve been in Korea so long that nothing surprises you any more?

Having a baby in Korea can expose you to a great deal of culturally odd experiences. There are rules about staying in hospital, rules about keeping the rooms there at high temperatures, beliefs that new mothers shouldn’t shower for a week, and when the fortune tellers get involved, the minefield of baby naming to navigate. Eventually, those first few weeks pass by and you’re left with your newborn at home, and you think things might start to get a little less strange.

But when my wife came into our office and said “I need a picture of a chicken to hang upside down over the baby’s bed”, I was hardly even surprised even if I had no idea what the reasoning behind it was. Does there come a point where you’ve been in Korea so long that nothing surprises you any more?

In this case, it seems there an old belief which has its roots in the practices of Korean Shamanism, and the upshot of it is that if your baby is a bit of a handful, doesn’t sleep at night – or at all – and generally cries a lot, you should hang a picture of a chicken (or technically I believe, a rooster), upside down over the baby’s bed as this will – apparently – be a calming influence. The reasoning is that during pregnancy the baby generally sleeps during the day and is active at night, so the rooster picture is supposed to reverse the cycle, although it’s important that the red part of the rooster’s head (the ‘comb’ – really) is exaggerated, hence the reason why my wife extended it with a red colouring pencil.

Now, it occurs to me that several hundred years ago there wasn’t an Internet to download chicken images from, and even having the kind of tools and paper around enabling a person to draw a fair representation of a chicken might have been rare, so I can’t help wondering if this means that people back then used to hang real chickens – presumably dead ones – upside down over their babies beds. But I’m afraid to ask. When you can walk into your kitchen and find a pig’s head staring at you unannounced from the kitchen table – and I have – anything is possible.

By the way, before you rush out to procure your own chicken, drawn or otherwise, I have to tell you that it doesn’t work.



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