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PALM LATITUDES

Rites Of Passage

February 23, 1992|Steven Adamson | Edited by Mary McNamara

One-year-old Yoonmee Chung has made a very big decision: She chose her destiny. On her Tol, or first birthday celebration last year, Yoonmee's mother and father, Yong and Jin, invited 70 of their closest relatives, friends and business associates to share in this Korean rite at Hanil restaurant in Koreatown.

"We consider the time between the baby's birth and her first birthday to be a long and winding road," Jin says. "My brother died when he was 6 months old."

"Until she is 1, she is not considered fully human," Yong explains. "She only drinks formula and her life is mostly eat-sleep, eat-sleep and crying. Once she celebrates Tol, she'll start talking and we'll teach her our Korean body language. Her eyes and nose are turning into a more developed face now. "

Yoonmee's grandmothers attended to the ceremonial table--the rice cakes, fruits, candies and flowers were placed just so for the Tol portrait. After dinner, the restless Yoonmee is perched on her tiny throne. Various symbolic objects are placed in front of her: string, symbolizing a long life; books, for scholarship; money, for wealth and security; and pencils, for writing. The object she chooses will foretell her future. After much coaxing Yoonmee grabs the book. "Ah," Jin announces, "she will be a scholar."

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