“Erin, get our ticket – the Lotto numbers are up!”
I launched off the couch to root through the pileup on our desk.
“Got it!” I called, extracting a dog-eared slip of paper. I smoothed it hurriedly, sliding my eyes across the line of numbers. “Ok, read ’em out!”
I held my breath as Sam’s voice began the countdown from the kitchen. We had a lot riding on this.
I don’t usually play the lottery – hadn’t even bought this ticket. If I’m going to take a whirl against the odds then I want to have fun with it. Playing the powerball is a just a week-long session of Don’t Lose the Paper, and I suck at that game. Give me a corrupt claw machine any day.
But this ticket was significant. It was quite possibly about to change our future. That’s why Jeong-Seok had given it to us in the first place.
“Happy New Year!” he’d said holding out a blue embroidered bag. “Sorry it’s a little late.”
South Koreans get two shots at starting the year off right: solar new year (aka January 1st) and the traditional lunar one. Lunar New Year (called Seollal) had come and gone in early February. Now it was March, but no matter. As far as I’m concerned it’s always the right time for presents.
“Thanks so much!” I opened the bag and pulled out two little straw spoons. “Uh, what are they?”
“They’re bokjori,” Jeong-Seok explained. “You can hang them in your house for good luck. But,” his smile turned sheepish, “there’s a small problem.”
He handed me a crinkly piece of paper from his pocket.
“Is this a lotto ticket?”
“Yes. That’s the problem.”
Back in Ye Olde Times* Korean women used woven bamboo scoops called jori to sift detritus from the dried rice before cooking it. Over time, jori became symbolically able to sift away back luck as well. At Seollal families would buy special bok (lucky) jori to hang in their houses, scooping up good fortune for the year ahead.
Many Koreans still hang miniature bokjori by their doors the way Americans might hang a horseshoe. And like the horseshoe, there are rules for maximizing a bokjori’s potential. You should buy it immediately at the start of the year—traditionally from a street vender at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Never sully the purchase by bargaining; a cut-price bokjori will cheapen your returns. And if you try to use it for sordid monetary gain (like to buy a winning lottery ticket or something) it might rebound on you with misfortune.
Jeong-Seok had been lunching with a group of coworkers when the bokjori peddler approached their table. On impulse, he decided to buy a belated New Year’s gift for his geeky foreign friend.
The Year of the Pig was already well underway, the old man wasn’t getting many customers. That’s probably why he’d tucked a lotto ticket in each bag—just a cute gimmick to encourage sales. But the rest of the table was shocked. Using bokjori as a get-rich-quick scheme was an invitation to trouble. Jeong-Seok was counselled to throw away the ticket; better yet, ditch the bag altogether.
Cheerfully unsuperstitious, Jeong-Seok stuck with his gift. But he kept the lotto ticket separate, just in case.
I’m not particularly superstitious either, but when I’m in another country I follow a “their house, their rules” policy. After all, what the heck do I know? The world is full of unbelievable things. If a local tells me to avoid toilet ghosts and not cut my fingernails after dark, then I will do my best to oblige.**
So when Jeong-Seok explained the bokjori/lotto conundrum, I listened.
I was still delighted by the gift – even more since it came with a story. I hung up our bokjori as soon as I got home. Sure, it was well past New Years, but better late than never.***
The ticket was another matter.
I filled Sam in on the details, and he agreed that we should throw it away. I mean, not that it wouldn’t be great to win a big pile of money. That would be…well, pretty cool actually….
We already had the ticket, right? It’s not like we could unbuy it. Hadn’t bought it in the first place. None of this was on us. So maybe we could just, you know, hang onto it. And then casually check the numbers at the end of the week.
Anyway, a couple of bamboo spoons couldn’t actually affect the outcome of the lottery.
“And the powerball number,” Sam announced sonorously, “is 28.”
“Oh. Wow. Yes! YES!” I jumped up and down like a maniac before flying into the kitchen to hug him.
“Did we do it?”
“Yes! Not a single number right!” I planted a big kiss on his forehead.
“Thank goodness,” he exhaled, then gave me a grin. “I guess it’s going to be a good year after all.”
*I’d love to tell you exactly when, but I’m darned if I can unearth any dates on this.
**But I draw the line at fan death. That’s nuts.
***The same attitude was applied to this blog post. Happy New Year, guys!
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