Career clues on that first birthday

| Juliana Chen 14 Mar 2018

"Don't let young people tell you their aspirations; when they drop them they will drop you."

It is probably such concern encapsulated above by American-born British essayist and critic Logan Pearsall Smith that prompts parents nowadays to reinstate the ancient tradition of "zhua zhou" or "one-year-old catch."

A custom popular among Chinese and East Asian communities, this ritual is part and parcel of the celebrations marking the baby's first birthday.

It starts with placing before the baby a selection of items, often in multiples of six, as this is a lucky number for smooth passage. The first item picked up by the infant sheds light on his/her potential calling.

This early revelation of the child's tendency toward a specific career field would obviate the need to ask about their aspirations later.

Zhua zhou's origins could be traced back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (220-589 AD) when families usually performed this just before the mid-day "longevity noodle" meal. If the birthday kid picked up the seal first, it would bode well for his career path as a mandarin.

Grabbing stationery would be taken as early promise for a literary or academic career, while the abacus would be of interest to the future financier.

For girls, cosmetics, kitchen utensils, scissors, needle and thread were added to find out their inclination toward culinary or tailoring work.

With the passage of time, items representative of professional careers are added to the spread.

These include a stethoscope or a thermometer as indicators for a career in medicine; a tablet or a mouse for information technology; a calculator for accountancy; a finance card for banking; a ruler for interior design or architecture; a military hat for disciplined services; and a ball or sports equipment for athletics.

As careers become increasingly portable, some parents allow their babies to choose up to three items, providing more room for interpretation. For instance, a baby who picks up a ball, a military hat and a thermometer is forecast to be an athlete in college, followed by military training and then a career in the health-care industry.

While this ritual gains popularity, skeptics continue to cast doubt over the basis for this early career focus test.

However, anything that serves to reinforce family bonds should be viewed in a positive light.

Similar to "month-old" or "100-day" banquets held to celebrate the new addition to the family, this is just another manifestation of the parents' love and attention for the precious little one.

Retired senior civil servant Juliana Chen is a passionate crystal collector who shares the good things in life.

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