Which, if you haven't heard yet, is different than any other country on earth. Koreans count their age as "one" starting at birth. One of my co-workers started to mention my "American age" vs. "Korean age" and I had to jump in there. No, no, no. Not American age. Whole-rest-of-the-world age. This is not USA vs Korea. It's Korea, one year old, the world zero years old, okay?
Koreans also advance to the next year's age on the same day: lunar new year. By which I mean, everyone in my high school first grade classes are all sixteen--and they stay sixteen all year long; they will turn seventeen all together on lunar new year next February. Oh, they do celebrate their individual birthdays, yes; but to the Korean world, it doesn't count quite yet.
Why do they do this? you may ask. The answer is embedded in the Korean language with its extensive use of honorifics and respect terms, and the Confucian elitist age-ism it signifies: in most situations, people don't refer to each other by name, but by position or relation; for instance, older brother to a co-worker who is older than you, or little sister to a younger female, or mother of Jinsu to talk to Jinsu's Mom. It would be problematic if some students in a class were considered older than others, and could therefore "lord it over" their classmates.
Another interesting feature of Korean birthdays is that many of othem aren't, especially among the older generations. For example, my pal Jung-su who runs Chicken Mania was showing my his passport when he came back from Shanghai: his birthday was sometime in May, 1958. But actually, he told me, he was born in November of the previous year. In those days, infant mortality was so high that parents often didn't bother registering a live birth until it looked like the little blighter might pull through. Of course, giving birth in a hospital was not an option for most Koreans until the 1970s. Such rapid progress this country has made!
Anyway, back to me! I consider myself fortunate in my experience in Korea to have some co-workers with whom I have developed very friendly relations. I received a rather expensive Rotring fountain pen for my birthday from one, and another gave me a really nice pair of Kangaroo gloves (brand not leather). Mr Hwang insisted I come to dinner with his family tonight, and they fed me samgyupsal and chocolate birthday cake! Then the kids sang a song, and gave me birthday cards; the boy made his by hand--he swears he did it all himself:
|Sweet, isn't it?|