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Now Blogging Afresh at Ad Orientem 西儒 - The Western Confucian

Thursday, August 14, 2003

How old are you?

Last Sunday in church, a woman asked us, "How many months old is your baby?

We answered, "Two months."

The woman's young son then asked, "Then how old is she?" (...myeot ssal...?)

His mother answered, "She's one year old."

This conversation might seem completely absurd, but it is less so in Korea. Korean reckoning of age is quite different from our Western style. Upon birth, a baby is already considered to be one year old. On the following Seollal, Lunar New Year (called "Chinese New Year" in America), everyone is considered one year older. You don't become a year older on your birthday, but at Lunar New Year, when the whole country, in effect, has a birthday.

This can become strange in cases like that of my sister-in-law, who was born on December 28th. The following Lunar New Year, a month after her birth, she was already two years old. A baby born the day before Lunar New Year would be two years old on its second day of life.

Since this system is a bit unwieldy, Koreans will use the Western aging system (maneuro myeot ssal) for legal purposes.

After six years of living in Korea, I have to think a moment when I am asked how old I am. I usually answer by saying that I was born in 1970 and let my interlocutor do the math.