The passing of 2010 into 2011 not only brought “A” New Year but 2. Living in Korea, I am 24 years old. I’ve gained 2 years in the 4 month span that I’ve lived here. Let me explain how I have defied physics and hopped into this Korean Delorean of mine.
At birth a Korean is a one year old. Where in western countries we count age by saying that I have passed my 22nd year of life, in Korea (and other East Asian countries) they say that I am in my 23rd year of life. Six of one, half dozen of the other.
Okay, well that accounts for one year, you say, but what about the second? Korean’s become a year older with each New Year. They do still celebrate their actual day of birth, but the additional year gets added with everyone else on the New Year. Of course I didn’t know this in the beginning, but soon learned that it was moot to ask my students how old they were. All of my 4th graders answered that they were 11 years old, my 5th graders, 12, and my 6th graders, 13.
Traditionally, Korean’s believe that you gain a year by eating a specific rice cake soup called ttokkuk on the first day of the year. Folks, I ate the soup, but, not knowing the ceremony, I was 2 days late. The first day back to school landed on the 3rd. The school took the teachers out for ttokkuk, which I really enjoyed. There was chicken in the soup and the rice cakes had the consistency of dumplings. It was not far from its southern/comfort food counterpart.
So what age am I now? Should I subtract a year for that?? Hmmm… Add a year here, subtract one there. This is getting to be a little much.
In a conversation with my Korean co-teacher I asked: “So, Jella, did you eat the soup?” A snicker, “No, I didn’t want the year.” Think how valuable this tradition could be in the States. Not thrilled about moving into your 30s, 40s, 50s? There is a simple solution: Quit the soup. OR, rather, knowing how eager kids are to grow up, “I’ll take 2 servings of the soup this year, mom.”