S. Korean ba­bies born Dec. 31 be­come 2-year-olds next day

Sun.Star Pampanga - - WORLD! -

DAEJEON, South Korea — Just two hours af­ter Lee Dong Kil’s daugh­ter was born on New Year’s Eve, the clock struck mid­night, 2019 was ush­ered in, and the in­fant be­came 2-years-old. She wasn’t alone, though it hap­pened for her quicker than most: Ev­ery baby born in South Korea last year be­came 2 on Jan. 1.

Ac­cord­ing to one of the world’s most un­usual age­cal­cu­lat­ing sys­tems, South Korean ba­bies be­come 1 on the day of their birth and then get an ad­di­tional year tacked on when the cal­en­dar hits Jan. 1. A law­maker is work­ing now to over­turn the cen­turies-old tra­di­tion amid com­plaints that it’s an anachro­nis­tic, time-wast­ing cus­tom that drags down an oth­er­wise ul­tra­mod­ern coun­try.

For par­ents whose ba­bies are born in De­cem­ber, it can be es­pe­cially painful. One hour af­ter his daugh­ter’s birth in the cen­tral city of Daejeon at 10 p.m. on Dec. 31 of last year, Lee posted the news on so­cial me­dia. His friends im­me­di­ately show­ered him with con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages.

“An hour later, when the New Year be­gan, they phoned me again to say con­grat­u­la­tions for my baby be­com­ing 2-year­sold,” said Lee, who is 32 in­ter­na­tion­ally but 34 in South Korea. “I thought, ‘Ah, right. She’s now 2 years old, though it’s been only two hours since she was born. What the heck!’”

The ori­gins of this age reck­on­ing sys­tem aren’t clear. Be­ing 1 upon birth may be linked to the time ba­bies spend in their mothers’wombs or to an ancient Asian nu­mer­i­cal sys­tem that didn’t have the con­cept of zero.

Be­com­ing a year older on Jan. 1? That’s even harder to ex­plain.

It could be that ancient Kore­ans cared a lot about the year in which they were born in the Chi­nese 60-year cy­cle, but, without reg­u­lar cal­en­dars, didn’t care much about the specific day they were born; so they mostly ig­nored the day of their birth and in­stead marked an­other year of age on the day of the Lu­nar New Year, ac­cord­ing to se­nior curator Jung Yon­hak at the Na­tional Folk Mu­seum of Korea.

This may have then shifted to the so­lar New Year on Jan. 1 as the South be­gan em­brac­ing the West­ern cal­en­dar. North Korea uses the West­ern age cal­cu­lat­ing sys­tem, but they have a twist: they fol­low their own cal­en­dar that’s based on the birth of na­tional founder and pres­i­dent-for­life Kim Il Sung.

The year of your birth is still in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant in South Korea, and lumps those linked chil­dren to­gether for life.

Other Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ja­pan and Viet­nam, aban­doned the Chi­nese-style age sys­tem amid an in­flux of West­ern cul­ture. Of­fi­cially, South Korea has used West­ern-style cal­cu­la­tions since the early 1960s. But its cit­i­zens still em­brace the old-fash­ioned sys­tem in their daily lives be­cause the gov­ern­ment has done lit­tle to get peo­ple to change over to the West­ern style.

Most South Kore­ans are sim­ply ac­cus­tomed to liv­ing with two ages.

Peo­ple don’t hold mas­sive joint birthday par­ties on New Year’s Day; they just cel­e­brate their birthday on the days they were born. Young peo­ple con­sider them­selves an­other year old on so­lar New Year’s Day (Jan. 1) while older peo­ple of­ten use the Lu­nar New Year’s Day. Many fam­ily res­tau­rants don’t charge ba­bies if they are 36-month­sold or younger, so par­ents of­ten calculate their ba­bies’ ages un­der the West­ern method when they’re dining out.

Some South Kore­ans still worry that the prac­tice makes their nation look odd on the in­ter­na­tional stage. Some feel con­fu­sion when meet­ing with for­eign­ers. As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists in Seoul must ask Kore­ans what year and month they were born to calculate their West­ern age for news sto­ries.

There are also some who say the con­cept of “Korean age” en­cour­ages a fix­a­tion on age-based so­cial stand­ing in this se­nior­ity-based coun­try. In South Korea, those born in the same year of­ten treat each other as equals, while peo­ple must use hon­orific ti­tles to ad­dress those born ear­lier, rather than di­rectly us­ing their names.

Ahn Chang-gun, from the south­east­ern city of Gimhae, said he felt “empty” when his first child be­came 2 on Jan. 1, 2013, about two weeks af­ter his wife de­liv­ered him af­ter eight years of mar­riage. “He was this pre­cious baby that we fi­nally had, but I felt that all of a sud­den two years had just gone by and yet I hadn’t done any­thing for my baby,” said Ahn.

Par­ents whose ba­bies are born in De­cem­ber of­ten worry about their kids falling be­hind other chil­dren born ear­lier in the same year, though wor­ries grad­u­ally dis­ap­pear as their chil­dren age.

When Seo Hyo Sun from Bu­chon, just west of Seoul, was taken to the hos­pi­tal to get a ce­sarean sec­tion on Dec. 29, she couldn’t stop weep­ing be­cause her baby’s due date was sup­posed to be Jan. 7.

“Tears kept flow­ing . ... My doc­tor told me the baby wanted to come out to­day so let’s just cel­e­brate,” said Seo, 31 in in­ter­na­tional age. “When I awoke from my anes­the­sia, I felt re­ally grate­ful ... be­cause my baby was born healthy. That was enough.”

In Jan­uary, law­maker Hwang Ju-hong tabled a bill aimed at re­quir­ing the gov­ern­ment to put in­ter­na­tional ages in of­fi­cial doc­u­ments and en­cour­ag­ing gen­eral cit­i­zens to go with their in­ter­na­tional ages in ev­ery­day life. It’s the first leg­isla­tive at­tempt to abol­ish “Korean age.”

“It is aimed at re­solv­ing con­fu­sion and in­ef­fi­ciency caused by the mixed use of age-counting sys­tems,” Hwang said in the pro­posed l egi sl at i on .

Hwang’s of­fice said a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee dis­cus­sion and a pub­lic hear­ing on the is­sue are ex­pected in com­ing months.

Sur­veys in re­cent years showed more South Kore­ans sup­ported in­ter­na­tional age though it wasn’t clear how se­ri­ously they wanted a change.

“If we use in­ter­na­tional age, things could get more com­pli­cated be­cause it’s a so­ci­ety that cares so much about which year you were born,” said Lim Ky­oungJae, 46, head of the Seoul-based Miko Travel agency. “We should also definitely count the time of a baby be­ing con­ceived and grow­ing in its mother’s womb.”

Lim’s em­ployee Choi Min Kyung, who is 26 in­ter­na­tion­ally and 28 in South Korea, dis­agreed.

“It’s good to be two years younger ... (es­pe­cially) when you meet men” on blind dates, Choi said with a laugh. “There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween 26 and 28.” (AP)

In this April 9, 2019, photo, Lee Dong Kil's daugh­ter Lee Yoon Seol sits to cel­e­brate her the 100th day of the birth at Lee's house in Daejeon, South Korea. Just two hours af­ter Lee’s daugh­ter was born on New Year’s Eve, the clock struck mid­night, 2019 was ush­ered in, and the in­fant be­came 2-years-old. She wasn’t alone, though it hap­pened for her quicker than most: Ev­ery baby born in South Korea last year be­came 2 on Jan. 1.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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