Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's Your Age in Korean?

Something that was very surprising to me was the discovery that in Korea, the aging system works somewhat differently than the system we are used to in America, or in other words, the only system I ever thought existed. In Korea, you are considered to be 1 year old when you are born. Then, regardless of what month you are born in, your age increases by 1 year on New Year's Day. So, if you are born on December 31st, you are 2 years old the very next day. Because of this difference in counting systems, I have begun referring to my age as "24, in Korean." In case you are unsure, I was born in July of 1987, which makes my age 22 in most other parts of the world.

One interesting byproduct of this counting system is that on your birthday, your age does not change at all. I personally feel that this devalues the day, as many of my students seem to receive very little acknowledgment on their actual day of birth. Often when I ask what they will be doing to celebrate their birthday, the response is, "Nothing." However, this could be a result of the personality tendencies of children and teenagers rather than the method of counting.

Another interesting result of the Korean age system is that young children are only friends with people who are the exact same age as themselves. Since school classes are grouped by age and all people who are born in the same year have the same age, this friend pairing is more or less inevitable. In classes at the school where I teach, classmates are mixed in their ages and grade levels. Nonetheless, children who seem to be friends in class sometimes do not actually consider each other to be friends because of their age difference.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


One of the few things that I heard from multiple people before I left the US was that I should be prepared to sing a lot of karaoke in Korea. And they were all right. Karaoke is on a whole different level here than anything I've seen in the States. Unlike in the US, where karaoke is a rare experience involving a room full of strangers and at least a little bit of alcohol, karaoke in Korea is a common bonding event for friends or coworkers.

The process begins by going to a Noraebong (direct translation: singing room). These are very easy to find: last night upon walking out of a local bar, my friend counted 5 different NRB establishments just by looking up and down the street. Once inside the Noraebong, your group is taken to a private room, and from that point on you have free range to choose whatever songs you want for the next hour. The rooms generally feature comfy seating, 2 microphones, tambourines, and a disco ball.

There are many different quality levels for Noraebong, from the typical basement-turned-singing-room to the super luxury caliber. Some of the nicer NRB establishments have features such as a stage area, multiple levels within one room, or free ice cream (that was my favorite). While typically about 80-90% of the available songs are in Korean, the English song selection is still wide enough to keep most singers happy for an hour or two.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays from Korea! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Sorry for the long gap between posts, but as many of you know, my family was visiting for the holidays.

Christmas in Korea is nowhere near as overblown as Christmas in the states, although nearly all of my students acknowledged that they celebrate the holiday in one way or another (meaning almost all of them receive presents). Some places go all-out with their decorations, but in general, decorations are kept to a minimum. Therefore it was rather hard to get into the Christmas spirit this year.

The forced secularism found in America was also nowhere to be seen. I was allowed to wish all my students a Merry Christmas as they left my classroom on Christmas Eve at 10 pm (no holiday spirit from the employer, clearly...). In fact, the Christmas tree located in City Hall Plaza had a cross on top instead of a star. There aren't many places in America where I would expect to see that.New Year's Eve is another holiday that is underplayed here in Korea, passed over in favor of Lunar New Year. Again I worked until 10 pm on New Year's Eve, making it difficult to fully appreciate the day. The Seoul equivalent of Times Square is a place called Bosingak in the center of the city. Instead of a ball drop, there is an enormous bell which is rung 33 times at midnight. This tradition originates from the former purpose of the bell, to announce the opening and closing of the Seoul gates. The bell was rung 33 times at dawn to signify the opening of the gates. The bell is enormous and currently 16 people are selected to ring it. These people are chosen by a survey and are mostly regular (more or less) citizens. This year, the people ringing the bell included the mayor and 4 other city officials, the coach of the national soccer team, a formerly homeless essayist, and a university student who participated in a study aid program for elementary schoolers.

My New Year's Resolution: more consistent posting! Hope to hear from all of you this year!