Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's My Age Again?

This last year of my life feels like one long blink. Like I forgot to press the record button and thus lost everything I was suppose to remember and it all became another year relegated to the growing pile behind me. I swear I can feel my age more powerfully; not physically but as a living entity stalking by my side. My youth has become relative – there are twenty two year old television and film stars currently working who make me stop and realise that I'm no longer in the recently departed twenties; soon, I'll be closer to thirty. This idea has only disturbed me since moving to Korea and I am ready to admit this fear stems entirely from vanity. Korean women, until they reach menopause, are ageless. Porcelain skin, wrinkle-free mouths, large dark eyes – all of it makes guessing their year of birth impossible. Combined with the complicated procedure of calculating Korean age versus Westerner age, I may as well give up on understanding my current ageing experience altogether. Let the years gather without pomp or circumstance.

Koreans are beautiful, that much is instantly obvious. Standing next to them I not only feel like David's Goliath terrorising the villagers but more pockmarked than the ugly side of the moon. It's quite an intimidating position to be the tall, curvy westerner trying to buy clothes from a train station clothing store or squeeze onto the crowded bus. And I'm not even particularly curvy, let alone tall. To make it worse, my complaining doesn't make the situation any more bearable; my genes have been defeated by an ancient heritage of diet and impossibly sculpted statures. These people surrounding me barely seem human. They maintain their youth long beyond childbearing years, unmarked by fatigue or stress, completely bypassing those tell tale stages of wrinkle-forming and greying hair. East invited me to lunch with his co-worker just a few weeks ago and this woman, with her excellent English and glowing hair, mentioned she had a son. Looking at her I guessed he must be a toddler and was about to congratulate her when she said he enjoyed playing with the under 13s baseball team at his school. Furthermore she talked about when her and her husband met they were celebrating the end of university with visits to the cinema and nice dinners. This meant that she would have been at least twenty five before having her children, and a twelve year old son put her in the range of late thirties. More amazingly, she has another thirteen years before her body will show any signs of middle age. And this is where my one saving grace exists. At fifty, Korean women become old as though a switch has been thrown. All their beauty and immortality is rerouted into becoming as short, impatient and, more often than not, unfriendly as possible.

The before and after of Ok-bin's 50th birthday party.

What is more uncomfortable than a woman being asked her age? I'll tell you. A woman being asked her age and having to take the Korean system into consideration. When a baby is born, Korean culture already considers them to be one year in age and the proceeding new year after their birth denotes another year. For example, I was born in mid November 1986 so by the time January of 1987 passed, my two month old baby butt would already be considered at the age of two. Imagine my position when trying to choose which age I convey to my Korean friends. Am I my Western twenty four, appearing to them a mere twenty two year old, or do I play along and state the very frightening number of twenty six? And if I do decide to embrace my Korean age, what should I do with the extra twenty two months afforded to me? Have I wasted them living my western life, letting myself off thinking I'm too young to be disappointed by what I haven't yet achieved. Perhaps this explains the Korean work ethic; somewhere a kimchi-eating god puts babies together and sends them out into the world with the knowledge that they are perpetually two years behind where they should be. It's enough to make anyone spend ten hours a day in education. Still, I'd prefer to drink away my worries with a delicious pitcher of soju, often referred to as:

Thankfully, Lara's butt is still baby smooth and forever young.

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