When I asked my students how old they were I got a lot of different answers: 20, 21, 22. I found that odd. These kids are all in the same grade, sophomores in college, how could they be such different ages. And a lot of them at 21? That seemed a little old. I was only 19 when I was a sophomore.
At first I thought that Chinese students must go to high school longer than western students, but that was wrong. It turns out there is a difference between the way Chinese people calculate their age because they use the lunar calendar.
In the west, when babies are born they are basically 0-years-old. They have to be alive for twelve months before we say they are one-years-old. But here, the second you are born you are one-year-old. This makes sense to me. I always thought it was a little unfair that you had to wait until the end of the year to count it. As I see it, we have been de-valuing ourselves for years. Sure, I might be 33, but I have lived on this earth for almost 34 years. Shouldn’t that extra year count for something?
Well, anyway, that explains the older ages, but what about the discrepancy? This is where it gets a little confusing. When you calculate your age according to the lunar calendar everyone turns one year older on the lunar new years. Even if you were born the day before the holiday (and therefore you are one) you will add another year on New Years (thereby being a 2-year-old despite being born only two days before). So you could have two children, born only a day apart and one could be a whole year ‘older’ than the other!
Age, number age, actually plays a big part in their life. They go to school at a certain age and they consider themselves older. Recently a student was telling me she had a crush on a boy. But it would never work out because she was “so old.”
“What?!” I said. “You;re in the same grade, you’re the same age.”
“Nope,” she said. “I am much older than him.” To her, it made her less attractive.
It’s also a disadvantage to children. Like back home when people are born in September parents have a hard time deciding if they should send their child to school, and therefore be the youngest of the class, or wait a year in which the child would be the oldest of the class. One Chinese friend, who is pregnant and expecting a baby in December (which means she will have a 2-year-old newborn as Chinese New Year will be in February) said that she is a little worried because her child will be disadvantaged having an older age then he/she actually is.
I should also mention that Chinese people usually celebrate two birthdays. If they were born on, say June 25th, they would celebrate it once according to the standard calendar, and then celebrate it again a few months later according to the lunar calendar. Many of them do get multiple parties, or cakes, or at the very least presents. Sounds like a pretty good scam to me!
(By the way, in case you’re curious the lunar birthday of June 25th would be Aug 5th so I’ll be accepting any and all birthday presents on that day! Ha ha!)
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