One birth, four birthdays

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When I met EunBong, I’d been in Korea just long enough that when she told me she had three birthdays, my reaction wasn’t much different from if she’d said she liked chocolate cake. The difficult part was trying to explain that none of her three birthdays were actually her “birthday” in the usual sense of the word (from my point of view, anyway) so after a long, frustrating, 30 minute conversation about the moon going around the Earth, and the Earth going around the Sun, EunBong had one more birthday.

Traditionally, in Korea, the lunar calendar was followed. The new moon is the 1st day of the lunar month, and the full moon is the 15th. Lunar (Chinese) New Year, 1/1, is marked by the second new moon after the winter solstice, so if you were born, say, eight days after the fourth new moon of the calendar, your Lunar birthday would be 9/4. The confusing part for most people is that which ever day that was on the solar calendar will be different from year to year. Actually, you may never see the day that the two line up again…

EunBong’s lunar birthday is easy for me to remember. She was born two days after Chuseok, which is always marked by the full moon, so her lunar birthday is two days after Chuseok, Korea’s biggest holiday. This was fine for her parents but as she got older, growing up in one of the world’s largest generation gaps, her friends weren’t able to keep track of her changing birthday. So, she took the lunar date and stuck it onto the solar calendar. It’s about a month earlier than her actual birthday, but at least it was a fixed day her friends could program into their cell-phones.

Then, there is the birthday on her passport. I’ve known a few friends in Korea who have a fake birthday on their passport. If a girl is born close to the new year, the parents may decide to wait until after the new year to register the baby. In Korea, everyone gets older on the new year, so this way the child has an extra year to get things accomplished in life. It’s very difficult for a girl to find a husband, or a job after thirty, so every bit of time does count! Except, in EunBong’s case, her father went in the other direction and made her a year older.

When we first met, and she told me all this, I opened the calendar on my cellphone and went back to her lunar birthday in the year of her birth. As I said, it took a lot of explaining, but the only important thing was, she had another day for me to buy her chocolate cake! The rest really didn’t matter…

On Tuesday, I called her and asked her to come meet me at school when I finished work. I knew she didn’t know it, but it was her birthday. It makes it kind of easy to have a  nice evening; no expectations, no disappointment, only surprise! I brought her to our favorite restaurant and by far the best non-Korean food I’ve had anywhere in Korea. We hadn’t been there in a long time, so we ordered all our favorite things…

The highlight for me is ordering this one pasta. After the salad is served, they roll a cart over with a big, half wheel of cheese, standing on its side. They pour some liquor into the large groove in the middle and light in on fire. As the cheese melts down into a pool, they throw in the pasta and toss it around until its covered in a thick, tangy layer. Just having my pasta served this way is enough of a thrill for me, but EunBong really enjoys having everyone in the restaurant turn their eyes our way and said she felt like we were really rich for the evening! ^_^

A slice of blueberry tart later (I was really surprised she didn’t go with the customary chocolate cake), we were on our way home, and home seems to have been a much more pleasant place ever since.

7 responses »

    • Hi, I will~
      Actually, it’s in SeoHyun, Bundang.
      It’s one of the Paris Croissant chains, but for some reason this one blows me away! They even have really wood fired pizza!

  1. I’m still confused about you determined that it was Eun Bong’s “real” birthday, but very glad to read your story about how you chose to celebrate it! I remember both the restaurant and the wonderful molten cheese wheel event when I ordered that same pasta dish. My salivary glands are workin’ now and it’s only breakfast time here! Somehow I think cheddar cheese on an oatmeal 9-grain bagel isn’t going to cut it!!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, EUN BONG-AH!!!

    • Do you know that little Buddhist calendar with the children on it? On each solar day, there is also the lunar day marked. Now, imagine you had one for the year of your birth, in your case you know your solar birthday, if you were to look that up, on the same square you would see your lunar birthday. But it would have to be the year of your birth, chances are, any other year wouldn’t be the same match.

      • Okay–so you determined the “real” date by examining the calendar page from the year Eun Bong was born? Two days after Chuseok in that year was Sept. 14th? I think I may still be off the mark with this, but we can take it up next time we skype. The important thing is that she felt honoured last Tuesday! :~)

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