Don’t you just grow weary of barbers who keep trying to sell you shampoos, conditioners, hair treatments, hair dyeing and many other such gimmicks while giving you a haircut?
Recently, I found a way out by telling the barber that, at my age, there’s no more need for thinking about flirting (paglalandi) with hair dye and all.
The barber laughed, but looked perplexed and asked just how old I was.
Without blinking an eye, I told him, 70.
That effectively steered the conversation away from his marketing pitch to my antiaging tips, including not using all those junk stuff on the face and on the hair.
What I didn’t tell him was still another secret: the Chinese way of reckoning age, which gives what I call “bonus years” and gets you to a ripe old age in no time at all. This Chinese age is called xusui, or the traditional age based on the Chinese calendar, which is different from the shisui or “real” age based on the Gregorian calendar.
It can get really complicated and wonderful for a class in social science to explain how cultures can reconfigure something like age, which you’d think is totally biological. Or, you could use this East Asian age reckoning system (it’s also used in South Korea and Japan) for a math class.
Many of you probably already know that among the Chinese, you’re considered 1 year old the day you’re born. It makes some sense — counting the nine months spent in your mother’s womb, rounded off to one year.
Not only that. You add one more year to your age, not on your birthday but on lichun, the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar. So, someone born, say on Jan. 20, 2019, will be considered 1 year old right away, and when the next Chinese New Year comes along, which will be on Feb. 5, 2019, this 16-day-old child will be considered 2 years old!
My father, like many older Chinese, was always using the traditional age system, but never explained how it worked. I finally learned the system just recently, when my mother passed away.
I thought I should have her photograph framed in black ribbon for the funeral, so I brought the photograph to this Chinese shop inside La Funeraria Paz on Araneta to have them do the ribbon. But the owner said, “No, the Chinese don’t use black; we use white.”
White then, I said; but the man then asked for the year of my mother’s birth.
I answered, “1920,” and he was quick with his calculations: “For her, we will use red ribbon because she’s passed 100 years.”
I thought maybe he heard me wrong with the year of birth, but he went on to explain how my mother had become a centenarian. It turns out that for every 30 years of a person’s life, you add one extra year, in addition to the one year you got at birth. So, after you reach 30, you get two bonus years. After 60, that’s three bonus years, and after the 90th, you add four years! He was right: Through this age reckoning system, my mother was 102!
The calculations have something to do with the Chinese calendar, which has leap months every three years or so. But the shop owner added that, even if my mother had not turned 90 but had great-grandchildren, we would still use the “happy” color red, because it would be tai hok, her symbolic age on occasion of great good fortune.
The traditional explanation is that people who live so long bring good fortune to the family. I have my own modern interpretation: It is a long life of caring for younger generations that brings so much good to the family, and these caring persons’ passing on becomes a time for a celebration of their life.
Oh, I have to say, with this system, I only turned 69 this year, but if the newborn’s 9-month period in the womb is rounded off to a year, then I could round off my traditional Chinese age to 70 to impress the barber.
My son, ever the joker, said that he could hasten the process toward tai hok by making me a grandfather soonest. I retorted: Do that and you don’t reach your next birthday.
My son will be 13 this November in the Western calendar, but already turned 14 the last Chinese New Year. On the next Chinese New Year, Feb. 5, 2019, he will be 15, and I officially turn 70!
Ready to impress your friends with your new knowledge of Chinese culture and math?
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