Today in Seoul 19: How old are you?

November 2, 2016

“How old are you?” People ask you that here: Korea has Confucian roots, and age is about rank. I figured the question wouldn’t apply to me — people would just see I’m an old guy and that would be the end of it. Wrong. “Old guy” doesn’t cut it. We need to be precise. I first got the question on the subway, coming from the airport. Then at the gym. Then on an elevator. Then the subway again. Every time it leaves me speechless. (Not hard, since I’m speechless whenever I try to get Korean out of my mouth.) And every time, the exchange ends up in the same place. The person asking is always somebody who looks somewhere about my age. I recover from my surprise, stumble over my answer, then he proudly tells me his age, concluding I look much older, and he looks much younger. Every time. Every. Time. And then I get one of those questions that’s actually an accusation (someone nearby helpfully translating) about why do I shave my head, I should wear a hat Todinstead. I Googled the thing you hear about how Asians look younger than Caucasians — I felt guilty doing it, it felt racist — and got the usual few million hits. Common theories: diet, exercise, stature, bone structure, skin care and cosmetic practices….. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just me. A few years ago I met a guy who said, “I was diagnosed with MS, and six months later I’d aged 15 years.” Groan. Too true. I recently looked in a mirror and concluded I’m 63, look 73, and move like 93. Well damned if I’m going to buy that self concept. So I took this selfie, so I could ask, how old do you think this guy is? Don’t answer that.