Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sixty is the new fifty-eight

Hwangap, the sixtieth birthday, is a big deal in Korea. Here, as in other East Asian countries, there's a tradition that a new life cycle starts every 60 years, so hwangap marks the start of one's second life, with the opportunity to start over and do better. (Also, it used to be quite an accomplishment to reach 60.)

My hwangap came on Saturday. If we count from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon, I had a great day. (Saturday evening involved sitting in front of my laptop, eating cheesesticks and drinking hard cider, alone. Don't you judge me.)

We had a day off from classes at school on Friday so the teachers could greet the parents and justify why their little angels weren't all getting straight A's. (The questions are always about the grades, never about the learning.) That wasn't so very much fun, but at the end, I got a "Happy Birthday" song, a delicious cake, a handmade card, and a pointy yellow hat. So that was way cool.

Friday evening, a bunch of us from work hit the noraebang, the private karaoke room. The two requirements for noraebang are to sing loudly and to smuggle in beer. We fulfilled both admirably. Noraebang is the most fun I can have with my clothes on, and I loved it, as always, especially seeing some of my work friends really cut loose. The highlight was my friend Dave and I singing the K-pop hit Ugly: "I think I'm ugly, and nobody wants to love me/Just like her, I wanna be pretty, I wanna be pretty..." It has a ring to it, especially in our deep, manly-man voices.

Saturday morning, my actual hwangap, brought my birthday hash. I'd been announcing it at the end of every hash for months, and I was happy to get a big turnout. (It was also the World Peace Through Beer Hash, which didn't hurt.) It was a beautiful, sunny fall morning, and a couple of guys and I laid a really interesting trail near home... (have you ever slid on your butt down a 30-foot slope covered in AstroTurf?) 

Afterward, there were many kind words and two red-velvet cakes; nobody brought candles, so I blew out the toothpicks. Three of my friends from work, all women, attended their first (and maybe last) hash; they all said they had a good time and it was nice to have them there. I handed out the patches my buddy Oranguspray executed from my design:

(You read the "Don't you judge me" up above, right?)

Then some of us went to the foreigner ghetto, Haebangchon, for pizza, beer, and merriment.

To top it off, I walked over to Itaewon and stopped in to see Minha, the woman who makes the patches for the hash. (Her mother, in between selling souvenirs such as kimonos and keychains, sews them onto our happi coats.) They told me they had a present for me and presented me with a gorgeous, and gorgeously tacky, baseball-style jacket:

It's very comfy, but I won't be wearing it in public; ornate as the design is, it looks like the kind of thing a 19-year-old GI would take home to his girlfriend. Next to the kimonos, it's probably the most expensive item Minha's mother has in her shop. Minha made sure that her mom brought out a midnight-blue jacket, knowing that it's my favorite color. I was very touched by their generosity; I'm just a customer, after all, and they weren't doing it to drum up business, just being extraordinarily nice; there's no place else I could go to get the patches made. I'll remember their kindness for a long time.

Then... home. Nap. Cheesesticks and cider.

So, anyway, guys, I've been thinking about this whole "aging" thing...

First, of course, 60 isn't what it used to be; people live so much longer, and I expect to be respiring for a long time yet. My family is long-lived, and I've never smoked, I don't eat meat, I drink just the right amount for longevity, and I run. 

Also, emotionally and mentally I've just turned 25 for the thirty-sixth time; it used to be that people got all proper and respectable when they became adults, but we Boomers--call it refusing to get old or failing to grow up--decided not to change; we still do all the things we loved when we were younger, just less often and more slowly. (I hope that my knee doesn't stiffen up halfway through my marathon this Sunday... yes, I'm a marvel of athleticism and courage. Sometimes I amaze myself. [/sarcasm] )

I really do feel 25, except for when I get out of bed in the morning. Maybe I should stop doing that...


George Kozak said...

Happy Birthday, Steve!
I hope the next 60 are even better!!
Your friend,

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