Today’s question is: In Korea, people are 1 or 2 years older than they would normally be in other countries. Do you use Korean age in North Korea, too?
We use both Korean age and international age in North Korea. When you ask ordinary North Koreans how old they are, they will give you their Korean age. But, the Party and public servants will tell you their international age.
My uncle was the head of a local police office until I left North Korea. He graduated from the college of Security and Political Science which was an elite school to train prospective police officers and he was working as the head of the police office in Yang-gang province.
According to him, all public servants use international age on all records. He told me to use international age instead of Korean age when they ask for my age at all government offices. I asked him why. His response was that during his enrollment at the college of Security and Political Science, Kim Jong Il ordered that they use international age.
Hence, he told me to make sure to give my international age whenever I have a job interview at a public office. He added that if I give my Korean age during the official interview with public servants, I will be scolded for sure and they wouldn’t like me.
Still, I think it is better that we go by Korean age, not international age. When a baby is born, he is fully alive. Thus, it doesn’t feel right to say that the baby is “0 years old.”
Now that I think about it, Kim Jong Il who is always dubbed as the Great Leader intervened in every possible aspect of North Koreans’ lives.
After graduating from a university in North Korea, I went to speak with a public servant at the committee of the county upon their request. When they asked me how old I was, I deliberately gave them my international age, not my Korean age. As I said, my uncle always told me to give my international age when I speak with public servants at all public offices.
In South Korea, college graduates submit applications for positions they like. It’s far different in North Korea.
In the North, the party allocates jobs for college graduates. College graduates are told where to work by the party. Hence, North Koreans do not have to worry about unemployment since the government distributes jobs for them. Therefore, college graduates with a good sungbun (background) and rich parents in North Korea do not have to sit for a bar exam or any other exams in order to secure a promising job.
To be honest, the idea of applying for a job by yourself was very new to me when I first arrived in South Korea.
I decided to go to a four-year university again in South Korea. Over the four years while attending the university in Seoul, I became familiar with the whole process of applying for a job in a capitalist society and I applied for a job in my senior year. And thankfully, I got the job.
During the job interview, I gave them my Korean age. If I did that during an interview in North Korea, the interviewer would have criticized me for sure. Ordinary North Koreans talk about their age by the Korean age. Hence, when they come to South Korea, they don’t get surprised by the Korean age system like foreigners do.
I’ve become a father and I’ve become self-conscious about getting older. When someone asks me for my age, I tend to give them my international age these days. I think many people tend to do this in order to reduce their age by one year at the very least. When we get older, we all want to stay younger, don’t we!
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured Image by Adam Westerman
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