Gabriel Shaya
  • print
  • make this is a favorite!

    0 other people called this a favorite

Happy Birday to Me.

October 8, 2009 @ 1:34 AM | Permalink

As this coming Saturday is my birthday, I think it's appropriate to share my observations about birthdays in Laos.  Here goes:

No one seems to really know how old they are.  This is so common that whenever I ask someone's age (which I don't believe is frequently discussed among Lao), I have to also ask what year and month they were born.  Literally 90% of the time, their answers do not correlate.  Usually they say they are around 2 years older than they actually are.  I'm not sure why it's important to me, but subsequently, I feel I must tell them their true age.  The response to my correction is often denial ("No, I am 21 years old."), is usually one of confusion, and in some cases, disappointment.  That's when I break out my fingers, and count out their age for them, year by year.  Often times they still don't believe me, as if we simply differ in opinion on the subject.  Sometimes they are completely unphased that they had been telling people the wrong age for years.  

I would assume this is because most people in Laos are born in homes out in the countryside, and not in hospitals, so they don't possess birth certificates.  Once they reach relative maturity, they stop counting so closely. Furthermore, it seems that phases of life and crop seasons are more relevant than exact years.  You will often hear people in the countryside describe the passing of years according to their rice harvests.  Similarly, if you want to know how long a person has been living as a monk, you don't count the number of years, you count the number of Buddhist Lents.  (Which, by the way, are annual.) 

You can always tell an older person doesn't have any clue about their age, because when if you ask, you will always a number divisible by five.  Or, they might say something like "hok sip pbai," which would translate to "more than 60."  That begs the question, "Well, how much more than 60?!" Truth be told, "pbai" usually refers to somewhere between one unit of measure and halfway to the next.  

Additionally, sometimes the confusion with how old someone is comes into play when some people refer to their age in terms of the year of life they are in.  For example, if someone's 31st birthday has passed, they might say they are 32, as they are currently in their 32nd year of life. I guess this is like how we talk about the being in the 21st century, while it's only 2009. 

The funny thing is, it doesn't seem to matter that no one knows their age.  You would think one would need to know the correct sum of their years for legal documents and to know what level they should be in at school.  Apparently, it's a non-issue.

Somewhat amusingly, many Lao people think the word for birthday is actually "happy birthday," or "happy birday," to be more precise.  Many foreigners in town will attest to being asked on several occasions when their "happy birday" is. 

Last night, I told a friend that my birthday was on Saturday.  He said his was this month as well. I asked what day.  He paused, and looked at his mobile phone, presumably at a calendar. He replied, "tomorrow." I was amused that he didn't immediately know, but not terribly surprised. This morning, I sent him a happy birthday text message, knowing that I would see him in person later on.  He responded: "Sorry....! It's wrong , it's on december 8 th."  Well, at least he knew the day, if not the month.



Posted on 10/20/2009 by

Alaina Rose

Alaina Rose

That's so fascinating considering how much we make of birthdays!

Post a Comment

Search This Blog
Monthly Archives
View All
Recent Comments

Gabe, When I see you next, can we drink beer with ice, and can we line dance, the whole time twirling our hands? I miss you very much. Love, Mafalda

Mafalda Marrocco on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-02

This is so cool. You are the greatest. Keep up the good work . The world needs more people like you. Enjoy your journey. Julie Nguyen, Potomac, MD

Julie Nguyen on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-04

Or login with Facebook:

Forgot your password? We can help you change it! Click Here

Not registered? Click here to create an account.