29 January 2012


Truth or fiction – Asian teenagers do not know their age. Strange question, right? People generally know how old they are. I know that my birthday is October 12. I know that I am currently 29 years old and that on October 12 this year I will be 30. Simple, yes? Not in Singapore…

For the last five months, I have been volunteering for a wonderful organization called Riding for the Disabled Association, a non-profit group providing free therapeutic horse riding lessons to children with disabilities. My responsibilities include leading the horse around the arena or outdoor jungle paths; walking beside the horse advising the riders how to sit properly, hold the reins properly, control the horse and ensure the students know the parts of the horse and all of the tack (saddle, halter, stirrups, etc.) and working as an assistant instructor.

As an AI, I assist the riders onto and off of the horses via block (think steps) or ramp (for those unable to walk up and down stairs). During each session, the instructor, any other AIs and I observe each rider and assist with riding techniques specific to each child and his or her disability.

Almost all of the kids really enjoy themselves and, I have to say, they really make my day. I may not always be excited to go to the arena, for whatever reason, but when I get there, my attitude always changes. By the end of the session, after watching the children improve even in the course of half an hour, my whole body is filled with excitement for each of them.

Yesterday the organization held a fundraiser known here in Singapore as Flag Day. I am not sure why the fundraiser is called Flag Day because there are no flags anywhere (maybe at some point in the past?), but there are a number of them held on behalf of varying non-profit groups throughout the year.

More than 2,700 students from Singaporean schools received community service hours as they each received a large can with a slot in the top. The cans were covered with the RDA logo and solicitation certificate. The students also received sheets with RDA stickers, which were to be handed out to any person who provided donations throughout the day.

The students scattered all over the island, presenting the tins to passersby. I did not think that collecting money this way would bring in much money but, to my surprise, I was advised that this fundraiser brought in $100,000 last year. Amazing. I suppose when you send 2,700 kids out for four hours at a time in the most populated neighborhoods, they can accomplish great goals.

So what does this have to do with age?

Each tin had a unique number and a form on the back to be filled out by each student so that the tins could be tracked. If, for some reason, a tin was stolen or went missing, the tin number would be tracked against a single student and the information we collected would be provided to the police. Age was a category on the form.

Now, when I am asked how old I am or am asked to fill in a blank or check a box regarding my age or age range, sometimes, I admit, I have to think for a few seconds. I do. But the answer always comes to me.

I am not exaggerating at all when I saw that approximately half of the students I encountered yesterday were unsure of their age. Two students looked me in the eyes and asked me how old they were. “I don’t know!” I kindly responded, surprised by the question.

They looked and asked their friends. Why? Why do you not know how old you are?

One kid, after asking me his age, mumbled something about the New Year and a birth month but I really did not understand what he was saying on more levels than one.

I asked a local volunteer and, the way she explained it, you are one age until your date of birth and then on your date of birth you become a year older. Well that’s what I thought so the mystery is still out there.

From what I can find, it seems that some Eastern Asian cultures do have a more traditional way of celebrating birthdays. Like the Greeks (my husband’s family is Greek), babies are 1 year old at birth as they begin their first year of life. On a baby’s first birthday, he or she turns 2.

Birthdays are not celebrated on the date of birth, however, they are celebrated following Chinese New Year. I can see why some people were confused, but there is still one lingering question. If a child is either 15 or 16, where does 15+ come in? Yes, a large portion of students wrote “15+” in the Age box. I suppose if you are more than 15 but not yet 16, or maybe you are 15 according to the actual birth date but 16 according to the lunar calendar…I give up. 

1 comment:

Abby Kammann said...

Thanks for sharing! I was just talking about this with a friend about her father in law who is Chinese, he still doesn't know how old he is! We were wondering if kids today were still confused...you solved it for us! I love hearing about what is going on with you!