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Friday, October 27, 2006

Arg. Superficiality.


Josh recently e-mailed me an ad posted on a Korean site: American Male Model willing to tutor English in his off time- like his being a male model has ANYTHING to do with his credibility as a teacher! As Josh said: "Dork." Sadly, the guy will likely get a stampede of interest from Korean parents.

Everyone I meet at the school gives me the standard Korean greeting: a compliment refering to appearance. It isn't just because I'm white- and, let me tell you, that is "special" considering I haven't seen a SINGLE non-Asian on the street since I arrived, Monday. Not a one. People stare and stare hard.

40% of Korean women get plastic surgery. A student I taught between 9 & 10, tonight, showed me her contacts. She's about 14 years old but looks like a child. I asked her if she needed glasses. No. The contacts are colored black and give the apprearance of bigger Irises. She told me, "big black eyes make a beautiful face." She also worried she ate too much today and would get fat.

It's usual for Korean parents to reward their children with plastic surgery. All young Korean girls seem to want eyelid enlargements: the most common practice.

When I went to Home Plus today, I stopped into a department store selling clothes and cosmetics. Imported American (fashion) goods sell for 3 times the price. On the plane, when I was flipping through the duty free catalogue, Jay wasn't surprised that a tube of Clinique lipstick sold for a whopping $85. You can buy the same thing in Canada for less than $20.

On the street, there are a suspicious number of perfect women; skinny, long shiny hair, tiny stilettos... and they all seem to be rattling keys in their hand on their way to a lavish car.
Even the vehicles look the same! Factory made cars in Korea only come in 3 colors: grey, white and black. If you want a colored version, you have to order it for a hefty fee.

2 comments:

Jake said...

This culture of superficiality probably stems from the not-so-distant memory of abject poverty in Koreans' minds. My parents' generation were indeed mostly poor - desperately so. The Korean War had ended not long ago; infrastructure was still in the dumps and the modern economy only in its nascent stages. Memories of acute hunger pangs while growing up are common amongst Koreans over 50 years old today: what meager food reserves people had were carefully rationed amongst many family members (families were almost always big, in a still-agrarian society where many hands were needed to farm the land) and it wasn't uncommon for many families to subsist on rice with potatoes mixed in (to fill bellies), or just some flour dough pieces simmered in an anchovy broth called 'soo-jeh-bee' (all meals were of course supplemented with the ubiquitous kimchi). In general just imagine yourself as part of the great Dust Bowl Migration in a John Steinbeck novel, and you're pretty much there.

The traditional Confucian emphasis on education coincided with the people's hunger to accumulate wealth in order to wash away memories of poverty, so this is why you see a nation obsessed with getting ahead no matter what the cost: studying to excess (to get into a good university then to get a good job and get rich), accumulating material things, and obnoxious displays of wealth such as designer clothing, cars, homes, and even 'designer (vapid and pretty) mates'.

The carefully coordinated head-to-toe outfits of Lacoste, Burberry, Prada, Hermes, Gucci, Louis-Vuitton? It's no co-incidence, if you look at the bigger picture and the recent history of these People.

Oh and as a caveat this isn't just an Asian or Korean thing. In modern Moscow you will see the nouveau-riche of Russia engage in displays of tackiness that rival any nation!

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