Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Funny Thing that Happened to Me at Work, Part V

So I have a water bottle that is my constant companion at work...I've been trying to drink more water lately, since it's winter and the air is a little drier here.

My Nalgene has all kinds of stickers on it, one of which has this logo from Brookside Tattoo in Tulsa:


It's funny how you forget as an adult that things like the Jolly Roger used to be genuinely frightening to you as a child...I get comments on the sticker every day, most of which seem genuinely fear-tinged. "Teacher, scary!" "Teacher, gang?" and my personal favorite, "Teacher, bad girl?" (this one coupled with an incriminating glare).

I also get a lot of comments on my tattoos. When I was student teaching at home, I could count on some kid at the middle/high school asking me about the one on my wrist on a daily basis. Which was at first shocking to me, considering months will go by before an adult will ask me about it...though considering the story said tattoo is from, I should have known children are generally more curious about these kinds of things :) I liked having my tattoos at home, because they separated me from the kiddies: they allowed me to assert, without speaking, "I am old enough to permanently mar my body legally, and you are not." I felt at home that my tattoos earned me some respect amongst my Title I students, especially.

Here in Korea, I feel like my tattoos earn me a lot of confused looks, the kind of looks that say "Why on earth would you ever do something like that to yourself!?" One little girl in my first grade class constantly tries to wipe my wrist clean and looks increasingly distressed as the image refuses to come off...in another class, one girl started playing with my hair only to recoil in horror as she discovered the fleur-de-lis tattoo on the back of my neck. The Korean has a pretty good explanation as to why tattoos are still a tad taboo in Korea: the Confucian "your body is a temple" mantra still is a popular school of thought here. Not to mention that tattoos are popular in Japan/amongst Japanese criminals/amongst Japanizied Korean criminals, and therefore mistrusted here.

My manager Michael tells me that ten years ago, people would have stopped my co-worker Krystafre (who has a full sleeve on her arm) on the street to yell at her about her tattoos...things have changed so much here in the past ten years, and a lot of my student's attitudes reflect that. In one particularly wonderful class period, all of my third grade students stole my whiteboard markers and drew their own snakes on their wrists and arms, as I ran around trying to yank makers out of their tiny hands(I can only imagine how angry some of their mothers must have gotten...Korean moms are notorious matriarchs). Though I know its not likely that Koreans themselves will be sporting full back pieces and sleeves anytime soon, I think it is a good sign that 외국인 (foreigner) body art is becoming more tolerated here :)

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