Thursday, February 18, 2010

Funny Thing that Happened to Me at Work, Part VIII

My conversation lessons with Young Uhl--the a fore mentioned awkward seventh grade student who ran away from me outside of school--are over. He told me awhile back that he was planning to go in a couple of weeks to study in New Zealand for six years (!), but he had expressed concern to me that there were "problems". "What kind of problems?" I asked. "I don't know," he said. That's where we left off, which is a bummer because he was a hilarious addition to my day.

Perhaps Young Uhl is chillin' out right now by a beautiful lake, eating/talking with Kiwis

To fill in this gap in my schedule, I've been given another middle school class (insert blood-curdling scream/Vincent Price laughing voiceover here). You might remember that I had a middle school listening class back in July/August. It was horrible, for a variety of reasons: apathetic kids, a textbook that was so incredibly boring I was forced to supplement it with English pop-music gap-fill exercises, the sweaty 8th-floor classroom I had to teach in.

I subsequently steeled myself for the worst yesterday. Fully expecting to walk into a classroom full of half-asleep youth, I was shocked to hear yelps of happiness and laughing as I approached the classroom door! And even more shocking...most of the students inside were kids from my old middle school class! Thank you, adolescence, for turning awkward eight graders into hilarious ninth graders overnight.

Though there was still a faint stink of apathy from (some) of these 9th graders, I'd say most of my new students were least partially interested in talking with me. Or least telling me how strange I look to them. "Teacher, you are very tall!" At 5'7", I am taller than most Korean women1--I've heard this before. "Teacher, very beautiful" What!? This, coming from the same kids who were shitheads to me last summer, is astounding (once again, thank you adolescence). And then finally came "Teacher! Head and face very small. Like a rock" (student holds up clenched fist, which is apparently supposed to represent my small head).

Believe it or not, I've heard this before--it's a compliment here in Korea, where small face shapes/sizes are factored into the beauty standard. It's just another thing that we Westerners don't really think about when it comes to beauty--like double-eyelids, which I now recognize, but couldn't differentiate from single-lidded or "Asian" eyes when first got here. Example:

I've cited this before, but The Korean says here that 76% of Korean women get plastic surgery in order to have this extra eyelid fold. Pretty astounding, not to mention sad. The vast majority of Korean women are not born with double-lidded eyes, i.e., they are not an inherently Korean feature, but rather a Western standard--one which many women feel they have to conform to by going under the knife.

But back to faces. Advertisements here refer constantly to the "V-line"--the angles of your face, which apparently can be shaped (?). Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that this V-line stuff is genetically predetermined. But who am I to know? Maybe this corn tea stuff chemically alters your bone structure in some way I didn't realize was scientifically possible.

This "alphabetization" of Korean bodies isn't just limited to V-Lines, though! Can't forget about the unavoidable "S-line"--the line created by an hourglass figure. It's used to market all kinds of shit--workout stuff, food, and "health" drinks:

If found this ↑ ad via The Grand Narrative, a fantastic blog devoted to examining Korean society sociologically. Check it out; you're likely to learn something...

1According to the NYT, average heights in Korea have been increasing over the past 30 years, mostly due to the fact that most Koreans aren't starving because they're in the midst of a massive civil war anymore. Subsequently, Korean beauty standards regarding height are changing, too--witness the bizarre child-stretching machines made mention of in the article

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