Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Yes, I breed

There has been a lot of shit spread about blogging and bloggers. Some of it is justified, but generally I think that people who write blogs about boring or egotistical bloggers are just ... boring and egotistical, PLUS TWO because they A) obviously missed out on the logic train and B) are mean spirited. The good news is that chronically mean people go to a little "special" corner of hell when they die where they have to eat rainbow ice cream all day long and watch cute puppies lick each other. They suffer later, my bloggy friends. Don't worry.

Anyway, for ME (why waste time being egotistical here), there is one big benefit to blogging. And it is simply that I can express myself, give an opinion, talk about issues, raise questions or just VENT - and nobody is going to judge me. Or they can judge me - but really all I am is a name. I don't have to worry about you giving me dirty looks tomorrow or bringing up something I said in a blog post at tomorrow's meeting and holding it against me. It also gives me a freedom to speak without being interrupted. And gives me time to think about a response if someone disagrees. This lack of accountability requires maturity and caution I think - but for the average person (perhaps more often more for women who usually have a greater emotional investment in being seen as "good" and "nice") - this freedom is liberating. I can say what I want. Whew.

But this isn't really an exegesis on the state of blogging. I really wanted to use that as a (long) preamble to what happened to me today.

Today I had my first meeting of the semester with my new students. I teach very advanced and educated adults, both men and women, aged 30-40. I teach this group several courses, none of which are easy. They are not conversation classes. I gave them my syllabus, course outline, and a brief overview of my expectations. Also, because I know this is important to them - I told them about my degrees (several) and research interests (specific and lucid) and about my future plans (academic and respectable). I did not boast. I also told them I was married, that I have a child, and that I speak some Korean. I did not elaborate too much. I told a few jokes. And then I invited questions. These were the questions they asked:

1) Where did you meet your husband?
2) Do you like Korean men?
3) What would you do if you liked one if your male students?
4) How do you discipline your child?
5) Do you want to have another baby?
6) How are Korean men different from foreign men?
7) I like your shoes. Where do you buy your clothing?
8) What does your husband do for a living?
Now it seems to me there is a real need here. These students really seem to have a burning desire to be informed about foreigners, our relationships, our childb(r)e(r)aring and our fashion habits. And I don't want to scorn them for wanting that. Honestly. I was sitting in a room full of highly educated, intelligent people and it would be horribly arrogant of me to dismiss their curiosity as stupidity or rude (because, I know, then I have to ask - rude by whose standards?) but I couldn't help feeling really fcuking bummed out. Because even if I accept that their curiosity is legitimate and that their questions are aimed to please - I also have to concede that they saw me - my primary function - as a wom(b)an with a husband and a baby. And that IS a huge part of my life but it's not the only part. And it wasn't why I was standing in front of them. I mean, there wasn't even one teeny, weeny, token question about my course. Not even something lame like: "how much homework will you give?" or "will you take off points for absents?". Nothing. Nothing except husband, kid and shopping.

I got pushed around on the subway 16.8 times this week. I almost got smote by 7 buses and 6 cars, 4 people asked me if I was Russian, 2 men tried to pick me up (I'm aging, I guess), 1 ajumma tried to pluck my grey hair and one crazy dude followed me around Line 4 screaming obscenities about foreigners - and I just thought it was a regular week in Korea.

But today? Today got me really low.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Best feeding

Every year or two I fly back to North America for a family reunion and this year, as my summer vacation approaches, I've started to fret about which airline to use. For the past 5 or 6 years we have flown with Korean Air (direct flights, smiling service, good food and, well, also because the air miles sort of sucked* us in**). So we fly Korean Air even though the incongruity is not lost on me - the fact that I, a card-carrying aviophobe, fly with an airline that former president Kim Dae Jung once referred to a "national disgrace" (after 11 airline accidents in a single decade) and which the United States Federal Aviation Administration (in 2001) decided to downgrade because of safety standards. Perhaps I'm a masochist? Secretly a thrill seeker? No. But I am a fan of people and organisations bettering themselves and KAL seems to have really improved standards. No more crashes, no more nasty runway incidents and, truly, I admire any team of flight attendants who can deal with tired travellers and secret smokers for 13 hours without faltering or breaking their pouring stride. Smile, smile, smile. Pour, pour, pour. They deserve my money.

But I'm starting to worry as summer approaches. My last trip home was on a crowded, noisy flight - direct to Toronto - and I was seated next to a middle aged gentleman who took a instant dislike to me and my offspring, constantly referred to me as "the foreigner", demanded a new meal (as in: different from mine), demanded a new seat, called the flight attendant a "18 yun" when she would not/could not find him a new seat - and finally stormed off to the washroom in a flurry of blustery cursing when I dared to BREASTFEED MY BABY. It was the breastfeeding that finally did him in, I think. He just sort of ... snapped and ranted and raved and ranted and raved. When we finally de-planed there were Serious Looking Officials detaining him at the exit gate, and as I scuttled past with my baby, I could hear him still freaking out about the indignities he was subjected to.

To the credit of the KAL staff, they were unfailingly polite to me, they apologised for the lack of extra seats, they remained firm but courteous to the ajjossi and did not get him a new meal. I find the fact that they did not give him a different meal most satisfying! But still. There's a part of me that wonders if that man would have been as openly rude to a Korean woman, or if breastfeeding would have been such a big deal on Air Scandinavia or something. I wonder if I should try a new airline this time. But not, you know, Delta Air.

Because this time - this time my baby is older - and can actually ask for milk. I'm not sure what will transpire if I'm seated next to an emotionally unstable man with a pronounced dislike of foreigners when my toddler says "Mama, can I have some 'latte'?". I'm not sure how sympathetic my flight attendants will be either. Breastfeeding is one of those grey areas that people don't really know how to categorize. Most people won't openly say that breastfeeding is wrong, or embarrassing or dirty - but it's still not considered table conversation; it's still spoken of in somewhat hushed tones, and we still use words like "nursing", politely and primly. Motherhood Uncensored has a great post up about a woman breastfeeding in Denny's and she rightly (I think) notes that "people are actually offended by the act of feeding a baby from the breast and just use the boob as an excuse. We're only annoyed with boobs when they're not doing what they've been told to do for way too many years - sit nicely in a push-up bra or pleasure our husband in the privacy of our own bedrooms".

Toddler nursing is even trickier and after my last trip home I'm starting to wonder if now mightn't be a good time to wean, or to switch airlines. Or - maybe I should just teach my child how to say "Gosh, this is really #@$% delicious! You should try some!" and see where that gets us. Perhaps, on a less crowded flight, we could get upgraded to Business Class.

The White Russians are on me!

** Because you never know when you might want a free hotel room in Waikiki.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lies I tell my kids

Here's the problem with being a mom: that personal endeavors always end up falling off the radar. I will try to get back to blogging more in the new year. For now, this is an old post but a seasonally-relevant one that I wrote last year. It floated back into my consciousness when I took my son to see Santa here in Shanghai and he asked if he could speak to Santa in Korean, because I, like a complete idiot, had told him that Santa can speak all languages. If the jig isn't up now it will be soon.

Original post here.

“Dear Santa,” W wrote, “Please eat some milk and cookies. I need to check that you are here. Love, W.”

Holidays and lying go together like cookies and milk. While W hasn’t yet figured out that Santa has the same terrible penmanship as his mother, I have begun to spend a lot of time covering for mythical creatures. I do my best to explain Santa’s omniscience and his ability to break into our chimney-less apartment, and the morning after being a tooth fairy delinquent I claim, rather guiltily, that sometimes the tooth fairy has too many teeth to collect in one night so sometimes she takes two to retrieve a tooth.

I agree with Katrina Kenison that children need secret places and an atmosphere of enchantment, that fostering spaces of magic in their lives shapes their attitudes towards the world as well their sense of the possibilities of transformation. As W becomes exponentially smarter and more aware of the world I have become more and more conscious of the interpretive work that I do, not just to create these spaces of magic around him, but to make the world comprehensible and palatable, to forestall or counterbalance what I imagine to be the primary threats to the kids’ security and well-being, and to engineer them into the kind of people I want them to be.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. But my guilty conscience says, Shut Up You Big Liar.

If anyone is to blame for all this lying it is my friend Diana who has (whether she knows it or not) been my primary parenting role model. Trying to inoculate her daughters against the diseases of poor self image and body loathing she is careful to tell them that they look “fancy” rather than “pretty” during dress-up because she doesn’t want them to think beauty requires addition or modification. And really, as someone who could once use the term “discourse” with ease, shouldn’t I approach parenting this way?

Lie #1. “You can be a Jedi knight when you grow up.”

I’m pretty sure this began with a distracted, thoughtless response while making dinner or reading People.com. But my son became so enamored with the idea I felt (what a rookie mistake) I couldn’t back down until I realized one day that I had indirectly confirmed the reality of the whole Star Wars story-line.

But once I embraced the possibilities of the Jedi I found the figure to be extremely useful. A Jedi is learned but in touch with his emotions, he trains his mind and his body, he knows how to balance individual desire with social responsibility. Now I can say, “You’d better sit and concentrate on those math problems, a Jedi needs to know how to focus his mind” and “You have to go to your swim class, a good Jedi has a strong body as well as a strong mind.” For him, the Jedi is a heroic being who looks cool with a sword but for me the Jedi is a common reference point which allows me to parse the meanings of heroism and integrity. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am by the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Is the profession as important as the kind of person you become? W’s friends spend their days going from English hakwon to piano lessons to their math tutor, without much time to play and generally few siblings. When, I wonder, do they learn how to get along with other people? Isn’t that a skill one needs to practice every day, along with the reading and the multiplication tables? The Jedi is a convenient package of profession and role model, skilled at fighting and diplomacy, and that’s all right with me.

* * *

2. “Uncle's brain is sick and that’s why he sometimes says mean things or has bad behavior. Because his brain is sick you may not open the door to him or be alone with him.” This is one of the cases when my incomplete explanation caused further anxiety, necessitating the addendum, “But it is not a disease you can catch.”

There’s a kind of architecture to my parenting. I establish for the kids, through repetition and ritual, essential truths and categories: Mommy will always come back, This is the place where you are safe, I will always love you. This is good behavior and that is bad behavior. You are good, but sometimes good kids have bad behavior. You can choose how you want to behave. If you have bad behavior you have to take a time out, but when you’re ready to have good behavior you may come and play again. Even though you didn’t mean to hurt him you still have to take responsibility for it, try to help him feel better, and say you’re sorry. Eight years of work have gone into establishing family as a place of safety and love, teaching W the difference between good and bad behavior and between essence and behavior, and helping him understand choice and responsibility.

How do I teach the kids to have a relationship with a person who is not a stranger yet can’t be trusted? How do I explain a loved one exhibiting bad, even violent behavior? How do I teach my kids to love someone but keep him at a distance? How can I explain to them the extreme unfairness of a world that renders someone with the utmost talent and intelligence unable to relate to or communicate with the people close to him? My available explanatory universe gives me the vocabulary of psychology, of disease, of religious possession or chemical alteration. My efforts at translating these terms into ones the kids understand have been limited. With effort I can find enough critical distance to say, “This is as much as I will allow you to hurt me.” But distance comes from experience, and they have none. The architecture I have built begins to wobble, and I add buttresses (you can’t catch this disease) and columns (he will not hurt you) and fire doors (let’s make some hot chocolate!). I wonder if I spend all this effort fortifying my simplified explanations because the adult ones offer little hope. I would rather spend my time in the kids’ world.

* * *

3. All I needed to know I learned from The Sound of Music.

Whenever my older son begins to express reservations about moving I refer him to the scene in The Sound of Music when Maria leaves the abbey. Maria sings, “What will this day be like? I wonder. What will the future be? It could be so exciting, to be out in the world, to be free! My heart should be wildly rejoicing. Oh what’s the matter with me?” Maria is afraid of change, as most people are, fluctuating between excitement and fear. She is nervous, she runs through scenarios in her head, then she starts to imagine great things and get more and more excited, “I have confidence in sunshine! I have confidence in rain! I have confidence that spring will come again and besides which you see I have confidence in me!” That, I tell my kids, is what we do. We are scared, yes, but we do things anyway because they’re the right things to do. And of course she falls in love with Captain von Trapp and they escape from the Nazis and my point is perfectly made (if not completely sold on my audience).

I love the physicality of this scene, the way Maria runs along the road swinging her arms with the wild confidence of someone who is deeply in denial. Suddenly she comes upon the von Trapp manse and stops in horror — surely this couldn’t be — after all those years cloistered with old women and farm animals — but yes, it is — ! Maria runs to the door and rings the bell before she can change her mind.

And if that sales pitch doesn’t work I refer W to the map of the world on our wall and ask him to compare the size of China to Korea. “Do you know how many zeros are in one billion?” He is usually impressed by that. Size matters.

* * *

4. "When you woke up in the middle of the night? Mommy and Daddy were 'stretching.'”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Expat wives

My husband's job is about to move us to a new city (Hong Kong) and in preparation I've been doing my usual research, searching out personal blogs by people who already live there to get a feel for what it's like "on the ground."

The other day I ran across this description of the "prototypical expat wife."
"by which I mean sticking out like the Spice Girls at a Mensa convention, diamonds everywhere, body by personal trainer, a general look of disdain for everyone and a palpable sense of ennui"
Ouch. It appears we don't have the best reputation.

I don't think anything in there very accurately describes me, least of all in the "body by personal trainer" department, but it did provoke a disturbing flash of recognition. And I'm not totally sure why. As did this video (from the British sketch show "French and Saunders"), found on another Hong Kong blog written by an "expatriate wife," no less.

I'm not sure whether to be offended, or afraid. Very afraid.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Keeping up with the Kims 1

cross post with: http://printculture.com/item-2099.html

Part 1: The Arms Race (*metaphor stolen from Henry Em)

Before I left Seoul I had planned to write a follow-up portrait of my experience with the education system there. If first grade was about the training of protocol and relationships between people in the system, second grade, for me, was about the training of academic anxiety. In my first-grade post I was able to watch the jockeying for status and alliance as well as the expression of academic anxiety with a sense of humor and distance, but the longer I lived in Seoul the more I found myself acting and thinking in ways which betrayed an unconscious assimilation of the values of the system.

Even though I knew I would leave, five years spent breathing the air of the pressure cooker system has reshaped my sense of what a well-rounded childhood should be, has molded my sense of what a responsible parent should teach his or her children, and has provided me with an additional set of narratives to draw upon when thinking about success and failure, class difference, and global power dynamics.

It would be easy to blast the Korean education system. I could, as others have, talk about the unnecessary competitiveness, the fixation on Seoul National University and a job at Samsung, the rampant bribery, the reliance on private tutoring which impedes social mobility, the use of violence in schools, the problems with bullying, the over-reliance on testing and memorization. It is harder, I think, to describe and appreciate the difficulty of opting out.

A few months ago W came home with the assignment to write four bars of music in 3/4 time which he, having taken no music lessons, didn’t know how to do. I hadn’t looked at a piece of music in two decades and it took a while to pry the necessary teaching out of my crusty brain. I realized with surprise that we were in the situation I had heard so much about — because hakwon (sometimes translated as “cram school”) attendance is assumed, kids who don’t go to hakwon can’t keep up at school. When I think of hakwon I usually think of English hakwon; although public schools start teaching English from at least 3rd grade, kids who actually begin at that age are already far behind. But music, art, math, and early preparation for the next year of school are also common enough to become standard. Since almost all the kids in W’s class have studied a musical instrument from first grade, the teacher expected that they would all know how to do the assignment. Although my husband and I, concerned with possible ADD and with W’s stress level, had just several weeks adjusting W’s schedule in order to give him more consistency and more playtime, I immediately began thinking of ways to squeeze in some piano lessons. My instinct was not to spend time raging at the system but to think of ways to win for W the ability he needed in order to keep up.

It is in moments like these that the unarticulated desires emerge. I have long term goals for W, driven by an ongoing wish to correct the deficiencies of my own childhood and education, which shape the small tortures I put him through now. And while language is a big part of those goals, protecting his sense of self-worth for the long term is a bigger priority. I’ve read those books that talk about how boys in particular can check out of school from an early age if they start to feel stupid or incapable of doing the work. I have to decide, in that moment, whether it is better for my son to have less free time and take more lessons in order to keep up with the standard, or if it is better to guard and guarantee for him a childhood in which he has time to follow his own interests and play. Until now I have fallen on the “play” end of the spectrum, but how many hours of daily play do I cordon off for him? The longer I am surrounded by people whose 8-year-old kids come home from hakwon at 10pm the more my concept of the number of acceptable hours diminishes.

Second grade in Korea was hard for my son. His first grade teacher was strict but caring; when W (who hadn’t studied much hangeul before) went from 20% to 80% on his dictation tests she was full of praise for his improvement. W’s second grade teacher ruled like a dictator, hitting the kids’ hands with a ruler when they misbehaved and scolding them for every small infraction. One night when I was putting him to bed he told me with despair and certainty that he must be a 멍청이 — stupid, a dullard. “I don’t understand everything the teacher says.”

Last year as part of my classroom duties I served as a volunteer teacher, teaching English conversation to 6th graders in W’s school twice a month. I spent the first class sussing out their ability and interests in order to make the syllabus and was surprised that the students suggested debating topics like euthanasia and the FTA agreement. But there was a huge gap in ability between the students who had lived abroad (perhaps a fourth of the students in that class) and the students who had not. (The numbers aren’t representative because my son went to school in a district that is wealthier than most.) There was no way for the students who had not lived abroad to compete with those who had; they were doomed to lag behind. The practice of sending kids abroad to escape the pressure-cooker Korean education system has become common enough that kids who haven’t had that privilege cannot compete, and in a system in which kids are constantly ranked against each other, the gap between rich and poor is only growing larger. Parents send their kids abroad so that their kids can learn English (seen as necessary both for college entrance as well as job prospects) and also in order to have something of a real life (playing, exercising, etc.), but many also make sure that the kids eventually return to Korea so that they gain both the academic and social skills/connections required to be successful in Korea. However difficult this may be on the kids themselves, the parents feel they have covered all their bases; the kids will have the option of living in either society. A difficult childhood is seen as a fair trade for a more certain future. But the unintended side effect of that practice is an upward spiral of academic pressure in Korea itself. In some neighborhoods, being fluent in English and Korean and having lived abroad is becoming the standard, especially among those in the upper or upper-middle classes. And for those who are just middle class, sending a kid abroad (even if it is alone) is seen as the ticket to breaking through to a higher social-economic status.

A new hakwon market now caters to kids who have spent a few years abroad. My younger son’s kindergarten now runs an after-school program which teaches the American curriculum to elementary school kids. Most of these kids have lived in the U.S. for one or more years and are now attending Korean school, but their parents don’t want the kids to lose their language ability nor their familiarity with the vocabulary and methodology of the American educational system. The kids are effectively getting schooled twice, maintaining a foothold in both Korean and American educational and cultural systems.

As familiarity with both English and Korean becomes more of standard, parents and college students soon to be on the job market are looking increasingly towards other languages as a way of getting ahead of the pack. My Chinese classes in Seoul were populated by college students who told me that because the job market was flooded with English speakers, they were relying on their ability to speak Chinese in order to stand out and get a good job. When I found a Chinese teacher for my older son I needed to recruit some other kids his age to study with him in order to defray the cost of having the teacher come to our neighborhood. I was surprised how eager his classmates’ moms were to have their kids take on another language; the class ended up being composed of kids who already spoke English quite well (although for the most part hey hadn’t lived abroad).

My neighborhood, as I noted, isn’t typical, but I think it speaks to larger interpretation of the position of Korea in the world and the ways that people respond to pressures of this historical moment. Korea has only recently been awarded “first-world” status, so on one hand I think there is a sense that Korea has arrived economically, but with the giant of China trailing close behind, Japan still looming out of reach in front, and the U.S. (to whom Korea is tied economically, militarily, and politically) teetering, this status is tenuous and ethics of self-sufficiency, intense work, and social cooperation have a make-it-or-break-it kind of urgency. The willingness to force kids to maintain educational footholds in multiple languages and cultures is evidence of distrust in Korea’s educational system, of recognition that schooling is about cultural and social indoctrination as well as facts and skills, and of a sense that success (individually and culturally) in the next few decades will depend on the ability to forge international ties and to move back and forth between countries, cultures, and languages.

The sense I get from the parents I talk to is that they consider the education they provide for their children as the primary factor in the children’s future success or failure. They tell me stories about Korea’s historical domination by China, Japan, and the U.S. and how Korea doesn’t have any natural resources, so people are its only resource. A palpable consciousness of Korea’s place in the global order and the connection between individual and national fortune structure these stories and inform the seriousness with which they are told.

We are moving in an opposite direction from most of the families I know. They are spending a few years in the U.S./Canada/Australia and returning to Korea, instead of leaving the U.S. to spend some time in Asia. I can’t say for sure how people perceive us except to say for certain that they envy the ability to move with such freedom and to have such a good grasp of English. Our motivations in the beginning were more personal than educational; my husband and I wanted to make sure the kids could speak their grandparents’ languages, both literally and figuratively. Having grown up with something of an inferiority complex about being Asian, it was important to me that my kids spend some time in a place where everybody else is Asian. But that world no longer exists; the world in which my kids are growing up is a world in which the ability to speak and move across borders is an asset. Here, the decline of the U.S. (or “the rise of everywhere else”) is just a self-evident fact; the longer I spend in this place the more I see our efforts to educate the kids on two continents as the only logical way to prepare them for adult lives and good jobs.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Election '08

I've been debating internally about writing something on the U.S. Presidential election, but what could I add to the current coverage? Apparently writing about issues isn't effective because people would rather believe lies and in any case go with their gut instinct on whether they think the candidate is like them.

So click here for another option.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

the mirror is god

After reading Carol's post I think I felt - as I am sure many who read this will also identify with - that indeed so much of our world focuses on the ageless, gorgeous super woman that those of us who - oops - just happen to fall into the category of err... 'normal' need to be reminded that we are the majority here - and hell, ageing and being obsessed with something a little more meaningful than your appearance is not only ok, but should be encouraged!

This got me thinking about my day today. In particular my lunch appointment.
I had an interesting lunchtime conversation, with a very dear woman who just happens to also be the mother of the man who I quite like. The man I quite like is Korean - yet he was born in and lives in America, so like me, we both feel a part of Korea and yet we are not completely accepted in Korea. I think this is one of the reasons we connect.
Anyway, back to lunchtime. The woman in question who I will refer to as M, is I guess the closest thing to an almost mother-in-law, almost mother, almost all knowing one on all issues of Korean and overseas importance I have, and I know she cares about me and looks out for me - this much is quite obvious - which is a great and wondrous thing when I sometimes feel my family is very far away.

M's first comment when she saw me today was "Oh you look so pretty!" I liked this. "Wow, thank you!" I replied - really feeling that this was a genuine compliment, not just like the shop assistants who tell you everything you try on is pretty (which I am quite willing to believe until I notice they are not even looking at me when they say it...hmm...hang on a minute...) M's eyes lit up, she reached out for my hand, and the next compliment was fast on the heels on the first. "That's a nice hairstyle - it suits you!" Wow! This was just great. I remembered at this moment just how much I do enjoy meeting up with M.
It was later that I remembered that this is how we always start, and then as we get more familiar and cozy with each other again over lunch - after we have caught up on each other's lives - another dimension of conversation intimacy starts to surface. The no holds barred, honest-put-it-out-there intimacy that sometimes is not all that comfortable for me.

"Why aren't you eating?" she asked. "I am eating!" I replied. "See?" I took another mouthful. "I am eating, and mmmmm, it's delicious!" This was true. Lunch was delicious, and although I know she knows I am quite a slow eater, it seemed today that my lunch and the amount I was eating and the speed at which it was disappearing was under very close scrutiny. It was putting me off my food.
"You need to eat more." was her reply. And everytime I opened my mouth to say something, she would look concerned and repeat again "Eat!" which I think was my cue to stop talking, 'cos this was not talking time, this was serious eating time.
This is not all that unusual. I know whenever I eat with my Korean friends - especially the older generations - even by the ahjuma serving the food at restaurants - I am told to eat up, to eat more, to eat until I can barely roll myself away from the table. Constant plate to mouth contact needs to be made, with hearty mouthfuls and lots of "Mmmm, delicious!" sounds accompanying the meal. Only then can most Korean women - especially ahjuma and halmoni - feel happy. This I can understand.

What I was not sure I completely agreed with was the direction of our conversation.
I was supposed to eat and eat a lot. This was because if I ate a little bit, I would get fat, and apparently I am already on the cusp of or maybe even have tilted right over in to the world of big fat person, and this is a major concern. I can see it in her eyes, and I can read it on her face. Actually I don't even have to be that socially on to it, M usually feels quite comfortable just telling me. " You are a little bit fat. You need to lose some weight and then you will look so pretty - even more pretty!"
Ok, I do agree that being healthy is great. I am all for that. But I want to be a healthy weight to be healthy...not to look pretty or even more pretty. And to tell the truth, I don't think I am in the dangerously obsese category just yet.
So, the theory continued that eating three big meals was going to get me thinner. Thin people eat a lot. Fat people will just get fatter if they don't eat much.
I wasn't sure how to argue around this, but I did manage to interject that I was full right now, so that's why I had stopped eating. She looked worried. If this was indicative of my usual meal size, I was on the way to being a big fat mama in a very short space of time indeed.
"But you have stopped eating chocolate now, right?" This was delivered with the continuing concerned look in her eyes as M looked from my plate to my face, then back to my plate. I felt that if I couldn't say yes to this, it would be serious disaster zone. Red alert red alert, not only is she not eating big meals, but it seems she is supplementing these with the occasional(or not so occasional) piece of chocolate!
"Yes I have," I replied, and I could see the instant relief. The chocolate consumption had been a huge concern for a while, and when I said I was quitting chocolate - something that I had decided to do quite independent of the worried looks and the not so subtle hints dropped by M over the last year or so - I could tell that she felt her hand in this, and that now she could relax a little. Maybe there was hope for a thinner, even more pretty me.

The conversation continued in this vein for most of lunch. I didn't really know how to take a lot of what she said, although I am used to talking with her like this. I guess what I didn't like about it all, was that these comments are hard to ignore, and instead of leaving the restaurant feeling great after a good catchup with M, I came away feeling doubtful of myself, and convinced that there was something wrong with big fat me.

I don't want to make out that M is an evil character, she is not. Her way of looking at appearance and judging me accordingly is hard to understand. Hard for me to understand.

I find myself comparing her style with my own parents, and the way they have always reinforced that appearance was not important. What is inside you is the biggest part of you - and should be constantly worked on, developed and treasured. Being healthy is cool. Staring in the mirror for extended periods of time (as in longer than it takes to brush your teeth) is not. The outer you will shine if you are healthy on the inside...well, that's another one of these theories anyway, and one that I am more inclined to believe.

So, I just wanted to comment that although I do feel that living in Korea your appearance is placed under a ridicuously powerful microscope, I can't let it control my own feelings of fab-ness and self-worth. And if anything, hopefully this can provide an alternative for Korean women who are equally - if not more so - bombarded by the images of thinness and beauty - often unrealistic and unobtainable.