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.