18 April 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

April 3, 2010
Traveled to Ulsan for a hat tournament via KTX, the high-speed train (304kph/188 mph!). Apparently, talking above a whisper on trains here is against the rules, as I had to be shushed TWICE. By the same conductor. Then some angry dude in the seat in front of us turned around a few minutes after the second shushing and loudly yelled something in Korean, presumably expletives. Oops. It was kind of embarrassing. I was just talking in my normal voice, but I guess my Normal Voice Volume does tend to get a little up there sometimes, especially when I'm talking to someone nice about something interesting. After being cussed out, I put in my earbuds and sang to myself instead.

March 1, 2010 - present
Koreans LOVE to comment on my height. I have been stopped in the streets, in subway stations, and, most recently, getting a new cell phone, by Koreans gesturing wildly that they have never in their lives encountered a female of my stature. I should have known, when I landed here and met my school's director for the first time, and his first words to me were, "You are very tall," that it would be a common occurrence for people to stare in wonderment. He gave no formalities, such as "Welcome to Korea! We're so happy you're joining our school's family! How was your flight?" No no, none of that. He cut straight to the chase.

Early on, as I was wandering the neighborhood in search of dinner, I walked past a Chinese food restaurant as a Korean woman was walking into it. She stopped, mid-step, came back into the street, made the Vertical Measurement gesture with her hands while staring at me, bug-eyed, and attempted conversation: "Betty tall-uh!" Was she calling me a Betty? Cause in Encino Man-speak, and Clueless-dialect, that's definitely a compliment. Mama brought me up good and right and I knows how to take a compliment (uh, usually), so I bowed a little, smiled, and said "Thank you!" She was too dumbfounded to reply, and continued on her way inside, looking over her shoulder the whole time.

My height, for a woman, is freakish, I suppose, even by Western standards. As you may or may not know, the women here, in general, are very petite, fragile, pretty, little Korean dollies that you keep safe behind the glass. I once saw a very tall Korean woman. She was probably 5'8" and I instantly felt bad for her. She was a freak. A tall(ish) beautiful Korean freak. She walked with head down and shoulders hunched, and didn't look at anyone. Perhaps that is why I felt bad for her, cause she was visibly uncomfortable with her appearance, or uncomfortable with something. Or, it is entirely plausible that I was projecting. I should be accustomed to my Freak Show Status by now, especially due to my penchant for living in places where I stand out like a sore thumb. But if you think our culture is vain, boy, come check the vibes of THIS place. THEN maybe you'll understand why I felt bad for this tall freak girl.

Exhibit A: My co-teacher's Korean girlfriend, who is probably 5'2", and no more than 90 lbs, told me last night that she's going to start taking diet pills. Because she doesn't want to get fat. And she always wants to weigh 45 kilos. It took every last gram of my will power to resist smacking her upside the head after her announcement (I'm certain it wasn't one of these "deep breaths okay I'm brave here it comes GUESS WHAT, GUYS!? Please don't judge me on what I'm about to tell you, but...", but more of a "GUESS WHAT I'M GETTING FROM MY DOCTOR TOMORROW!"). Failing miserably to hide my disgust, I simply shook my head, and let her boyfriend do the lecturing.
The longer I'm here, the more I'll be able to grace this blog with first-hand encounters of Vanity, Korean-Style. Another quick one before I end this post: a girl I play Ultimate with told me that Korean women will never run because they're afraid their calf muscles will get big. Considering the number of times I've seen the teachers in my school take the elevator up one flight of stairs, I believe it.
Or, maybe they're all swimmers.

1 comment:

Megan said...

My old master used to walk down the line of students on the first day of class, just pointing at people. No! You too fat for TaeKwonDo. Have Judo body! Too fat, no good.

Aah, darlin'. You're so perfect. We all know it.