Back from Asia. Culture shock galore.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Plastic Surgery Update

My best friend from Korea (she's Korean) just emailed to inform me that she has scheduled an appointment to get both her eyes and her nose done. I'm sad today.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Dog Issue

Last weekend I was at a party at my brother's house. He had the predictable guest list, a bunch of booze-pounding boys. I was there with my sister-in-law (attached to another, more tame brother) and we were enjoying our vodka sodas out of TPB rock glasses when low and behold another woman entered the scene. She was a cute, skinny little brunette who started, quite quickly, to rattle on about animal rights. After hearing that I had worked in Korea she immediately responded with the fact that she could never travel there because they treated animals poorly, more specifically, that Koreans and in fact all East Asians would eat any old thing including cats, dogs, tarantulas and rats -- all four of which she claimed to own as pets. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I rarely talk about my thoughts on Korea in any great detail but this was a little most people think this? Does PETA really publish that on their e-newsletters?

Fair enough. Eating dog meat soup in Korea is an old, established custom. Granted, it is almost exclusively done by older males. The meat is expensive, not easily accessible and limited to one specific breed of dog. The nutrients from the dog are supposed to increase male stamina or something. I honestly never sat at a meal where it was offered and families didn't roast Lassie up for Sunday dinner. In fact, most of the younger adults I met were appalled by the practice and were embarrassed by its existence.

My response to the petite vegan lady was that killing dogs in Korea was probably not any worse than what we do here in North America, which is brutally slaughtering thousands and thousands of cattle, swine and poultry and injecting them with mood-altering hormones. I also told her that as for eating cats, rats and spiders... never saw it...

Just between us... Koreans do relish this snack called bungdaegi (silkworm larvae),which is sold in vender stalls on the street. It looks, smells and tastes pretty rank. But hell, it's certainly healthier than our version of fast food.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Plastic Surgery

Ok, many of us have probably contemplated a little cosmetic enhancement... some botox there, a little microdermabrasion here. But have you seriously considered going under the knife? Well, I've learned that in Korea (and Japan) plastic surgery is as common among women as getting your teeth cleaned. I'd estimate that one in four of my students had had her eyes done and the statistics were only slightly lower for the nose. It's a bizarre phenomenon where the culture favours large-eyed western-looking women with "high" noses and narrow faces. I honestly can't count the amount of times I was complimented on my head size. Imagine being continually told: "Oh, your head is so nice and small." Or even better: "Your nose is great, it's so high."

In North America plastic surgery usually means a pricey boob job or some hip lipo. Yet in Asia surgery seems designed to change your ethnicity. The traditional-looking Korean woman (think Sandra Oh) is quickly being replaced with her doe-eyed, thin faced offspring. I'm not trying to be self-righteous. I fully understand that this is a culture where you have to attach a photo and state your age on your resume. Better looking women get better jobs, period. But isn't it a little creepy to have ladies strutting around with the same nose bones and eye shapes?

Truth be told, I did run into some insecurities of my own. One morning after a long evening of night club dancing and tequila shots I was eating my breakfast gimbab with a young, cute Korean boy. He was trying to take a photo of me with his cell phone and given my ghastly state I brushed him away with my chopsticks. "You have pictures of me on your digital camera already, remember?" Well, apparently, those pictures weren't good enough because those pictures showed my WRINKLES. Suddenly the green tea went cold in my cup. "What lines on my face?" I asked as I maneuvered around him to look in a mirror. "Those ones...," he said as he pointed to my forehead. Simply horrifying. Sadly, that wasn't the last time a guy commented on my aged face in Asia.

Now back in Canada I'm slowly getting over my self-absorbed facial angst while at the same time trying to come to terms with Korea's.

Home Sweet Home

Ok, well it's been a little over two months since I took the 14 hour flight from Korea to arrive back in the land of the loonie. I've spent my time predictably: eating cheese, drinking large Timmies and caesars, getting proper blonde highlights, binging on Twizzlers and Jujubes. Strangely, I haven't delved into my eastern experiences in any great detail. A typical how was your trip response: "Great. A really great experience." Not very verbose for an ex-journalism student. I guess part of my hesitation with talking about Korea is that I hate to have my life become a cliche... and I don't really think people truly give a rat's ass. But, since I've got the time (painfully so...) I'm going to give it a go. So here's anecdote number one.

My Totally Insane, Alcoholic, Politically Incorrect Boss

Ok, well I really hope no one from my former school reads this anytime soon because I will honest to God die of embarrassment but when I first started corresponding with the Boss back in April 2005, gauging him with questions about my upcoming job in Seoul, I developed a slight crush. He had a soothing British accent, he seemed straightforward and helpful. I guess he was the only contact I had with Korea at this stage and I was determined to be positive about it. After numerous emails and phone calls I was finally prepared to venture off. My Boss had volunteered to pick me up at the airport (something I learned he rarely does) and I asked him to send me a jpeg so I could recognize him upon arrival. I still remember logging onto Hotmail at my mother's house in the country. You should know that rural Ontario has yet to implement broadband and I had the treat of seeing his face upload pixel by pixel. He wasn't quite the Hugh Grant in a tweed blazer I had envisioned. He was pushing fifty with bleached blonde, buzzed hair. He had a gaunt face and blue-tinted eye-glasses. He had some new-age shirt with a Chinese collar and was wearing dog tags. Sadly, his appearance would be the very least of his freakish quirks.

My Boss is one of those guys who has done EVERYTHING. He got shot in the Falkan wars, he owned two Harleys and a Beemer, he could speak French, German, Korean, he could scubadive AND skydive, he made $100,000 US on the Korean stock market in 6 months, he was somehow related to the British Royal family and of course he had done time. Although his tall-tales could be exasperating at times they did allow for some otherwise unacceptable boss-bashing.

Example: The Boss took a month off of work to go and relax with his new 22-year-old Korean wifey in Argentina. Strangely, a co-worker spotted him in Seoul with half his face wrapped in gauze the day after his supposed departure. He dumbly stuttered that he had a scubadiving accident in the pacific, had come home and was returning to South America immediately. Hmmmm... It being image-conscious Korea we all knew he'd spend that stock money on plastic surgery, he was just too much of an ex-navy seal to admit it. When the month had passed and the Boss returned to work sure enough, the deep creases in his weathered face were diminished. So, a usually unresponsive staff merrily bombarded him with questions about his trip. "How was the scuba-diving?" "Let's see your pictures of Argentina!" For a person who could never shut up about himself he was surprisingly reticent.

A few noteworthly points on the Boss:

* He always speaks with his hand in front of his mouth
* He single-handedly circle-beat a group of 4 Korean men
* He's a self-proclaimed leg man
* He's a self-proclaimed homophobe
* He hopes his sister gets raped for breaking his rare egg collection
* He can do a damn good rendition of Anarchy in the UK
* His only solution to one of our problem teachers was to shoot him down like a dog.

Ok, as much as he's noticeably in an undeserved position of power the Boss was always nice to me and I had some serious laughs in his company (not exclusively at his expense). So, Boss, if you ever read this... it wasn't all bad.