|Korea is weird.|
As the horrifying (-ly regular) smell of what is probably puppy and cicada carcasses boiling in rotten milk and blood wafted up from the flat below, I reflected on one of my favorite quotes from The Little Prince: anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
I’ve been tutoring a woman every Monday evening the past couple of months. I can’t actually remember her name because I was too scared of mispronouncing when we first met that I forgot it just in time for our relationship to cross the line after which you look like a churl for having to ask the other person’s name. I think it’s something like Moon Sung, but that might be more indicative of my early interest in Native American naming practices than a working memory.
Actually, Moon-Sung might be my Korean alter-ego She is quiet and extremely nerdy—loves learning and reading and despite being my height and Korean-size (bones of a bird), she intimidates her coworkers. She’s a little bit twitchy and seems shy of social situations. When talking about a business trip she had to take (had to take a vacation to Singapore because she won a prize for working hard) she said she hoped she could stay away from everyone and read, but she didn’t think they’d let her.
|One of my favorite mindmaps.|
She also took the above quote to a place I’d never considered.
“Do you agree with this quote?” she asked.
“Yes. I love this one. I think it’s very true.” I try to speak as little as possible to give her the speaking practice. She took the bait.
“I don’t like this. I don’t like hiding my emotions. It’s important and you have to do it to live in society. When I was younger I told people what I thought, but my friends told me I can’t do that anymore. I don’t think it’s good. Do you know ‘white lie’?”
I said I did.
“Ye-es. I don’t like it, but you have to for society. I don’t know what others think about me; I don’t know if they don’t like me. I am very scared.”
Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
Everything essential is invisible to the eyes here—the emotions, the individual thoughts, the I don’t give a damns. Maybe this is the hardest part about Korea for me. Like Moon-Sung, I find that kind of life very scary, unsettling. It’s stressful, keeping that mask up. In many ways, Korea reminds me of middle school—there’s a lot of pretending going on, a lot of giggling, and a lot of people become boyfriend-girlfriend just for the sake of someone to date.
I always thought that if I could do middle school over again with the self-assurance I have today, it wouldn’t have been quite so annoying. I think I was wrong. It still is annoying. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not fat, that I’m not lower-class for wearing flip-flops, and that even if I was either of those things—it is okay. It’s still stressful and exhausting—and I’m not even bothering with the Official Face.
I worry for Koreans, sometimes. Perhaps they are all very exhausted and lonely—but how would we ever know?
That was supposed to be brief because I have three books I’m reading right now and all of them are good. If I sacrifice studying Greek (not a good idea) and sleep (possibly worse idea) I could finish one of them tonight. I find conclusions difficult to write, so...done.
(out with a fizzle)