My cousin recently introduced me to Geoguessr.com, and I think I must have spent the last 20 minutes looking at StreetView pictures and guessing where in the world they might be. The best I did was 12’388 points, but I’m sure that can be outdone!
I did not know coffee was that dangerous. However, standard Korean coffee is like standard US coffee with plenty of milk and sugar and thus bearable, unlike Japan, where it’s black and bitter. We didn’t eat at this bar, but at a blowfish restaurant, two days in a row. The second day it was (a) to discuss with a customer in a friendly atmosphere and (b) for those who stayed for rounds two and three the previous night to have a soup. Note also the wicked cool iPhone I have that has Koreans drooling – apparently, iPhones are not yet available there. Apple is said to be negotiating some deal, but from what I was told there are two cell phone internet providers that all other cell phones need to use and the iPhone is somehow able to circumvent their monopoly, so it could take a while. The people can’t wait…
Here, for your education, the box in which my passport arrived. I have to correct my previous information: receiving it cost 7350 won, because the hotel charged a commission fee of 350 won, of which the clerk informed me with so many excuses I began to be embarrassed.
This is the view from my hotel room after a day with torrential rain and light hail. I can also see the Seoul tower, but it’s not on this picture and the iPhone has no zoom I know of, so it only shows up as a little lit stick anyway.
Work finished a little early on Wednesday, so I headed here, where I’d already might or might not have been a year ago on August 30. Most the other jewelry shops had already closed, so I was quite happy to find this one with the lights still on, though later I found out I’d walked up a few minutes past closing time. The first thing the father said was he remembered me. A few minutes later and after some conversation that didn’t betray the fact the son suddenly asked, “You’re from Switzerland, right?” I showed them a photo of Janet wearing last year’s purchase – I keep a few wedding photos on my iPhone – but either they didn’t make the connection or they’re used to their pearls being used for important occasions. I won’t say what I got this time, but I will make the next photo link to a map of their location. It’s the best little pearl shop in Seoul as far as I’m concerned.
And, for closers, a few Engrish shots.
Who can resist? Incidentally, the Japanese “Horumon” doesn’t mean “hormone,” as I long thought, but is a corruption of “horu-mono,” literally “throwaway things.”
It’s too bad you can’t see what you get if you pass the Wonder Girls, but you can always translate 드라마 in Babelfish.
A few words of wisdom from a Seoul Metro traveller…
…and some instructions from a public washroom.
That’s it – time for bed!
You’d think I’d know how to travel, having logged over 100’000 flight miles in the last two years each, but after this last flight I feel like I need to go back to basic training. It started out ok, with me checking one suitcase (containing 7 kilograms of laptop and 4 kilograms of clothing) and getting the baggage slip on the 29 kilograms of microscope, which I took to the customs official to get the Carnet ATA stamped before checking. But as I walked through the security check (without a beep) and overheard something about “couteau Suisse” I knew I’d forgotten to transfer my toolkit out of my computer backpack and into a suitcase. I ended up having to transfer my laptop and other necessities into my garment bag and checking my backpack with the toolkit. (I could have tossed the Swiss army knife, but I wasn’t going to toss the tweezers, which apparently are also dangerous weapons.) Oh well, worse could happen, I figured – at least now I wasn’t carrying as much.
Well, worse did happen. I came to Korea and declared my Carnet ATA suitcase as such; I should have realized that the response of “Oh, Carnet” was to mean a longer wait as the official meticulously went through the forms and tried to figure out what “gemäss Vollmacht” meant. It was 6:00 am when I arrived and after 6:15 when he was done. I was happy he at least didn’t ask to open the suitcase and just trusted me on that one.
I pushed my cart out into the public area, got cash from an ATM, and purchased a ticket for a limousine bus to my hotel. One of the bus company employees told me where to stand in line. The next one came, looked at my ticket, and told me to go inside and get a drink because the next bus wouldn’t come until 6:55; I’d just missed the 6:20 bus by four minutes. A half-hour wait was the last thing I wanted, so I returned the bus ticket and got a cab, which cost seven times as much but at least left immediately.
At the hotel I opened my bags and took out my travel documents. My passport was missing, and I realized immediately that it had stayed at customs. I’d nearly left it there at Japanese customs before, because both they and the Koreans take the passport, put it on their desk with the Carnet papers, and then get so absorbed by the Carnet that they forget to return the passport. The clerk called the airport for me and gave them my cell phone number, then checked me in with the information I had. I know my passport number by heart, so I could fill it in the registration form.
About half an hour later, I got a call on my cell phone. “Hello,” I said. “Hello,” said she. “Hello,” I said. “Hello, this is Incheon Aipott Lostandpound,” said she. “Yes,” I said. “Hello,” said she. “Yes,” I said – and the iteration continued until she decided to give up. Why she couldn’t hear me, I did not ever figure out, because after a second try with the same results she called from a different number and it worked. They’d found my passport and I could pick it up the following day. I asked if they couldn’t mail it, and they said they could, but I would have to pay for it to the tune of 7’000 Won. While that sounds exorbitant, it’s only about 6 Swiss francs, so considering that picking it up would mean an hour’s drive each way at the cost of at least four times that I had them send it. We’ll see if it arrives…
At 9:00 my partner picked me up. I’m in Korea to train our partner in the use of our microscopes before they exhibit at the Nano Korea conference next week, which I can’t attend myself. Teaching the use of microscopes on only a few hours of restless sleep went reasonably well. Celebrating their recent first sale Korean style – that’s where the “atomic bombs” come in, shots of soju dropped into half-full beer glasses. Not drinking is impolite in Korea, and after a first one-shot “oltugeja” we ran through most of the individual permutations of drinking to our business and family members. Someone had the brilliant idea of ordering kaoliang as well, but fortunately I could do my duty with just one shot of the 50%-brew. Still, by the end of the meal I was full not just from a barrage of “atomic bombs” but also all the food and jasmine tea I downed in an effort to try to minimize the effects of that barrage. I was driven to the nearby hotel by someone who’d only had a glass or two and immediately conked out.
Ten hours later, I’m up, and we’ll see what the day brings. Thirst, for one…
If you were a tangerine,
You’d want to be on Jeju,
Hanging in a lovely scene,
Where gentle breezes swayed you
‘Neath the country’s highest peak,
Protected by UNESCO,
Till the lovebirds, cheek by cheek,
Start munching you al fresco.
The House of Weddings.
The bride in her pre-wedding photography cell.
The chapel – note the projection screen to the right and the associated camera top left. The pulpit to the left is for the Korea Wedding emcees.
Smokin’ hot newlyweds.
Bucolic rooftop décor.
The couple we don’t know.
The groom’s parents throw nuts for prosperity (that’s my guess); the lady in the blue skirt directs the family in the correct practice of Korean tradition.
Traditional Korean village.
Traditional Korean house (of the former upper class).
The partner look is alive and well.
Sarang church main sanctuary. I couldn’t figure out how they kept the plants alive underground.
Church program stacks before the fourth service at Sarang.
Sunset from my hotel room.
Final meeting after the show.
The flight from Gimpo (Seoul) to Haneda (Tokyo) was uneventful and made pleasant by the relative smallness of the two airports. ANA had an entertainment system, but I wasn’t even able to watch an entire 91-minute movie.
Little did I know that my hotel had a movie channel that plays an odd selection of movies in English. I have since seen parts of “You’ve Got Mail,” “Revenge,” “Ghostbusters,” “Speed,” and “Conan the Barbarian.” Yes, I have yet to see anything outside the 80s or 90s.
For those who’ve never been to Japan, you probably don’t entirely appreciate how unusual it is to have even an English channel in a business hotel. But then, my hotel is unusual: they offer free soda in the lobby, they bring the breakfast to the room at a time I pick the previous evening, and they have a bevy of hair products stocked in the loo. They also have a “day use” rate, which makes me wonder and then immediately suppress my curiosity, because as far as I’m concerned I’m just happy with the bigger bed. Finally, the hotel is called “City Hotel NUTS,” which, given the Japanese tendency to say “shee you later” instead of “see you later” earns it the distinction of funniest hotel name in my limited experience. (NUTS stands for New Urban Time and Space, but I’m not sure that makes things better.)
On Friday, I did laundry in the next coin laundry because the cleaner won’t take underwear. I then went to the JAIMA show and marveled at the things companies come up with when trying to market their stuff: mostly young women in short skirts, but also stuff like croissants in a can. Maybe if we hand out free pizza at our next show…
In the evening, I lay in my bed and suddenly felt this shaking. It took me a while to realize that it was an earthquake. It subsided, then shook again, the building gently shuddering. Mizuho would tell me on Sunday that a guy who claimed to be a prophet said that a big one would hit on September 13, so I asked if he had also indicated the time of day because I was flying out in the morning. (Apparently he did get the Hanshin earthquake and the Niigata earthquake right, though who knows.)
On Saturday, I took a train into Kanagawa and met up with Olivier and his family. He had brought back cheese from their recent visit to Switzerland, and invited two other Swiss guys married to Japanese wives, along with their kids. It turned out that I had already met one of them during my stay in Japan in 2001/2002 because we’d both been in touch with the SJCC for scholarships. We joked that I’d really missed the boat – all the guys in Japan snag a Japanese wife, except for me! (It’s easy to joke when you know what lies in store.) It was a good time of chatting and exchanging experiences, and after the two families left Olivier and I took his son Léon for a walk. He was in good spirits all the time and particularly indefatigable on the swingset. Etsuko says he’s the liveliest of his age group, and she’s glad that the next one’s a girl!
That night my internet was slow and Janet and I only exchanged brief messages. I didn’t think to do what I did the next morning: unplug the LAN cable routerside and plug it in again. If only real life was that simple: when a conversation goes sour, you’d stop it, walk ten steps away from the person, turn around, walk back, and it’d all start again with “Hey! How are ya?”
Today I was still in the shower when breakfast came. I felt a bit bad for them having to wait, but when I saw that they were early, not me late, and that they tried to open the door, I stopped feeling bad. I almost missed the train for watching “Speed,” but managed to turn the thing off. It was Uchida-san again, preaching on in his series on 1 Corinthians, this time on verses 1-5 of the fifth chapter. I wish I could understand him, because I’m sure he is saying interesting stuff about this difficult passage I’d have a hard time explaining without some serious study. A good number of friends were there; I got to catch up with Mizuho, whose English is loads better after just one year in California – if anyone knows of a job opening for a Japanese linguist with English skills, let me know and I’ll pass it on! Tim, one of the missionaries on the team, and I went to the supermarket for cheap Japanese food and ate it outside on the smokers’ bench. It’s muggy and hot right now, and the bench was in the shade, so we kept on chatting about Japan and cultural differences in general and the dynamics of family size and adding people to a family. I remember the first time I met Tim I felt I didn’t know what to talk to him about – I didn’t sense any common ground – and now it flows so naturally it’s a joy. His time’s up in December, so I may see him again, but it’ll be sad to say goodbye.
Back in Tokyo, I went to Harajuku again to get more socks, and got to marvel yet again at the propensity of the Japanese to use and purchase umbrellas at the first drop. It had started rumbling, and lightning flashed in the distance; a few drops were indeed falling from the sky, but just moving made them evaporate off my clothing almost as quickly as they wetted it.
I’d noticed that I kept hearing the same songs at breakfast, so I wasn’t surprised that by getting up earlier today and eating earlier I’d hear different ones for a change. Unfortunately, they played “I just called to say I love you,” which means I’ll be singing it all the way to Japan. Not only that, but it modulated twice, and it was the pan flute version, with a misguided chirpy electronic accompaniment that sounded like a symphony of squeaking see-saws. If it hasn’t been done yet, I’ll claim the idea of filling an orchestra pit with rusty see-saws and proclaiming myself the great ironic modern composer (perhaps with three modulations for extra irony).
And before the performance I’ll get an ironic haircut at the N’Vague hair salon in Gangnam-ku.
We drove down to Daejeon to visit a customer who’s part of one of these weird Korean companies that dabble both in telecommunications and “energy,” which I suspect covers everything from electricity generation to selling gas. Our customer had a need to measure something related to displays, and our measurement worked well, except that the structure he had intended to apply to this sample wasn’t there. So we made a good impression, but not a killer impression, because even though it’s harder to measure a very smooth surface than a surface with clear structures, it doesn’t look as good and it doesn’t tell the customer immediately that we can do what he wants.
On the way back we stopped at a rest area for water. I was surprised to see English on the label, and had to chuckle at the declaration that “[t]his water is natural mineral water from the Chojung mineral spring, South Korea, recognized as one of the top three mineral springs in the world with Shasta spring USA and Napolinas spring, U.K.” Just the countries I think of when I think of fine mineral water. You can find additional glorious information at the ILWHA homepage.
I still haven’t figured out who thought it was a good idea to just have one single southbound expressway out of Seoul. We’ve been on it twice this trip, and both times as soon as we leave the city roads to join the expressway it turns into a traffic jam. It did the same on the way back, and so badly that we got off early and drove to the Seocho part of Seoul (where a sign saying “Light of the World – JOY – Seocho” confused me a bit – more information here for those fluent in Korean), where we found ourselves a restaurant to eat. Budnamujip serves Korean barbecue (only Korean meat, no US meat) and all the neat little side dishes; we finished the meal with Chalbap (steamed sweet rice) and Omija-cha (“Omija cha (오미자차, 五味子茶): Tea made from dried fruits of Schisandra chinensis. Omija cha is named because the tea comprises five distinct flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. “).
On the way to the restaurant we came across a guy on a vespa that still had a Roman license plate, which in some way is symptomatic for the carelessness evident in Korean traffic. I’ve been in cars that ran red lights, that switched lanes during a left turn on a large intersection, and that ignored a lane shift, driving straight ahead instead, and then wondered that someone would honk at them. I’ve been a helpless part of three lanes trying to merge into one, wondering where all the vaunted Asian sense of collective had gone, watching expensive cars bully their way in because cheaper ones are afraid of hitting them. And lest you think cars are bad, you ought to see the buses. They compensate for their difficulty to merge by dint of their size with nonpareil recklessness. A bus driver will barge in, cut across three fast-moving lanes at 20 km/h, and blow you a raspberry for good measure. (Ok, maybe I made up the raspberry bit, but it sure feels like it.) In general, there’s a good chance a Korean will not use his turn signal when turning, use it when not turning, and decide to drive around with the hazard lights on at slightly reduced speed just to spice things up. And of course you block an intersection – otherwise someone else will when it’s your turn! My favorite, though, is what I’m dubbing the “Korean lane change” (“koreanisch einspuren”). If you want to go straight, but there’s a long line at the light, choose the left turn lane, zip up to the intersection, and merge in front of the folks who are waiting to go straight. If, on the contrary, you’d like to go left, zip up in the lane that goes straight and just turn left with everyone else. You’ll manage to merge somehow – and ideally you’ll have timed it so that you arrive with some speed at the intersection just as the left turn light turns green. That way, you’re first to boot!
I still have to get used to the Hilton. It baffles me that I can’t just take my suitcase and pull it up to my room. Somebody takes it from me, asks for my room number, hands it to someone else, who gets on the elevator with me, follows me to my room, and then puts my suitcase away. It seems like such a waste.
Gotta yak and pack – enough for now.
Friday, August 22: Meeting with our partner. In the evening, I head to Apgujeong and meet up with Hyojin, who’s just returned to Korea from Basel. We have a Korean dinner and chat for longer than any other guests – Swiss habits die hard.
Saturday morning, 3:44 am: the clever light console thinks beeping and switching the lights on and off would be a good way to help me get over jet lag. I turn the lights off, go back to sleep, and just after drifting off the console does it again. I curse the electronics industry at large and hotels that rely on fancy gadgets instead of switches that flip, call the reception, and they send an engineer. He can’t speak English, of course, so we have this conversation on the phone via the operator: he calls, talks, passes the phone to me, I listen, answer, pass the phone to him, ad infinitum. Essentially, he takes out the circuit board, plonks it back in, fails to reproduce the problem, pushes buttons I never push, and suggests moving rooms. Ha, ha, ha, I think: I wouldn’t move to the Penthouse suite for free at 3:44 am. He leaves and I go back to bed. It takes a while to fall asleep.
Saturday, August 23: I meet up with Hyojin and her mother and we go to a wedding of one of their family friends. It’s in a building called Korea Wedding, which has wedding “chapels” on two floors that cycle through weddings every hour. The hall in front of the chapel room is larger than the room and has two reception desks, one for wedding n and one for wedding n+1. Each desk is divided into the groom’s side and the bride’s side, so the attendees know where to hand over their pecuniary gifts and congratulatory mammoth flower arrangements and pick up the food coupons. The bride of wedding n is getting married, the bride of wedding n+1 is waiting in a special room with a canopied couch for her to sit on and be photographed. Wedding n lets out, and we file in for n+1. The room is backlit with an undulating light vacillating between different shades of pastel, and when the principal actors appear, dry ice steams out of jets underneath the altar. We sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in Korean (or “da da da”) and listen to the sermon. Vows, dry ice, and the couple exits, married. I ask about official registration, and apparently that’s not even necessary unless you have kids. The couple returns for pictures, and we exit, board the elevator, and get off at the food court. It’s a buffet of Korean, Japanese, and some Western foods, and the tables have Chilsung cider (a lemon soda), Pepsi, and beer on them. We eat, wait for the couple to appear and stop by for some remarks, then take off and head upstairs to the roof. On the roof the building has a bucolic scene out of solid Korean nostalgia (and fiberglass), framed by fake boulders and waterfalls. There are two indoor preparatory rooms in traditional Korean style, then an open-air area with a well and a bridge over a pond and a litter and ponies standing by. Hyojin and her mother talk to an attendant, who lets us watch, even though this traditional ceremony takes place without the bride’s parents because it symbolizes the groom bringing the bride to live in his house. After preparing the two and dressing them up right, the groom mounts a pony and the bride the litter; they follow a musician around the well and over the bridge. Then they retreat again to the room, where they pour soju for the parents, then for each other; the parents throw beans or chestnuts on the cloth the two hold, and the groom carries the bride piggyback around the table. We find out that the groom is 39 and the bride 35; people are taking photos all the time. Finally it’s over, and they undress and head on downstairs for the regular wedding. We head out and after some crazy Seoul traffic we end up at Apgujeong again. Hyojin and I head for Chungmuro, where there’s a Korean village that consists of several traditional houses that have been transported here for preservation. Performers put on traditional Korean shows and dances, the coolest by far being the acrobatic drum group with long white paper streamers affixed to an antenna on the top of their head and swirling around them as they dance.
Sunday, August 24: Church at Sarang church, second English service (out of three; there are six Korean services). Loud music played by competent musicians, pretty solid sermon, tea and donuts at the end. We’re off; the next service is getting ready. We head to a bookstore, where I buy three small books of Korean short stories, then over for a peek into the sanctuary for the Korean services and one of the extra rooms where those who came too late for a seat in the sanctuary can watch live feeds. After lunch we amble about and end up at Hyojin’s old elementary school, where we watch little Korean boys in soccer practice. They’re too cute, trying to master exercises way beyond their level of ball control.
Monday, August 25: Another business meeting, and one with far too much drinking and eating ensuing. Mixing soju and beer is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve come across. I soon switch to Chilsung cider, which doesn’t entirely meet with approval, but it allows me to be in good enough shape for two episodes where I can’t avoid the soju. First, I fill my shot glass with Chilsung and join a round of cheers, but one of the higher-ups across from me calls out “love shot” and then proceeds to pour his soju in my mouth while he gets my cider. He pours so quickly it comes out my nose, and I can’t help but spit it out. Amusement ensues – and I don’t mind, because most of the soju didn’t go down, and my nasal passages have now been cleansed with 20% alcohol. (Kind of like wasabi, just messier.) Second, one girl asks if I like sake, which I affirm. She then says I should drink soju – “or do you discriminate against Korea?” So I drink a shot, more or less intact thanks to the cider and water I’ve otherwise been sticking to. A taxi takes me home, feeling a little woozy, but happy because of the apparent genuineness of the jovial atmosphere in their group. All the alcohol ends up doing is wreck my digestion a bit.
Tuesday, August 26: We set up the booth at the Nano Korea 2008. Getting everything to run from a double Korean outlet is a challenge, but we prevail, thanks to the purchase of a Korean extension cord. Hyojin also comes, and we run through the AFM basics and the basic booth procedures.
Wednesday, August 27: I take a taxi to the KINTEX exhibition center because I’m afraid the bus won’t get me there in time to set things up. The taxi driver is a speed freak who doesn’t shy from 90 km/h downtown and gets me there in 40 minutes instead of 50, and I have oodles of time to set up and prepare the exhibits. The bar code reader never gets to working, so we stick with business cards and paper notes, and at the end of the day we have a good amount of contacts. Hyojin and I attend the reception, where I make use of the possibility of placing promotional material on a table, but I think we were the only table to make a business contact that evening. Most people were much more interested by the food and drink than by the exhibitor tables.
Thursday, August 28: I have a presentation at the Germany-Korea Micro-Nano Business Workshop, where I present the possibilities of automatic quality control with AFM. It’s the first time I’m simultaneously translated as I speak; the Koreans sit there with an earphone listening to how we’re on Mars. They’re pretty impressed, and two even visit the booth later that day. We end the day having used up two thirds of our contact sheets. Our partner takes us out to dinner at a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant called Samwon Garden, owned by the father of LPGA golfer Grace Park, winner of the 2004 Kraft Nabisco Championship. I pick up some free postcards of the garden and of the owner’s daughter.
Friday, August 29: The final day is a bit slower. I’m still glad we had three people on the booth, because there were sure times when we were all three busy. Today there are times where we are all three not busy, but they’re not often. We end up with 10% of the contact forms empty. As soon as the show’s over, the frantic packing begins, and because we’re joined by the shipping company guys, I’m almost certain that a few things got packed in the wrong boxes by overeager helpers. But everything that needs to ends up in the big crate, and I have what I need. We head to the hotel and I invite everyone out to dinner, thinking food in Korea is cheap. I forget that the prices shown are always without a 10% service charge and an additional 10% on top of that for GST, and don’t realize that the San Pellegrino costs 9 dollars a half-liter, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Saturday, August 30: I spend most of the day resting, and go off to Jongno 3-ga, where if you leave the subway at exit #11 you pop up in front of a line-up of jewelry shops. Here I may or may not have bought something for someone – that part is a surprise. I got to see two old Koreans fighting, one repeatedly pushing the other down, with younger Koreans trying to separate them, and another Korean guy lying on the ground, holding a pear in one hand and the back of his head in another, whimpering, and then the police officer picking him up by the scruff of his neck and walking him off. I gaped and stared, but I wasn’t about to intervene in a fight I didn’t understood in a language I didn’t speak. So I took off again.
Sunday, August 31: I go to the 10 o’clock Korean church service with Hyojin. We are there early enough that there is not yet a line waiting to get in, and we are ushered into the sanctuary that is large enough that there’s a small sign notifying visitors that the sanctuary is flushed with purified oxygen to guarantee a refreshing worship service. I suppose everyone would be getting drowsy otherwise. I can’t understand a word, but I can understand the power of a few thousand people singing to God together, of an orchestra and choir performing what sounds like “A Mighty Fortress goes Boston Pops,” and I can at least do my own reading during the sermon (on spiritual warfare, 2 Corinthians 10:1-5) where the only words I understand are “Nietzsche,” “Hitler,” and “Rise Up Korea.” Hyojin later explains that Nietzsche’s Superman was the pastor’s example of how the spiritual enemy of wrong, incorrect thoughts could lead to great physical evil such as perpetrated by Hitler, who was influenced by Nietzsche’s ideas. We leave and eat a small lunch at a coffee shop, then head for the movie theater and watch Wall-E, which we both enjoy a lot. Then we say good bye.
Monday, September 1: My business partner and I drive to Jeonju to visit a customer. Or more precisely, he drives through rain and traffic jams while I alternate between reading and dozing off. Because a traffic accident delays us, we eat fast food at a rest area, and I pick a “pizza hotdog,” which is blatantly false advertising: it’s a deep-fried dough pocket with tomato sauce inside, and no hotdog anywhere. We help the customer with his problems as much as possible, though I find out that troubleshooting gets almost impossible when neither customer nor maker speak each other’s language worth anything. Then we drive back, eat more junk at a rest area, and get in late.
Tuesday, September 2: Another business meeting, short and sweet, with some time earlier in the day to talk to Janet and get some catch-up work done. And because I’m in the habit of going to bed late, I write this post instead of doing the sensible thing and turning in. It looks like I’ll have stayed in this silly Hilton hotel with a pool and gym without every getting around to using it – and really, I’d have to purchase a bathing suit and cap or some sort of exercise clothing to do so, so at least I have a feeble excuse.
No, I’m not talking about myself. I had a short business meeting on Friday, where we didn’t talk about beauty, but about selling microscopes in Korea and the upcoming fair. Beauty came to mind later on, when I took the metro to Apgujeong to meet up with Hyojin. First I couldn’t help but notice how young Korean women seem to pick clothing less for comfort and more for looks and fashion. In some cases the results are amazing – amazingly beautiful or amazingly funny. Then, over dinner, Hyojin and I got to talking about the ideal that Korean women feel the need to live up to, that of super-slim, petite, cute and put-together youth, and pointed out a few passersby that I would have classified slim but that she believed probably thought themselves fat. That reminded me of the obviously similar Japanese ideal that had Janet receive both the epithet of “fat” and of “beautiful.”
Now, Janet is not fat, but she is beautiful, and I trust she knows both. But I’ve noticed that although I appreciate her facial features and overall shapeliness, those are things that can be appreciated also in other women. What makes her beauty unique in my eyes are the things I know to watch for, the looks, the smiles, the animation, and the delightful passionate liveliness these express.* It’s the constant personal interaction that makes her beauty stand out to me, that makes it somehow mine to enjoy, and allows me to acknowledge physical beauty in other women (and also men) without threatening hers or her standing in my eyes. More than that: it allows me to acknowledge their presence and personhood instead of spending my summers either staring at sidewalks or getting a stiff neck from all that swiveling. Yes, they’re there – they’re pretty, or not so; well-dressed, or just plain lacking in sartorial discernment – but they’re not Janet, and they never will be. She’s my real beauty – they can be someone else’s.
But back to the Korean ideal, which if it indeed mirrors Japan’s that closely must not be far from Audrey Hepburn. So I found it funny that I was to spot a poster for her famous musical, which in Korean is pronounced “My pear lady.”
Therefore, my pear ladies, take heart. Even if you’re neither Audrey Hepburn nor Marilyn Monroe, if your man loves you, he’ll see both in you, and more.
*not an exhaustive list 😉