Okay, so I’m willing to admit that the baby’s pretty cute, but the difference between me and everyone else on Earth is that I don’t want to dwell on it too much. I would say, now, to those who wonder just what my wife and I do when we’re alone together—those who seek to illuminate the mysterious darknesses of the world—I would answer that a great majority of our conversations go like this:
Wife: [So-and-so] says Harry is [physically attractive].
I once caused a whole conversation (among my in-laws!) to grind to a halt when I declared, in Korean, that all Koreans talk about is people’s faces. And I think those few outsiders who have even bothered to notice Korea would likewise agree that the usual Western love of the superficial has been taken to unusual extremes here, where really every problem is one that can be solved with the aide of plastic surgery. If your eyes are too small, if your nose is too flat—if you look too Korean—you can always get that creepy eye and nose surgery to make yourself look more white. Then there are the pictures you have to send with your resumes, on top of that…
But when I told my wife it was kind of disturbing how so many Koreans are so desperate to change from being Korean to white, she herself also seemed embarrassed, disturbed, and chagrined; clearly she had never thought of it that way; these noses and eyes were features that some Koreans are born with, they don’t belong to white people exclusively; white people just happen to possess them more often than Koreans…
Still, I can’t help thinking how obvious it is that the standard of beauty here is to look as white as possible. And that brings me back to my kid. I hesitate to constantly compliment his appearance because I know that standards of beauty are relative, and that before Korea’s contact with the West, the only beautiful people you found in paintings here were ones with very small, thin eyes. The idea of beauty is, again, obviously, to me at least, totally subjective and relative, which is one reason I’m kind of bothered by this endless slew of compliments directed toward my son.
It’s natural for people to compliment a cute baby. But I’m afraid the complimenting is not going to stop, ever.
The anecdotes I can throw your way are so odd, and so peculiar: Koreans believe that pregnant women should only look at good things during their pregnancy, and that, of course, means no homeless people, and no horror movies. At the same time a pregnant woman should also direct her attention to the beautiful, to help make her unborn child more beautiful, which is why my wife revealed to me yesterday that one of her pregnant friends was looking at pictures of my son, essentially for good luck. This is called taegyo (태교).
My brother-in-law just joked that we should pay him some money for photographing Harry because it’s a foregone conclusion now that the boy is going to be a model—no, you say, looking back at his photo, is he really that pretty?—who knows, maybe not, he certainly looks ugly enough when he’s shrieking for attention.
All of this gets to me because I know that the compliments aren’t going to end as long as we stay here. Koreans are a rather outspoken people, they say what they think, which means that if you come to this country, and you’re fat, or handsome, or ugly, people will constantly tell you that you’re fat, or handsome, or ugly, or whatever, and they won’t expect you to be offended or disturbed because it’s the norm here—if you’re ugly, and you live in Korea, you should be used to it by now.
To contrast, discussing people’s appearances so blatantly is really not something that polite people do in America, at least in the northeast—maybe we talk about clothes, or something ridiculous and strange, like breast implants, and that’s pretty much it. Only a rude, boorish, superficial, and unintelligent person would obsess over physical appearances, but that’s not the way it is in Korea. Either it’s a different culture, or everyone (and I’m serious, every single person) is an idiot here. You should see how they primp themselves in the (rather ubiquitous) public mirrors: so blatantly, in a way that would get them ridiculed endlessly back in America, for being narcissists.
My wife has also joked that she performed plastic surgery on our son when he was in her womb: this may seem really creepy here but it was pretty funny when she said it.
Anyway, I’m disturbed, piqued, bothered, worried, because Koreans think the boy looks good (for now at least), and so long as they do, they’re going to tell him—which means it’s going to go to his head. I think it’s safe to say that constantly telling someone he is handsome through the course of his most formative years is a guaranteed way of making him an idiot.
This is obviously the reason I am so luminous now: maybe I was a cute baby, but I only got uglier as I grew older, and my teenage years were essentially a continuous humiliation of the human spirit, where I was confronted with the most monstrous beast whenever I looked in the mirror, unable, on top of that, to escape my inborn idiocy, laziness, awkwardness, and slovenliness. If I started to look better at all in college, it was because I finally found a place that allowed me to be myself; in high school I felt the most horrific pressure to conform, while in college it was the opposite, and if you acted like anyone else you were a poser. In High School it was so painful for me, and I still have the fiercest resentment directed toward that period, and I sometimes feel like my former classmates are still laughing at me for being such a loser. But college changed at least some of that.
What does this senseless, gratuitously self-indulgent ramble say? That intelligence is best (even though we’re all basically the same), that superficiality is worst, that to gain intelligence, you must lack superficiality, and to lack superficiality, you must leave Korea, and go to America, where people probably won’t obsess over your son’s appearance so much, but you’ll have to live through an economic collapse if you go there, and that will totally suck, so what can you do except sell your baby to the diaper companies (like Mason Moon) and ride the wave of cash like a bellyboarding slob?
This is what we can hope for—that the baby will be cute enough to whore out to photographers for exorbitant amounts of cash, then turn ugly as a teenager so people stop complimenting him (my wife and I were both pretty unattractive youths), and then grow up a nice smart philosopher, with two parents still benefiting from the absurd superficialities of his babyhood.