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"In Korea, cute is all that really matters."

by gabrielle

sunny 82 °F

Creepin' up on 7 months in Korea... ahh-sahh! This means "yes!" or "hooray!" Think "Look, a saw!" with a softer "a" like, "ahhh." I think it's awesome, and cute, and particularly fun when you add all the extra and unnecessary syllables like the kids do with the arm pump. "Ah-saw-eh-ahh!" This may not read as well as it sounds so next time I see you, ask me to do an impression! :)

The title for this blog post comes from an excerpt in one of Swhite's textbooks about a paperclip skeleton craft. The whole thing reads: "This little guy not scare anyone in the way a proper skeleton should, but he is cute and in Korea, cute is all that really matters." Yes, this is ridiculous. But is it true? Heck yes! In case we haven't really driven the point home in all of our previous blog posts, here's some observations about the negative symptoms of Korea's pursuit of all things cute...

My students are young and their vocabulary is limited and most of them speak Korean which means their artillery of insults for each other is pretty weak. Luckily, the kids get along pretty well and often times their bad behavior isn't even directed at another student specifically. However, lately I have been having issues in my class with the kids calling each other, "not beautiful." For example, at a table of four the kids will be coloring and chatting (in Korean) and occasionally exchanging crayons and all of a sudden Soo will burst into tears. David will have to explain what happened because Soo is too hysterical and he will say, "Teacher! Joy NOT beautiful Soo!" (strong emphasis on the "NOT") Which means that Soo is crying because Joy told her she is not beautiful. Maybe Soo didn't share a crayon with Joy or maybe Soo said she'd rather play with David during playtime but either way, it breaks my heart to know they are delivering these sensitive, low-blows at such a young and impressionable age. In the beginning I thought it may have been a fluke and wouldn't happen again but unfortunately the "not beautiful" or sometimes "not pretty" comment has been the go-to insult when the kids get upset with each other. It mainly happens amongst the Korean girls in the class (there are five) and my attempts to explain how hurtful and "not okay" it is to tell someone that just wasn't getting through to them. I had to enlist the help of my Korean coworker who explained to them in Korean what I wanted to say with the added threat that the next time it happened, the kid responsible would be sent downstairs to the baby class... dun dun dun!

The problem in the Panda Class has improved a bit but the same certainly cannot be said for Korean women in general. There's no denying that the desire (expectation?) to be beautiful, cute, dainty, thin, and dare I say "perfect" all at the same time significantly affects Korean women. There are all the standard influences/pressures/ideals like celebrities, models in magazines, window displays, billboards and commercials; and then there is the added strain and pressure of keeping up with Western cultural standards of beauty (to some degree). One would hope Koreans would embrace their naturally lovely features but no, there are reminders EVERYWHERE that ANYTHING can be changed. Here's a sample of the advertisements in Apgujeong subway station alone; starting with the most common procedure, eye lid surgery to get, "a crease/fold" or, more "Western" eyes:
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Next, a "Western nose" or a "high" nose:
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A fuller butt:
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Fuller eyebrows, lips and eyelashes:
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A more chiseled jawline:
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Larger breasts:
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Better teeth:
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Perfectly proportioned fingers, toes and no bow-legs:
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Or the scariest of all... a whole new face altogether:
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Like I said, all of these ads are in ONE subway station.

Here's a couple from inside a subway car: (they're big on the before and after shots)
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And from the side of a bus, in case you didn't catch the last 50,000 you saw on the way to the bus stop:
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Not sure if this is another one for new nose, or it's saying to embrace the nose you already have... it says, "I've beautiful nose."
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Granted, the neighborhood we work in, (Apugujeong) is very ritzy and considered the "Beverly Hills" of Seoul but you'd still think the whole surgery thing would be a bit more hush hush. But no, we see bandaged-up faces regularly. The oddest scene so far was a teenage looking girl on the subway with her mom guiding her because she was obviously recovering from a recent surgery. Bizarre.

I have also overheard our Korean coworkers "jokingly" ask the kids "who do you think is the prettiest teacher?"and pushing for an answer. I know for sure the mom's are quite concerned with how "cute" we think their kids are because of past comments/relayed stories; it is also obvious that the Korean teachers give the girls less food than the boys. So now we know where it comes from and now we know it seems pretty difficult to ignore but I can't seem to wrap my head around it. It's just too extreme to be so readily accepted. I gotta tell you, compliments in a bar such as, "Wow, you're eyes are so big!" (from a girl) or "You have a nice, high nose!" (from a guy) are definitely new to me. I though body image issues due to societal pressures in the US were bad but this place is crazy! I realize this post topic is more informative than fun or "cute" but it has been something I have thought about a lot since being here because it's so different so I thought it deserved some attention. Thoughts? Reactions? I'm curious if seems weirder reading about it than it does seeing it daily or the other way around.

Now to briefly touch on everything else...

Last weekend we went to Foreigner Day at the World Cup Stadium to see the pro team, FC Seoul play. It was a beautiful day and so fun to be a major sporting event! Based on the map, the expat community rep'd it pretty well too!
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I don't think I have properly introduced my newest student, David T yet (we already have Korean David so new David gets to be David "T"). Let me just say, he's tiny and insane! He has a squeaky, loud voice like some cartoon character, he never stops talking or moving and his energy is BOUNDLESS! He's American, adorable and completely exhausting. His first week here he climbed on the 6-foot, flimsy fake tree we have in the common area, hung from a fake branch and snapped it right off. My coworker walked into my classroom with the branch in one hand and David T. in the other... and let's just say it's not easy describing a climbable tree from an unclimbable one to a 3 1/2 year old! David T. has grown extremely attached to me in the short time we've spent together and I mean this literally. He is obsessed with "riding" on my back and I cannot squat down for more than a second without feeling his tiny arms around my neck. Once I was bent over only about half way with my legs straight putting something on the shelves and suddenly I hear a quick grunt then I feel David T's little fingers trying to get a good grip around my torso as he has just launched himself off a chair in order to jump onto my back at it's new height! Seriously! This is David T:
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Last week we had our first field trip since David T joined the Panda Class and I was tired just thinking about it. I knew I would need to keep one eye on him, and one on my 11 other students. Once we got inside the gates of the folk village David T was all over the place and I eventually had to toss him on my back just to make sure he didn't decide to swim in the "green river" he saw earlier... aka, swamp. After the fieldtrip I was so tired of David T that I hid in the office with the slightly transparent door closed. When David T came looking for me the other teachers covered for me saying I wasn't in there and he knew they were lying so he sat outside the door and cried, then eventually laid on the floor doing a fake back stroke while crying. We could only see his silhouette but it was pretty darn hilarious. Does that make me a bad person? I hope not!
Here of some pics of the kids on the field trip: (please notice David T about to take off in the second one!)
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I was pleased to finally be in some pictures with the kids! Even before my mom reminded me to! :)

My "Kids Say the Darndest Things" for this post should just be a reel of David T and all of his little gems but I have narrowed it down to the top three:
3. Me: David T, where do you live?
David T: Uh, well I come from Korea but my grandma comes from Mexico.
2. Donte: Teacher, David T farted!
Me: David T, do you need to use the bathroom?
David T: Um, no Teacher. I just had a bird poop on me today.
1. Me: David T, what's my name?
David T: Um, Wrinkle Teacher.
Me: What?
David T: Ready go Teacher.
Me: No, Gay-bree-elle Teacher
David T: Gray-be-go Teacher
Me: No, Gay-bree-elle Teacher
David T: No, just Teacher, Teacher.

And I guess that's that!
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Posted by 3ifBySEA 06:03 Archived in South Korea

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David T is an exhausting hoot! Loved the photos of your scholars and Gabrielle Teacher! You can tell GLM, even though it is hard work, you are still loving the kids! All that plastic surgery stuff is crazy! It is pretty sad, actually. One more amoung many reasons I am glad to be living in the USA. Cougs had their third win already this season!! They are now in the Pac 12 and just beat Colorado! Go Cougs!! Is this plug suttle enough? Cha ching!

by sonya merz

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