7.24.2008

Life of Anonymous Celebrity, Part III

(In case you missed it the first time, LAC 1, and LAC 2.)

I'd like to present a definition of celebrity, courtesy of that bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia: A celebrity is a widely-recognized or famous person who commands a high degree of public and media attention.
I'd like to present a definition of Anonymous Celebrity, courtesy of moi: An anonymous celebrity is a widely-recognized, yet nameless person who commands a high degree of public staring and is sometimes approached on the street by strangers and instead of being asked for an autograph, is kindly asked to "please very much dialogue with my daughter." This person is only known by sight and is never understood intimately by the public, due to the lack of in-depth interviews with journalists and the as-of-yet nonexistent English teacher paparazzi (unless you count the countless pictures on the Haba Playschool picture gallery that only parents are privy to).

As I have stated before, people know me. It's easy to recognize me because I'm a breathtaking specimen of ChubbO, not often sighted around these parts of the world. So, if I hop into the Family Mart almost every day for a chocolate milk and a breakfast pastry, the guy behind the counter is going to notice. The young guy who works there speaks enough English to tell me my total is one thousand four hundred and fifty won instead of 천 사 백 오 십 원. Now, I'm sure there are also a few Koreans who work the Fam. into their morning routine, and I'm also sure that Mart Man remembers some of them. But because I'm so obviously white and English-speaking, and there's only one of me (not counting my blonde British colleague, Meghan, whom Mart Man is also on familiar terms with) he knows who I am. Despite my insistence on speaking Korean to him, he always speaks in English to me.

Now, yesterday, I wore my hair down to school for the first time. Because I usually don't drag my chubb out of bed on time, I shower quickly and throw the brunette locks into a wet ponytail or doody ball, as my sister so endearingly calls the messy bun I sometimes sport. But yesterday I had open classes, the ones where all the moms come and watch their kids, making sure they're
worshipping learning English quickly and with as much fervor as possible. So, I decided to spice things up a bit by forgoing the wet ponytail. 
Today, I did not have open class, so I was back to the regular "didn't have time to shower so threw on this headband and a clean t-shirt to fool you" look. I walk into the Family Mart, slap my milk and pastry onto the counter. Our dialogue is exactly the same as every other day. Up until I'm stuffing my pastry and milk into my purse after my wallet so I can hold my umbrella as I walk the rest of the way to school. He says something I don't catch while holding his hands up to the side of his head and then sort of spreading his fingers and waving them downwards, like he's trying to mimic a peacock's feathers. I don't have time to say anything in response because my facial expression has shouted to him that I don't understand. He repeats himself, "Out hair much better." I say, "Um?" thinking he's talking about outside air being much fresher or something because the door to the shop is propped open today. I begin to think it's about time to do the whole smile, annyanghaseyo, walk away routine when he does his sign language again, and repeats "Out. Hair. Much. Much. Better." (See? Sometimes it does help when you talk to foreigners slower and louder.) I laugh and say thanks as I turn to grab my umbrella and head out into the rain. 

Mart Man likes my hair down. It's "Much. Much. Better" that way, apparently. Although it made me feel good that he thought I looked nice yesterday, the double "much" stung a little. But then I got in the elevator with the mirror  and realized he was right. The clean t-shirt isn't fooling anyone. 

8 comments:

  1. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be noticed so much. That's one of the things I like so much about DC - when I want to, I can be just another of the thousands of little suited-up government worker bees that swarm this town.

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  2. Outside air is much fresher! Hahaha! This had me rolling with laughter.

    Oh my goodness, girl. I used to hate it so desperately when people would make what seemed to me to be back-handed compliments, like, "The sweater that you wore yesterday is much better than this one. This one makes you look fat." There's that beautiful directness of Koreans. It took awhile (long while actually) for my husband to figure out that Americans are so much subtler. He thinks they lie a lot. Well, they do. Like when they tell you your haircut is fabulous when it's clearly not. If you really want to know how your haircut looks, ask an Asian. That way you don't have to wait until three months later when you're looking at old photos and think, "Dear God! Why did I ever get my hair cut like that?! It's hideous!" My husband believes that honesty is the best policy. Why tell someone they look good when they do not? It's so unkind. Actually, I'm dead serious. He thinks Americans are doing people a disservice by telling white lies and making each other feel better. I think he has a point, but even so, I hope everyone keeps on lying to me.

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  3. Reading this makes me laugh. Enjoy your celebrity status, it all ends when you come back home.

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  4. Sarah, I ENVY you! I miss being a nobody! But I'm kind of hard to miss here. I always feel more at home with my Korean beside me- maybe I feel like he sort of validates my being in this country. I don't know. It's weird, and maybe a little unhealthy, but he makes me much more comfortable here.

    Beloved, I KNOW exactly what you mean. But I find that Koreans are mostly honest about things that don't matter, like what you look like. Does it really MATTER that your haircut sucks? No. I think being sincere is actually more valuable than being bluntly honest and hurting someone. Although, I do think people should toughen up! Anyway, Mart Man totally gave me a free drink today, so I apparently don't turn him off too much with my not "out hair!"

    Kevin, who knows when I'm coming home! Besides a November trip for my sis's wedding, I'm with my man! Hehe. I'm glad you got a good laugh out of it.

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  5. "But I find that Koreans are mostly honest about things that don't matter, like what you look like. Does it really MATTER that your haircut sucks?"

    Things that don't matter? What are you saying?! You live in Korea! :) Looks/appearances are VERY, VERY important. I know we Americans think it's so superficial, but for Koreans your appearance is a matter of self respect and respect for others. I remember being in awe when my husband had to go and get a haircut before he could visit my grandmother. I was like, "Hon, it's just my grandma. You don't need to get all dolled up." And he explained that he was showing respect to her by looking his best. I do/did get annoyed a lot with Koreans and their obsession with appearance, but that little incident with my hubby kind of changed my understanding.

    I hope (to god!) I don't sound preachy here. Just sharing.

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  6. Oh, no, you don't sound preachy at all! But my Korean has expressed sort of the opposite sentiments when it comes to appearance. One reason he liked me to begin with was because I didn't wear makeup, I didn't color or perm my hair, and I didn't think that fashion had anything to do with who I was. He really appreciated that. I think it was refreshing and he enjoyed not experiencing that pressure and judgment when it came to his appearance. (And he's so freaking hot, he doesn't look bad in anything! Ha.) And we were poor graduate students wearing the same comfy "uniform" almost everyday. I understand looking nice is showing respect- my mom is right there with you, urging me to "fix your hair, puhleeeez!" And I'm sorry, but Korean culture often IS based on superficial values. Even in the education system: my principal keeps urging me to get the kids to memorize the books instead of actually teaching them to sound out the words and read! How is that helpful? Oh yeah, it looks really good to the parents. There is an assistant at school who says she "doesn't like" that kid because his face is too big or her cheeks are too fat. Does that matter?
    And maybe you're right, maybe it DOES matter because everyone MAKES it matter. But for me, it doesn't matter. I don't expect Korean culture to go changing just for me. So for now, I'm ignoring all the stares I get on the subway because I'm not wearing heels and a short skirt and a silk blouse. I'm sticking with my jeans and t-shirt because it comfortable and comfort is important to me. And sometimes, I look good in a jeans and t-shirt! Hehe.
    Please keep commenting! I love the perspective you bring!

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  7. Yes, Korean culture can emphasize superficial beauty/appearances too much. I agree, and I was also irritated by it when I lived there.

    The comment by the Korean teacher about the boy with chubby cheeks, though? She just sounds like a chic with her values way out of whack. I don't think it's because she's Korean. She's just a very misguided individual. You should hear the way the teachers in my school (in the U.S.) talk about their students when they're doing the hen-cackling gossip thing around the coffee pot. They are SO mean. It's ugly.

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