Ever since I first fell in love with a Korean woman–which was over twenty years ago, long before the woman who would become my wife–I’ve had a thing for Korea. (At least I’ve had a thing for Korean women–clearly.) I taught a lot of Korean students back in the US, and envied them their sense of togetherness and community. I was also dumbfounded by the sheer brilliance of Korean women–physical, intellectual, and spiritual–and was privileged to have a few short-lived, disastrous romances before embarking on the epic fiasco with my current and final wife Jina.
I was not the only one among my peers to be smitten by Korean women and culture. I saw a Facebook photo of a friend of mine with a large smile on his face and an Asian woman beside him who may well have been Korean. Since I’m not on Facebook (and he has an exclusive Checkpoint Charlie of a friend-monitoring policy on his Facebook account, which seems to defeat the purpose of the whole bloody thing in my purblind view), I couldn’t inquire further into the matter. All I could do was be glad for him from afar, and envy the lucky bastard for his remarkably good fortune (assuming he’s at all romantically involved with this ineffable young feminine specimen). Now that he’s divorced, he can get involved with impunity, while my marriage staggers along, or else is frozen like the penultimate scene of Reservoir Dogs before those three guys all shoot one another in a hate-triangle of bullets and end the film on a cheery note.
Today I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times written by Kim Yun-ha, a Korean novelist and author of a book that deals with suicide called I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (also my country’s new motto). Mr. Kim says that Korea has had the highest suicide rate of any country in the world for the past eight years, which is exactly how long I’ve lived here. Even though I’m not Korean, and am not overtly suicidal, I have had a perennial struggle with your typical anomic suburban-born white middle class guy’s version of the blues, and the midlife crisis so meticulously documented in this blog has straddled the fence between comedy and tragedy for several years. In other words, although I’m not in the market for deliberate self-cancellation, I could well die simply by default.
In a culture that worships youth as much as any I’ve seen or lived in, it’s easy for a schmuck like me to feel like an invisible man much of the time. The irony is that while I’m conspicuously ignored by most of the women I can’t help noticing for their startling beauty–which is dangerously breathtaking despite the lung-eroding air pollution that pervades the place–a lot of Korean men–particularly middle-aged ones a decade or so older than I am, unless they’re closer to my age, it’s hard to tell–stare at me in a way that makes me want to yell at them or tell them in no uncertain terms to fuck off and die. The gamut of expressions ranges from deep-seated loathing born of heartfelt xenophobia and airtight ignorance to a kind of smug, know-it-all condescension that begs for a kick in the balls by way of reply.
I challenge any straight man (meaning not gay, as opposed to the deliberately unfunny member of a comedy duo) not to look at the women you see in public in Seoul. It’s absolutely impossible. Especially now that spring has finally arrived and the long-legged young ladies are breaking out their miniskirts to flaunt their smooth and streamlined figures.
You may ask, “Why would any guy in his right mind not want to gawk at these walking aphrodisiacs?”
Good question. The answer lies in the title of this post.
These days I’m starting to feel a little like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Ten-plus years ago, before the Grim Reaper swept into my life in the guise of my spouse Jina and started hacking away at my self-esteem like an overzealous Hutu banana farmer, I still had a modicum of magnetism and could even charm a few decent-looking women here and there without having to frantically resort to semaphore practice.
Today? Forget about it. My sexual prowess has reached such a nadir (despite unmitigated horniness), trying to attract a woman would be like attempting to knock over a set of bowling pins with a ping pong ball.
Compounding matters, while several years ago I taught co-ed classes of adults, these days almost all of my students are men (this is not by choice; it’s just the nature of the business). I feel as if I’m working on a military base. Most of them are nice enough guys, but I’m not about to start fantasizing about them (pardon the crude lack of professionalism; I’m merely trying to prove a point).
And now my wife’s insisting that I get baptized so I can have the same Jesus insurance she does. Without it, she claims I’ll burn in hell. (Sorry, but I don’t negotiate with terrorists.) Why should I be baptized? Besides, I was already baptized once when I was a kid. Just because some knucklehead dressed in drag sprinkles some water on me isn’t going to turn me into a Christian. Can’t I just take a shower instead? That’s something I already do every day anyway.
As for Korea’s having the highest suicide rate in the world, I can understand why. Seoul is a pressure cooker. It’s insanely competitive. Salarymen are expected not to be efficient necessarily, but to spend most of their waking life under the fluorescent lights of their offices. Women over the age of thirty are coerced into thinking they’re unattractive unless they become emaciated mutants and invest in all manner of cosmetic surgical procedures, predominantly nose jobs and an operation that gives them the “double-eyelid” look of many white women (although some Korean women are born with such eyelids, and Korean figure skating darling Kim Yuna has made the single “almond” eyelid look popularish, though by no means the norm anymore).
As in the US and other countries all over the developed urban world, women are also expected to juggle careers and motherhood. Men are programmed to provide for them and dress conservatively.
Increasingly I ask myself what I’m doing in a country that worships conformity and narcissistic materialism even more than my own does. Korean popular culture is cloyingly derivative (their TV shows are clones of what you’ll find in Japan; posters for Korean adaptations of Broadway musicals adorn the sides of buses; movies are loaded with gratuitous violence and insecure expressions of moronic machismo; and the music is a pale imitation of the most meretricious shite being made in the US by boy bands and sexy women who don’t even have to sing well–although the tradition of Korean ballads is, admittedly, original; if they’re ever imitated by musicians in other countries, you’ll need no more evidence that we’ve finally reached the End Times).
In some ways it’s even more messed up here than my own country. The silver lining is that Korean people don’t go around shooting each other in public. They just make you want to shoot yourself instead.
Sadly, this is impossible in a culture where guns are forbidden.
Please give generously to the National Pistol Association.