For some time now, I’ve been promising various parties a blurb on some major cultural differences between Americans and Koreans. Recent incidents have incited me to address this request immediately.
I’ll avoid a long digression into the psychology of self-esteem and mate competition (don’t want to use that hard-earned Mizzou degree too much) and, instead, simply present the obvious thesis: when your body ain’t lookin’ so good, your brain ain’t feelin’ so good. People are able—to varying degrees—to employ their powers of self-awareness and introspection in order to overcome whatever deficiencies might result from a decline in perceived physical attractiveness, right?
Okay, maybe this is sounding too much like a mid-semester paper…
Basically, I feel that I’m typically capable of drawing a sufficient stream of self-esteem from my mental prowess, and that—if I’ve so happened to pack on a couple pounds—I won’t feel any urges to slit my wrists.
But what happens to the brain when the body is afflicted with a trifecta of body maladies? Serious serotonin deficiency, my friends. Which is no fun for the brain.
Body malady #1: I was sick with a cold all last week, which somehow caused me to miss TWO weeks of running. This, like serious serotonin deficiency, is bad (partly because a decline in exercise causes the deficiency…) and whether or not the pounds have actually been gained, my eyes see them. And perception is everything.
Conclusion: I feel fat.
Body malady #2: My face has been breaking out like an adolescent school-girl’s. Seriously—I thought I was done with this stuff. And I’m not talking just a zit here and there. I’m talking prairie-dog town across the whole bottom of my face. And I can’t figure out what’s causing it. My diet, maybe? The air? The water? Soooo frustrating.
Conclusion: Society might benefit from my wearing a mask.
Body malady #3: Over the weekend, I was attacked by a flock of mosquitoes. No, not a swarm. This was definitely a flock, like something right out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Just the backside of my right arm has about fifteen bites. And they don’t look like typical mosquito bites. They look like the manifestation of some terrible, Korean, infectious disease.
Conclusion: I feel dirty and contagious.
So Tuesday. I’m at school. Walking to my second class. Acutely aware of a little belly protrusion beneath my shirt, which I’d tried that morning to conceal with some strategic sartorial decisions. I was reeling a bit already, because Anna Teacha had just commented on my lower-face inflammation, which I’d brushed off my mosquito-bite-ridden shoulder, because this is what they do, Koreans. They confront all of those things that, out of embarrassment, we avoid talking about in American culture.
So I walk into class, smiling anyway, and begin to take roll.
“Teacha!” Gina yells out in a whiny pitch. “Teacha!”
“Uhhh, Teacha!” she grunts, and rubs her hands over her stomach.
“Bay-go-payo?” I ask her in Korean. Are you hungry?
“Uhhh, no Teacha,” she cries, and her face distorts as she continues to rub her belly. Then she points at me. “Very fat, Teacha!”
Little assholes, sometimes, I’m telling you.
“Me?” I ask incredulously. I mean, maybe a couple pounds, and I’d thrown around the “I feel fat” phrase several times in the last few days, but—really—this was kind of an exaggeration. Female drama.
“Yes, Teacha! Why so fat, Teacha?”
“Teacha has been sick,” I said meekly, maybe pleadingly, looking into a sea of ten-year-old faces for some kind of social understanding. There was none.
A little later, I texted some friends who teach downtown to see if they wanted to meet up after school for batting cages or football in the circle. Everybody was down. I was excited.
Fifth period, I walk into class of older kids. First off, I’m asking for the day, month, and year, writing on the board as the kids yell out answers.
“Uhhh, Teacha!” Donna yells out.
“Yes, Donna?” I ask, turning to face her.
“Uhh, Teacha!” she yells again, a disgusted look on her face, and makes a spinning motion with her finger. “Turn, Teacha!”
I am confused for a moment, but realize she’s seen the bites. I show the class my arm. “Mosquitos,” I explain, and mime something attacking my arm.
“Mogi!” David yells.
“Yes, Mogi,” I repeat, and attempt to draw a mosquito on the board, anything to draw attention away from my blighted arm.
“Teacha!” Donna shouts, raising her arm. She waves her hand around her chin, and then points to my face. “Mosquito bites?”
Oh no, she didn’t. A solid punch, right into my flabby gut.
As soon as my last class was over, I sent a text canceling those after-school plans. Ashley walked me to the pharmacy, and we picked up acne medication. And then I went to the gym and ran what I think was four miles (still working on the in-my-head kilometer-to-mile conversion). Take that, Korea.