August 12, 2008

Three questions I can’t wrap my mind around

1. Are Korean ‘eyejobs’ basically a form of internalized racism?

2. When Koreans (esp. family) tell you how fat you’ve gotten, oh every time you see them, – is it just plain rude or some ineffable cultural thing I’m missing?

3. And why is it homemade jajang-myun is never as good as the restaurant?? Do they use MSG? And why, when the restaurants are Korean run for Korean customers, don’t they just serve kimchee since the dak-kwong just doesn’t cut it alone? (Or am I the only one who craves it?)

*Eye jobs = Plastic surgery to create a fold in Asian eyes to look more Western. Very common, like buying new shoes. Nose jobs are almost as popular. For examples, see any Korean television show.

*Koreans will always greet you with a comment on your appearance, whether it’s as common as saying you are “yep-poh” which means pretty/cute/lovely, or if you’ve lost weight or just as easily if you look old or gained weight.

* Ja-jang myun is a beloved Korean dish of fresh cut noodles in black bean sauce. Because the dish was originally Chinese you must go to special Korean run Chinese restaurants to get it, and because the cuisine is supposed to be Chinese, they never serve kimchee but the traditional side dishes of raw onion and dak-kwong, a bright yellow pickled radish.

*Note: I’ve had two friends tell me recently their mothers make restaurant quality jajang-myun, I will amend this post once I’ve tried their recipes.

posted at 09:51 PM by jenn

Filed under: general


08/13/08 11:50 AM

1. I've never thought of this way but yes. My sister got one despite my (and my brother) begging her not too. In family pictures she looks like an alien. Then again my boyfriend looks like an alien in pictures too. He's Swedish (my sister's boyfriend is Korean). My sister claims my dating a non Korean/non practicing Christian is the most destructive thing I could ever do to the family. She says if we have kids we will be diluting the Korean race and she says all this looking at me with her strange new eyes. My parents love the eye job and think she looks "so pretty now".

2. My mom greets me with 'you are sooo fat.' (I weigh 128 pounds). Actually everyone in my parents generation love to tell me how terrible I look. How terrible my hair looks. How terrible my double ear piercing is. Blah Blah Blah. Only my dad says I am his angel and I am beautiful. I love my dad.

3. True! Never as good. I would say the same for naengguk (냉국) and Kalguksu (칼국수). Restaurant is always so much better! The opposite is also true. Home bibimbop is always tastier as is home mandu and home bindaeddeok. I'm getting hungry. Time to eat!

Just discovered your blog! Read everything. Love it! More comments coming.

08/14/08 04:40 PM

1. I don't know if it's racism. But I do know that Koreans are really into a) looks and appearances and b) what everyone else is doing. So, if getting plastic surgery is whatever everyone is doing, and it supposedly makes you look "better", then they're into it.
2. Which leads to the pros and cons of being so into appearances. Con: Unknowingly hurting your relatives. Pro: caring about them. Because they believe being attractive will lead to good things, like, a rich/successful husband, a good job, whatever it is you need. And saying "you need to lose weight" is their way of saying "I want you to have a good life". But I don't know if they always actually think we're fat, or if they're just guarding against it, or they know we really are beautiful but don't want to "jinx" it by being to openly appreciative of it.

Of course, we don't understand this because we've been taught that we are beautiful inside and out no matter what. And really, it's the inside that counts. But looking good on the outside doesn't hurt!

08/15/08 02:22 AM

This post reminded me of a documentary by the Korean MTV reporter Su Chin Pak which a little googling can be found here (scroll down to march 4)

Racism is the wrong word maybe, more like poor body image or self hatred or maybe it's not self racism or hatred, but an excess of desire to want to be something else. Many Koreans young and old fetishize big eyes and eye folds, not to mention white skin, and pencil thin bodies. Two fifths of all Korean women in Korea have had s'sangkapul surgery (The only good analogy I can think here is with black women and their hair. I don't remember the exact stats, but black american women spend billions on hair straightening. I was thinking braces might be the similar but braces aren't race specific, you're not trying to look like another race with braces, you're just straightening teeth.)

I'll admit when I was a kid I wished I had wide looking eyes and was always trying to open them wide (my eyes are particularly thin looking and trying to open them wide just made me look surprised all the time). I never thought of myself as pretty much less as someone desirable.... I certainly never got much attention from Korean guys and zero attention from white guys. But then i went way to a diverse college and I was pursued by some of the most popular guys in school (white guys from the midwest, a hot french student, and a cute jewish boy) and through dating i began to actually feel pretty good about myself. My family still tells me I would be better looking with surgery. My mom still tells me I look fat, but I've learned to pretty much turn them off.

The way my husband looks at me tells me I'm beautiful and I hope our girls always feel confident about themselves and never draw pictures of themselves with round blue eyes. My mom got the surgery by the way. At 62 she got the surgery which makes me so very sad. Her eyes look butchered to me.

08/15/08 06:50 PM

I wonder though why big, double folded eyes are the standard of beauty, why the very opposite of the natural shape of Asian eyes. If it is because Koreans after the war came to emulate and admire Western standards - thin, tall, big eyed... then ....what does this mean?

In black culture, 'hair straightening' is also very much a part of the discussion of internalized standards of racism... And along these lines I was very influenced by The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison as a kid and maybe that's why I see things in this light though the jury is still out for me....

I love these stories though and I wonder about those who've loved the plastic surgery or who've experienced it themselves - I hope this wasn't offensive like my sister just suggested...

08/15/08 07:57 PM

i would write something more thought provoking but your oldest is fast asleep on the left side of my body and i only have one free arm... but here's a question to mull over: why is naeng=myun never as good at home either!?

08/16/08 07:09 PM

I have ssang-kkal-pul naturally and so many people would ask me where/when I got the surgery! I have 2 sisters and we all look very much alike. Many non-Asians ask if we are triplets or twins, etc. Neither of my sisters have ssang-kkal-pul so, one day, I asked my English husband if he can see the difference between my eyes and one of my sister's eyes. We sat right in front of him while he examined them for full 5 minutes and he really couldn't come up with anything. So, I really think this ssang-kkal-pul obsession is just among Asians. Caucasians don't even notice!

2. I have a morbid fear of going to Korea. I've always been a little plump all my life and hated being called fat by my parents and their friends. When I went to visit Korea at the age of 17, I was mortified by how strangers would tell me I'm fat. So, now that I'm older and heavier, I cannot fathom visiting my birth country for fear of being called out for being fat by everyone there!

3. I wouldn't even dream of making jja-jang-myun at home. It would require hand pulling my own noodles? Can't even imagine myself doing anything remotely like that. But then, I would never think of ordering kimchee jjigae at a restaurant. That definitely needs to be made at home. How weird that I have these "rules!"

11/03/08 09:37 PM

1. Rhinoplasty, also known as a nose job, was invented in the late 1800's by Jews for Jews who were trying to assimilate (in Europe).

11/03/08 09:37 PM

1. Rhinoplasty, also known as a nose job, was invented in the late 1800's by Jews for Jews who were trying to assimilate (in Europe).

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