Signs of our times

Tomorrow I’ll join the hordes on the highway as I head to Arlington to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I’m going to republish three old posts on Wednesday through Friday and will return on Monday with new ones.

Seen around grounds…

Globalization on steroids:And my all time favorite:

I just did a little research and discovered a facebook page dedicated to the “Take what you need project.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Working it out…

I love the moments when my boys are like this:

But let’s get real. There are plenty of days when they’re like this:

This afternoon they left in high spirits to play tennis at the courts in our neighborhood. I’m still not sure what happened at the tennis courts, but they returned home separately, both filled with fury and absolutely certain that the other had been grievously, outrageously, unforgivably in the wrong. Venomous words and death stares were exchanged. Bitter tears were shed. They retreated to opposite ends of the house to marinate in their own bile.

I wondered if I should dispense a few bromides, make them hug it out, or exact insincere apologies from both aggrieved parties. Being the exceedingly lazy person that I am, I decided to do the easiest thing: nothing at all.

I was reminded of how my mother dealt with us when we quarreled as children…

One day my older sisters were bickering with each other. My mother frogmarched them into the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee, drew up a chair, and in a brisk, business-like tone instructed them to punch each other.

My sisters looked at her and then each other with intense embarrassment and discomfiture.

“Well?! You wanted to fight. So fight. Go on!” she said, drumming her fingers on the kitchen table.

They stood there looking miserable.

“Amie, you punch Annabelle,” she urged. Weeping now, my sister declined.

“You wanted to fight, so fight, I said! Go on! Punch Annabelle as hard as you can!”

Seeing that my mother would not be deterred, Amie weakly nudged Annabelle with a closed fist. Now my mother was really enjoying herself. She took another long swig of her coffee and said, “OK, Annabelle. Now you punch her back. Go on!”

When Annabelle, who was also sobbing by now, returned the nudge, they were both finally released from the horror show.

Years later my brother and I were squabbling about something or other when my mother remembered the diabolically clever penal scheme that had sprung like a miracle from her brain: the perfectly formed child of her fertile imagination. She couldn’t wait to relive the glory of the moment.

“You want to fight?! OK! Go on, fight! Adrienne, you punch Teddy.”

I can only imagine the satisfaction she felt as she watched the scene of her past triumph repeat itself.

“But I — don’t want — to hit him!” I blubbered and spluttered and managed to gasp out.

“I said, HIT him! You want to fight so badly, here’s your chance. I’m not stopping you! PUNCH him as HARD as you can!”

It was clear to me that we were mere puppets in this twisted demonstration of my mother’s disciplinary ingenuity and that the show would only end when we did as we were told. I delivered the first symbolic “punch,” a mere brush with my knuckles.

My mother pounced, practially spitting in glee, “Teddy! It’s your turn. Now you punch Adrienne!”

She didn’t need to tell him twice. He turned and punched me so hard I landed on my beleaguered ass clear across the room. That was the last time she ever tried that. But hey, it all worked out in the end…My brother and I love each other, and I even named my own son after him.

This afternoon I heard a lot of sniffling and muttering that went on for hours. Nicholas eventually started to do his homework in the dining room. Teddy took up his ukulele in the living room next door and started strumming it softly.

“Who’s playing the ukulele?” I heard from the dining room. I braced myself for the brouhaha that was sure to ensue and tried to head it off.

“Teddy,” I said, “Nicholas is trying to study. Why don’t you go up to your room and play?”

“No, I like it.” Nicholas said from the other room. “Teddy, you sound really good.”

And that was that. Peace in the valley once again.

People as Topiary

My husband coined the expression “People as Topiary” to describe the Korean attitude toward perceived imperfections. For Korean people a misplaced freckle might constitute disfigurement. Sadly, I know this from first-hand experience. My mother will scrutinize my face with concern after not seeing me in a while and ask, “Did you always have those freckles under your eye?” She tries to quell the rising note of panic in her voice, but it’s unmistakable…Those freckles (which, yes, I’ve had all my life) are located where tears might be and that is Not Good. Pity the Korean child born with a hairline a millimeter too low over his forehead, for this is an obvious indication that his father is suspect. A nose that is too pointy portends a life of poverty and bad luck. Throw out the prospect of a decent marriage if such a misfortune should befall you — or find yourself a good plastic surgeon.

Korea is now the country with the highest number of plastic surgeries per capita. An astonishing one in five Korean women has plastic surgery, according to a market research survey done in 2009. The most popular procedure is double-eyelid surgery, which creates a crease in the lids. Even Roh, Moo-Hyun, the former president who committed suicide in 2009, acknowledged having had an eyelid job during his term in office.

When I was in high school a lemur-eyed woman in my dad’s Korean congregation would harangue me every Sunday during coffee hour to get this procedure done. I would try to inconspicuously skulk off to a corner clutching my donut, but she’d always seek me out and bray, “Honey, you should get your eyes done so you look pretty like me!” Years later, I got my double eyelids, not through plastic surgery, but the good old-fashioned way: droopy, aging skin. Lucky me.

Currently, the “Flower boy” look is the Korean ideal of male perfection. “Flower boys” are waif-like men with delicate, “pretty” features and flawless skin, often enhanced with makeup. In pursuit of this look, South Korean men spend staggering sums of money on skin products and makeup – more than any other male population around the world. If you’re not born with it, you can buy it.

But there’s not much you can do about the most disastrous misfortune of all, which is to be born without native intelligence. Not that people don’t try. There is a plethora of plastic surgery clinics in Korea, but there are even more after school cram schools (hagwan). Parents choose where to live based on how convenient the neighborhood is to a good hagwan. Plastic surgery, in fact, is sometimes offered as a reward for good grades. The ultimate goal of all this cramming is to earn a spot in an elite university, because to graduate with a pedigree is to ensure one’s place in society.

I think this is why I find the Psy (Park, Jae-sang) phenomenon so entertaining. Much has been written about Psy’s average looks. He has called himself “a chubby guy” and he doesn’t appear to have had any “work” done. For the K-pop stars who have flirted at the edges of the kind of global fame he has enjoyed, looks are as important as musical ability. I think it’s safe to assume that a substantial percentage of these K-pop idols have been pruned, lopped, shaped and sheared to achieve the undernourished, saucer-eyed, elfin look du jour.

Psy’s father, the head of a large firm, sent his son to Boston University to study business so that he could return to Korea and take over the company. Instead, Psy dropped out of Boston University, enrolled in Berklee College of Music, and then dropped out of that school as well. You just know his parents’ innards were twisting into tight ulcerous knots when he returned to Korea without a degree. What a bitter pill it must have been when instead of taking over the family business, he became a controversial musician and was busted for pot. But one of the more interesting Karmic stories that emerged when Psy became so wildly popular that United Nations Secretary General Ban, Ki-Moon ceded to him the title of  “most famous Korean person in the world,” was that the value of his father’s company soared.

There is something truly beautiful in the fact that Psy has achieved fame and fortune, all without being one of these:

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Brotherly love

I just took my boys to get their flu vaccine. Whenever we’ve gone in the past, they’ve always had to get a shot. Their younger sister, who goes to another practice, has always been able to get the coveted FluMist. Every year the boys have railed against the injustice of it all.

This year, for the first time ever, the nurse offered the boys the choice of the shot or the FluMist. Twelve year old Nicholas played it cool. He explained to the nurse that while he would be totally o.k. with getting a shot, it might be interesting just this once to see what the FluMist would be like. He even offered to go first.

When the nurse shot the mist up his nose, I could tell the sensation was an unpleasant surprise to him. I’ve never had the FluMist myself, but the nurse explained that it could sting and make your eyes tear up. Outwardly, Nicholas acted as if it had been no big deal as he hopped off the exam table. But as the nurse prepared Teddy’s dose, he wordlessly came back to his little brother’s side and held his hand.

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The dream

My son has loved and lost many fish over the years…A couple years ago he had a dream so beautiful and sad that he reported it to me the next morning through tears. In his dream he witnessed all the beloved fish he ever had swimming up to heaven. I wish I were an artist so I could paint the picture he described to me so vividly. I wrote this poem for him instead.

It happened only once, and never again
A vision so beauty laden
As to bring a young boy to his knees
A silvered ripple of gold, orange, red, and ebony:
Comets, black moors, celestials, veiltails,
Shubunkins, telescope eyes, ryukins, and pearl scales,
Swimming upstream through the cold night air
Their spellbinding, unrehearsed synchronicity
Shimmering and incandescent as they made their way
To some promised piscatorial paradise
Where the neglected and the overly loved
Find blessed peace and rest.

For my son

Junks I Collect No. 4: Miniature Chairs

Miniature Chairs

My favorite!

Some of these have a slot in the back so they can be used as place card holders. I, being the true “junks” collector that I am, have never used them for so practical a purpose.

My little niece who came with her family from Wales to spend this past Christmas with us was completely enamored with the little chairs. She carried them around everywhere in a little plastic tub. I’m going to mail some of them to her, because I love a girl who can appreciate my “junks”!