Saturday, February 2, 2008

a flower in a greenhouse

or growing paints. or my cold seems worse than your terminal illness. or time for another attitude adjustment.

i know i've been rather negative lately. and for that i offer my sincerest apologies. i think it's just this lack of busy-ness in my life that's gotten me stuck in the doldrums. whenever i lack something to keep myself busy or work on, i start going to work on myself and we all know i'm quite the critical judge. i'll start by explaining my multiple titles.

a flower in a greenhouse: this is a korean phrase used to describe someone who has been sheltered and before we even get to discuss whether or not this sheltered flower can make it in the outdoor weather and wind, we have to address the fact that the greenhouse flower is SCARED of venturing out into the weather and wind. several people have used this with me, gently (at least they're kind). and it's not exactly a compliment but it's something that i know to be true. i'm not exactly thick-skinned and korea's bluntness and non-subtlety has been getting harder and harder for me to bear. death by a thousand cuts. i chose this year in large part to develop a thicker skin, or at least better remedies for my damaged thin skinnedness. so, clearly, at a junction when this is becoming almost unbearably difficult for me, i need to confront this challenge head-on. my parents apparently discussed at length just having me come home ... but we've all decided against my running into their arms at the first (or second or third or fiftieth) hint of difficulty. after all, if i can't handle this, how am i going to survive the perhaps not-so-gentle profession of law?

growing paints: this is an old joke within my family. at one point in my high school years my mom was giving me a wholly inspirational talk about not giving in to challenges and all the hurdles and obstacles that are an inevitable part of growing up. however, i couldn't help but get distracted by her use of the phrase "growing paints" as opposed to "growing pains" and since then, those sucky parts of life that you can't avoid if you wanna grow up have been referred to "growing paints".

my cold seems worse than your terminal illness: this is another korean phrase. it's meant to describe how one's own problems loom much larger than objectively more serious problems elsewhere. or how MY problems are always worse than YOUR problems. in my rational head, i know that i am so incredibly lucky right now and that my life is and has been privileged in so many ways and i really, in the big picture of the world, have nothing to complain about ever. to evoke one of my favorite iterations of this from Friends:
Ross: I don't know what I'm gonna do. What am I gonna do? I mean, this, this is like a complete nightmare! 

Chandler: Oh, I know, this must be so hard. "Oh no, two women love me! They're both gorgeous and sexy! My wallet's too small for my fifties AND MY DIAMOND SHOES ARE TOO TIGHT!"
so yes, i am aware that most of my complaints sound like that. and so i was telling my mom i was aware, i was complaining loads and even though i KNOW i have nothing to fret about, it's true that my problems are always so much worse than all the other pain in the world. and she taught me this phrase. how koreans say my cold is worse than your cancer. and this leads me straight to my next point.

korea's singular narrow-mindedness, conformity, homogeneity, shallowness, etc.: i know know KNOW i'm here as a cultural ambassador and that korea has lots of positive points but lately it's just these negative ones that seem to be affecting me and elbowing their way into my experiences here. apparently this has bothered me before also. my mom told me that the last time i was in korea in 1996, a week into our trip i commented that "Everyone looks the same here. They all have the same hair and wear the same clothes and have the same surgery-ed eyes and use the same words and everyone is the same. No one is beautiful because they are all the same." she said she was surprised at my acuity (does that mean astuteness?) and sadly not much has changed since then (IMHO-in my humble opinion). this just drives me crazy. especially coming from a campus as diverse as duke's. and this leads to my next point.

i miss duke like it's my job lately. the open-minded discussions. the classroom back and forths. the throwing around of ideas. the intellectual stimulation. even the occasional so-fiery-it's-awkward debates. and i don't mean to be totally nerdy, but SERIOUSLY people would discuss deep things and we could talk into the night about our disagreements and why we believed what we did and why ppl act a certain way and all our theories about people and life and the world. and i MISS that. i HUNGER/THIRST for academia. i don't care about sounding pretentious and i'm not trying to say ALL my time at duke was spent in existential crisis .. i had my fair share of normal "fun" and self-absorbedness but i miss having this open, probing, curious atmosphere available (and even FORCED on me in some classes). i MISS it. i'm reading this one book called "The Geography of Thought" and i can totally see myself reading excerpts of it for a bunch of different classes i took (the topic is right up my alley-differences bw western/european and asian thinking/perspectives) and as i read it i long for the opinions of my classmates and professors that provide new perspectives from my own that usually challenge and push what i think.

the stark contrast between duke's classrooms and korea's obsession with the visual is disheartening in so many ways. well, no one promised that college was anything like the real world. so my dad today was explaining to me, korea is still stuck on this (gesturing to his torso and meaning the shallow visuals) and i can't get sucked into that because he knows i'm operating "here" (gesturing to his head/brain and pointing forward) with ideas and what's really important in life. "you have a future, an amazing future and you can't get stuck worrying so much with what these koreans think about" and my parents have been so supportive and amazing. my mom: all korean girls worry about is looking good to boys and what boys think of them. which is true and one of the things that really annoys me about korea. how BACKWARDS they seem to me sometimes. and this leads to my next point:

time for another attitude adjustment: i know, i say this often, but it's because it bears repeating and changing who you are and how you think and feel is one of the hardest things in the world (some say nigh impossible). but it's one of those things i want and i'm not a quitter. i guess in a way dealing with this "korean homogeneity" is an intellectual challenge not too different or maybe so different as to matter from the ones i miss at duke. after all, few if ANY of my fellow students' opinions ever made me question or physically revulsed me as does korea. it's just another challenge that i have to wrap my head around. i guess that is the best/healthiest way to see it, that this difference bw my comfort zone and korea's image issues is just an ideological difference and it's worth it to me (intellectually, emotionally, psychologically?) to approach it as i would a disagreeing classmate's opinion. maybe it's telling that korea gets under my skin like this, in ways academia rarely affected me. after all, no pain no gain. after great struggle, comes great growth.

february is a month pregnant with possibilities.

as a sidenote: i've recently become more and more appreciative of my hostfam (so will have a *positive* update soon)


J.Lim said...

i dont think duke is that looked pretty white to me..

ChristineXP said...

it's more diverse than YOUR school, missy.