Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Skewered: Middle-Aged Men Tell Us Why They Are Experts About Women's Health

I don't think anyone has better demonstrated the ridiculousness of the farce that is the current flap about birth control here in the U.S.  As the page says, "100% of male experts agree: nobody knows more about women's issues like birth control than late-middle-aged men[,] and the Republican party is well aware."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

All Koreans do not look alike. Except to me, sometimes.

The other day I was talking to a coworker about the boy band Super Junior (long story, but it wasn't because I'm a fan), and I mentioned that I couldn't tell them apart because they all looked the same. And then after the words came out of my mouth, I realized how unintentionally racist that sounded, and I had to backtrack to explain what I meant, although I'm not entirely sure she doesn't now think I'm a closet bigot.  Let's face it, usually if you have to explain why what you said doesn't make you racist, no one is going to believe you aren't.

What I meant was, I can't tell members of boy bands apart.  Or girl bands, for that matter.  When I was a kid, New Kids On The Block was huge, and all my female friends had crushes on one member or another, but I had no idea who was who, and I didn't care. I didn't get the appeal.  Then when I was in college, there were boy bands everywhere, and I couldn't tell the bands apart, much less their members.  They are all generically pretty in a bland, unappealing (to me) kind of way.  They were like models in print ads: I could see that their features were supposed to be pretty but in a very generic, "could swap one for another and no one would know the difference" kind of way.  They were about as appealing to me as wallpaper.

But when I go to Korea, I'm a little worried about potentially offending some of my friend's family and friends by being unable to tell them apart, for reasons that have nothing to do with them looking like they belong in a boy band or with them being Korean.  It's more that I have a very hard time sometimes with recognizing people's faces.  I don't think I have prosopagnosia because I can totally tell my family members apart, for example. And generally I can recognize friends and coworkers.  But sometimes I can't recognize people that I have met on multiple occasions.  Once when I was home from college on Christmas break, I ran into an old classmate at the store. I'd gone to school with this guy for seven years, but suddenly when I was in the middle of my conversation with him, it was like I was seeing his features for the first time. I spent the rest of the time I chatted with him worried that I was in fact not talking to my old classmate and was babbling on to someone totally different, only I had no idea who. He clearly knew me, but I wasn't sure that he was who I thought he was.

I have that problem with other things, too.  Like, when I was younger, it was very hard for me to learn to tell time. The best way I can explain it is to say that when I'd look at a clock, I'd only see the whole image and could not break it down into its constituent parts. I could not tell you where the big hand and little hand where, because I didn't see them that way, I just saw this image. I'm not describing it very well, but it was very frustrating.  After a certain point, I learned to not look at the clock as a whole and just look first at the little hand, and then at the big hand.  And over time, I became faster at it. I can tell time now pretty easily, but I still do it slower than most people because I cannot just glance at the clock and know the time. I still have to say, "Ok, the little hand is at the three, and the big hand is at the four, so it's 3:20."  Even just the other day I had to deal with this when I had to sign in at the doctor's office.  The form asked you to write down what time you signed in, and for one very tense moment, I just couldn't figure out the time.  But fortunately no one was looking at me, so I could take a deep breath and take my time. 

I used to break into a sweat at the idea of meeting friends at, say, a restaurant.  Just like with the clock, when my friends became a part of a group (in this case, of restaurant patrons), they just blended in and became indistinguishable from everyone else there.  What if they were already seated at a table when I got there, and I couldn't find them because I couldn't recognize them? Un!Comfortable! And in fact this happened on more than one occasion.  Once they were even waving at me, and I still didn't see them at first.  And if you think high school friends won't make fun of you for that, then you were never in high school.  

After that I started arranging to meet my friends at one of our homes, or at a smaller venue like a coffee shop.  But eventually, I got comfortable with doing a version of my time-telling technique. I'd start at a table on one side of the room and look closely at each person at the table: "That's not my friend. And that's not my friend on right left. Next chair--that's not my friend," and so on, until I find the person I'm meeting.  Plus, I stopped caring so much about whether or not I seemed weird for not being able to spot someone, so I have less anxiety, which helps.  Because when I start worrying that I won't be able to distinguish someone in a crowd, I pretty much won't be able to.

But that only works if it's a face I'm very familiar with, and if I'm not anxious about recognizing the person. I'm a little worried that in Korea, when I'm meeting so many people I've never met before, I'll be overwhelmed. And then I'll feel anxious, which will make it hard for me to concentrate on recognizing, "oh, yeah, this is the guy I met at dinner last night." The added pressure of not embarrassing my friend by not being able to tell who is who among her friends and her extended family, I'll definitely have extra anxiety.  And combine that with me being bad at names, the potential for looking like an "all Asians look alike to me" kind of person is high.

To compensate for that, I'll have to concentrate on trying to distinguish features. "This guy has a scar on his eyebrow. That lady has a crooked tooth. That girl has a very unflattering bowl haircut.  That guy is -really- good looking."  Which means I'll be staring at people with a higher level of intensity than people normally find comfortable. Which means I'll be weird in a different, non-racist way.  But at least I won't look like a racist, which, for your average white American, is all I'm shooting for most days.  But I will look very strange.  But I'm planning on telling people that I'm originally from Canada, so don't worry America, I won't embarrass you.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Visiting Korea. Plan to have fun, shop, starve.

So, looks like RR and I are headed to the ROK this May, which is a bit unexpected. One of our closest friends is from there, and we'd been planning to go over in fall of 2013 on a trip with her.  We were going to visit her hometown and travel around with her and possibly her mom, who we are told is even pickier about restrooms than we are.  But our friend recently got herself engaged, and for various logistical reasons I don't fully understand having to do with her school schedule (she's getting her Ph.D.) and lucky dates, the wedding will be this May.  

I'm super super excited about the trip, although not so much about the plane ride.  I haaaatee flying. Considering that after about four hours, I'm about ready to run screaming to the emergency exit, I don't know how I'm going to handle fourteen hours.  At least it's a direct flight.  RR and I thought about making a stop in San Francisco or Japan, just to break up the trip, but we realized that there was a high probability that once we got off the plane at the stop, we'd be unwilling to get back on the plane again for the next leg.

I'm also less than enthusiastic about visiting without knowing more of the language.  I've been studying, but more at the pace of someone who expects to need it in a year and a half rather than in three short blink-and-it's-here months. I guess I could go practice at the coffee shop in a shopping center nearby that's filled with Korean shops.  The last time we were there with our friend, the woman behind the counter asked our friend if we spoke Korean, and she replied that we did.  I don't know what possessed her to say that, except that she is ridiculously sweet and encouraging, rather like a proud mom, and the fact that we can order coffee and ask where the restrooms are located means to her that we are practically fluent. So anyway, we went to that coffee shop often enough that they recognized us whenever we went in, and since the day of my friend's false adverstising, I've refused to go back out of abject terror that they will try to speak to me in Korean, and I won't know what they are saying, and it will be painfully obvious that I do not speak the language, and then they will feel bad for possibly embarrassing me, and I'll be embarrassed for putting them in that situation, and we'd all feel just terribly awkward, and  So I haven't been back, even though they have good coffee.

I guess I could go in, ask where the restroom is, and then run out, but that would only further support the idea that I speak Korean while also making me look crazy. 

I'm also a little worried about finding food that I can safely eat.  RR and I have lots of food allergies, including garlic, onions, and sesame, and at least one of those three ingredients is in roughly 99.3% of Korean food.  That's only a slight exaggeration.  I love Korean food, and although I was relieved upon my diagnosis to find out why japchae made me feel so happy yet also pretty crappy, I was really unhappy to have all that yummy food taken away from me.  RR and I managed to convert a whole lotta recipes so that, although they don't taste exactly authentic, they are still pretty good.  But we won't be making our own food while we're over there, and we'll be surrounded by food that looks and smells fantastic but that we can't eat because we don't want to die overseas and leave our grandmother to think that she was correct to believe that we should never, ever travel more than 30 miles away from home.  You know, because nothing bad can happen to you if you live within driving distance of your parents' house.

Anyway, we're trying to figure out how much food we can realistically pack in our suitcases without looking like we might be running a food smuggling business.  We're also trying to find some places in Seoul that have food we can actually eat.  We're a bit hampered by the fact we don't know much Korean, and the slow process of translating the websites' content makes checking for ingredients a time-consuming task. I finally broke down and emailed the corporate headquarters of Dunkin' Donuts to ask about their rice flour donuts (and you know if I'm willing to eat chain store doughnuts that I'm desperate), but they have as yet not gotten back to me. 

I'm worried my only option will be to eat nothing but white rice while I'm there, and I don't even want to think about what that will do to my digestion.

The silver lining of course is that I might be able to lose those five pounds I kept complaining about for the last year.  Fasting isn't exactly how I'd planned to go about it, but it would be a nice souvenir, right?