Little, small, weak Asians
So I was surprised when I came to Korea to find myself still shorter than almost everyone. I guess I was hoping that I’d at least have a COUPLE more under 5′-0″ people I could commiserate with. But no. Granted, the oldest generation is quite short, and occasionally I see old women a head shorter than myself! (that whole era before and after the war there wasn’t much protein to go around…) But in general, Koreans are much much taller than I’d imagined.
On Q&A day, one of the questions I got asked was, “How tall are Americans?” I told them that a tall Korean was about average height American.” And there were gasps all around the room. But later, I thought to myself that a tall Korean is pretty damned tall. An exceptionally tall Korean is equal to a tall American. But the average Korean is a still shorter than the average American. Say the average guy in America is (guessing here) about 5’10.” The average Korean guy might be 5′.8″ So a taller Korean guy, about 5′-10″ to 6′-2″ really stands out. Occasionally I stand by a freakishly tall Korean that could be a pro U.S. basketball player. And then when there’s a tall Korean girl and she’s wearing 4″ high stiletto heels, it’s kind of scary… Anyway, if you ever come to Korea you might be surprised too.
Working out is becoming an obsession here as well, and some of them are A-rod gorgeous and ripped. This is really such a physical culture – so much horse-play and body contact and arguments get solved with fighting. Here in the country, the focus on athleticism is huge. I don’t think we can generalize and say Asian men are weak at all. But there are mannerisms which make them look weak to my western eye. It’s the facial expressions and the hand gestures. On the men, they seem a little effeminate. On the women, they seem over-the-top nauseatingly feminine. Picture someone shaking your hand limply, and then picture an African American brother giving a hand-shake. It’s that kind of difference.
One of my Migook chingus told me studies show that Koreans are the tallest of all the Asians. I’m sure that it has to do with a diet that is becoming more and more western.
I keep hearing this over and over from people, but I really don’t think it’s true.
The bulk of the students I’ve taught are NOT skinny. The ones who ARE skinny are anorexic-looking, so I think they stick out in our minds. Then the girls get to college and diet themselves to death once liberated from school uniforms and free to date in a frenzy to look fashionable.
During lunch last week, two female teachers actually tried to converse with me! They asked about the weight of Americans and I corrected them that not all Americans were overweight, but that there are more morbidly obese in America. I cited that Americans are overweight for exactly the same reason Koreans are: love of sweets, pastries, fried foods, too many carbs and not enough exercise. They talked about how they are chubby (true) and one of them told me – all those beautiful girls on t.v. – that is not natural. So I asked them about anorexia and though they didn’t know the term, they said that yes Korean girls are dying from dieting. I asked if they spoke about this in the schools and they said that the schools don’t tackle issues like that, but that they should. One of them said they read that one of the Kpop girl groups was put on a 300 calorie a day diet. I found that a little hard to believe, but I do find it plausible that that kind of rumor could be circulated by insecure girls hoping to get as thin as their (cough) role models. These images – and the living dolls on campus – are a seriously dangerous new aspect to Korean society. I’m afraid a lot of girls are going to end up infertile or not live to be my age as a result of the super hyped-up emphasis on physical appearance here.
In reality, Koreans come in all the same body types and shapes as Americans. The innertubes are everywhere. It’s a battle of the bulge, and there are A LOT of outright chubby and fat people. And, hopefully, more and more Koreans will come to just accept that they are what they are and just try and be happy with health.
What you DON’T see here is many morbidly obese people. I’ve seen maybe two in the past year and a half.
The growing divorce rate is of concern to people here, same for conservatives everywhere but ESPECIALLY in a conservative country like Korea, it is thought that a divorced home =broken family. (and that a single unit household can not = family) However, from what my small knowledge of the marriage status of those around me, I have come to the conclusion that the actual divorce rate is not an accurate indication of “broken” families in Korea.
There seem to be a lot of paper marriages/unofficial divorces. These are permanently separated families. They stay married only to maintain social standing so their children aren’t ostracized. I think there are actually a lot of separated men and women my age. And to the extent that there are physically separate households. And the only thing they can do is be celibate or try and find unofficial relationships. The people I met in this condition have defaulted to the former because finding the latter isn’t easy and that process isn’t very respectable. This would be a potential relationship pool for myself if I even wanted to touch anything that complicated, which I don’t, and wouldn’t know how to if I did want to. But I also doubt how honest these men would portray themselves to would-be dates…
I wouldn’t know about the amount of actual extra-marital affairs going on, but from the portrayals of it in the media you’d think it rampant. It’s also a rather common unwed single mom story that a girl was deceived by someone posing as single but finding out the man had a wife and family. So I guess that stands to reason in a patriarchal society, that men feel they have less limits while holding up a double standard for their partners. (punishable by jail for women)
I do know the only flirting, etc., directed my way has come from men who later (when they can see I’m not biting) mention their wife or kid. All of which makes me wonder why ANY woman in Korea would want to get married, since vows of monogamy don’t seem very sacred. Do a couple of rascals indict the whole country? I suppose one couldn’t say that, but let’s just say that this never happened to me in America: married men asking me if I’d like to get a drink, etc. Affairs in America seem to be something everyone tries to avoid and some fail at. Here, it seems like something that’s entertained a lot. I guess you can do that in a country where it’s still shameful to get a divorce. If wifey finds out, the possibility of consequences is less.
4 thoughts on “some observations for ya”
Your remark on asian men being a little effiminate is totally a cultural difference. Men carrying their girl friend/wife’s bag in the public, arm wrap around each other’s shoulder, wearing speedo in public pools, wearing yellow shirt, etc is something you will never see here in the U.S. I don’t do this here in the U.S. because I would be mistaken for being gay but I don’t see anything wrong with it. The way I see it is that asian men are more secure about themselves. If you are man enough to be a man what are you afraid of with such petty things.
I agree with you. I don’t see anything wrong with it. And that’s why I don’t comment like so many other bloggers do, about clothing, man bags, speedos, same gender displays of affection, etc.
I was commenting on the difference in mannerisms which I was raised with that are ingrained in me that I need to overcome. (although the overly girly-girl girls I will NEVER get used to and don’t want to – as I see it as an unfortunate by-product of the patriarchy and am glad whenever I see women who dispense with that)
To me, those mannerisms are very interesting – just like some people like to study Italian hand gestures – it’s also a part of language.
And ACTUALLY, my writing was in SUPPORT of Asian men. Saying that their reality belies what their mannerisms say as viewed through a western lens.
And also, in a previous post I took those criticisms to task and did a pictoral comparison of glam rockers that are twice as effeminate as any of the Korean male stars of today. I eventually had to take it down because it was getting so much traffic from people and I wanted to keep the blog to friends and family at that time.
ha! more ADDED:
Maybe I didn’t write that part as well as I should have. Anyway, this IS a document of a westerner’s culture shock experience, so opinions and observations are always evolving.
Please don’t let this stop you from continuing to fill in the blanks or to deliver edification. Lord knows I need all the help I can get here!…
oh yeah, and David – a lot of girls don’t like guys beating their chest and dragging their knuckles – me, for one.
There’s plenty of that here, too, unfortunately.