Wide Eyes

In the summer of 1994, I returned to Korea for the first time since immigrating at the age of three. My aunt and uncle met my parents and me at the airport and drove us back to their apartment. During the ride, my aunt told me to get my eyes fixed while I was visiting. She knew the best doctor. It’s cheap here. Everyone does it. It’ll look so natural. I didn’t quite know how to take this urgent recommendation for plastic surgery from my kindhearted and enthusiastic aunt, who hadn’t seen me in over twenty years. Get my eyes fixed? For what? I had enough trouble breathing the air here, did she really think I would allow someone to slit the lids of my eyes? Get my eyes fixed? My vision was just fine, thank you, fine enough to see that the Pusan hillsides heavily accessorized with glow-in-the-night neon red crucifixes had little to do with heaven. The crosses reminded me of the signs back home that showed the way to the nearest emergency exits.

The decision to get your eyes “fixed” has everything to do with how you see, how you see yourself, how you see others seeing you.

When Ellie was 5 years old, she wanted to change her eyes, declaring that they were too wide, too round, too big. According to her, wide eyes were ugly. She would stand in front of the mirror, slant down her eyes, and say, “This looks better.” She believed this because her sister, mother, aunt and idol-of-a-cousin all had slanted eyes. Wishing to be like everyone else, she couldn’t see her own beauty.

In AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, Annie Dilliard distinguished the beauty earned with age as superior to the automatic beauty of youth. “Our beauty was a mere absence of decrepitude; their beauty, when they had it, was not passive but earned; it was grandeur; it was a party to power, and to artifice, even, and to knowledge. Our beauty was, in the long run, merely elfin. We could not, finally, discount the fact that in some sense they owned us, and they owned the world.”

Why not claim the grandeur of owning the world, rather than wishing to be elves again?

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Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Uncle

My dad loves to tell this story about his older brother:

Our family had apple orchard. We have to work, but he hate working. What a slow worker. All he want to do is study and read books. He almost burn down the house because he read under a blanket with candle burning. He got in big trouble. He is very slow, but he is very intelligent. He graduate #1 from his high school. We got no money to go to college, so he apply to Korean Naval Academy and got in. Do you know how hard that is? He was the only one in Kyung-san district to get in. The whole town was so proud of him. And then, after first semester, he get kicked out for coming back to academy late after summer vacation. He miss curfew by couple hours. See, I told you he is so slow. Oh yeah, so much shame. But he can’t give up. He wants to study so much. That’s all he wants to do. He has no choice because no scholarships back then, and we got no money. So, he has to look for free schools. So, he apply to Korean Military Academy. He didn’t say anything to them about getting kicked out of Naval Academy. No one check his name. And he got in. Can you believe that? So, he study there for free for three years. One more year, and he can graduate. Then, he go to annual rugby competition where all academies, military, naval, and air force, come together. And his old friend from Naval Academy sees him and says, “Hey, what are you doing here?” And that friend snitch on him, and my brother gets kicked out again. He had one more year before graduation. Oh man. Then he went to teacher’s college and became a teacher. He teach math and physics to middle and high school kids. He retire as vice principal. That’s pretty good. I look back and think it’s very good he got kicked out because if he graduate, they send him to Vietnam. And he’s so slow, he get shot in Vietnam. Military, army, navy… all that stuff is not my brother’s style. My brother style is like a scholar. He just want to study for free, that’s all. So lucky, he got kicked out.

My big uncle, my little uncle, my dad (doesn’t he resemble Mr. Sulu?)

My big uncle in the Korean Naval Academy.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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