Monday, December 11, 2006

...then she stared at my crotch

As I'm on vacation, I'm taking care of some housekeeping items this month-- dental checkup, new contact lenses, gift purchases, new rechargeable batteries for my camera and cell phone, and... pants repair. I'm not paid until Thursday or Friday, so pants repair is the only thing I can take care of for the moment.

When you've got sweaty thunder thighs, your pants become a time-lapse testament to seismic motion, the constant grinding together of meaty thigh-boulders. It's horrible with jeans: after eight months of denim-on-denim violence, you inevitably get holes on the insides of the upper thighs. It's like watching the progress of a disease: after two or three months, the fabric goes white. After another couple months, the fabric is noticeably thinner. Another month or two, and the first tiny holes appear. Then they get bigger. And bigger. Whatever the metaphor for this deterioration, tectonic or pathogenic, the result is the same: holey pants, Batman.

None of my suit pants have such holes; this is mainly because I wear suits only when forced to. But the slacks and cargos I normally wear? Holes.

I gave two pairs of pants to the plump, talkative local seamstress last week; she was very helpful a few months ago, having repaired a different pair of pants for free after I'd helped her translate her son's academic progress report, which was in English. This time around, she told me she had received some other document from America, and she was worried because she thought it might have something to do with her son. "Would you mind looking it over for me?" she asked. I said OK. She told me to come pick up my pants on Saturday, and she'd show me the document then.

I failed to visit the seamstress on Saturday, but I did go there today (Monday). There was an older couple already standing in the cramped, second-floor space; the man was asking all sorts of questions about the repair job the seamstress had done. I waited at the top of the stairs; the seamstress beckoned me to come further inside, but there wasn't any room. As the older couple was leaving, the seamstress handed me the document in question and I saw right away that it was nothing, just a printout of some online advertisement for Western horoscopes and other astrological services.

As I was looking over the astrology paper, a rather cute young lady-- at a guess, she was in her mid-twenties-- came up the stairs and popped her head into the room to ask after her own clothes. She climbed the rest of the way in and waited while the seamstress rummaged about for the plastic bag containing my pants. She found the bag; at the same moment, I told her that the document was nothing to worry about-- just a horoscope ad. The seamstress then pulled out one of my pants, unfurled the crotch to show me the repair, and began explaining what she had done.

I couldn't help noticing that the newly arrived young lady was staring rather unselfconsciously at my pants. I laughed (in Korea, it's usually a good idea to preface all complaints with a laugh) and said, "Hey, stop looking!" With a smile on my face I continued in Korean, "Boy, even people I don't know will stare..." The seamstress ajumma cackled and gave me the "eraser-wave" gesture (a wave that looks like a hand wiping a chalkboard clean, indicating friendly dismissiveness or denial), and both ladies said, "No, it's not that..." which is a typically Korean way of trying to escape an awkward situation by making the offended party feel they've somehow misunderstood.

This sort of conduct grates on me. I remember that Kevin of the late, great Incestuous Amplification had blogged about women who would stare, without a trace of shame, into his shopping cart at the store while he was in line at the cash register. I've had similar experiences. While I'd expect that sort of behavior in a village (and some Koreans have told me that their experience in all-white American small towns has been similar), I have never understood why Seoulites act as though they've never seen a foreigner or a foreigner's things. And staring at the crotch of an unknown man's pants--! I probably wouldn't have minded so much had I been wearing the pants, but this lady was just being nosy, and I found her behavior obnoxious.

I can't get into a pissing contest about how different countries treat the foreigners who visit them, because I've heard enough stories about foreigners' experiences in America. Bumpkins are a worldwide phenomenon, and much depends on whom you meet and where you go. But if you compare Seoul to, say, NYC or Paris, it seems the Seoulites are still a bit short on sophistication and worldliness. Sometimes that's cute. Sometimes it's just too villageois for my taste.


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