When you walk down the streets of Korea, you’re not just going to the grocery store, or to the bank. You’re making a fashion statement. Or more precisely, you’re joining the fashion statement of the season.
My mother confiscated my flip-flops. Apparently it’s a social disgrace to walk around in “2 for $5” Old Navy flip-flops in public. Oh, so that’s why everyone stared at my feet as I went out to get some ice-cream at the local store!
I’ve discovered a few unwritten “rules” in Korea when it comes to public appearance:
1) Every time you step out of your door, whether you are simply going to the bank or to the dry-cleaners, you make sure you’re wearing the “in” thing at the time—including shoes, handbags, jewelry, sunglasses, hat, and gosh, whatever other accessory the fashion industry says is acceptable.
2) Make sure you put on make-up, too, and I mean the full paint: lipstick, foundation/ BB cream, blush, eyeliner, fake eyelashes/ mascara, and…that’s the extent to my knowledge on make-up.
3) Oh, and by the way, don’t even think about totting around an imitation bag. I don’t care if you have to survive on ramen cup noodles for a few months; you buy the best designer items you can get. Even my 80-year-old grandmother has more fashionable accessories than I do.
I wish I were exaggerating, but sadly, frustratingly, Koreans are very, very particular about their aesthetic image. So much so that cosmetic surgery is a huge booming business here. Koreans naturally have single eyelids, but now almost everyone has perfectly doe-eyed double eyelids. My aunts has had it. My cousins has had it. And I know girls as young as 14 who has had it. In fact, the current favorite high school graduation gift from parents is an eye job. You wonder why all Korean actresses look alike? They probably go to the same plastic surgeon.
What drives me insane is the fact that parents actively encourage their kids to get their face done. I have a male friend who had his chin done, and lost 15 lbs because he couldn’t eat anything for months after the surgery. My own aunt wants my cousin to get her nose done after college. A close friend of mine plans to make her next trip to Korea her “makeover” trip.
It makes me really sad. We Koreans aren’t foolish people. But our obsession with competition and self-image has gone overboard…and worse, it has turned from peer pressure to being accepted as a social norm. And the result is a group of disturbingly pretty clones who look and dress alike.
I don’t really feel good about exposing this ugly side of Korea. But this unnatural desire to “fix” one’s natural beauty doesn’t just exist in Korea. I have traveled to several places this summer, and I’m seeing it everywhere I go—America, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia…Korea just manifests this universal beauty complex in a more visible way. It bothers me a lot, because—what the hell, I myself had once fallen captive to it myself.
I don’t deny the need to dress well and groom oneself; we create our own image, after all. But I wonder what kind of image you want to send out, if you’re dressed head-to-toe in an attire more expensive than a few months’ salary, then one day show up with a new face that looks a bit too much like your favorite actress.
My personal opinion about our aesthetic image? Dress nice. Look nice. But don’t be drop-dead gorgeous (unless you are just annoyingly born that way). What’s the point of being that beautiful? You’ll just attract all sorts of negative attention. But however small your eyes are, or flat your nose is, a genuinely joyful smile is the best make-up one can ever put on.
So. You want to look pretty? Be happy. Be healthy. The natural way, of course.
Since I’ve played traitor to my own country, let me turn the tables and send Korea a few compliments. I have to admit that as much as I gripe about their vanity, they have every right to be vain because Korea really has good taste. Their clothes are devastatingly expensive, but they are really stylish and beautiful. I recently went shopping with my mother and aunt in a local department store, and seriously wanted to buy everything there. But it’s not just clothes. They have really good taste when it comes to pizza, too.
I think Korea has the best pizza in the world. Okay, I have not tried the pizza in every country, but I have had quite a few international pizzas, and personally, I still crown Korea the champion. If you want boring old cheese pizzas, get a NY-style pizza in Brooklyn. But if you want fabulously interesting and delicious pizzas, come to Korea.
Since I have been cooped up at home all day, my aunt took pity on me and decided to take us out for dinner. I’d originally planned to treat my cousin to pizza, but my aunt insisted that she treat the whole family (minus my parents, who has already returned to America). She took us to “the best pizza place” in Jeon-Ju…
…which turned out to be Mr. Pizza! If you recall, I have visited this place once in Los Angeles. It’s a popular and rather upscale pizza chain in Korea, and I got lucky that the one single branch in America would be in my city back home. Well, I sure didn’t mind visiting this place again!
As always, Korea really has good taste when it comes to interior design. Most modern restaurants and cafes and bakeries all have really pretty decorations. Check out this wall next to our table:
Each “hole” contains a tray of fake produce like so:
What I like most about the design is that although some of the decorations can be ostentatious, it still manages to be simple. And then there are the other subtle touches that come together to provide a pleasant vibe.
With such a warm, stylish atmosphere, it isn’t surprisingly to see couples having dates here. How many young couples do you see having a romantic dinner in Pizza Hut?
They even had an open kitchen for the pizza cooks to show off their pizza tossing skills:
Dang, pizza-tossing looks so…dashing! Especially with a Mr Pizza cap.
The coolest thing about this place though? The salad and yogurt bar:
You have to pay a small amount to get unlimited amounts from the salad bar, but every customer gets free dips on the yogurt bar!
I wish I had taken a more detailed picture, but not only do they have unlimited amounts of lovely plain sweetened yogurt, there are also all sorts of toppings available, too, like nuts, seeds, granola, fruits, cereals, etc. You get to serve yourself like this:
Such a pretty bowl, too.
The four of us (my aunt, uncle, cousin, and me) shared a single salad refill bowl. We made several trips to refill it:
They even had—get this—whipped kabocha salad!!!
See the orange blob there on the left?! SO freaking good! I had to get a few more rounds of it, of course.
Okay, I just realized I have never really introduced you to my aunt and uncle. They are so, so good to me. My aunt is the most generous and kind woman I’ve met. She’s constantly making sure I’ve eaten well, cooking all my favorite foods, and buying things for me. My uncle is this humorous, social butterfly who can become best friends with a random stranger in the streets. So here they are, the sweet couple:
And you’ve already met my favorite cousin, Yoonji:
She does not need to get her nose done! Agree? Yes! I’m being very vocal about this to them—NO surgery, please! A high pointed nose would look so out of balance with her naturally adorable face!
Speaking of getting her nose done…I got my hair done the other day. To be completely honest, I almost burst into tears when I saw my new hairstyle:
My hair was…Permed. Colored. With bangs, no less. Oh. My. GAWD! I look like a freaking Korean FOB!!! I had originally thought the hair stylist was going to just give me an innocent trim…I did not expect this drastic change, let of all a freaking goddamn perm! Please excuse my little drama…you see, ever since young, I’ve always admired those long, straight, shiny-haired ladies. And I’ve always associated this kind of hairstyle with…well, the middle-aged ladies. I mean, my mom has a similar haircut!
But I’ll take my own advice…and smile:
Smile my shock away. Smile my disgust away. Smile my distaste away. Urgh, urgh, aaaarrrrrrgh! I mean, tra…la…la…-____-;;;
Anyway. Where was I? Right. The pizza. We ordered the most expensive pizza on the menu, the Gaesal Montand (Whole Crabmeat), in the largest size:
Get a napkin ready. It’s time to drool.
This is a pie topped with fresh, real crabmeat. Smoked ham. Spicy salsa. Bell peppers. Onions. Mushrooms. Cheese. Cream cheese dressing.
But the highlight is the crust, which is not only sprinkled with cheddar cheese, but stuffed with sweet potato mousse.
I told you Asians have a fetish for sweet potatoes. But a creamy, intense sweet potato mousse in the tunnel of a chewy crust? Genius.
I devoured each slice with as much dignity as I could. Why is it that I instinctively want to stuff good food into my mouth as though there’s no tomorrow? It took every ounce of will power not to gobble it in one glob. Maybe I should eat my pizza with chopsticks next time.
Look at Yoonji enjoying her pizza:
While I was still trying to take a good picture of my first slice under the horrible lighting with my crappy camera, she was already on her second slice:
How adorable is she? Tee hee. I really, really adore my cousin.
I also really, really adore her fancy DSLR camera. Did you notice? A few of the pictures above were taken with her Canon EOS 550D. There is such a big difference! Observe.
And one day, my hair will grow out straight and long again. Meanwhile, I might as well wear it proudly. At least I finally look Korean.
Question of the Day: What is your aesthetic image? Do you follow the latest trends or spend big bucks on your fourth Louis Vuitton bag? (No shame in admitting that…We’re all born with an inherent vanity. Just please, for the sake of yourself and others, don’t go overboard)