Sunday, May 24, 2009

How to Treat a Celebrity

Last weekend was eventful, and I hope the pictures are enjoyable to view despite their photographic frailties. I'm becoming something of a reality snob (which, among all the snobberies, is probably the most meaningful and worthwhile - this is not why I adopted it, however). I see a view that moves me in ways I can't quite credit to mere grass and trees and scenery, an interaction between a mother and child on the street that signifies for me something profound about the universals of human relations, a philosophic expression on Malachi's unphilosophic face - and I think "I want a picture..." as in, I want proof that this happened, and that it is true. But then the photographic is flat - or rather, it just isn't like real life, and I find I'm becoming a reality snob.

All this is just to say - please enjoy our pictures. The events of our weekend are not the direct subject of our blog, but hopefully the pictures tell enough of the narrative version.

We have decided to write about our position here in society. Korean culture has long functioned within the structure of distinct and discernible classes, with specific expectations and traditions governing the behavior of each. For instance, we belong to the class of Mary Pickford and Matt Damon. In other words - in the words of the giftshop sales lady at the Folk Village - we are movie stars. We are so beautiful.

I thought I was prepared for this because Solomon claimed that he was treated like a celebrity in China. But, he did not carry an eleven-month-old cherub on his hip that lacks any semblance of social constraint and also, apparently, wears a label on his back that reads something like "please click at me, pinch my forearm, slap my cheek and, if your strength is great enough, release me from my incompetent parents" in Hangul.

We exaggerate, but in minor moderation. This is a composite-construction of our experience when we leave our apartment:

We enter our elevator and greet the mother and children already inside. The children hush themselves but the mother prods them to speak to us. A brave little boy says "hello," and we say "hello" and then the mother takes off Malachi's sock and compares his skin tone to that of her daughter's. The elevator reaches the ground floor. We say "bye" to the family, but are unable to take a step out because five little boys block our exit and say "babeeee" in unison and reach up their hands to touch some part of Malachi, somewhat as if he is hem of Jesus' garment. We push through and smile and say "hi" and "bye" (sometimes not in the right order) and make it to our mailbox before realizing that the one of the boys has followed us and is tugging at us. We stop - "for baby" he says, holding out a piece of hard-candy. We thank him (we no longer try to argue with these gifts) and say bye again, and then we make it out into the fresh air.

We walk very very quickly, but two older ladies plant themselves in front of us and laugh and clap their hands together, and we pause for them and Malachi claps his hands. It is then that I realize, they are not just clapping their hands, they are demanding that we give them Malachi. I act like I don't know this, and just keep encouraging him to clap and to wave at them. We try to walk on but a crowd has already formed in the milli-second that we paused. The ladies begin clapping harder and one of them takes ahold of Malachi and tries to peel him from me, to illustrate that this is what she means. I begin stepping away and twisting a little, back and forth, to get out modeled after a screw-driver removing a screw, and we smile and say "bye" in Korean and in English, only to meet another lady who has no desire to hold Malachi - only to look into his eyes and say "BLUEEEE", and to give him a small paper fan with an advertisement on it, which he promptly throws on the ground. So we mix thank-yous into our byes, and we get away from our apartment building.

At the first intersection, a group of six or seven school-age girls spot us and squeel and scream and dance around us and say "cuteee" and then, when the wind knocks Malachi's hood off and he is exposed in all his blondeness, the squeels become deafening and everyone is rubbing his head and asking where we are from. Busses of people go by, and anonymous hands come out, with fingers all pointing at us.

We cross the intersection, where an old man is waiting. This time, it is not Malachi that gets all the attention. The man reaches out and strokes Thaddeus' stubbly chin"aah, nice beard."

We walk on, with similar attention until we get to our bus-stop. On the bus, the people closest to Malachi offer him their cell-phones and business-cards and unchewed gum as toys, and he throws each of them on the floor (or into my hand if I'm able to intercept it), and the others, not close to us, stare at us, blinking twice perhaps in ten minutes. We emerge from the bus and hear the conversations begin in our wake...

The affects of all this can be strangely dehumanizing, I guess that is our conclusion. And to find some response that is not equally dehumanizing - that is sensitive, appropriate, personable - is a challenge we will probably never quite conquer, but one I do hope we always feel.

So, if you see the local weatherman at a gas-station, or Dick Cheney at a gun store or anything - ignore them, give them nothing, don't point at them, don't stroke their head or compare their skin to yours. Just to commemorate us.