Monday, July 16, 2007


The Perilous State of My Self-Deprication

A little late this week because of our summer camp in Cheonan, but here you are.

As an aspiring humorist, I’ve built the foundation of my musings on two techniques. The first is the ability to make insightful and occasionally biting commentary on life using words infrequently employed words. The other jutting edge of my two-pronged approach is healthy self-criticism (which is similar to self-deprecation, but easier to spell). The utilities of the latter tool are also two-fold: 1) it allows me to vent the frustrations I have with myself to an audience that seems to relate more often than I’d expected, and 2) takes the edge off of said occasionally biting musings.

For example, when I was senior in college, it certainly seemed to me that just maybe the computer science majors regarded themselves as the only ones in the post-9/11 market who were guaranteed gainful employment, and treated each of the rest of us as if our most complex hardware program were toilet training that we could all handle if we’d just unlatch our nappies for a minute.

Once in awhile, I might have opined that maybe such scholars of the computational disciplines would be able to discern the discourtesy of their actions if they had more vitamin D in their bloodstream; preferably from natural sources such as sunlight.

However, later in the same article, I would find a clever way to say “I haven’t had a date since sophomore year.” Many of the partisans of computing would still detest my very existence, but more of the moderate “swing readers” would consider my rantings fair and balanced, and I’d prevail via plurality.

One reason that I chose to work for the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute in South Korea two years ago was that I’d be exposed to a greater breadth of subjects to rant/muse about. However, I fear that my capacity for self-deprivation has come under consistent attack since my arrival and my entire ability to compose succinct life commentary will fall asunder.

It’s not that anything about me has changed; I’m still the quiet, bookish male whose complexion leaves him vulnerable to sunburns during the Winter Solstice. All that has changed is how I am viewed. Frankly, any young man with a modicum of charisma and an appearance that does not prompt spontaneous vomiting would probably be looked upon in the same way.

There aren’t many jobs where, at the end of a shift, one of the clients will say, “Your face is very good,” but I’m happy to say that I have one.

At the summer and winter camps that our institute hosts for its teachers and students, I have been repeatedly asked to pose with young girls for photographs.

“Teacher, you are very handsome,” they say, before passing their camera to someone who will take pictures for them. From time to time, our impromptu photographer will ask if these are my students, to which I will respond that this is our first time meeting each other.

“Why would you take a picture with someone you don’t know?” our unplanned picture-taker sometimes asks.

There are two possible responses, both of which are correct: “Because it quenches a deep-seated yearning for attention that I have long cried out for in the hidden depths of my psyche” is probably the most accurate response, but “Because I’m a missionary” requires less dexterity in my diction, so that’s how I tend to answer.

It’s not just the flattery that boosts the self-esteem of the foreigner, but they way some of them react to me makes me feel better about my own sense of poise. Unfortunately, a few of the young people on this side of the Pacific lose all sense of self-respect in the presence of foreigners.

In a recent trip to a supermarket in Seoul, I met such a person, if by “met” you mean “was followed around and asked a series of questions in a language I am not fluent in yet.”

My first hint as to his age was the long hair that flowed down the back of his head even as it receded in front. My initial clue as to his mental state was the way he stopped what he was doing when he saw me and began waving his hand as if he were scrubbing a very persistent stain from and imaginary window. My usual reaction to friendly Koreans that I don’t know is to smile uncomfortably and wave. In his case, I walked away as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, he found me on the downward escalator and began peppering me with questions that I believe were related to my MP3 player, my nation of birth, and other assorted topics. I wanted tell him that a) I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, and b) he is a grown man and should act like he has at least a microscopic amount of dignity. However, I can’t express either of these well enough in Korean, and so I fell back on repeated use of “I don’t know” until I could escape into the check-out lane.

After such encounters I can tell myself that, even if I did have a miniscule social life between my 20th and 23rd birthdays, I would never act that way around anyone on this earth, except maybe Pete Sampras.

I may be a purveyor of biting social commentary, but seriously, the guy won seven Wimbledons.

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