Sunday, January 06, 2008


Seeing is Believing

In eighth grade I left the comfort zone of private education and entered the public school system. Upon my arrival, the school bullies needn’t have undergone risky espionage missions to discover my vulnerable points.

After all, I had the body mass index of Michael Jackson on the Atkins diet, I had lots of annoying information stored in my head, such as where Mexico is in relation to the US, and years of attending a private Christian school had left me unprepared for both the detail and relish with which they would discuss human anatomy.

However, an advantage I had over so many traditional outcasts was that I had no glasses to be broken. They could push me, threaten me with greater physical violence and mock my limited understanding of the things they’d learned while watching HBO, but they had limited control over my ability to see.

This was an advantage I would enjoy long after I began taking avenues which the school bullies would not follow in; namely, courses with titles such as “Advanced Such-and-Such” and “College Preparatory Blank.” In years to come, this would continue to serve as consolation: employers weren’t actively seeking anyone in my area of study, but at least I had no trouble reading their rejection letters. Likewise, my first few paychecks weren’t so impressive, but at least I didn’t have to spend a whole one (provided it were big enough) on glasses.

One day during my mid-20s, I decided on whim to get my eyes checked. Well, not exactly a whim; I finally had a job that offered medical insurance and I figured I ought not to waste it. It was during this first visit to an optometrist that I learned that I had low myopia.

In case any of you don’t know, being “myopic” means that I have some difficulty seeing things that are far away. Having low myopia means that one has occasional trouble reading signs while driving, whereas some who with medium myopia might need glasses to see any upcoming event. People with high myopia, on the other hand, are automatically given government jobs, preferably at the Department of Homeland Security.

The information I received at clinic opened my near-sighted orbs. Suddenly, I realized that I had been squinting for long periods of time when reading the subtitles of foreign movies. I also found myself positioning my head over my steering wheel when trying to be certain whether or not certain road signs actually said, “Bridge Out 50 Feet.”

It certainly didn’t seem prudent to maintain the status quo. However, some jobs, like, for example, news reporter, may give one the health insurance allowing them to discover they need glasses, but not necessarily provide one with the spare cash needed to purchase them. Movie subtitles and street signs would have to wait.

When I arrived in Korea nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I could not drive, and I did not have a TV in my apartment. I say this not to elicit sympathy; I was much more productive without a library of DVDs lying around and I was able to preserve much of my valuable vocal cord vitality by not loudly suggesting to other motorists that use their turn signals once in a fortnight.

In addition, it seemed that I had no need for additional eyewear. Even if I had needed to the road signs in Korea, the people who had made them had forgotten to use actual letters and were instead spelling words with shapes that looked as though they belonged in someone’s kitchen drawer.

A strange thing happened over time, however; one day I realized that I knew what sounds these bizarre formations were making, and so I desired to actually learn what the sounds meant.

I was thus inspired to enroll in Korean language courses. In these classes many of these shapes are written on a dry erase board in patterns designed to form words that we are supposed to remember. Unfortunately, in order to remember them, it really helps to be able to see the board. And, when it comes to seeing objects, squinting for long periods of time is a only a temporarily solution that carries unfortunate side-effects.

All to often, the teacher would write important words on the board, look at me and say, “Arrayo?” (meaning “You know?”)

All too often, the only proper reply I could give was “Meori appayo” (“Head hurts”).

So, on a weekend, I went into a shopping mall and found a shop that manufactures eyewear. They tested my vision, had me pick a design, and in about an hour’s time I had my own pair for about $80. Not only is it easy and cheap to get glasses, Koreans are very supportive of those who wear them.

Many of my classmates from younger days probably see someone wearing new glasses and think, “Let’s push him into a locker and take the money he needs for lunch.”

When young Koreans see someone, especially a foreigner, who has grown an additional pair of eyes, they probably think, “He can probably teach me to better speak English, and English is important for get a job.”

So, when I put on the glasses in their presence, they say, “Oh, very smart!” and “You looks like professor!”

So, in conclusion, as we grow older and our bodies change, there’s no good reason to resist adapting. Remind me of this when I’m 40, however; improving my ability to see a dry-erase board may be an easier adjustment than preventing prostate cancer.

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