“An unexpected and unknown visitor allows you to see a familiar place as if for the very first time. I’m thinking of the meter-reader rooting through your kitchen at 8 a.m., the Jehovah’s Witness suddenly standing in the living room. ‘Here’, they seem to say, ‘use my eyes. The focus is much keener. ‘” – David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
For the second time this week, there was a loud, insistent pounding on my door, followed by the always-a-pleasure “Have You Ever Seen A Lassie?” doorbellphone. This sudden barrage of loud and obnoxious sounds always scares the piss out of me, if for no other reason than proximity. I am usually seated on my bed, which is about six paces from the front door, and even though it is only about six paces from the door, I somehow NEVER hear the knocker coming and end up jumping out of my skin when the attack begins.
Last time I ignored it and pretended I wasn’t home, lying still and trying not to breath even though there was a locked door between me and my guest. I was hungover and mostly naked in bed on Saturday afternoon, my house a pigsty from the night before’s drunken idiot routine. In a normal apartment you might be able to hide these things, dirtiness and laziness, in a pinch, but not in mine. My place is one giant room. When you enter, directly in front of you is the bathroom and to your left is my entire living space, complete with bed and refrigerator. There is no entrance area, no foyer type of enclosure to maintain privacy from visitors.
Cue Front Door Assault #2 last night. I felt required to answer because there was music coming out of my computer and the water was running. No hiding this time. This is probably only the third time a Korean has knocked on my door for something other than food delivery, and so it still causes mad anxiety. First, what could they possibly want? Second, how in the hell will I communicate with them? And third, worst, is my house in acceptable enough living conditions for another adult to see?
This guy was here to check the electricity. He said this to me in Korean and when I shook my head with my eyes big as saucers mumbling “Mmm..um… mol-layo..” (“I don’t know”), he announced he knew some English and indicated he needed to check the fuse box. Meaning he needed to walk further into my apartment, past me and my futile attempt to block his view of things with my body.
He was very friendly and quick to finish what he needed to do, but like the other Koreans who have entered my home, he couldn’t help himself from taking a peek at my life. I don’t blame anyone for this, it’s all right there for anyone to see, people are curious (I would do it), and Koreans, I’m told, are more curious than most. Besides, last night my living quarters were in relatively good shape. I’d just taken a lot of trash and recyclables out so it didn’t look like the inside of a dumpster and most of my laundry was put away…
That’s what I thought anyway, until I closed the door behind him and turned around to analyze what he might have seen. Stepping back in, I nearly kicked over the empty wine bottles stationed by the door, forsaken in my last recycle bin trip. Bottles that he had to have stepped to avoid in order to reach the electric box. Not one or two bottles. Not three or four.
With a grimace and a touch of shame, I continued to scan the room. On the table, a cache of distinctly American junk food (Oreos, Pringles and the latest discovery at Home Plus, DORITOS). I like chips. And I love Oreos. I happen to find myself, this week, in possession of a lot of these American snacks (because I hoard them) and it pleased me to see them lined up next to each other, displayed in the center of my table with pride. It felt homey. Now it feels sad.
Moving on, my eyes quickly landed on the jeans in the middle of the floor, still partially ‘standing’ where I’d carelessly stepped out of them earlier. And of course, displayed outrageously next to them, my bra.
Now everyone’s seen a bra. No big deal. But I would bet all of my money that 98.5% of Korean men have never seen a bra quite like mine. It’s not a scandalous sight simply because it’s underwear, but because it is generous and sturdy enough to comfortably protect the heads of any pair of my students, should they find themselves engaged in an educational game of American football or something else requiring thorough skull coverage and defense. In other words, my bra could probably fit like twelve Korean boobs to my two (I suppose there’s a tiny chance he didn’t even recognize it as a bra). Anyway, more shame. But at least he’ll have something to talk about with his buddies later over soju.
Individually, none of these things are particularly offensive. And collectively, it still could have been so much worse. Honestly, it’s not even that I’m embarrassed. I’m just aware. The Korean visitor handed me his eyes, and through them I saw a somewhat unpleasant stereotype, the one that I am without even trying. Busty. Junkfood loving. Alcoholic. American.