If You Wanna Be My 형…

Yeah, sung to the tune of that horrible Spice Girls song. Ugh.

Miss Jiwaku and I talked after she got back from her film program meeting today, about her frustrations. To what do her frustrations mostly connect?

Older people who insist on “respect” and special treatment on account of their age, regardless of incompetence, rudeness, or plain stupidity. There’s an older person in her film program who is particularly useless, who apparently was constantly rude to her, who finally warmed up to her… why? Because she poured him soju with two hands and used the magic “term of respect” address for him.

I know from experience how aggravating such a situation is. There was a drunk asshole at a party I attended not too long ago who harangued me about my Korean speaking ability (at first, because I wasn’t speaking it, and then, when I switched to Korean, because I wasn’t speaking it well enough in his estimation). He plopped the little shit cherry on the top of the vomit-flavored sundae when he asked me my age and informed me that he was my 형 (“hyeong”)–my elder brother.

It’s almost enough to drive one to metaphorical fratricide, I tell you.

Say it with me, now: "NOT TODAY!" Anything else just encourages these guys.

But there’s one or two–or more–in every group. When I teach classes where there’s a student who is significantly older, I tend to avoid assigning group work because not only is the oldest group member often useless, he or she also tends to put no effort into assignments, and also tends to insist on taking credit for it. That’s not to say all older people act this way: I’ve had a couple of older students who worked their asses off, and were great students… and their younger classmates generally respected and liked them, and showed it. But sadly this is the exception, not the norm.

And this state of affairs–you do the work, and I, your elder, will take the credit–is so deeply hardwired into some older people’s heads that… well, it reminds me of the time when some professor took me to task for not editing some articles that students had sent to him for publication (without consulting me); his biggest protest was, “But this magazine has my name on it! How dare you not edit the articles!”

Yes, how dare I not do all the work so that he can get all the credit, indeed. He still hasn’t met me in the eye a single time since then, and one of his prof buddies has also apparently decided that I’m bad, and won’t meet my gaze unless he has to. It’s like interacting with little kids… and yet I thought my “elder brothers” were supposed to be more mature, with all that life experience behind them.

One could say I have bad luck; one could say it’s not universal. But it seems pretty prevalent, and it’s pretty off-putting. Miss Jiwaku’s words, a few minutes ago: “I can’t live in this society. I can’t make films in this society.” Of course she may (or probably will) return to shoot sometimes… but living here? Her answer is one I can echo: no thanks. And that sucks, because we have some wonderful friends here… but so many of those wonderful friends are also pretty desperate to leave Korea, leave the sullen looks and the frowns and the morons asking, “How old are you?” and the clowns insisting one pour the soju exactly the right way.

Sometimes it feels like most of the wonderful Korean people we know here will, sooner or latter, be scattered to the four corners of the Earth, disparate. Sometimes, I wish there were a place for all those wonderful people to be together, free from the sad averages of their compatriots.

Wouldn’t that be something?

As for anyone who wants to be my 형, here’s my advice. It’s kind of like being cool: if you seem desperately to want me to see you as my 형, chances are it’ll never, ever happen. If you actually tell me to call you that, your hopes are dead in the water, because it’s never happening. It’s like the self-described (male) feminist I know who kept saying misogynistic, sexist crap to women at a party I attended recently: you’re not fooling anyone, and to the degree that you’re fooling yourself, you’re also publicly discrediting yourself…

The best way to get me to respect you as a senior is to be competent; to be mature; to be dedicated to whatever you do. My kind of people are competent, mature, and devoted to their goals… and their goals are more transcendent than just money, or the petty respect of a few people sitting around a table near them. They’re smart enough to know the difference between dutiful ass-kissing and real respect. If you’re not my kind of people, you are never going to fit into the category of 형 in my mind.

But then, the people who are likeliest for me to feel are my 형 are people who would never care whether I called them that word or not. Funny how that works.

3 thoughts on “If You Wanna Be My 형…

  1. Ha! Love the Game of Thrones reference (I just finished reading all five books).
    As for this –
    Sometimes it feels like most of the wonderful Korean people we know here will, sooner or latter, be scattered to the four corners of the Earth, disparate.
    – it’s funny how that works. A few weeks ago I met up with a former coworker from 11 years ago who I’d reconnected with via Facebook, and when she started talking about our Korean coworkers she was friends with, it seemed most of them had left Korea, and were now living in places like the U.S., Canada, or Australia. It just seemed odd that my former Korean coworkers were now as far-flung as my former foreign coworkers (including two of us who are still here)…

    1. Hi Matt,

      Glad you enjoyed the AGoT reference. I haven’t read the books yet, just watched the TV show, but I plan on getting to them sooner or later.

      The image expresses something that I’ve felt for a long time: the best people here never demand to be respected for their age, while the worst seem compulsively to do so… most likely because they have no other grounds on which to expect respect. In fact, I’d say this is an almost foolproof way of picking out useless morons with whom one should not waste one’s time.

      As for people leaving Korea: yeah, maybe it’s because we’re more likely to work with younger people with experience abroad, but I have a feeling Korea suffers from the same thing Saskatchewan used to when I lived there: all the interesting, creative, cool people were dying to leave, and what was left behind were the few interesting cool people who couldn’t find a way out, plus the vast numbers of people who were quite content to live in a culture-poor, boring backwater.

      (Things may have changed now that Saskatchewan has become an economic powerhouse, but I imagine it’s still mostly people content in a backwater, culturally speaking.)

      I will also say that in the wake of the (expected) “cataclysm” the other day, unprecedented numbers of those young, smart, interesting Koreans in my circle are planning to make their way abroad. I know a woman who wept when she saw the results, and then immediately went online to see what it would take to emigrate to various other countries… and the film industry people I know through Miss Jiwaku were devastated.

      (The serious-about-film people, mind; the program she’s in has so many of the kinds of dumbasses who inspired this post in the first place that it’s a bit heartbreaking.)

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