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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.

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.

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