When and Where You Can Photograph My Dumb White Face: A Guide

This was around photo number 43.

Very occasionally famous.

As a flagrantly white person living and occasionally roaming around Asia, I sometimes stick out. Whether through the rarity of the wild honky or through lingering effects of the many times with which my ancestors brutally wedged their big noses into other places, or some mixture of the two, I tend to be an object of occasional fascination and consternation. Why does my hair curl just so? Why is my skin so pale, and why does it ripen like a fresh tomato after exposure to a moderate amount of healthy, life-sustaining sunshine? How is it possible that a human being with my configuration of body parts, complexion, hair texture, and eye shape can manage to breathe, eat, speak other languages, walk in a straight line, and perform simple arithmetic? Truly, it is a mystery for the ages.

As a walking enigma, I am sometimes photographed. I have grown mostly at peace with this practice, as I’ve also taken photos of other humans before, for reasons just as nebulous. (When asked, I will usually tell the person, “Because you look really cool in front of this thing!” This usually does not clarify the situation). But sometimes I am also photographed against my will, captured in perpetuity in a desktop folder entitled White People Doin’ Things. Sometimes people jam a camera right up in my grille, camera-lens-to-eyeball-lens, and they breathe heavily as they seal my face into their personal digital memory banks without my consent.

As such, I present a helpful guide to all the times when it is perfectly cool to take my photo, for whatever weird, crazy reason you might want it.

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Media Delirium Tremens and the Missing Ocean of Crap

It was strange to be the 194,563,906th person to see Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” on YouTube. Stranger still was that I had never heard of the song before.

A friend linked me to a remix which I found infinitely charming, and it struck me that I had not heard the original. I sought it out and gawped blankly at my screen. This was obviously a popular song, a hallowed member of the current cultural zeitgeist of the homeland. This was something that had already become an assumed fragment of cultural heritage, a shared globule of media experience to which all North Americans, and many other global citizens, had already absorbed. In fact, Happy was beyond the saturation point when I came across it. It had already surpassed osmotic spread, whereby every human in that hemisphere had long since realigned their neural networks to simply include the song’s existence. It was something everyone already knew, had talked about, and gotten over.

And I had never heard of it.

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Ayi Audition: Livecast of the “Michael’s Gross Apartment Maid Invitational”

All right, lady. Do your thing.

All right, lady. Do your thing.

At long last, I had cracked. For months, friends and acquaintances had assured me that life on the other side was something incomprehensibly better. That once you crossed the threshold, going back was no longer an option. That even glancing back at your old life would make you shudder and recoil, terrified that you ever could have lived such an unfulfilled, empty existence. I resisted, mostly out of a strange attachment to the status quo. Change is scary. Change is change.

But finally, I relented. On Sunday, I opened my door and let a pleasant middle-aged Chinese woman in to clean my house. And I don’t think I can ever go back.

12:32 I have been tidying slightly, although I know it is a ridiculous impulse. I am somewhat terrified at what this stranger will think of me, what the state of my apartment will say about my character, my personhood, my lack of culture. I imagine her peeking inside the door, cringing visibly, shaking her head and muttering in Mandarin before trudging back to the elevator in disgust.

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The Newbie/Old Fart Paradox

6 flags over Suwon

Photo seemingly unrelated? No! A photo from my first few months in Korea.

Moving to Korea is a lot like being born and growing up. You land, get off the plane, and you’re practically covered in placenta: shaky, sensitive to light and temperature, unable to properly digest the food. Your sleep is completely thrown off after leaving the womb that is the plane. Everyone speaks in crazed, bizarre mutterings, none of which you understand. You are alone and confused, and you need the care of others just to maintain ongoing survival. But this state is quickly forgotten once you get the hang of life, and you very quickly want to put those childish things behind you.

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Goodbye Season

I had thought of going through and putting Xs on the faces of those leaving, but then I didn't do that, because I am lazy.

As the first year comes to a close, beyond all the silly, self-involved ~reflecting~ I do on life and my brain or whatever, the biggest change to deal with is the people.  My orientation group back in the halcyon days of August, 2010 was something around 90 people, a teeming horde of Canadians, Americans, English, and South Africans (with a few straggling Irish or Aussies). For a year I grew to know them, and grew to care for them (or hate them, as the case may be), and casually, blithely ignored the ticking clock above our heads detailing the end point of our convenient contact. As highfalutin and zen as I pretend to be about friendship and growing up, it’s undeniably gutting to see so many people going away while I will be staying behind.

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Life and the Faulty Pause Button

Okay guys, you can go on break now.

When I decided to move to Korea, it was very hard to process the idea that the other part of the world would keep going without me. I’m not trying to sound remarkably self-absorbed, although that may be true, but it was difficult to conceive. Sure, people would get older, and taller, and gain a wrinkle or a grey hair or a tan in my absence. Hairstyles would change, weight would be gained or lost, coats of paint would be applied to walls. Time would obviously pass. But it was difficult to really believe that the lives of others I was so involved with would continue to forge ahead without me somehow involved in the mix.

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