Monday, January 30, 2012

The Double Eyelids Nonsense

My coworker was sharing with me her feelings on the Korean pop star and actor Rain.

"I used to think he was ugly, but now I think he's handsome."

Um, sure, that's great.

She then proceeded to relate to me this Rain guy's sad story of having been born with single eyelids.

"A lot of people get surgery to make double eyelids, but he didn't want to get the surgery. I don't think people should have to get the surgery. That's not right. You know?"

I nodded.

Actually, I had no idea what she was talking about, with these "single eyelids" and "double eyelids." But it was too late in the workday, and I did not have sufficient mental energy left to endure one of her typically meandering, broken English explanations. So I simply nodded.

Afterward, I went home and looked up this "double eyelids" nonsense. Turns out, my coworker was not making this up at all, as the "double eyelid surgery" is, according to Wikipedia, one of the most common cosmetic procedures in Taiwan and other parts of East Asia. I had to look up some photos even to see what the difference was, and I found that the "double eyelid" description was apt. All my life, I had never before been consciously aware of the difference between single and double eyelids, although I suppose I had always intuitively noticed that different people (and, to generalize, different races) had different-looking eyelids. My coworker was also right that it was a pretty stupid and needless surgery, the cultural prejudice against single eyelids entirely unjustified.

As for this Rain guy, it's also true that, early in his career, he was repeatedly rejected in auditions because he did not have double eyelids. It says so right in his Wikipedia entry, so it must have been a big part of his life story.

Reading that, I found myself seething, but not because of the injustice done unto Rain. Rather, it was because the whole thing sounded like the most unbelievably ridiculous nonsense I had ever heard, and yet the guy's fans, including my coworker, apparently take it as a very sad "aww"-worthy story.

So, let me get this straight, this Rain guy's MAJOR ordeal . . . IN. LIFE. is that he was born without the double eyelids? No, don't even deny it. It's right there in his Wikipedia entry, under the "Early life" section. And now he's a millionaire pop singer and movie star, adored the world over, probably lives in a mansion. And I'm supposed to feel sorry for this guy?

Okay, okay, I kid. No, I don't feel sorry for Rain, but neither would I want to trade lives with him. It's ridiculous to me that this "double eyelids" obsession is such a thing that for him to not get the surgery was a big deal. But I don't suppose that's in any way his fault.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Gay Friends Episode

(Names changed to protect the innocent.)

I had the most uncomfortable workplace conversation ever the other day. It was the end of the day, and people were getting ready to leave, or else had left already. Susie, my neighbor at work, was telling me about some Taiwanese drama. Apparently, there's a homosexual character on the show, which led Susie right into asking me directly whether I had any gay friends.

The question took me by surprise, although it probably shouldn't have; my coworker is always asking me these very direct, often personal, and entirely random questions. I mean, I like her very much, but sometimes it's as if she has no filter, and so expects other people to be just as open and forthcoming with every detail of their lives.

I pretended to reflect, but I actually knew very well that my answer would be no. No, I don't have any gay friends. This is not due to any homophobia on my part, but more so it reflects the special value I invest in the word "friend," which I personally reserve for only a very select few individuals with whom I have felt a strong sense of camaraderie. By that definition, I would say that I can probably also count on one hand the number of heterosexual friends that I've had in my entire life.

I was probably considering the question more deeply than it deserved. I've had gay classmates and coworkers with whom I've been on friendly terms. I suppose, in the broader sense of the word, they would qualify as "friends."

Anyway, it hardly mattered. Susie was a little surprised that I didn't have any gay friends. Then, as if conducting a survey, she turned to another coworker, Colleen, and asked her if she had any gay friends. Colleen, not quite understanding the question, raised an eyebrow and turned to me. I just shrugged and restated the question: "Do you have any gay friends?" No, we're not at the uncomfortable part yet, but almost.

Colleen, now realizing that this was not a joke, casually named one of our male coworkers.

"Who?!" asked Susie quite loudly.

Colleen repeated the name, only this time she leaned in and whispered it, whereas she had spoken it in a normal tone the first time. I couldn't understand it at first. If our male coworker was openly gay, then why were we whispering as though it were some shameful secret? If it was a secret, then maybe it wasn't such a good idea for Colleen to be outing this guy to the one person in the office with almost no filter nor any sense of boundaries.

Sure enough, upon hearing the name more clearly, Susie responded, "Kevin is gay?!"

As she practically yelled out her question in astonishment, I immediately wished we could go back to whispering. And as Susie proceeded to repeat "Kevin is gay?!" several more times, mixing things up with the occasional "I didn't know Kevin was gay!" as well, I did not want to be anywhere near that conversation anymore.

Of course, Colleen didn't help things much. Even though she appeared to be just as embarrassed as me, that didn't stop her from naming all the other gay guys at our workplace. Some were news to me, some I already knew. Somehow all of it was shocking to Susie, who continued to loudly express her astonishment.

I wondered under what circumstances Colleen even came by all this intel. And as for Susie, she seemed so out-of-touch with who was and wasn't gay in the office, I seriously wondered whether she herself had any gay friends. I might have turned the tables and asked her, but, really, I didn't want to prolong the conversation any further.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Blind Spot

Was driving to work this morning when I passed a Braille Institute truck. My first thought: "My God, they let these people behind the wheel?"


And before you even ask, yes, I also think the Budweiser truck driver is drunk.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


A coworker was telling me how she wanted to see Disney's Beauty and the Beast 3D. She hadn't seen it since her childhood, and she remembered it as "the most romantic cartoon ever." I could agree that it was a fine film, but I remembered it somewhat differently . . . .

Me: No, I don't think Belle had romantic feelings for the Beast.

Coworker: But that was the whole point. He had to make her fall in love with him in order to break the curse.

Me: Did it say she had to fall in love with him? Or just that she had to love him? Like, as a friend? I think they just became friends.

Coworker: OH. MY. GOD. That was the whooooole point. You missed the whooooole point of the story, Henry!

Me: I don't think so. First of all, there's no way she could have been attracted to him. Also, I don't remember them sharing a single romantic moment together. I certainly don't remember her singing any songs about it.

Coworker: THEY KISSED.

Me: Well . . . I don't remember that . . . . I could be wrong. It's been a long time since I've seen it. I was a different person then.

Coworker: *groan*

Yes, I could be wrong. But I don't think I am. If my coworker is right, however, then it was a lesser film than I remember. Thoughts?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

No, Darkside Chronicles doesn't count . . . .

In case you haven't seen it yet, Capcom recently released an extended version of Blur Studio's Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City short:

I wouldn't expect the actual game to be anywhere near as cool as this movie. Honestly, I don't even really expect the game to be good. Even so, just hoping for a lot of fanservice, I'm probably looking forward to it more so than to any other releases scheduled for this year. At least, I was until today's Resident Evil 6 reveal:

Trailer is fairly incomprehensible, obviously not as slick as the Blur video. But, hey, it's got Leon and Chris in the same game, at long last. That's gotta be worth something . . . .

What I've Been Reading #2

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 114 - "The Gilder":

Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye,—though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life,—in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:—through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.

I neglected to mention in my last Moby-Dick post that it was actually not my first Melville. In high school, I had read White Jacket and Billy Budd. For whatever reason, my AP English teacher in 12th grade thought I might enjoy Melville, and so she suggested I pick two of his works to analyze for an assignment. Naturally, I picked Billy Budd because it was the shortest. Then I picked White Jacket somewhat at random, but probably likewise because the copy at the library looked slimmer than the other titles next to it. Moby-Dick surely would have had the most published criticism available to consult (White Jacket basically had none), but maybe I thought it would be too predictable a choice.

In hindsight, it was a lucky thing that I ended up picking the two works that I did. Despite Melville's having written them practically at opposite ends of his career, White Jacket and Billy Budd were very nearly the same story, making for an easy 10-page paper. I got an A on that paper, and it was probably the best work I did that entire year. Although that class was more than 10 years ago, still I thought I had a fair idea what to expect going into Moby-Dick. But Moby-Dick, surface-level similarities aside, proved to be very much not the perfected White Jacket nor proto-Billy Budd that I had anticipated. Even at my most glib, I would never be able to summarize it in some 10-page paper.

I said before that I was not enjoying reading through Moby-Dick, and I do not take that back. I felt that it was a self-indulgent work, produced by an egomaniac, to be consumed by other egomaniacs. Perhaps all high art is, but I digress. As I read Moby-Dick, and endured its interminable series of interludes, I would think back to how comparatively elegant White Jacket was, and how pure Billy Budd, and I would wonder where had gone that Herman Melville who actually had a point to make.

And yet, now that I've finished Moby-Dick, somehow it is those other works that now seem fake and shallow to me by comparison.

It's hard for me to quantify, but White Jacket and Billy Budd, at least to my high school self, were like most good books, in that, when I finished them, it was like attaining the night's repose following the day's labor both exhausting yet gratifying. On the other hand, when I came to the end of Moby-Dick, it felt like dying. More than that, when I came to the end, I caught myself looking back over the whole of it, and it seemed to me I had been dying the whole time, only I had not realized it until it was all done. Frankly, I don't know how else to put it. When people speak of that phenomenon of your life flashing before you as you die, I imagine now that it would all play out rather like Moby-Dick.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What I've Been Reading #1

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 36 - "The Quarter-Deck":

"But what's this long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not chase the white whale? art not game for Moby Dick?" 
"I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market." 
"Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck; thou requirest a little lower layer. If money's to be the measurer, man, and the accountants have computed their great counting-house the globe, by girdling it with guineas, one to every three parts of an inch; then, let me tell thee, that my vengeance will fetch a great premium here!
"He smites his chest," whispered Stubb, "what's that for? methinks it rings most vast, but hollow." 
"Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous." 
"Hark ye yet again,--the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines."

I watched the 1956 film adaptation of Moby-Dick in high school, and, at the time, I was principally impressed with Gregory Peck's performance as an uncannily formidable Captain Ahab. Reading the original novel now, after having previously read two lesser Melville works, also in high school, this thing is a real slog. The monomaniacal Ahab remains a compelling character, but truly his appearances collectively comprise only a small fraction of the novel. Much of the book is just episodes about life and the people aboard the ship, but even that quickly gives way to lengthy encyclopedic non-narrative chapters about whales and whaling. Most chapters exist more to provide flavor than substance.

In a classroom setting, it's great to be able to dialogue with classmates and the instructor to interpret the text critically. But now that I am and have been many years alone and outside the academic circle, it seems silly to think that a mere novel could ever meaningfully affect how I live or understand the world, and reading critically seems almost a pointless endeavor. Thus, whatever does not grip me immediately feels consequently like a wretched waste of my time. That includes most of Moby-Dick, and, despite its prominence in the Western literary canon, I would never recommend it to anyone who is not presently a student studying English literature, or maybe whaling.

The above quoted dialogue does contain what was my favorite line from the movie, and now one of my favorite lines in all literature: "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me."

Now, what would really happen if he were to strike the sun? Well, he could no more do that than that the sun would be able to insult him in the first place. But, supposing such a thing could be arranged, it doesn't take a genius to figure that, when man and hot plasma collide, the sun is probably gonna win. But it is precisely such talk that makes Ahab so uniquely compelling a character. Because what he is suggesting is so clearly insane, and yet he speaks it, not only with such conviction that you believe he truly means it, but as though he wouldn't even have any choice in the matter; whether by destiny or his own nature, he cannot be less than he is.