It’s funny how something I see every day here in Korea stirs memories of primary school in England. During that time, my days sitting at the back of the classroom were numbered as it became harder and harder for me to read what the teacher was writing on the board. My difficulties were not really noticed until my first visit to an optometrist. It was there I was diagnosed with mild astigmatism and recommended that I needed aid in the vision department. To me, having my eyesight corrected was nothing short of a miraculous opening up of the world. Suddenly, I could fully enjoy growing up in the heyday of Thundercats, Grotbags, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and other such delights that I considered to be the finer things in life. So, to sport my affections, I chose a pair of tortoise-shell blue frames for my first glasses.
On the sides of these frames were small pictures of the TMHT Raphael (named by a giant talking rat after the famous renaissance painter). However, it was not until I got to school that I realized that whilst many of my fellow pupils shared my love for the four green heroes they did not have the same taste in fashion accessories as I did. Mocking ensued and it was not long before I attempted to scratch off the green turtle with the red bandana. But to no avail. Recklessly uncaring, I played sports with those glasses on, I fought with them on, and they were dropped, thrown, dumped and stepped on during my younger days. Finally it was not my destructive attempts that won me a new pair of sight enhancers but rather they no longer fitted properly. So, they were replaced with a huge pair of eighties’ gigs.
Then the troubles began. As a ten-year-old of above average-height, the glasses I had to wear were big enough for a giant. Now at middle school, with kids coming into puberty and bigger guys and bullies I was introduced to a whole host of new words; Biggles, four-eyes, geek as well as other equally unimaginative sobriquets. Not surprisingly, this made me angry and more fighting followed.
By the time of grammar school (13-16) I had a reputation for not taking insults lightly but, more importantly, I was more comfortable with myself and I also wore a less confrontational pair of optical aids.
Roll on five years and I start wearing contact lenses and rarely use glasses. Another set of years roll by and I’m here in Korea getting laser eye surgery. Today, I’m looking at this computer screen with better than 20/20 vision.
What does this have to do with Koreans and Korea? Here, every day, I get flashbacks of my early days at school. This sorry condition is brought about by constantly seeing people wear those 80s style glasses as part of their image. Indeed, so desperate are they that many wear just the frames without lenses. They are choosing absurdity purely to be part of the scene. As a kid I don’t believe I ever had a real choice but I quickly discovered the meaning of absurdity and also the troubles that come with it.
© John Brownlie 2011