Wednesday, November 06, 2013

blog as you are: joewon

Joewon is my halfway-around-the-world partner in medical neurosis. She's also a funny and hardworking professor in Seoul, Korea. Here's a recent day in her life.

This lake makes me think I need to visit South Korea.
6:50 am. Wake up without much trouble. No nightmare. No active pain in any part of the body. Not a bad start of a day.

9:00 am. After breakfast, walk out the door to go to work.

9:15 am. Pass by the elderly man selling egg bread at the corner of an alley on my walk to my office. He's there every single day, rain or shine. Carefully look away when the grandpa's neatly barbered hairline and threadbare coat collars came into vision as I slip by, for not wanting to be saddened by things that I have no right to find sad.

I would make any nearby egg bread seller a very rich man. No more threadbare coats.
9:25 am. Enter office, the usual grind begins. Read for Monday's class.

1:00 pm. Rummage food in the office, instead of bothering to go out for lunch. Keep reading for class, outlining a teaching scenario and making notes of usable examples.

3:00 pm. Prof P arrives on campus and calls me. I go downstairs to greet him. He's the speaker of today's Special Guest Lecture, an ongoing program that I design and implement as part of the department's extracurricular academic projects. He seems glad to see me well. I am relieved that he doesn't say much about the past two years. His face, gazing at my prematurely greying hair, is telling, and I appreciate that much of his subdued kindness. We mostly talk about work, as we are both involved in a theatrical production of a literary classic as academic counsel.

3:30 pm. P's lecture begins. About 20 grad students show up, plus a few faculty members and undergrads. A pretty good turnout, and my anxiety somewhat subsides. P turns out to be funny and engaging. A known sexual harasser with interesting scholarship, better than expected. Not just good showmanship but substance deftly deployed in skillful delivery. A girl in my undergrad class asks smart questions about desire for knowledge in the text and I feel proud as if her smarts were all my doing. That foolish moment is my fix for the day.

6:00 pm. After the 2-hour lecture, I take P to dinner as is customary. Not too excited, for two close friends in other departments who also know P declined my invitation to dinner. It was actually their boycotting of P's visit altogether. While it's understandable that they do not want to fraternize with P, I feel ambiguous about them making me entertain this P by myself. Then I feel bad about myself feeling ambiguous about them. This is my responsibility and I should be able to handle the situation. For lack of choice I invited P despite reservations about his reputation, thinking that words often circulate without ground. It's just unfortunate that the two friends confirmed his reputation with what they know of him only after P's visit was finalized and publicized. Still, it's better to be alerted; and I respect my friends for refusing to hide their judgment.

That hot little dresser was totally asking for it.
As for me, I find it difficult to do the same. Perhaps it is cowardice that I did not cancel the whole thing and uninvite him right away. But a known incident of sexual harassment--is it all he is? Then again, it is what he is, if not all; and one known incident is often an indicator of multiple unknown recurrences, instead of one isolated occurrence. My non-reaction may amount to an overall endorsement of him. How, then, should I adjust my relationship with him? Why do I keep thinking that theoretical, textbook answers are not enough? In my dealings with sexual harassers and offenders at the Center for Gender Equality, none of them were my personal acquaintances. Passing judgment and acting upon it is less difficult when there is no personal interest at stake.

For now, however, I prefer to think that I need to maintain a neutral ground of formal hospitality at least while I perform the role of a good host. I am not worried about being harassed myself. But I am careful not to invite graduate students to dinner as we sometimes do. Fortunately two colleagues willingly join in. I tell them nothing, for only a fool would misbehave in this setting. I stay politely watchful nonetheless, and see that he is a big drinker and silently picky with food. With us three women, even after a few drinks P is so well-behaved that it's hard to decide whether I should be relieved or disappointed. I almost feel like a villain waiting for disaster in vain.

He's suave and clever. But he also seems a little different from before. Though P never offended or bothered me before, from my previous encounters I remember him to have been more intensely attentive with the kind of slick nicety that could easily morph into sleazy flirtatiousness. His reputation turns out not without ground, but a man like P gets tired and mellow too, I suppose, which isn't too bad a thing. All the while, though, I lament inside that, in this day and age and even in this profession full of self-appointed progressives, gender and sexual dynamics still causes such headaches and requires such a maneuvering. I also ponder upon the fate of a man whose reputation always precedes him and exceeds his reality.

Mellowed by age? Or mellowed by booze?
8:00 pm. I drive P to his destination after dinner. Nothing but gentlemanly propriety with a suitable amount of conviviality. Perhaps he realized that I am close friends with the two who did not show up today? I can't figure him out. Good news is that I don't have to figure him out. I am just glad that the event is over; I am thankful that there was no need whatsoever for outright hostility or cold withdrawal or even tactful mediation on my part. My students seem to have enjoyed his lecture and with that my mission is accomplished. In early November, I'll have to see P again on the play's opening night, but it should be fine.

8:50 pm. Last look and revision of the English translation of the script, which I have been working on the past couple of weeks because of P's request, before sending it off to the production manager by email.


devoya said...

I almost feel like a villain waiting for disaster in vain.

As of late, I've been unable to articulate this exact same feeling. It's strange that I should find it here. But helpful...

Also, I would have gone to dinner with her and P. Having my girls back is way more important than the other person's character or lack there of. Plus she might need a witness or someone to help hide the body. Jus sayin.

devoya said...


Kim said...

1. I enjoyed this woman's writing, what was her name, Jo Anne? (That's what some of my family call Joewon).

2. I am totally doing this, Cheryl, but I'm waiting for the International Melanoma Research Congress in Philadelphia next week.

Cheryl said...

D: Right? If we were both in Seoul, we would go out to dinner with you and Prof P, Joewon!

K: We're all waiting for the Melanoma Research Congress, Kim.

Anonymous said...

So nice of you, devoya and Cheryl, to say that you'd go to dinner with this woman and P! This woman (what's her name, Jo Ann?) must appreciate the supportive spirit. Kim, this woman looks forward to more fun stories from your fun conference!