About a month ago, I saw something out on the street that made me stop in my tracks. My heart skipped a beat and I had a massive flashback to America. Actually, my heart didn’t skip a beat – that’s just a phrase. Don’t worry. My health is good – no heart problems. The same can’t be said for the person I saw, though, and as I write the reveal, my description of just what I saw that shook me so, I can’t help but feel a little silly.
There’s no nice way to put this: I saw a very, very fat person.
Now, this might not strike you as being anything out of the ordinary. Three years ago, I would’ve agreed. Seeing an overweight person on the streets of North Carolina was as common as seeing clouds in the Charlotte sky or penis enlargement messages in my email’s spam folder. It happened with great frequency. There really were a good amount of overweight folks in North Carolina. That shouldn’t be surprising. Those people ate chicken biscuits with gravy for breakfast. In part, I blame the nice weather. It encourages too many cook outs. On spring days in Charlotte, the air would smell of hot dogs and charcoal and you could just feel the city getting love handles. There are fast food restaurants every ten feet or so, and every time a fish dies in the South, there’s an 82% chance that it will be fried and not baked (note: this statistic is based on made up data).
Here in South Korea, no one is obese. That’s why I was so surprised to run across somebody of this magnitude. You just don’t see it a lot. I wondered how it happened. In two years, I’ve seen exactly one seriously, critically obese Korean person. What did this person do? I wondered if she (it was a female) had lived abroad. That would explain it. Maybe she weighed 105 lbs. and then went to study English in Alabama. I also thought that, in a way, this girl was the most rebellious Korean person I’d come across. It was as if she said to herself, “Fuck my culture. Fuck the standard Korean diet, and fuck the way girls are supposed to be twigs here. I don’t give a shit, I’m not going to eat kimchi, I don’t care that my parents try to lock me in the attic out of shame, and if I have to import all my clothes from the USA, I’m okay with that. I like Lane Bryant’s plus size collection.”
In short, I was picking up what she was putting down. What a rock star.
She also reminded me of my ongoing battle to gain weight. I’ve been eating like a pig lately and, still, I can’t seem to crack 140 lbs. My girlfriend comes over and cooks me a big plate of eggs and bacon at ten o’clock at night two or three times a week, and, seemingly, my body dissolves it into nothing. I’m also drinking two Mass XXX shakes a day. Whatever weight I gain seems to go straight to my mosums.
“You have stomach of bean,” my girlfriend said one night when we were out at a meat buffet.
“Stomach of bean? What does that mean?”
“I mean,” she said, “your stomach is the size of a bean. If you eat one bean, you’ll be full.”
“That’s not true,” I shot back, the smoke from the meat filling the air between us. “I did an experiment one night where I dropped beans down my throat, and it actually took 34 beans to stuff me.”
Meat buffets are something I’ve never seen outside of Korea. They’re kind of disgusting, and I can’t say that I really enjoy them. Basically, you sit at a table with a grill in the center. There’s a long counter in the front of the restaurant that has loads of raw pork and beef and chicken, and you take as much as you can eat and grill it up. My girlfriend kept bringing me strips of bacon (Korean “bacon” is super thick and more like a pork chop) and cuts of beef. I forced down as much as I could until I felt like I was about to vomit up a bunch of farm animals.
My girlfriend shook her head. “Bean,” she muttered.
Back at my apartment, she said to me, “You can’t gain weight because you’re too smart. You think about many things and that makes you lose weight.”
“Baby, I don’t know if thinking makes a person lose weight.”
“It does,” she said. “You think about things, so you’re not thinking about food. People who eat too much think about food a lot.”
To me, my girlfriend’s body is perfect. Stellar. But, since she is Korean and weighs more than a large hamster, she considers herself to be fat. For women in Korea, thinness is not just required, it’s expected. One time, I went on a Korean dating site to look at the girls and thought for a second that I’d accidentally typed in the URL for Feed the Starving Children.
My girlfriend continued. “If you think about food, then you eat more food, and then all you can do is sit and think about eating.”
“Ah, it’s a cycle.”
“You are smart and don’t think about food. That’s why you’re skinny.”
I laughed and hugged her, because I thought her idea was cute. But later, it occurred to me that maybe she was actually onto something. I mean, can you think of any recognized geniuses who were obese? Socrates was pretty buff; Wittgenstein was in good shape; Sherlock Holmes worked out regularly from what I understand. It looks like Da Vinci could’ve shed a few pounds, but it’s tough to say for sure because he dressed big. Perhaps education and an emphasis on intelligence are the keys to solving my country’s weight issue. Personally, intelligence has nothing to do with me being skinny – metabolism is more to blame. For others, though, maybe a healthy mind does indeed lead to a healthy body. Koreans study all day and night and they are skinny. For ages we’ve believed their small frames were the product of their Asian genes, but maybe there’s more to it than that. It could be that they’re little and tiny because they like math.
Albert Einstein’s brain weighed 2 ½ pounds at the time of his death. I’m not sure if that means anything, although I’m happy to say that it qualifies as one of the few things in the world I can lift. The Internet doesn’t say how heavy the rest of his body was. It must’ve been okay, I think, or else, instead of relativity, he might’ve come up with something like E = MC Donald’s.