January 2, 2008

Model Home

One of my wife's aunts just bought a new house in one of those pre-fab subdivisions that seem to be taking over middle America, a McMansion. The subdivision is still brand new. The streets aren't on maps, and most of the houses are half-finished, or have that just-moved-in look. But there is one house with green grass and trees outside. It's the model house, and that's the one they bought—fully furnished. To give the illusion of the perfect life, the model house has fake family photos in each room—the pictures always feature a handsome couple with one or two kids. The couple would vary from room to room, but you wouldn't notice if you didn't look closely. The mom was always blonde, the dad, muscular, occassionally shirtless. In the kid's room a framed drawing titled, "World's Best Dad" was carefully hung in the corner while the master bedroom was decorated with glossy travel magazines, and books in bookshelves that invitably carried the word "success" in the title. In the living room a pretend television displays a serene ocean scene.

My wife's aunt and uncle and their daughter will move into the new house leaving most of their old furniture behind, walking into a readymade life. In truth the new life looks pretty similar to the old life. The new house is virtually indistinguishable from the old one which is also in a pre-fab subdivision. Inside the house feels the same- miles of beige carpet, huge windows with plastic sills, and a sense of complete anonymity. The cherry veneer furniture and bland paintings on the walls are indistinguishable between the homes. But in the new house the rooms are all one or two sizes bigger, there's a third door on the garage, and the basement is graced with a media room. A year from now little will have changed in the model house. The furniture will not have been moved, the paintings will stay exactly as they are, and my guess is it will take months if not years to replace all those family photos scattered around. Even the plastic TV will stay put.

It is easy for my wife and I to be horrified by all this as the house and everything it represents is pretty much the opposite of how we believe life should be lived, but for my wife's aunt and uncle, immigrants from Korea who were both children of war who arrived here with nothing, the house is tangilbe evidence of a life of unbelievably hard work— year upon year of labor without vacations or government holidays often in dangerous neighborhoods where they are mocked and threatened. The house will remain chilly in winter as they would never waste money on something as frivoulous as heat, and it will feel empty to visitors, but out in the back Jenn's uncle will plant a vegetable garden with seeds sent from Korea. He grew up on a farm and still sometimes refers to himself as a farmer. He'll complain about the soil, but he'll make it work and before long the garden will be overflowing with tomatos and squash and chilis. In the summers he'll host barbecues complaining about the expense of such a big house, but enjoying hosting everyone in it, and dreaming of a bigger one.

posted at 01:15 AM by raul

Filed under: daily life

TAGS: mcmansions (1) model homes (1) toll brothers (1)


01/02/08 03:30 PM

multiply that by 7 billion and you've got yourself a hell of a shit hole. and the future looks bright. Individuals are great until you add them all up and look at the big picture. Avian flu NOW!

01/03/08 09:54 AM

You could be writing this post about my parents. Identical almost.

I suppose it is obvious why growing up during a war that leaves people with the need to amass money and property but to not spend that money, but it's hard to watch sometimes. My parents spend their nights bundled up in a large dark cold house because they don't want to pay for heat or electricity.

Let me make a guess about jen's uncle--he paid for the house in cash. He keeps plastic on the lampshades and pricetags stay on things whenever possible. Despite having a huge house, they rarely use it but for sleep. Out the door by 6:30am home maybe at 10 or 11pm. If he has seen your house which I'm going to guess is like my house, full of old things, he doesn't get it.

01/03/08 10:39 AM

to each their own, right? my parents are the same way and it absolutely makes no sense (though i think they're beginning to see the light and plan on moving into a small condo upon retirement). we all find our worth in different things. as senseless as some of them are, we all need our respective senseless symbols of achievement...though i think deep inside we know they ultimately mean nothing. temporarily, in the moment, though, there's nothing weightier and all-important.

01/06/08 08:00 PM

I feel sorry for them. The acceptance and recognition they desire cannot be bought. Instead of 'the Korean people down the street', they will be known as the 'well-to-do Korean people down the street'. The irony of it all is that the more material objects they amass, the more isolated they will become.

I knew may such Chinese Canadians in Vancouver. They try so hard to integrate.

Being “…children of war who arrived here with nothing…” has little to do with it. Immigrant minorities everywhere face very similar challenges that you speak of. I know this because I'm a minority raising a family in Japan.

I have learned that acceptance and recognition, to a certain extent, can be acquired through forming long-term meaningful relationships with others within the community. You only get back what you give.

01/07/08 12:40 AM

I wouldn't feel sorry for them. They sound exactly like my parents who I'm sure are of the same generation. I'm generalizing but Koreans from that migration wave of the 70's have done a remarkable job of creating close knit communities centered on church and family. My parents go to a Korean church, shop at a Korean market, watch Korean videotapes. Their world is Korean. I don't think they have a real desire to integrate. They chafe when they run into discrimination (mainly at work), but lately even those incidents are less and less I argue they encounter the same number of assholes as you would find anywhere.

I don't think my parents have any non-Korean friends. Unlike friends of mine with immigrant parents from other places like Greece or Venezuela, who want so much to be American, my parents never thought of themselves as anything but Korean. In my entire life I don't my parents have invited a non-Korean has to our home on a social visit. I don't think they've ever been invited to any non-Korean's home except maybe after they donated money to a charity. When I bring home non-Korean friends they get sort of tense and formal.

Their isolation from Americans is not because my parents don't love America, they do, but to claim to be an American would be false for them. If you were to ask them my parents would say they are super patriotic Americans. This country gave them a chance to live like they wanted, make money by working hard, and educate their kids. Unlike Korea today which has been thriving of late, the Korea they left was a hopeless place

The hard work of integrating and need for acceptance and recognition was on us, the kids. Our parents always told us we were Americans because we were born here and were constantly saying we were American, not Korean in the way we acted, but even so we came out between cultures. Not Korean but not American. But I never realized this until I went to college because there were so many Korean kids where I grew up. So that even that culture shock was delayed until we were set up with American roommates, but even then I had much more in common with their way of living than I did my parents' way of living.

Back to the big house. I moved maybe fifteen times growing up. Always to bigger and better houses, I asked my mom about this recently and she said it was because one day she expected all of us to move back home. She wants us to get married and have kids and all live together. She told me we could build a wall and have a separate door. I couldn't tell her the truth that I'm never moving back, so I let her think the house wasn't big enough to which she said maybe they would have to buy the house next door.

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