Amongst Other Things – A Korean Compendium

A Cup of Coffee and Patriotism

Posted in Comparative, Teaching, Uncategorized by 努江虎 on August 3, 2013

Any of my Korean students will fetch me a cup of coffee if asked and occasionally they will buy me one from one of the numerous coffee shops in my area. I’m reminded of the time, when as a new teacher in my first post, I had taken a coffee into my classroom and when I came to drain the dregs discovered a couple of drawing pins lurking therein. I only took cups into my classroom on a few occasions and quickly decided it was dangerous to drink from a cup left in the presence of students. I also learnt to check any seat before sitting as upturned drawing pins were also a common means of abusing staff. Even a jacket I once left on the back of my chair was removed, thrown on the floor with my opened wallet and bank cards discarded on top. I can narrate these events to Korean students and they will be mildly shocked but there are some ‘stories’ I wouldn’t dream of  attempting to narrate as they are simply too shocking for naive Korean sensibilities: boys masturbating under desks, on one occasion a boy flashed his dick to a female colleague, or girls giving boys oral sex in view of the staff room.

Recently (now a year or two ago) however, an event occurred in a British school in which a boy stuffed his penis and testicles in a female teacher’s coffee mug, took a photo of his exploit and then posted the photo on his Facebook account. The teacher subsequently drank from the cup before discovering what had happened. Unfortunately the only major link I can find for the article is at the Sun, Britain’s crappiest, and most widely read daily newspaper. I originally read it on MSN News. Incidentally, another incident in the same week involved a girl putting laxative in teachers’ coffee. I had difficulty telling  the cock and sac story to all but a few very close Korean friends and certainly couldn’t explain it to a class of Korean 16 year olds whom I can mortify by simply sucking my pen. They would not be able to comprehend why any student should behave in such a manner and would see only disgust  and depravity in the act. However, I could easily tell it to British 13 year olds many whom would find it funny and a valid reprisal to make on a teacher. Indeed on the MSN comments associated with the news report, some individuals questioned why a teacher would have a cup in the classroom while some simply claimed a teacher deserved such treatment.

I wondered where those ESL teachers come from who claim Korean kids are as bad as British kids given there are so many blogs  and books written by full-time British teachers who are appalled by the current standards. Indeed, it’s usually only school managers and those who’ve had to prostitute their personal integrity to gain promotion,  those who live in self-denial in order to maintain their sanity and preserve at east a little self-respect, or the lucky few in truly decent schools, who will deny that something is seriously amiss. I could form a small club with the number  disgruntled teachers I know and I’ve known a number of excellent teachers who’ve left the profession because it excessively frustrated them. The idea of returning to British shores to teach fills me with dread.

a monitor cleans my board and replenishes chalk before every class

Britain is not the worst country in the world so why pick on it and not a really bad country?  The point is I’m not incensed by the inadequacies of other countries!  I don’t’ own their passports: I’m British and I’m forced to write that on official forms and documents. When it comes to learning we encourage students to accept criticism as a means of bettering their ability but many people erect a brick wall when it comes to the criticism of their nation. I’m not unpatriotic, conversely  I am patriotic. (Indeed, at one time ‘patriotic’ encompassed the criticism of your country as it was borne out of good intention and the desire for your country to better itself). And of course, I have been socialised in the UK, I speak English, I have an ancestry in the British Isles. Everything about  me is British and more specifically, English.

When I have lived abroad for long periods, especially in radically different cultures, I start yearning for England: English mist, damp mornings, English rain, green grass, decent tea, an English Christmas, Oh!… and the wonderful sounds of Elgar, even though I hate the nationalism it has come to represent. I miss those orchestral marches with their majestic dignity that is so vividly depicted by the characteristic combination of clarinets in their rich chalmeau register fortified by the cellos and in the background the pizzicato pulse of basses. There is  no hurry, the pace is relaxed and only the British have quick marches which are so leisurely you can almost hear the snort of immense cavalry horses. And when the  little timpani roll climaxes  with the brush of cymbals, a thrilling, gentle ‘tushhhh,’ an orgasmic tremor, evoking a tiny tinkle of brass, breast plates, dangling swords and medals, how staggeringly imperial! The culmination of an epoch of world domination depicted not by Sousarian vigour; its thrashing cymbals, blasting trombones amidst the bling-bling sparkle of patent leather, staybright and plastic, but by  sublime subtlety. And what of roast beef, bitter, lazy English villages and English eccentricity?  When I’m away from England, Britain, for too long, there is a yearning, almost at the genetic level which reminds me of my roots and kindles what little allegiance I have. I too am British and this memory, this imaginative kindling is my England and ultimately the place, for better or worse, I feel at home. In this context one can argue it is very patriotic to voice a concern that it has a scummy façade, that it is not aspiring to be better either in terms of its physical being or in the nature of its citizens.  

A British cavalry band trundles through the snow

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The Life of Keiko Fukuda

Posted in Martial Arts by 努江虎 on March 1, 2013

Keiko Fukuda, the world’s  highest ranking female judoka, died on February 9th 2013, just a few months short of her 100th birthday. She was the last living student of judo’s founder, Kano Jigoro. She held the rank of ninth dan and though she was awarded 10th dan by the USA Judo  Federation, the Japanese Kodokan refused to ratify it. The Kodokan barred any woman from holding a rank above 5th dan, which Fukuda obtained in 1953. It wasn’t  until 1972 that the Kodokan granted her 6th dan making her the first woman to be promoted beyond 5th dan.

Keiko Fukuda - a truly inspirational figure

Keiko Fukuda – a truly inspirational figure

My interest in this wonderful woman was sparked when I stumbled across a documentary, ‘Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful,‘ that was being made about her lifelong contribution to judo. I subsequently posted an article about her in 2012 (link). Fukuda’s dedication to the art was outstanding but what compelled me to write were the numerous mindless responses carried in Youtube’s comments archive. Anyone who posts comments criticising an elderly person carrying a dan grade and who subsequently claims they could easily ‘knock her down,’ totally misses the subtleties of ‘do.’

I believe the documentary about Fukuda was completed and given a public viewing, in her presence, in 2012. Fukuda lived in the USA, and died at her home in San Francisco.

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Spider Season

Posted in Animals, Photo diary, seasons by 努江虎 on November 10, 2012

Bu-gok (부곡) in late autumn with ‘Chinese’ cabbages growing in the forefront

Last Friday I travelled to Bu-gok (부곡), about 45 minutes drive outside Daegu, to practice straw cutting with my komdo teacher. The barn where we cut is on a farm and wandering around I discovered some enormous spider webs belonging to what is probably the most prolific spider in Korea, the Sorcerer or Shaman spider (mu-dang – 무당). In English it has several names including the Golden Banana Spider and Joro Spider.  Its Latin name is nephila clavata.

the farmer’s garden

The span between supports was over 2 meters

The numerous spiders on these webs were neither as large nor colourful, possibly as it is right at the end of their mating season and the end of autumn. Their webs however, were not just large, 3 meters across, but densely intertwined. The genes of the mu-dang have been used in genetically cloning silk worms in order to produce stronger silk. Only the female carries the red marking and apart from being larger than the male, she has cannibalistic tendencies after mating.

a female mu-dang (무당) spider

tightly intertwined webs

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Further References

October 2010. The Shaman Spider

October 2010. Shaman Spider Webs

Update on Han Song Bathhouse (한성) Daegu

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Ballads, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 努江虎 on November 5, 2012

As far as bathhouses go, Han Song, near MacDonald’s, in Song-so, is pretty insignificant. It’s neither large nor impressive and is only a bathhouse and as such is closed after 10.pm.

My only reason for writing about Han-Song Sauna is that it is the only bathhouse in the area that was operating when I first arrived in Korea in the summer of 2000. It is of personal significance because it was the third sauna I visited, the first which I was to visit on a regular basis and it stood right next to my first hagwon. I visited every working day for eight months. In Korea, where businesses come and go so quickly, such staying power is an exception even more so when you consider the two attendants in the Sauna foyer as well as the shoe shine man, were all working here back in 2000.

Han-Song Sauna (한성) in Song-So, Daegu.

Nostalgia is the only thing that brings me back to Han-Song, usually on a yearly basis. I’m amazed it is still open because I don’t think a single won has been spent on its maintenance in 12 years. I imagine its persistence is due to the loyalty, or laziness of the residents of nearby apartment blocks.

My last visit was 13 months ago and I remembered it being grotty. This time however, my visit actually made me feel dirtier rather than cleaner. The hinges on sauna doors are totally rusted and the ceiling, corroded,  is a mass of flaky blisters. Several air vents in the ceiling, totally rusted, are simply dirty brown holes.  There is a stone slab in the steam room under which I used to stick my used chewing gum, five years ago! The slab of seating, a sort of black marble, is still loose and the gum, still visible and still pliant. Notices I used to try to decipher, 11 years ago, now have missing letters or are so faded you can’t read them. The place is grim, dank and worn and yet I still feel comfortable, even with the flaky roof ceiling overhead.

The gutters running alongside the pools are caked in what looks like a yellowy to grey sludge except when you poke it with your big toe, you discover it’s solid and some form of scale.

Han-Song is a about as washed out as you can get and I’d be surprised if such conditions aren’t in breach of some regulations – but maybe not as Korean hygiene tends to throw up some strange anomalies. For example, people will spend a good hour scrubbing themselves clean and will choose to do some in such a nasty ambiance when only five minutes walk down the road is a beautifully luxurious sauna (Hwang-So).

Han-Song needs a makeover. While the pools are still enjoyable the whole experience is spoilt but having to lie looking up at that decaying ceiling and wondering if you can finish your ablutions before it collapses around your ears.

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For previous review, 12th August, 2010, see here.

Ch’u-seok 2012

Posted in Buddhism, Diary notes, Travel by 努江虎 on October 23, 2012

The end of September saw the celebration of one of the most important events in the lunar calendar, namely Ch’u-seok. This important celebration sees families gathering to worship their ancestral spirits and celebrate the harvest. The event is marked by a public holiday during which traditional games are played and foods such as song-pyeon (송편) and rice wine eaten.

made from glutinous rice and filled with various fillings, most especially sugar, sesame oil and sesame seeds

This Ch’u-seok, I travelled with my komdo teacher, Kwon Yong-guk and his family to a rural town near Ulsan. As well as paying respects to his relatives and ancestors, we planned to do some bamboo cutting (Bamboo Cutting in Ulsan).

Some last minute instruction

Kwon Yong-guk’s father in law, who used to be Chief of  the Fire-brigade in Ulsan, has two houses side by side in a small plot surrounded by farm land.  The setting was quite beautiful especially as it was autumn and the chillies and persimmon, such iconic sights in Korea, were ripe. We spent half an hour trying to net the super soft type of persimmon, known as hong-shi (홍시),  with a long pole and attached net.

Personally, one of the most beautiful Korean sites, a persimmon tree with big fat, juicy persimmon all as delicate as a balls of orange jelly

Preparing the barbecue

Some of the kids playing under a persimmon tree. The back garden was ringed with kimchi pots.

The cutest family dog

After cutting bamboo in the afternoon, we gathered in the courtyard of the house and cooked a barbecue. Kwon Yong-guk has a huge family with about 80 members from both sides. Many of them I was to meet the following day. Darkness fell and in the countryside, unlike Daegu, one is treated to real darkness and a good view of the stars. And when some clouds cleared and the full moon was visible, the children made wishes.

It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed three of the kids wearing sweat shirts on the back of which was printed, ‘Play like a Motherfucka.’

‘Play like a Motherfucka!!!!”

Sleeping wasn’t particularly comfortable as I was on the floor in a shared room and just as I started to get some sleep, at around 4am, Kwon Yong-guk’s alarm went off. Next, we were going fishing.

Kwon Yong-guk’s (right) passion is fishing

The lake was incredibly peaceful at 6.40 in the morning

But the scenery was great

Not being enamoured with sitting watching the floats for hours on end, I found a small patch of flat ground and did some training. Kwon Yong-guk caught two small fish. He never eats them and throws them back in the water. When he excitedly showed me his first catch I told him I needed to get my glasses but I don’t think he got the joke!

Where are my glasses?

After fishing we travelled back to the edge of Ulsan to have breakfast. Next, was a visit to one of Korea’s most beautiful temples, Tongdosa (통도사). This is Korea’s largest temple and is famous, among other things, for having no statue of the Buddha outside the temple and a temple candle which has burnt for 1300 years.

The entrance to the temple complex

One of the buildings

One of the buildings in the center of the complex

One of the Four Heavenly Kings, Virupaksa, guardian of the West.

Virupaksa suppressing demons

Leaving Tongdosa Temple. The pathway is lined with ’100 Day Flower Trees.’

Next, we travelled to a mountain cemetery where Kwon Yong-guk’s in-laws were gathering. The cemetery spanned the sides of three mountains and was the largest I have ever seen.

just one part of the mountain cemetery

A photo from half way up the mountain

Kwon Yong-guk beside the grave of his grandfather-in-law

The view from the edge of the grave

The young kids in Hanbok. Kwon Yong-guk’s sons are far left.

preparing to pay respects

I felt quite special being asked to pay homage

After ancestral rites another barbecue was prepared

Tucking-in

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Andong and the Mask Dance

Posted in Photo diary, Regionalism, Travel by 努江虎 on October 14, 2012

Totems standing close to the longest wooden bridge in Korea (Andong)

On September 22nd, I travelled to Andong with my komdo teacher’s family, some students and ‘LC.’ I last visited Andong in 2000 and it was a brief visit of only a few hours during which there was no time for sightseeing.

First, we visited the longest wooden bridge in Korea which spans the Nakdong River just outside Andong. Incidentally, the Nakdong meanders northwards to pass through Daegu. We walked across the bridge and visited a park where traditional games can be played, (these are always popular on holidays) and then visited a nearby cultural museum. We then ate Andong chicken stew in the city. In the afternoon we headed to Hahoe Village.

The traditional swing

Another traditional game rather like darts but the target is a pot.

This game consist of a spinning top which is whipped to keep the momentum.

The traditional hoop

Every Korean town and province is famous for something. In Ch’eonan it was the walnut cookies while in Daegu it is the apples, textiles and mak ch’ang. Andong is famous for its spicy chicken stew, mackerel, soju and of course, the mask dance. Back in 2000, I remember several Koreans proudly reminding me that Queen Elizabeth 2nd had watched a mask dance in Andong on her birthday in 1999. Indeed, a small building at the entrance to Hahoe Village houses various artifacts and photos from her visit and in the garden nearby, grows a pine tree she planted. At one time, one of the underpasses in Daegu was painted with a large mural commemorating her visit but I think it has since been painted over.

Masks have a long tradition in Korea and were used both by soldiers in war, in burial rituals and in shamanistic ceremonies. There are several types of mask dance, better described as mask dramas but the Hahoe version is probably the most famous. Typically, there are a number of characters including a monk, a scholar, a simpleton and some nobles (yangban). The Hahoe drama is an exorcist play dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The dance is performed regularly but the actual International Mask Festival is only once a year. I had no idea what the play was actually about but it was amusing and after a short while the masks begin to become quiet realistic.

The Andong Mask Dance.

I had no idea about the plot, but it was amusing

Close to the dance site is the traditional folk village of Hahoe where you can find a museum dedicated both to Korean masks and masks from around the world. The village is a working one with a small population who are engaged in traditional crafts which you can often watch. As in other folk villages, there are numerous guest houses, known as minbak, which give a taste of a former lifestyle.

In Hahoe Traditional Folk Village

Persimmon herald Autumn

Close to the entrance of the village is a ‘graveyard’ of abandoned totems (장승 – jang-seung). I love Korean totems and wrote about them in: Fascinating Physogs. Jan 2012.

A ‘graveyard’ of totems

Spot the rude embellishments!

I guess the Korean equivalent of Gothic

And even more!

One last shot from a different angle.

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On Vacation

Posted in Diary notes, Uncategorized by 努江虎 on July 29, 2012

my new summer hanbok – amazingly cool

Yes, it’s vacation time and I’m off to the UK. I don’t intend writing any posts while away and when I return I’ll only being posting here on a monthly basis. After a number of years in Korea over a twelve-year period, I’ll only be repeating myself and currently I’m spending time at my site on Haidong Gumdo, at zen-sword.com

I currently need to write one more post to make the total number of posts over 3 years, 500. Have a great summer!

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Somewhat Greener Grass

Posted in Comparative, Entertainment, services and facilities by 努江虎 on July 18, 2012

The speed of construction in Korea; a year between clearing the lot to the opening of Starbuck’s on the ground floor

Koreans will tell you their economy is in recession but there are recessions and recessions. Prices don’t seem to have increased much over the years and my utilities bills are in some cases cheaper than they were five years ago. Meanwhile, my electricity bill in the UK has increased by almost 300% in the last five years and it’s the same with gas and water utilities. Indeed, the price of one bill in the UK, my Community Charge, currently almost £150pm (w300.000), would not just cover my all monthly Korean utility bills but, my health contribution, internet and cable TV, and my monthly subscription to the most exclusive gym and jimjjilbang in my area.

My monthly Korean gas and electric bills always contain a graph showing the price you have paid for each month over 13 months so at a glance you can not just see if you’re paying more this month than you were in the corresponding month last year, but can access seasonal variations. The same system in the UK would mortify me as we have been subject to massive hikes every year for the last five years – indeed in one year there were two large increases. Meanwhile, the restaurant in which I’ve eaten for the last four years has increased the price of pork kimchi stew by 500Won (25 pence).

Coffee houses – an indicator of disposable income

When business folds, another quickly opens, more often than not, a mobile phone store or a coffee house. Coffee houses in Korea are often used as an indicator of disposable incomes. One of the most pertinent signs that the Korean economy isn’t in the same depressing mess it is back home, is that rate at which buildings are erected. It isn’t just the case that buildings are being built but that they are speedily completed. In Korea, you can expect a 12 story building to be completed within a year and in a five mile journey across the city a few weeks ago, I must have past at least 20 buildings being erected. In one area alone there were at least six that that weren’t there a year ago.

a busy building program in Dasa, Daegu. Construction can be seen from early morning until it begins to get dark – six days a week!

But there are other markers of a relatively healthy economy despite the world recession; many of my students have the latest mobile technology and in some cases expensive technology and on the streets at the weekends it’s easy to spot new jeans and trousers, especially on teenagers. New trainers are common and the current trend New Balance, not just in trainers but as logos on T-shirts and bags. Korean students have a ‘preppy,’  respectable appeal and there is a distinct lack of the ‘East European fashions’ which tend to dominate British streets such as leggings, cheap trackies and hoodies.

new trainers on my students

And then there are middle school students with cameras costing anything up to 1.000.000KRW(£500). Take a trip to any popular Korean destination and you’ll see an inordinate number of Koreans not just with expensive cameras, but with enormous telescopic lenses.

The quality of life in Korea is high and living on the peninsula reminds me of the years I spent in Germany, during the late 70′s and 80′s, in an economy equally as vibrant. More important is the atmosphere generated when there is a good quality of life. Economic depression casts a gloom over the societies it infects and no amount of social manipulation in the form of festivals, flag waving jamborees or ‘big events’ can shake off the feeling that society is sick. Yes, currently, Korea is probably one of the best places to be to ride out not just the current global recession, but the general greed that seems an endemic part of my own culture and in which most transactions leave you feeling ‘ripped-off.’

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One Month Teaching Opportunity During August, in Daegu

Posted in Uncategorized by 努江虎 on July 7, 2012

I’m due for a month’s vacation in August. If there are any English language University teachers or ‘Kyopos’ in Daegu who would like a month’s work during August,  here’s your opportunity.

friendly colleagues

I have worked for five years in a small hagkwon in the Song-so area of Daegu, not too far from Keimyoung University. The students, in classes of between 4-10, are aged 7-16. The school is very friendly and the boss, who has been a close friend for almost 13 years, is great at working with westerners and is very supportive; no unannounced developments or meetings sprung on you without warning, etc, etc.

supportive environment

The school has around 120 students and 4 other teachers. The teaching hours are from 3-8pm, Monday to Friday.

The school is on both major bus routes and a few minutes walk from the Song-so Industrial Complex subway network. For a University teacher, this would be a great  opportunity to make a month’s extra cash without using up all of your lovely, long vacation. I envy you!

fun students

Interested? Respond here and I’ll get back to you with more details.

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Fake Cake at ‘Pathetically Bland’

Posted in Entertainment, Food and Drink by 努江虎 on July 3, 2012

It’s Friday evening at the end of what is one of the most stressful weeks in Korean education: it’s the end of semester exams. Stress in my school, has been high amongst both staff and students. At the end of the evening, after a few beers with friends, and slightly inebriated, I decide I needed a cake and visited my local Paris Baguette. There’s a PB on every corner in Korea.  It was an exercise destined to disappoint.

Paris Baguette – Pathetically Bland – but it looks great!

5000 miles from Paris and Paris Baguette is about as French as you can get. The franchise, the largest bakery franchise in Korea, has a little picture of the Eifel Tower on its logo and at that point anything French stops. There are only two things I ever buy in PB: one is a choux pastry cake filled with syntho-cream and the other is cheese cake. The choux pastry’s synthetic cream is second best compared to fresh cream and the cheese cake is somewhat of a lottery, I think it depends on the temperature but sometimes it seems to contain cheese cake and at others, simply sponge.

There is no doubt that in terms of visual stimulation, PB is alluring. The array of cakes in the display cabinet is stunning but they’re all totally shit and totally syntho! The cake is a fake, a fraud but I should have known because I’ve written two former posts on exactly the same topic! Fake cream, fake cheese, chocolateless chocolate, the type Americans love and mock essence additives of everything from coffee to blueberry.

The beer has washed away all recollection of former disappointments and swished aside any powers of discernment. At 11.50pm, the choux pastry tray is empty and in the display cabinet there is an absence of cheesecake. However, I’m tempted by a rather delicious looking mascarpone tiramisu.

don’t be fooled – it’s as much a tiramisu as a Big Mac is a burger

From somewhere on the periphery of my awareness, currently dulled by a few too many bottles of Korea’s shitiest beer (was it Cass or was it Hite?), something is telling me to forgo the tiramisu and go and pig out on some fried chicken but the layers of sponge between that thick, yellowy, cheesy cream filling are overwhelming.  I concede.

the art of syntho-cream, bland sponge, chocolate-less chocolate, tasteless coloured powders and bits of fruit

Picking up the boxed cake, which isn’t cheap at around W21.000 (11 UK pounds), I’m struck by how light it is. And once home, with the tiramisu exposed and ready for consumption, I notice how the creamy cheese filling has a spongy texture to it. PB excel at disappointment and even the crappiest fancies of Mr Kipling exceed the tasteless experience of the tiramisu. There was nothing creamy in the cream and certainly nothing cheesy, even mildly mascarpone cheesy. In all, a totally tasteless experience and even the ‘mouth-feel,’ something MacDonald’s excel at, failed. After eating the entire cake, I didn’t even feel as if I’d broken my regular eating pattern: the sponge was airy and light and the cream filling – simply nothing – no taste with a cream-less texture.

Paris Baguette (PB), aka Pathetically Bland

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Related Posts on Paris Baguette fake cake:

Castrated Cake and Bollockless Beer (April 1st, 2011)

Chu-Sok Cheesecake (September 26th, 2010)

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