Elwood 5566

Definetly 'Ji Ji' (지지)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, podcasts by 노강호 on December 12, 2009

For the last few weeks I’ve been paying attention to the contents of my dustpan after I have swept my studio floor and run the ‘magic mop’ over it. The ‘magic mop’ has a disposable cloth attached to the head to which dust and most other debris firmly sticks. I noticed a long time ago that you can’t flick anything on a Korean floor without it reappearing some days later, stuck to the sole of your naked foot or clinging to your sock. Grains of rice, once hardened are especially annoying.

In Europe at least, and especially in Britain, carpets are often the preferred choice for floors and in some aspects they are wonderful because they absorb most small debris. ‘Sweep it under the carpet,’ an idiom I am often asked to explain, really isn’t necessary with small things as you can deposit them on the floor and at most all you need do is  rub you foot over it a few times to permanently erase whatever was underfoot.  All bodily bits, small scraps of food, cigarette ash etc, are banished forever in the pile of your pretty carpet.

Ten years ago I moved into a new house in England and after a year decided to rip up the carpets that had lain on the front room floor for well over a decade. Even after months and months of hoovering the floor and liberally sprinkling it with various scented and odour eating carpet powders, I was never able to feel comfortable sprawling out in front of the TV.  The carpet was old but it never actually looked dirty and the unpleasantness I felt probably arose from the fact that I occasionally detected odours emanating from it, odours which weren’t unpleasant but weren’t mine. You wouldn’t want to wear a stranger’s unwashed clothes so why would you want to lay on their ancient carpets, carpets ’worn’ by several families. Even after meticulous cleaning, I regularly wrestled lengthy black hairs embedded within the pile. They were of Greek extraction because Greek students had lived in the house, some three years before I moved in.

When the carpet was eventually dragged out of the house, departing in a dusty cloud, the wooden floor on which it had lain was covered in a thin coat of what looked like sand except it was finer and softer and most likely organic in origin. The carpet had acted like a filtration system so that only the finest particles escaped through to the floor boards.  Once hoovered you could see the small spaces between the boards were caked with dirt that had been compressed into them over many years. This had to be gouged out with a knife before I could sand the boards. Once the front room and dining room were rid of carpeting and the floors washed, scrubbed, scrapped, sanded and treated with linseed oil, the need to dust became a monthly rather than weekly routine.

The decision to banish the muck absorbing carpet, and to subsequently ban outdoor shoes from inside the house, was finally made after I noticed a small brown thing on the floor. I smoked marijuana at the time and on two occasions I had discovered dope on the floor though one discovery turned out to be either dog shit or a clinka that had fallen out of my nephew’s nappies. This mistake only transpired when I inhaled the joint I had rolled from it. Needless to say anything brown and lumpy and laying on the floor I assumed to be dope before anything else.  Though I suspected what it was, it needed confirming.  I sniffed it and instantly retched – cat shit, the worst carnivore shit of all!

Ten years ago, the streets around my house were liberally ornamented with piles of dog shit. I know because I used to stick small cocktail flags in them to draw attention to them; it was a form of social protest. When walking to work I would count the passing turds and often, in just half the street, I would count as many as thirty. I had some intimate relationships with the turds in my street: one had been laid in the furthest corner of my lawn, just under the privet bush. I couldn’t fail but notice it as it was large and shaped more like a small cow pat than one of those curled and tapering whippy whirl turds that Korean kids are so expert at drawing.  In 2000, when I first arrived in Korea, I wondered why so many ice creams were drawn on tables especially as the Baskin Robbins opposite my haggwon, scooped ice cream out of large tubs rather than deposited it whirled. Only the smallest dog could have manoeuvred its arse into the required position under the privet bush to deposit the poop, a Korean size handbag dog for example, but this specimen’s owner had to be big.

I watched that turd for an entire summer and well into winter, witnessing its transition from a wet mess to one with a crusty top, rather like a pie that then turned white after an infection by some strain of turd eating mould. Eventually, internally atrophied and dehydrated by a hot summer, it collapsed into itself. Gradually absorbed into the ground around it, it disappeared but by that time it was late winter.  Back on the pavements, I even began to recognize individual dog’s shite and could sometimes trace their various daily messings down the street. One example, a particularly big deposit was almost orange  in colour. I imagined the owner, walking their dog in the anonymity provided by the early morning darkness, allowing it to shit in one spot and the next day dragging it a little further down the road so as to share the messes equally around the neighbourhood. As dogs like to do their business in the same place, I would imagine that the moment the dog started to squat on its hunches the owner had to drag it further before letting it spill its backside onto the pavement. I estimated the owner probably took a month to circumnavigate the crescent before the dog had to poop in approximately the same place and if even house numbers were the victims one month and odd house numbers the next, the cycle could have been extended over two months. Despite the copious piles dotted about the street you never saw an owner allowing their dog to foul the pavement so, never trust dog owners who walk their dog in the dark.

Some owners were equally as considerate and seemed to think it was acceptable for their dog to shit on the road. For several days, as I ate breakfast, I was treated to the view of another enormous turd, strange how they all seem to have been enormous, as it was squelched all over the tarmac  by passing cars. Neighbours who made their dogs pooh on the road probably perceived themselves as good citizens while those who used the pavements were anti-social. Eventually I put a rather hostile placard on my front lawn and several neighbours then did the same; instantly, the appearance of new turds ceased and those remaining were old and in various stages of atrophy, dehydration and decay. I kept counting the turds walking to work however, as the number of deposits beyond the borders of my placard’s influence had significantly increased.

I’m digressing: My point is Europeans and especially the British prefer to wear outdoor shoes inside their house which is a custom I find horribly disgusting and more so if you have carpets which act as toilet paper to the soles of your poohey shoes. There was so much shit on the streets around my house, and there still is, that natural decay and rain swirled it everywhere so that even if the ground looked clean, you could guarantee  it was coated in canine faecal matter. Wearing shoes indoors, when so many dogs foul the pavements is a disgusting habit.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog turd on a Korean street and even if there were it would only be a little thing as most Korean dogs are handbag dogs and incapable of passing anything more than a few pellet sized faeces. And yet Koreans never wear shoes inside their houses and often don’t wear them in workplaces.

When you live in a room which is barren of carpets your awareness of your own bodily debris grows. When you have a carpet you assume that the bit of nail you blow onto the carpet, or the bogey you roll and flick onto that beautiful Axeminster, simply vanishes. I can flick a toe nail across the room and know that in a day or two it will reappear in my dustpan along with a grain or two of rice, a few hairs and other bits of fluffy stuff. Occasionally I’ll spit out a nail to deliberately see when and where it will re-emerge.

I’ve noticed there are rarely any hairs on the central part of the floor because these are blown to the edges of the room by the draft from open windows and passing bodies and for some reason, the biggest trap of body hair are the sliding door groves. Every few weeks I need to clean these out. Pubic hair has the most amazing ability to float into places like your fridge or kitchen work-surface and though you might find this abhorrent and are thankful that your carpet seizes them before they become visible, I’d rather  see the occasional curly devil on a plate or in the fridge than lurking in the pile of some horrid carpet, rotting slowly among years of bodily refuse, embedded and matted with all sort of unthinkable crap, dead skin cells, bogeys, shoe dirt, dog and cat muck, grit, rain water etc, etc. And then, thinking we are being hygienic, we sprinkle the carpet with floor powders that temporarily scent the air. What happens to them once they have embedded themselves in the carpet? I doubt such powders disappear.

I live alone and so my observations are based on my own bodily sheddings but how greater the pollution if you live with other people or a family and have pets. Carpets are such filthy things and what we do with them is not much different to that other dirty British habit, thankfully disappearing, of blowing gunge out your nose and into a hanky which you then keep warm and moist in your pocket, the perfect environment for viruses and bacteria, before putting your face back into it and snorting out another load.  Having a carpet on your floor is a little like sleeping in the same bedding without ever washing it.

Cleaning a carpetless room is a joy because it’s effortless and now Samsung have even marketed a robotic floor cleaner that cleans your floor when you are out. Everything is exposed in a Korean room as there are few true hiding places. And if you want to wash the floor or give it an occasional scrub or douse it in bleach, well that too, is easy. Carpets can’t be washed and I’m sure all carpet shampoo does is drive the dirt deeper and enliven their parched innards. There is probably a surge in a carpet’s bacterial and fungal population following a shampoo.

In Korea, many westerners don’t remove shoes indoors preferring to stick to their own customs and there are others, myself included, who will occasionally wear shoes on their floor if for someone reason they have to return briefly indoors because they’ve forgotten something. This is a habit I am trying to break but when you’re in a rush it is difficult. You very, very rarely see Koreans walk on their living space floor wearing shoes, not even for a few seconds. I have noticed that on the odd occasion I have breached Korean custom, I have subsequently felt the deposited dirt left by my shoes, when barefooted. You can’t see it but it’s there despite the fact you only walked on the floor for a few seconds.

Korean students, especially younger ones, will sometimes cringe and tell me how dirty I am if I suck my pen. Often they will shout ‘ji ji’ (dirty) which is the word used to small kids and in the same category as English words like ‘pooh pooh’, ‘wee-wee’ and ‘tinkle’. If sucking a pen is a little ‘ji ji’ then having a carpet or rug is infinitely dirtier, indeed it is positively filthy! Next time you flick some item onto your Korean floor, just remember, it’ll be back!

지지 – dirty – (but a word used to small children), haggwon – 학원 – a private school like a homework club or after school study center.



Creative Commons License

© Nick Elwood 2010. Creative Commons Licence.


3 Responses

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  1. Unctuous Jones said, on October 31, 2010 at 1:59 am

    I quite agree.

    On the west coast of the US it’s not uncommon for a host to ask one to remove one’s shoes. Those that don’t often seem to realize they should and to feel consternation about it. On the more conservative east coast I never once had a western family ask me to remove my shoes, but I was young then too.

    Most household dust is of human origin. Other than bacteria and viruses, dust mites must thrive in carpet. Another improvement I’ve made is to get a foam mattress and an impermeable cover for it. My pillow is still no doubt teaming with mites unfortunately.

    Once I encountered my Korean father-in-law and noticed that he was wearing my enormous shoes. He just stood there grinning at me. I couldn’t begin to think what to say, so I simply blocked out this surreality and, with difficulty, discussed something else. Gradually I realized shoes aren’t considered a personal item in Korea. This of course makes sense because one is always taking shoes on and off, and it’s common to borrow flip flops or sandals to walk into someone’s yard or wherever.

  2. Unctuous Jones said, on October 31, 2010 at 2:13 am

    I guess I’ve worked my way to the beginning then. I’m relieved and saddened. Most of the other Korea blogs I’ve read emphasize the negative, so it’s been honestly fascinating to read your account. Also you are very interesting personally. I feel rather bland.

    I’ll have more to say presently.

    • Nick said, on October 31, 2010 at 3:01 am

      Thank you for taking the time to read my entire blog and to forward your comments. Although I enjoy writing for the sake of it, there is added reward in knowing someone is actually reading it. In fact, I have a number of other blogs but which are somewhat heavy and negative in content. My two other substantial sites are Scumland UK (about shitty British culture) and Education Meltdown, (on British education) oh! and Through The Porthole. These actually comprised book material which I decided to transfer to blog and this is still an ongoing process. They are quite different in tone from Ballads, You can access them through the lobster link in the sidebar. Best wishes!

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