Fat is Here
In the ebente-tang, the aroma of the day is lavender (라벤더). I’m wallowing while I see some guy stood in the cold pool snot-up into his hand and casually just wash it off – into the pool water. Filthy twat! I occasionally take in a mouthful of that water, I guess most people do and, I open my eyes underwater! Pissing in the baths is one thing, at least you are unaware of people doing it, but if you’re going to snot up, be discrete! The snotting incident made me wonder if the water is filtered. It is certainly changed on a regular basis and probably filtered. Neither is it chlorinated but as most people shower before entering the baths this doesn’t bother me. I can remember seeing a few turds in British swimming pools but despite the chlorinated water, I wasn’t going to swim anywhere near them! Often I notice children, usually unaccompanied, get straight into a bath without showering. Last Thursday, which was the eve of Buddha’s birthday, and a public holiday, there were about 10 teenagers running around. Usually, adults get irritated by raucous behaviour but the atmosphere was jovial and I noticed several men lounging in surrounding pools watching them and smiling. There was a definite holiday spirit; they held the door shut to the ice room door trapping friends inside and threw bowls of freezing cold water at each other. For almost an hour the bathhouse, the noisiest I have ever heard it, despite it not being very busy, resonated with their laughter. Then a fat guy walked in and I started thinking…
At one time, when there were few other wayguks around, I used to be the fattest man in Song-So and one of my companions, a woman from Australia, was probably the fattest woman. Though she was excellent company, I hated walking around with her. A fat person, especially one who is 1.95 cm tall, attracts attention but two fat people together, well, the assumption is they are a couple and that all western wayguks are fat. Two fat wayguks together loose their identity in the conflation that reduces them to, ‘they’ and ‘fat.’ If you’re sweating, unable to buy clothes that fit, if you’re seen eating, if you don’t like walking up four floors to your place of work, well, it’s all because you’re fat! And eating an ice-cream in public! No wonder you’re fat! I happen to take size 14 (UK) shoes. You can’t buy them in Korea, apart from perhaps in Seoul. And the reason my feet are so big, despite being the leanest parts of my body? I’m fat, of course! When Koreans see a fatty or a fatty couple, this is how they probably think, and I assume this, as in the west, it is how we think. Even if I see a fat person eating an ice cream on a hot summer’s day, even if I am eating one myself, my immediate thought is, ‘go on a diet, fat arse!’ Two fat people with backsides like hippopotami, holding hands on the beach front promenade, and wobbling like jelly… ‘gross! The contradictory nature of my thought, doesn’t even sully the flavour of my ice-cream.
Maybe I’m paranoid, but when my fat female friend and I took a taxi, along with two petit Koreans, and her and I ended up sitting on the same side of the cab, it was clear what caused the problem, and it wasn’t paranoia! The window on our side of the taxi looked directly onto the tarmac while the opposite window framed the full moon. After a hundred meters and a few grating sounds from some part of the vehicle now in contact with the road, the taxi driver evicted us.
In 2000, and probably until fairly recently, I was the fattest person I ever saw in a bathhouse. Even proportionately, no Korean ever came close to my dimensions. This isn’t because I have the girth of Jabba the Hutte, but because Koreans were, and to some extent still are, smaller than westerners. My diary pages from that period provide several references to there being a distinct lack of fat people. In the school at which I taught there was one fat boy, I even remember his name, Jack; a photo of him hangs in my bedroom bathroom, back in the UK. In my taekwondo school was another chubby. Neither boys were particularly fat and today, just ten years later, would be classified as fairly normal.
In the last few months, I have noticed that on almost every visit to a bathhouse there are one or two Koreans proportionately the same size and sometimes fatter than I. Very often, other fatties are kiddies. Burger bars, fried chicken, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donut and plenty of other western style fast food outlets have proliferated, and the price Korea is paying, especially their youth, is the bulging waistline. Ten years ago I went into a Baskin Robbins in downtown Daegu. I was with a Korean friend and her daughter and when I arrived at their table with a tray containing three, what I considered ‘normal’ size ice creams, they starred in amazement. One tub, they told me, would have been enough for all three of us but to me, they were the sort of size you would buy yourself back home. In the ten years interim, I now have two Baskin Robbins within a 7 minutes walk of my home and occasionally I will treat myself to an 11.000Won (£5.50), pot of ice cream. I think it holds about 5 scoops. I can easily eat this and could also finish off one of their larger buckets. Even if I buy the smaller pot, smaller than a Macdonald milkshake cup, staff will ask how many spoons I want. Shame prevents me from replying’ ‘one’ so, pondering in thought for a moment, as if counting the number of people back home waiting for me to deliver, I reply, ‘four.’
Korean proportions are always piddly and I’m not really into the act of sharing my food, especially ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a Korean meal, even at a buffet restaurant, and left feeling properly stuffed, stuffed western style where you can’t breathe properly and feel you’ve mutated into an enormous maggot. In the west, there are countless times I’ve gone for a meal and reached the point where Mr Creosote, in Monty Python’s, The Meaning of Life, cannot eat another chocolate wafer. But in the midst of a Korean public, usually much skinnier than I, being a fatty fills me with guilt and curbs my glutenous instincts. The fatties I now see around me at the bathhouse, and who attract more attention than I because, they are Korean and fat, which is novel, and not wayguk western and fat, which is common, certainly know what it feels to be ‘stuffed’ and all I am left pondering, as I wallow in my scented bath, feeling more like a warthog than large bottomed hippopotamus, is how do you pig out on Korean food? Fat has finally arrived and the blubberier it becomes, the slimmer I feel.