Elwood 5566

Who Really 'Worships' the Wang?

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads, Blogging, Comparative by 노강호 on October 18, 2010

Not Suitable for pumpkin people

When I started working on this blog in earnest, I wrote in the ‘About’ page, that ‘you cannot immerse yourself in another culture without it altering how you perceive your own.’ Trying to comprehend facets of another culture is a dialogue between both your experiences and those presented by a new culture in much the same way as history is a ‘dialogue between past and present.’  Of course, I was wrong!  A pumpkin lacks perception of its own environment, so to do some of the visitors that come here – often only for the briefest of visits.

Pumpkin people

Although I have had few nasty comments, on other blogs there has been some ‘discussion’ about the nature of Bathhouse Ballads. I doubt any of these ‘pumpkins’ took the time to read its content and drew their swords based solely on snippets gleamed from other bloggers.  All it took was for one blogger to highlight my sexuality, and to do that he had to read a considerable amount of text because I have only clearly and unambiguously outed myself on a few occasions, and the peripheral pumpkins started making assumptions. When I accidentally read a couple of  pumpkins’ posters, I actually thought they were referring to another blog. They describe this blog about ‘boys dropping their trousers,’ a blog about ‘kiddies,’ and a ‘gay blog’ and it wasn’t until I read the title they were referring to, that I realised it was Bathhouse Ballads. Worse, a forty-five year old friend I mention becomes a ‘boy’ and one reference to ‘skinny teenagers having the biggest dicks,’ labeled me a ‘perv.’  Only a ‘pumpkin’ could read Bathhouse Ballads, sweeping aside the many other topics covered, ignoring so much in the process to enable them to bend what remains to fit the predetermined judgment, to arrive at such erroneous conclusions.  Being reminded that societies are populated predominantly by pumpkins, that those pumpkins are often the voice of the majority, and that individuals with the capacity to think for themselves are rare, is never very nice but more enlightened comments were present in my defence.


Part of the pumpkin analysis was that Bathhouse Ballads is ‘into’ Korean ‘wang-worship’ and describes Korea men as ‘wang-flashers’. ‘I assume this refers to communal bathing because I have only once mentioned anything that could be construed as ‘flashing.’  It seems that ‘skinship’ and ‘concepts such as ‘dick friends’ (고추친구), a phenomena I haven’t yet written about, and same-sex bathing in general, provokes  some hostility. I initially assumed that you cannot immerse yourself in another culture without reasserting your own. Well, a pumpkin can! So, in what way has my understanding of British culture, and specifically male gender, been reconfigured in the light of a Korean experience?

The voice of the majority

It is only westerners, and certainly not all, that perceive ‘skinship’ as ‘closeted homosexuality’ and are correspondingly fearful or suspicious of same-sex bathing, the relaxed Korean attitude to nudity and physical proximity. Of course, there will be ‘gay Koreans who use such a culture for some form of ‘sexual pleasure’ but to most men the penises of other males are of little more significance than are noses. If a Korean boy sees the penis of another male he is not ravaged with guilt or accused by friends of being ‘gay,’ as I have witnessed as a teacher  in the UK.  I regularly meet and read about westerners who will not go bathhouses and others who while not necessarily hostile to skinship, perceive it as something that must be banished from a classroom. Why? Korean teachers themselves use it and I’ve seen this on many occasions. Isn’t it rather insensitive of waygukin teachers to cast out the cultural norms of their host society and then impose their own?  This is Korea, not back water wherever and there should be no need to impose foreign cultural values on  Koreans.

Ironically, it is not Korean men who  are ‘wang-obsessed,’ but the westerner.  Western men, myself included, are burdened with an obsession of the penis, of what is truly  ‘wang-obsession.’ When westerners, and especially western pumpkins, berate this aspect of Korean culture, they do so because of the values of their culture, they do so because they have been inculcated with obsessions about the ‘penis’  which derive from a deep-seated ‘fear of ‘sex’ as demonic and chaotic.’ The most glaring manifestation of this ‘obsession’ is when westerners conflate nudity with sex, and male nudity with homosexuality.  Koreans find this conflation quite bizarre, as do other cultures. And the moment you accuse Korean men of being ‘wang-worshippers’ you highlight how totally you misunderstand the nature of your very own culture, let alone that of another! If communal bathing is ‘wang-flashing,’ then it is also ‘toe-flashing’ or ‘hip-flashing’ but why the focus on the ‘penis’ unless you yourself give it more importance than it’s worth.

anthropology - not an academic pursuit for pumpkins

We westerners are so obsessed with the penis and its association with the disruptive potential of sex to the extent that men will hide them from each other. Naturally, many males shower together after sports but far more are either embarrassed by it or avoid it. We judge other men on the size of their penis and assume that a bigger penis is a sign of greater masculinity or sexual prowess and while I suspect size has some significance in Korean society, it is tempered by communal bathing where you realise that between most men there is little difference. I imagine only a very small number of Korean boys angst over dick proportions in comparisons to British boys. And if we have a problem with our dicks we would generally find it very embarrassing to confide in a friend and personally, despite close male friends back in the UK, I would find it easier to discuss such things with my Korean friends and indeed have done. Only a penis obsessed westerner could perversify this admission.

Humour is used to defuse the fear and unease caused by both a real penis and anything resembling it and this was the subject of my post, Sausages and Shit – a Comparisons in Smut Humour. Give a class of British boys anything phallic, a banana or sausage, and you can guarantee someone will connect it to  with a penis and begin making jokes with it.  We even pass e-mail poster jokes about  taxing different length penises – a tacit acknowledgment that a big dick means you are better off and hence need penalising.

and some have a university education

And then there’s our historical legacy, often one of the medical control of the penis: the association of mental weakness and instability with masturbation helped give rise to both the Boy Scouts and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. All were all attempts to divert boys away their penis  not because they were necessarily fixated on them, but because western ideology has a long and established fear of sex and anything associated with it. A ream of illnesses, some terminal, were associated with masturbation for which Kellogg himself advocated circumcision without anesthetic, as a cure. Neither did women escape the paranoia with the vagina and uterus often identified as the source of maladies and illness, most notably hysteria which was treated by hysterectomy.  The penis,  as the visible manifestation of sex and all the depravity to which indulgence could drag you  was naturally the greatest offender and capable, especially in youth of perverting an individuals moral character and by extension the morality of the nation.  From cod-pieces to Freud and beyond, western culture has a history of inflating the worth of that little appendage. In western history and ideology, the ‘penis’ is far from unimportant, and the fear of  its potential continues to obsess us sparking one witch-hunt after another.

The problem is some people are tourists in their own culture

Same sex communal bathing liberates one from all that cultural baggage and to experience mixed sex bathing, as  in Japan, takes it a step further. I would go as far as to say that not only does communal nudity provide a sense of liberation from the legacy of history as well as other negative baggage we carry about our bodies, but it is also a political statement. In Britain, if not indeed western society, masculinity and what comprises being male, expressed by traits such as: not showing emotion,  heterosexuality, avoiding  same-sex physical contact,  revulsion at  male nudity, aggression,  etc, all focus on the penis and its capabilities and the fear that relaxing any constraints may entice engagement or may reveal more about us than we want to know.  And with the  taboos unnoticed, invisible and perceived as natural, they become a springboard from which pumpkins judge the world around them.

In future I will mark such posts with a logo warning readers that the content is not suitable for pumpkin people.


Not suitable for pumpkin people


Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.


7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Brandi said, on October 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with this.
    For years I’ve had this same argument with my sister
    You just said it a lot better and sounded smart.

    It’s a penis not a demi-god figure to be secretly worshiped and damned in public.

    Oh and I was amused at the way you called people of a certain mind set pumpkins.. I’d have used more offending words but I enjoyed yours more.

  2. Hamish Nelson said, on October 18, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    “They describe this blog about ‘boys dropping their trousers,’ a blog about ‘kiddies,’ and a ‘gay blog’….” What a bunch of tossers! I doubt they have actually ever read your blog, if they did they did with their eyes closed.

    • Nick said, on October 19, 2010 at 1:19 am

      Yea, it suddenly makes you realise what must go on in the press and TV and and how so many people just see what they want to. So much for university educations! But in fairness, I’ve made gaffs when I have not read a blog or post carefully and then made a fool of myself. Nothing like learning the hard way! Sometimes you have to resist pressing ‘send.’

  3. Ian said, on March 25, 2011 at 1:57 am

    One of the things you mentioned in this post reminded me of my roommates, who are Korean exchange students, as I have mentioned before, I had just finished taking a shower and dried myself and put on my boxers and started to get dressed when one of my roommates appeared. At that time, I had just moved in so it had been about a week since I did, and he asked me so matter-of-fact, “Ian-a why haven’t I seen your gochu yet? Do you not like me?” To which I laughed so hard and replied, “Hyung, only YOU haven’t seen it, all the other hyungs have, you’re never around when I’m naked.” He then just said, “Ok, next time!” My 4 hyungs whom I live with always walk around naked. Seeing each other’s full body just for them means we are brothers. They all have girl friends, so unlike most westerners who would think surely they are gay, are misinformed. On another note, complimenting each other’s body, including gochu is common. They have complimented me as well as each other with things like, “I think our hyungs gochu is so cute and small” It was never meant as an offense to his size, just it happens our hyung is the shortest in our house so it was another way to compliment his cuteness. It’s never boring living with Korean brothers!

    • Nick said, on March 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      Ian, this made me laugh. I made a joke about my gochu to some friends last week. I told them it wasn’t my friend as it was small but they told me it was quite cute. On another occasion when I bemoaned it a friend said I shouldn’t because it was unique. I am quite proud to be parading my little gochu around Korea’s bathhouses and in doing so countering the myth that western men are all better hung than Koreans. Only in Korea can straight men acknowledge you have a gochu and then make a comment about it which makes you feel good. Thanks.

      • Ian said, on March 28, 2011 at 3:13 am

        Hahaha! That is definitely true! Only Korean men. It’s a bond I really can’t express. They make the body and nudity feel the way it should, natural! Gotta love them for that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: