Elwood 5566

Pray it’s a Foreigner Serving Your High Tea

chocolate fingers – as British as high tea

(Originally published March 15th 2011) Here’s something to ponder. You’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someone’s butt. They might be clothed, they might not. The only choice you have in the matter is what nationality they will be.

Podcast 75

When I used to train and teach taekwondo in the UK, sweaty sessions often produced brown watery stains on the butts of students’ white suits. I used to refer to it as ‘bum lick’ and basically, after rubbing shit around your arse  smearing it clean, residue remains which when mingled with sweat produces shitty water which then stains your pants. Despite the hideously hot summers in Korea, I have never seen ‘bum lick’ on kids taekwondo pants probably because their diet is substantially different. The moment you convert to loading up on pizza, big mac, bread and pastries plus a churn load of milk, cheese, butter and cream and it takes five minutes and half a roll of toilet paper to smear yourself clean.

Now, I’m not into backsides but if I were forced to stick my nose up someone’s crack, but could choose the nationality of the backside, it would most definitely be Korean. I base my choice on two reasons, firstly: a Korean diet leaves less mess and secondly, Koreans are simply more fastidious about personal hygiene.

guess where they’ve been?

With a culinary repository heavily based on soupy type recipes, Korean food never hangs about in the gut too long and when it is expelled it is ejected with such force that suction drags out any loitering debris.  Typical British food however, loiters in the intestines and has to be squeezed out of the body like toothpaste.  It passes through the body at such a slow pace that the entire intestinal track contains one enormous fecal sausage, a gigantic colonic conga which congests the entire gut like an enormous traffic jam as it slowly worms its way downward. Kimchi jjim, or a bowl of bean curd soup however, is ingested and processed at such speed that by the time it is blown out not only is the consistency unchanged but so too is its temperature.  With such force is it ejected from the body that it cleans your backside as it departs.   And I have to say, cleaning-up up after a Korean meal is not much different to dabbing your mouth after a drink of water whereas a British diet can only be compared with trying to smear-up a muddy hole.

despite what you might hear, most Koreans do shower before getting in a pool

And you know most Koreans wash their backsides thoroughly because  you can watch them doing it in a bathhouse. Many people in the UK still use bathtubs as a primary source of personal hygiene but how can you wash your arse in a little swaddling tub that binds your knees together and prevents easy access. Worse, the same water than cleans your body, that contains dead skin cells, hair, and other scud, the same water that rinsed out your backside and crotch, is then wallowed in. Yew! What a filthy habit and one almost as revolting as fitted carpets or cotton handkerchiefs. British showers aren’t much better being taken standing in restrictive bathtubs or in shower cubicles that provide as much freedom of movement as would a coffin.  Have you ever seen a westerner clean their backside?  And how do western kids learn how to clean themselves in that area? Are they just left to learn for themselves or do they simply let their underwear soak it up? I assume most westerners clean out their arses but I’ve never seen them doing it.

Nothing annoys me more than those who condemn Korean bathhouses, especially if they’ve only been a few times, and consider them places of moral and physical corruption or seething with rampant contagious infections; or those who like to bash Koreans because they use chopsticks in communal bowls of food or because they once had to use a crappy toilet.  Yes, of course somethings in Korea seem ‘dirtier than they do back home but traveling shouldn’t just spotlight the inadequacies in your host country but should also expose ones you hadn’t considered back home. Last year I came across a commentary by a westerner who complained:

And my 02. worth. Korean bathhouses? Dirty. Think about this for a minute.
The hot and cold pools. The water is NOT filtered. You have people who scrub their body and DON’T rinse off and still jump into the pools. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have also. Leave the sauna, sweat pouring off you and hop into the cold pool! I have never seen a sauna in Korea that filters the water. It gets changed once or twice a day. Japan? Yes the water is filtered and cleaned. Not Korea. I know a few people who caught the crabs in these saunas. The blankets in the sleeping rooms are not washed daily. The towels that the saunas give you to dry off usually are not washed in hot water. I’m not bad mouthing Korea saunas, I have been to a few but most are dirty. Even the fancy looking saunas that are expensive to enter do not filter the hot/cold pool water. People are peeing in them also. I’d think twice. The saunas are good things but many are lacking customers who use good hygiene. If you are lucky enough, you might have been using one when it was being cleaned. I was and never did return.

Actually, I don’t totally disagree! People, me included, go from the various saunas into one of the pools, bodies sweating, and occasionally I see kids get straight in a pool without showering and some bathhouses are cleaner than others. I’m sure some people must pee in the water and I’ve certainly seen people pee in the showers. Is the water filtered? Well, I know water is sucked in through vents and in other places blown out. Is this filtration? I’m no more aware of filtration systems than I would be in British swimming pools where people often swim without showering, and if they do it’s only in a cursory manner, and in which they do urinate. I’ve even seen a turd floating in a British swimming pool but most of us aren’t too bothered about pool hygiene because chlorine sanitizes not just the watery environment but mentally as it leads us to believe the environment is biologically sanitized.  British pools might be bug free, but are they clean? Would you wallow in a cesspit if it were purged with a bottle of chlorine?

with a chlorinated pool one can wash their muck off in the water

Without doubt some infections are passed in bathhouses, ‘red eye’ (conjunctivitis) being one and possibly a nasty infection of the testicles but even a mild infection of the bollocks is nasty as it results in them needing to be groped by your GP.  Personally, such risks I consider small and I’m happy to gamble infection for the pleasures bathhouses provide.  In years of using bathhouses I only ever had one infection and it’s debatable where it would have been contracted. I can identify a number of practices I consider unsavoury in Korea, some examples being how individuals might dump garbage at collection points which isn’t bagged, or dipping odeng (오댕 -fish cake snacks) into communal soy sauce bowls, a habit which I think might actually have almost phased out.  Then there is the habit many kids have of coughing in your face without covering their mouth with a hand.

beware the communal soy sauce dip – great for herpes

Some restaurants, especially small ones, have dubious cooking areas but once again I’ve seen just as bad in the UK where kitchens are usually hidden from public view.  Several years ago I attended a course which was hosted in a prestigious yacht club. When the caterer didn’t turn up, we took it upon ourselves to use the kitchen to make tea and coffee and what we found was alarming; filthy fridges containing curdled milk and atrophied onions, meat placed above vegetables and shelves tacky with sugary residue on which cups were stored upside down. I made a complaint to the local authorities which resulted in the restaurant being fined several thousand pounds. The head chef, who was subsequently sacked, had previously owned a swanky sea food restaurant in the same village.  Though lots of westerners will bemoan the state of many public toilets, I’ve seen far worse examples in the UK. I taught in one school where kids would deliberately urinate on the toilet floor, and even, on occasion, defecate beside the toilet rather than in it. There’s good and bad in all cultures but I will admit to being more lenient in terms of standards when I am eating something that costs next to nothing than I am when confronted with bad practices in an expensive, pretentious eatery. When eating out is expensive and an exception rather than the rule, as it is in the UK, I don’t expect Faecal Fingers or dirty anything.

an ultra-violet sanitizer in my last Korean high school

Generally, I do not think standards differ too much between Britain and Korea except in terms of personal hygiene, which unfortunately is one of the most important criteria. It’s great having no rubbish lying in your streets or chlorine in public bathing water but it makes little odds if the community around you are filthy fuckers. Several years ago, research by a British University revealed that between 6 and 53% of city commuters had faecal matter on their hands. (BBC News 2008) Apparently, the further north you go in Britain, the higher the rates of contamination.  This is especially alarming when you consider British people will usually fully unwrap a burger before eating it and are much more likely to put things like fingers and pens in their mouths. I’m the first to admit I unwrap my burger fully in order to consume it and find comfort in fingering the bun but Koreans always eat it from the wrapper even after washing their hands.

my students find this a dirty habit

A person’s hands are the prime tools of first contact, they touch people, open doors, activate buttons and knobs, finger and prepare food and much more; they are the tools which, with an opposing thumb, not only define us as primates, but facilitate and make possible our interaction with the physical world.  You can have all the brains in the world but without thumbs – you’re screwed! At the other end of the scale, your bum-hole does very little and generally spends a large proportion of the day sitting on its arse. If a person fails to sanitize their hands after a dump , if they can’t even be bothered to keep clean such an important tools, what horrendous microscopic offenses are lurking in that dark and humid crevice. And then there are the peanuts in bars which in the UK are usually contaminated with multiple traces of urine.   My Koreans students often call me ‘dirty’ if I stir my coffee with a pen or put a pen end in my mouth and they are unaware that so many Brits have faecal fingers.  Now I know why a number of British confections focus on ‘fingers.’ I have rarely met a dirty Korean student and the pissy urine smell that I’ve noted in numerous infant schools in Britain certainly never existed in the Korean kindergartens in which I taught.

I suspect much of the animosity towards bathhouses is simply the result of nudity; some westerners clearly perceive bathhouses physically ‘dirty’ because they consider nudity morally dirty. As one commentator wrote: I’ve also been here since 2001 and have never gone to a bathhouse. I’m not into sausage fests. I work out every day and shower at home. The room of soapy Koreans just doesn’t appeal to me. For some westerners, all it takes for a clean environment is a piece of cloth over a cock and buttock and suddenly the environment is clean; splash a bit of chlorine around and we will happily swim in each other’s neutralized dirt. In 2008, when I first read how widespread faecal matter was on the hands a large chunk of its population, I made a resolution to be extra vigilant in terms of personal hygiene and not only do I wash my hands after using the toilet, but I sanitize them with a spray or anti-bacterial hand cream. I have not once broken this resolution!


there are times when nudity is undoubtedly preferable (Borat)

It’s pointless getting defensive about our lack of hygiene, for years the British have been the butt of jokes about bad teeth. I once meet an Australian who told me he’d been taught Brits changed their trousers once every few weeks and I’ve seen the skid marks in changing rooms and smelt the effects of using underwear as blotting paper, in British schools. If you’re British at least, observing how fastidious Koreans are about personal hygiene should prompt you to realise your own cultural failings. What’s important is that you learn from such observations and of course, the process goes both ways. Koreans are also fastidious about dental hygiene and I recently read that brushing teeth three times a day over decades can lead to receding gums. A number of sources now suggest only cleaning teeth with a brush, twice a day.  As I said, there are good and bad practices in all cultures.

to contract -E-coli!

Okay, so now you’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someones butt. It’s time to choose. What nationality are you going to pick?

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


11 Responses

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  1. Chafing Dish said, on March 15, 2011 at 5:24 am

    In my school the female teachers RARELY wash their hands after using the toilet. It grosses me out and I try to never touch doorknobs or handles with my bare hands if possible. I don’t think Koreans have higher standards of hygiene than westerners. During my time in a Korean hospital the nurses would take blood, then take the lid off the tube and pour some blood from one tube into another. Not once did I see a nurse wear gloves while handling blood. And if blood or other fluids spilled on them they didn’t even give it another thought. In fact, one nurse spilled my blood on her pants and continued to wear those same pants every day she worked for that entire week. Never mind that the floor in my room was filthy and washed only once in 7 days. Don’t even get me started on the dirty toilet paper in waste baskets. Women’s washrooms are disgusting and smelly and I’m telling you this as a woman who has to share a washroom with Korean women. The communal bar of soap and communal towel in restaurant washrooms just disgusts me. And people pee in swimming pools everywhere in the world, so it’s not like the west is a paragon of hygienic virtue either. And what about the spitting? For the love of all that is holy why can’t the Korean government do some kind of ad campaign to make Koreans aware about the dangers of airborne pathogens in saliva and mucous? The kids in my school spit on the floor! Korea is a filthy country.

    • Nick said, on March 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, I neglected universal practices involving blood. I didn’t say Koreans have higher standards of hygiene per se but that from my experience they have better personal hygiene largely as a result of bathhouses and diet. Yes, the toilets can be bad but it’s the same in the UK – some decent some not – except we don’t do the tissue thing which is pretty gross but I’d rather do that than wipe my backside with my hand as I’ve had to do in some countries. Spitting, I have never seen a Korean student spit inside a school and I’ve taught a lot of students over the years. However, I have been spat at, with a large green bolus, while actually teaching in the UK; the kid wasn’t even made to apologise. In London a few years ago TB was on the increase because of spitting in public places. One thing I completely forgot is that many British working class lads spend half the day with their hands down the front of their pants, even in public – a habit that was totally taboo when I was young.

      It is a shame you see Korea as generally a ‘filthy place’ and it must be difficult working in such an environment. But hey, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases in Korea are the lowest in the world (OPEC 2010) and 40 times lower than in the USA. I’ve taught kids in the UK who’ve had multiple infections of chlamydia and they haven’t even reached their 15th birthday.

      So where are you going stick your nose?

  2. Fiona said, on March 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I would stick my nose up anyone’s arse providing the price was right, and providing I had lost my sense of smell. Apart from that, nationality wouldn’t need to come into it, nor whether they were veggies or meat eaters!!

    • Nick said, on March 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Me too! Actually, it wouldn’t even need to be human.

      • Fiona said, on March 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

        Oh, I think you would. It’s ok if it was a goldfish or a hamster or something small and inoffensive. I bet you would heave if your nose went anywhere near a cat’s backside. The odour would linger on the tip of of your nose for weeks. You wouldn’t be able to wash if off!!

  3. thesupplanter said, on March 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I should just add that location of the testicle infection you reference was only speculated to be a bathhouse. Theoretically, it could have been any number of places. It’s commonly transmitted in hospitals, for example.

    I’m fully recovered by the way.

    As far as the whole ‘dirty Korea’ thing goes, I tend to agree with your theories about personal hygiene; Koreans bathe a lot more than most westerners. I’ve come across several westerners who mocked me for taking 3 showers a day in the summer months, while they proudly announced they showered once or twice a week in order to smell ‘natural’. Twats. Plenty of funky smelling westerners around, that’s for sure.

    However, the spitting is prevalent and revolting, but, having said that, it wasn’t exactly uncommon in England. I go through phases where I don’t notice it and others where it drives me bonkers – I suppose when it’s done in close proximity.

    • 林東哲 said, on June 8, 2011 at 3:00 am

      This is interesting as I recently read a report about British teenagers only showering once a week and being more concerned with using deodorants to cover up their bad smells than removing them. I’m not sure I totally agree as young British kids I’ve known, my niece and nephew for example, tend to live in the bath or shower. There is also an interesting series on Youtube about dirty British teenagers, I think the series is called ‘Embarrassed Bodies’ but it’s one of those programs designed for mass appeal with a sexy doctor host and probably really short on researched evidence. And one very recent trend, boys and men with their hand permanently rooting in the boxers – a filthy working class habit which has emerged from living in track trousers where there is an elasticated waistband.

  4. wetcasements said, on June 8, 2011 at 4:25 am

    “Spitting, I have never seen a Korean student spit inside a school”

    My office is close to a campus bathroom. It is routinely littered with puddles of sputum (not to mention cigarette butts). It gets cleaned twice a day by a friendly ajumma, but within in hour it’s filthy again.

    “I’ve come across several westerners who mocked me for taking 3 showers a day”

    I brush my teeth three times a day now. I only did it twice a day back in the states. Korean peer-pressure at work.

    _In general_ I think Koreans have a higher standard of personal hygiene than my fellow Americans _but_ there are some huge exceptions re: spitting and public toilets. The latter are hit and miss — sometimes they’re immaculate, sometimes I think I’m in a third-world country.

  5. 林東哲 said, on June 8, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Yep, I agree, but I did say ‘inside a school’ meaning the class rooms as one commentator claimed kids spit on the floor ‘in school.’ This I have never seen. I’ve been coughed over plenty of times but never seen kids spit in the classroom or school corridor. The toilets are hit and miss and range between heavenly and disgusting. And any toilet that requires squatting is disgusting even if it is heavenly. I don’t squat!

  6. John Head said, on June 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I’ve seen Korean HS students spitting in the classroom, both boys and girls. Same goes with spitting out gristle onto the table at home and in restaurants. Given the long humid months in Korea and the high TB rate, it makes me seethe.
    As for chavs in Uk schools and London youth in general, I think they’re…….somewhat clean. Probably on par with Korean kids. Korean kids have certainly made me gag with their oily hair smell. OTOH I’ve never had to sit behind an ajumma with dreads on the bus, nor does Korea have a youth culture often referred to as ‘crusties’ ie hippies.
    One thing I think Korea definitely has over the west is it’s general attitude to the bathroom. The west treats it like it’s a room. A room where you discretely and daintily shower. Korea on the other hand treats it like a big space where you can spray water and rinse down the whole place and it all goes down the drain in the middle. Were I to plan a bathroom it’d be just an open space, couple of shelves and not a piece of carpeting in sight.

    • 林東哲 said, on June 9, 2011 at 1:26 am

      Yes, boys especially are prolific spitters but personally I have not experienced this in the classroom. My Korean teaching friends tell me they’ve seen it but only among certain types of student but they nonetheless consider such behaviour unacceptable. Perhaps what confuses our perceptions is age. I am 55 and most youngsters wouldn’t drink alcohol, smoke or cross their legs in front of me even if we are close friends and the language between us the ‘intimate’ form (반말).

      Spitting in a classroom, in front of a teacher is quite disrespectful! What do you do on such occasions? I’m afraid my stick would be out the draw and across their backsides and they’d spend the lesson on their knees, hands over their heads. Of course, I don’t know how old you are but spitting in your presence, in a location in which you have authority, regardless of your age as a teacher, is definitely a disrespectful and a challenging act.

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