Elwood 5566

Bathhouse Basics 4. The Bucket Seat

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on June 10, 2010

I have seen only a handful of westerners in bathhouses though if I were in downtown Seoul I’d probably see more but one thing I have yet to see is a waygukin sitting on a bucket seat!

A Bathhouse 'bucket' seat.

In orange

These are simple plastic seats the size of a bucket and on which you sit at the sit down shower units. Bathhouses always have stand up shower units and rows of sit down facilities. Initially, I avoided sitting as I felt the squat position required undignified but you quickly adjust. Koreans often spray the shower over the top of them before sitting and often, once they have finished using them. Some Koreans also sit on the floor especially when cleaning their feet.

Bathhouse sit down shower units

Sitting on the floor is also common

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Bathhouse Basics 3: The Italy Towel

The Italy Towel. (이타리 타월)

Other than water, the Italy towel is probably the most universal item in a bathhouse and in some quarters, “Korea Design Heritage 2008,” has been ranked as number 5 among items over the last 50 years, which have defined Korea.  Apparently, Gil Pil-gon who ran a textile factory in Pusan, discovered the cloths’ ex-foliating properties in a piece of  fabric imported from Italy. The rest, as they say, is history.

Defining icons, food delivery boxes, Nong-Shin ramyon and the Italy Towel.

Though available in a range of colours, the predominant colour is ‘silver,’ which is actually the green one.  In addition, they all seem to be made by the same company, BC Choi and hence, the towels, manufactured in Korea, are 100% Korean! Like sandpaper, Italy Towels come in different gradients and these are denoted by the colour. ‘Pink is the least abrasive, followed by ‘silver’ (green) with the most abrasive and capable of removing the deepest ingrained grime, being yellow.

Other colours are manufactured, including red. The green one is actually described as 'silver.'

Italy towels are not to be confused with the larger version cloth which is also supplied in a bathhouse and which is usually red.

The larger, and milder, ex-foliating cloth

What typifies the Italy Towel is its size. My hand barely fits into it. The cloth is used to scrub the skin, usually in one direction, top to bottom and in straight lines and if used effectively a line of gray, dead skin is produced. The towel is fairly abrasive and needs to be used with caution on the face. Minimal soap is used in order to maximise the towel’s abrasive quality. Koreans will scrub their entire body with this cloth in a process which can last well over an hour.

If anyone accompanies you to the bathhouse, a friend or relative, it is natural for you to scrub each-other’s back. Usually you sit behind the person whose back you a rubbing,  though people sometimes stand. For men, that your ‘partners’ dick is dangling in you face is no  more of an issue than any other part of their body. Between men, one of the defining features of a ‘go-ch’u-ch’ingu’ (고추 친구),  literally translated as a  ‘penis friend,’ basically a close friend, is that penises are ‘acknowledged’ rather than  shunned with fear. It is this tacit, sometimes even verbalised  ‘acknowledgment’ which helps define a close, male relationship.  In the western male, heterosexual psyche, a penis is threatening and  ‘acknowledging’ your male friend has ‘one,’ seeing ‘it,’ talking about ‘it,’ and even being too close ‘it,’   have  the potential to terrify.  It is not at all uncommon to see a row of school boys or students all sat in a chain as they have their backs scrubbed while scrubbing the back of the person in front. Between family members the towel is used  much more intimately and again, it is  very common to see parents and children mutually scrubbing each other’s entire body. This is not restricted to small children.  Mutual cleaning and the intimacy involved are an expression of the concept of ‘skinship.’

How often one should use the Italy Towel is a personal preference. If used frequently, the process can rub-away body hair – though I wouldn’t recommend this as a method of waxing. Some Koreans use it every few days, others once a week. Perhaps the best guide is simply whether or not you have a layer of skin which needs removing. I use a pumice stone on my feet regularly and if no skin is being removed I stop the process – this is perhaps the best guide to using the Italy Towel.

I have noticed that you can scrub yourself meticulously and regularly with the larger, less abrasive towel, the one usually provided free in all bathhouses, and that this does not remove dead skin with the effect of the Italy Towel. I was very surprised when after a period of not using an Italy Towel, a friend scrubbed my back and arms and then made a joke about how dirty I was. It is surprising what that little towel removes.

Unlike the larger cloth and towels for drying, the Italy Towel has to be purchased, costing about 1000 Won. I usually keep one for months at a time and have even seen the odd person use ones discarded in the used towel bin.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Nancying in the Powder Room. Bathhouse Ballads

 

 

A Bathhouse Ballad

In this particular bathhouse (목욕탕) you can sit in the ebente-tang (이벤트탕) and watch the men and boys nancying about in the little ‘powder room’ that are provided in all bathing establishments. This particular ebente-tang doesn’t have any added aromas  or coloured water and you might be forgiven for wondering why indeed it is even called an ‘ebente-tang,’ until the pool starts frothing and chomping quite crazily. The jets of water from inside the pool, should you be unfortunate enough to be sat over  one as it starts and you fart, are powerful enough  to  administer a surprise enema.  As I’m being buffeted by the jacuzzi jets, I’m busily watching  three middle-aged men in the ‘powder room.’  All are stood, independent of each other and two are in straddle stances, or in what martial artists would recognise as a  ‘horse stance.’

 

A 'wushu' version of the 'horse stance'

Traditionally, this stance is used to strengthen the legs and as a position from which to practice  various blocks and strikes. As a combat stance it is redundant as it renders a male a potential gelding should a strike to the groin be forthcoming.  Don’t forget, the men in the ‘powder room’ are totally naked. Rather than blocking and striking, feet rigidly anchored to the ground, both men are drying their  sack and crack with hairdryers. I’m thinking they must have studied at the same school because despite all the variations of horse stance,  both are in identical style, technique and positions. Most likely it’s a taekwondo derived stance as it is much higher than in the Chinese version above yet not as high as the one featuring Bruce Lee (이소룡), below. This version is in-between.

 

이소룡 (Bruce Lee) practicing the sack 'n' crack stance.

The accompanying arm movements are identical: first the dryer is held pointing at the sack ‘n’ tackle before being swung  between the  legs to windy the crack area.  The latest event in the tub, an eruption, has quelled and I’m chuckling to myself as a third man in the  ‘powder room’  demonstrates his technique. Clearly, he has been trained in a totally different school.  After fiddling with one of the big fans on the long dressing table, angling it into the required position, he turns, get into a straddle and bends over, parking his exposed  butt in the fan’s stream.  The technique is very different but the stance is identical to that of the other two men and with head almost touching the floor, the fan is probably capable of drying his sack ‘n’ crack all at the same time.

Jeez, Korean men are such ponces! That’s why I like them. Back in the UK, a room such as this would terrify most westerners not just because you nancy about in it naked, but because the purpose of the room involves preening oneself. Actually, I much prefer the safety of the ebente-tang to watch how different men occupy themselves in this task. I never stay long in the ‘powder room,’ not because I don’t like being naked in front of other men, but because I don’t like being naked in front of myself, and like most ‘powder rooms,’ the walls are covered in mirrors.

All the flaws of being western are magnified in the array of mirrors and bright lights. Our skin tone tends to be more varied; my face is slightly ruddy, my buttocks lily white, my forearms as tanned as any Koreans and my neck brown. The rest of my body is whitey- pink, like a giant maggot. Then there’s the hair; back hair, chest hair, arm hair and leg hair and it’s all different in colour, texture and shape. My arm hair is smooth, my chest hair a little coarser and the hair on my back is somewhat like the hair on the backs of my arms, long and straggly and the sort of hair a neanderthal might have. I can’t stand looking at myself in those mirrors and always find the ‘powder room’ a little stressful.

 

All that hair. Yuk!

I touched on the subject of body hair several months ago, in relation to living in an environment free of carpets. It’s only in this type of environment that you realise just how much hair we shed. I am not especially hairy and I sweep my floor everyday with one of those magical wipes to which hair and fluff adhere. Despite this, I find hair everywhere. I’ve found them in the fridge, freezer and only a few days ago I was eating a slice of water melon when what I thought was a little crack on my plate, was in fact a pubic hair. I’m 54 and have a full head of hair non of which I see anywhere, but pubic hair, chest hair and those unsightly, straggly back of arm and back hairs, get everywhere. Korean bodies are so much nicer, more alike in proportions, colour and apart from having pubes that are long enough to perm and which often seemed to be straight rather than curly, are usually pretty hairless. Hair, its antediluvian and barbaric! As I get older I notice my eyebrows becoming wilder and if I don’t trim them I start to develop antennae. Nasal hair is a bugger but is kept at bay with regular burst from a cigarette lighter. And I dread getting ear hair as that looks especially alien.

 

No hairs in his fridge!

 

In the ‘powder room’ a couple of men and a boy are preening; an old man is methodically combing his hair with a brush from the selection  of brushes and combs which are always available.  I’ve never seen any hairs on brushes and assume they are cleaned regularly and in many ‘power rooms’ are small steam boxes similar to those used in doctors surgeries and dentist, to sanitize such items. A boy is cleaning out his ears with cotton buds (q-tips), an item as standard as towels and soap. On the long dressing tables, there is always a collection of face creams, hair gel and skin brace.   As with everything in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, no two places are exactly alike.

 

Fat is Here

A Bathhouse Ballad

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.

I need no helpers for this size portion!

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.’

Along with the western fast food diet, fat has finally arrived in Korea

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.

Link to Crazy Fat Korean Video

'Psychedelic' Exercises (이벤트탕) E-Bente-Tang

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads by 노강호 on May 23, 2010

A Bathhouse Ballad

The e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) today  was scented with ginseng (인삼). For some reason the bathhouse has been incredibly busy this week . The  steam room has varied between 51-54 degrees and I made my first venture into the ice room (어름굴) since last summer.  The ice room is simply a large freezer with some chairs around the edges and as the weather becomes hotter and more humid, it is usually a good place to finish off  a session as it both dries your body and stops you sweating.

I have thought about several things this week as I wallowed: I am interested to know whether people dry themselves in a random fashion in which one might use a towel just a moment before used to dry their arse, on their face, or whether, in a sequence such as, head to toe. Yes, there’s so much going on in the world that I consider this pointless trivia! I don’t particularly care! In the west I was always moaning and ranting about the nastier aspects  of life  but in Korea I don’t even bother reading about world news and I’m a lot happier. Ignorance is quite a pleasant state of mind especially as the more I have studied, the more exams I have taken,  the un-happier it has made me. It seems  that once the clutter of mans’ inhumanity to man is removed, which is usually the contents of most world and national news, and the tools encouraged to analyze that world decommissioned or at least limited, pondering the sound of one hand clapping, or the manner in which a towel is used,  is wonderfully liberating. Thinking has never done me any favours and often quite the contrary. Thinking can actually be harmful to your health and in retrospect  has probably ruined my life, it certainly hasn’t made me happier. I would say an insect has more propensity to happiness than a human with a working brain especially if that brain is influenced by  ethical issues. Despite what we are told,  thinking is both anti-social and disliked and most bosses, even in education, dislike  either thinkers or those who are ‘educated.’  Most of the thoughts I have had in the last twenty years, basically since going to university, have  set me  in opposition against other people.

I think a lot wallowing in the e-bente tang but have to cast much of it aside as people don’t like to be remind of their impotency especially within a democracy. But what you do with your bath towel, where you put it and in what order, apart from being  a totally inane topic, is vastly more original in concept than the impending destruction of our environment and is far less likely to raise any hackles. Pondering the pointless is a new therapeutic philosophy I am pursuing. At the moment, my concerns about how towels are used is a subject in a state of infancy. Moving on…

Have you ever noticed that when Koreans do little exercise routines, especially in the bathhouses, they look like they have mad cow disease? Privates on Parade, a British black comedy movie (1982), contains a hilarious scene where John Cleese, a mad army officer, performs a very strange exercise routine. So complex and awkward is this routine that mastering it entails highly developed muscle coordination. Being a taekwondo instructor at the time I first watched this movie, I bought the video and set about learning the routine in the privacy of my bedroom. It was far too ridiculous to practice in a gym. At the same time as instructing taekwondo, I was also a military musician and my musical skills were beneficial in analyzing the rhythmical structures that were used. Basically, the legs started off in a wide ‘lunge’ position, in many martial arts known as a ‘front stance’ and this stance changed from right to left, at approx 1-2 changes per second.

A typical, left front stance

Independent of the legs (moving in musical terminology of 2/4 or 4/4 time), the arms performed a routine in 3/4 time but with each arm separated by one beat. The left arm began the sequence which consisted three parts, each synchronised with the changing stance of the legs: (1) slapping the thigh, (2) ‘pointing’ to the ceiling, (3) ‘pointing’ horizontally to the left. As the left arm ‘pointed’ to the ceiling, the right arm slapped the right thigh and so at all times the right arm was one movement behind the left arm Now, I describe the arm movement as slapping and ‘pointing’ except the pointing was limp-wristed and the elbows never straightened. The arms were more thrown out as if casting something unpleasant off the hand or waving something away. What makes the routine so amusing is the rhythmic asymmetry caused by the lower half of the body moving in 2/4 time and the top half of the body, both in 3/4 but with  a displacement between the right and left arms. I never really persevered with the sequence to perfect it and to have done so would have been a small accomplishment requiring considerable focus. Apart from its merits as an exercise it was also highly comical, even  more so performed by John Cleese and for me, it is the most memorable part of the film, even more so than the fact the entertainment troop Cleese commands, all get killed.

John Cleese and the famous Ministry of Silly Walks

If you performed this sequence in a British gym, you would undoubtedly attract some attention but in Korea psychedelic exercise routines are quite common. indeed, if you were to walk around the pools in a Ministry of Silly Walks fashion, I don’t think anyone would pay much attention.

This week, I have seen several people performing exercises that at first suggested some mental incapacity.  I have seen two men standing in a corner performing an exercise in which alternating arms are shaken as if flicking a turd off of the fingers. In this exercises, after approximately 10 flicks, the cheeks are vigorously slapped. Standing in the cold pool, holding onto the side and water jogging is also a common sight. Stretching is also very common especially in a steam room or sauna though this form of exercise is identical to those practiced in the west. Laying supine and raising the knees to the chest or swinging the legs over the head until your knees are by yours ears isn’t unusual, unless of course, your naked. However, more amusing, is laying on ones back, pointing the knees to the ceiling with a 90 degree angle between the back of the calf and thigh and  in this position doing small rapid steps in the air with the feet while concurrently tapping the scalp and face with the hands. Perhaps the most common psychedelic exercise, more common around apartment complexes and in fitness centers, but which may be seen in bathhouse with treadmills in rest areas, is walking in a brisk manner, palms open, and hands raised to face level pictured below. Even though I know it provides a better workout than conventional western style walking/jogging, I find adopting this custom as alien as wearing a face mask.

The typical Korean walking style

Fart Pants (방귀 바지) 코딱지

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative by 노강호 on May 12, 2010

rubus coreanus (복분자) 'wildberry'

In the E-bente Tang (이벤트 탕) today was a an aroma I’d not encountered before, black raspberry, or wild berry (복분자).  Translating is always a problem. First of all, the ‘information board’ advertising the aroma had a picture of black and red berries and so too did a bottle of berry ‘wine (more like liquor) I subsequently bought (복분자 주). To compound the problem, I suspect in the UK we call these berries blackberries and raspberries and these are quite different in taste. When I looked up this berry on the internet, I noticed the red and black berries were growing on the same stem. So, I discover that the Korean berry, bokbunja (복분자), is actually a member of rose family and of the genus rubus of which there are hundreds of species divided into 13 sub-genera, one of which contains 12 sections. (more rubus info) Indeed, if you want to be pedantic, bokbunja is rubus coreanus. Interesting, but all academic as from the scent emanating from the pool I couldn’t tell whether I was wallowing in blackberry, blackcurrant, or indeed, rubus coreanus.

I’ve been meticulous in bathhouse ablutions today as I am feeling particularly dirty. The source of this dirt is both mental and physical;  increasingly I come to realise that by socialization westerners are dirty species both mentally and physically but also,  short of being showered in shit,  I was fouled upon. Not having used a bathhouse for 4 days, and yet despite showering twice a day, I was amazed at the scum that washed off my body into the gutter. As I was on the end of a row of sit down showers, I could see it collecting in the drainage grill and it was  gray and creamy, more like sludge than scum. Neither was my ablution particularly stringent and was made using the normal, mildly abrasive bathhouse towel than by the rasp of one of those little green ‘Italy towels.’

Once lovely and clean, and basquing in my favourite patch in the hot pool, I got thinking…

I’ve recently had a new pupil called Fart Pants (방귀 바지) who is currently sitting on the fence between the kids who have a brain and the ones, and there are not many, who I deem ‘hobaks’ (호박). Hobaks are pumpkin head kids who are just incredibly slow and tiring to teach. Most professional teachers, back home at least, will castigate the practice of pigeonholing kids in such a derogatory manner and will certainly condemn me for printing her name except of course, it is not Fart Pants. But let’s not get holy, holy, most teachers pigeonhole kids in one form or another but  usually deny they do so and as is the case in Korea, you can still call one kid intelligent and another a mong without offending the silly sensibilities of political correctness that demand all kids are equal.

definitely worth licking

I’ve always maintained that if ever I had to lick a bum hole, if I was forced on pain of death, if I couldn’t choose a baby to lick upon, it  would be a Korean. Of course there’s a ranking system: all babies first, followed by males (preferably younger) females (preferably younger), old men, old women.  I would think this ranking would be a fairly common for anyone forced to comply but given some preferences. Personally, I think a hierarchy  much different from this, for example, preferring to lick ancient butt to baby butt, a truly rank  preference, would be  suggestive of some sexual perversion.

Although I wouldn’t want to lick any bum, not even for pleasure, if I had to my first choice would be that of a baby. Anyone other than a baby I could probably never look in the face again ether from a sense of guilt or revulsion. A baby would no more remember the act than having its  nappy changed. As a baby has  no personality it’s not like  licking the arse of a real person, and once out of its nappy it’s not much more than a dirty doll.  Denied a baby, I’d select a Korean.  Perhaps some Koreans don’t scrub their butts out but I know lots do because I’ve seen them. On the other-hand, I’ve never seen a westerner clean out their arse.

Koreans must have the cleanest arse holes in the world. I doubt you’ve ever seen a westerner scrub out their bum hole so you don’t really know if they do. I suspect most westerners just flush their butts with a blast from the shower which isn’t very hygienic considering its a deep, dark, dank, dirt dump  which we sit on all day and despite its catalogue of offenses is subject to significantly less scrutiny than our mouths and teeth. There is a veritable arsenal of mouth wash and gargle to both freshen and kill oral bacteria but nothing of a similar nature with which to douche your arse.

Like most arses, Pluto has been exiled

With an arse hole as distant as Pluto, the first time I saw a bide abroad, I assumed it was either for bathing a baby or washing your feet.  And even though its design should have announced its purpose, the idea was repugnant. A device for washing your arse! A filthy idea!  To have deduced the purpose of that alien bide would have required a morally degenerate mind and the inclinations of a pervert.  You dump out of a bum and after mopping up you forget the filthy offence. Poohing is a sin and a sin of such gargantuan proportions that even though ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ the Bible avoids any mention of that dirty orifice. You don’t talk about poohing, you don’t share the experience and you certainly don’t make devices to clean it. If there’s one reason, why westerners are so distrustful of Islamic culture it’s because their poohing customs, ie. mopping up with a hand wetted with water from an old baked bean can, force  infidels to confront the one place we hate to go.  For the westerner forced to muck-out a la Mohammad,  having to touch that unspeakable place, especially when adopting the most undignified of postures, is a  significant form of first contact.  Touching down in that dark and alien cavity and being compelled to blindly explore it contours without the comfort of a wad of tissue, is something you never forget.   It is a first contact not just in that you are forced to acknowledge that  there is life on Pluto and that is not as nearly as far away as you thought, but that in all the years leading up that significant event, you staunchly upheld the prime directive of non-interference  (and if you were interfering with one, even your own, you never talked about it!)  A working definition of a seasoned traveler? Someone who has had first contact with their own arse hole.  Hence, I imagine most arses, especially non Korean arses, have permanent bad breath and while you can have the pseudo medical condition ‘halitosis,’ there is no corresponding medical term for a smelly bum.  Unfortunately, considering their propensity for filth, bum holes are sorely neglected.

But of all Korean butts in Korea, there’s one exception, Fart Pants! Fart Pants (방귀 바지) is the dirtiest Korean to date I have met. And though her parents aren’t poor, her dirtiness has more to do with her habits than being physically dirty. Admittedly, her favourite coat, salmon pink, looks like it has been used to clean the floor but this didn’t bother me until she started farting in class. The pink coat, being padded, has insulating properties and a fart is always more unpleasant when heated. I don’t know how universal it is in Korea, but I’m told that teachers rarely say anything to  a kid who farts because it draws attention to them which of course, they don’t like. In common with the rule of vile farts, hers are silent but I  know  they’re hers  because her eyes will be sparkling and she will be salivating heavily in a manner that suggests she’s either been fingering her own butt or  sucking a turd up and down her back passage. Either way, there is an intense look of pleasure and glee on her face.

The smell, still warm, then looms up from under the desk around which we  sit and it’s truly hideous. As the foetid guff engulfs me, I sit up, then press my neck as far back in my collar as possible, before moving my chair back after which there is no escape.  A few days ago, after trying to hold my breath  I knew  was going to retch and had to leave the classroom.  Betty, who is sat right next to her, must have had her nasal passages cauterized as she doesn’t seem to notice a thing.  Fart Pants lets one-off in most lessons. When she first started classes, nerves probably clenched her butt  shut but now she’s in the swing of things and relaxed, she blows  off with as much ease as someone with a prolapsed rectum.  I find her farts incredibly intense and personal  and being subject to them is a form of abuse. Apparently, she farts in other teacher’s classes but no one has heard her which makes me suspect she might have a punctured colostomy bag.  If she moves about too much, even a considerable time after issue, a residual smell, loitering under the lagging of that pink coat, will waft up.

If this hasn’t been bad enough, there have now been a number of occasions when I have noticed her toying with a bogey  (코딱지) between the tips of her index finger and thumb. She seems to keep  a bogey in play for several minutes, massaging it around like a piece of sticky glue or a grain of cooked rice.  Then her hand goes under the table and I anticipate it being dropped. Moments later however, it re-emerges only this time its on another hand. It’s  magical! Not in the sense she can keep amusing herself with one bogey for so long  or that it seems to matter transport from one digital location to another, but because the things are so moisture retentive. A few days ago,  she must have forgotten about one of her nasal playthings: it had been rolled, stretched, palpitated,  passed between various fingers and hands. Suddenly she went still which was quite noticeable because she is always fiddling and tears welled in her eyes.  Another fart was being primed! The intense pleasure its production provided distracted her enough to evaporate that offensive entity being entertained predominantly between her fingers.  When I asked a question which necessitated pointing in a book, her hand reappeared from under the table. From this stage on it’s a guessing game; which hand? which finger? When she pointed to the page, on the end of her right  index finger, perched a pale green bogey still looking fairly fresh despite the copious palpitations. Next moment, her hot fart smacked me  in the face.

Over the weekend I bought some anti-bacterial hand cream, the choice was amazing as this item is currently very fashionable. I also bought a bottle of Febreeze as I noticed that the farts clung to my clothing like fried food or tobacco smells.

Monday afternoon! First class of the week and Betty is on her own. Fart Pants has left the school and I shalln’t miss her!

Bathhouse Basics 2 – The Jjimjilbang (찜질방)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on May 11, 2010

'25 hour' JJimjilbang (찜질방) Song-so, Daegu.

Jjimjilbang (찜질방) – while bathhouses often provide predominantly water related ‘entertainment,  jjimjilbangs provide a space where  families and friends, regardless of gender, can intermingle. There is no English term for a  jjimjilbang and as they contain saunas and adjoining bathhouses, they are often conflated with ‘saunas,’ ‘bathhouses’ or ‘spas.’ In practice, they are very different.

Common to all jjimjilbang are clothing,  ondol heating (underground), large sleeping areas, an adjoining bathhouse and a broad range of entertainment. Television are conveniently located, PC rooms, children play areas, a variety of  dry saunas using various minerals, mud or salt rooms, ice rooms, restaurants, libraries, refreshments and in some cases cinemas. Massage chairs, are fairly common and are coin-operated.  There are usually other features to provide both comfort and visual appeal – large tree trunks, for example, on which you can sit or play, and various levels of floor decking. Blankets are available in abundance. The size of establishments varies but very often can accommodate several thousand people and like the bathhouses, jjimjilpang may have restricted hours and or a days closure a week, or be open 24 hours.

When you purchase your ticket at the booth and you ask for the jjimjilpang you will be given some form of costume, sometimes a gown or t-shirt and shorts. Usually these are emblazoned with the establishments logo and the may be colour coordinated, one of my local jjimjilbang provides blue for men, pink women and yellow for children.

A selection of jjimjilbang photos giving you an insight into the range of facilities and individual establishment ambiances.

A group outing

Games

An ice room

Busy and buzzing

Tranquility

Early morning - weekday

With a library

Weekends and holidays are usually busy (spot the beer cans!)

It has to be a drama!

Baroque?

Mother's meeting

Poker?

Refreshments

Skinship

Even the kids can 'chill.'

Main jjimjilbang area with numerous side sauna, ice rooms etc.

Jjimjilbang uniformity

Colour coordinated

Crash out - wherever!

A children's play room

Bathhouse Basics 1 – What is a bathhouse? (목욕탕)

Aquatic Symphony

Bathhouse (목욕탕) – exactly as the name suggests. Simply a place to wash. However, while some establishments are not much more than a place to administer yourself a thorough scrub down, others offer the chance to wallow in luxurious ambiance. The range is broad and bathhouses often have their own distinct atmosphere shaded by the time you visit. What you will find common to all  are: nudity,  segregation by sex,  places to shower, both standing and sitting and a number of pools. This is the most basic I have experienced. Others will have a number of adjoining ‘rooms’ containing various saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms (어름방), salt saunas, yellow mud sauna (황토방) sleeping rooms, and a place to be scrubbed down by an attendant. Once again, the variation is extensive. Pools vary in size and number and like the various ‘rooms’ often utilise specific minerals which are believed to promote good health. The most common are probably hot pools (열탕 – yeol-tang), warm pools (온탕 – on-tang),  cold pools (냉탕 – naeng tang) but I have also bathed in pools of gold and saunaed in silver. Baths may contain herbs, or green tea or be built with health inducing minerals. In addition, some bathhouses have heated areas around the pools where it is possible to take a nap and these may be heated by ondol (온돌) heating (underground heating) or by infra-red lights.

Changing rooms

Chilling

In the bathing area, bathhouses often have:

conveniently located televisions

various types of massage

soap, towel, body clothes, toothpaste

a large stone on which to eradicate hard skin

In the changing area:

sofas, television

a room in which to dry and preen yourself

toothbrushes, shampoo, Italy towels, hair conditioner

socks, underwear, ties

soft drinks, some snacks, especially smoked eggs

In the steam room of the Kayasan Hotel Bathhouse

A typical seated shower area

Grouped around the bathhouse (목욕탕):

barber, hairdresser

shoe shine facility

shoe repair facility

a sports complex or some exercise facilities

a jjimjilbang (찜질방)

In the pools

Some may have outside areas or indeed, be located in outdoor settings. Finally, some establishments have limited opening hours while others are open twenty-four hours.

Variations are extensive and endless!

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Coughing One Up

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative by 노강호 on April 23, 2010

podcast 14

As I lay wallowing in the ‘ebente-tang,’ the ‘special event’ pool (이벤트 탕), today scented with jasmine  (자스민) I was thinking, I’ve  never heard anyone burp in Korea. In British schools burps are often heard and  as a schoolboy, I can remember belching competitions as I was often the winner. In the army we were always burping. And while I have never heard a Korean burp, I am very acquainted  with the sights and sounds accompanied with hoiching your lungs up, snorting your nose clear and even haenging the contents of your nose into the nearest gutter or down a wall.  While such habits might not be rated high in terms of manners, in the bathhouse at least, they are clearly not taboo. When you have a cold or flu, nothing is worse than having to discreetly snort to keep your nose and throat clear and it has taken me a while to be able to utilise this habit without being too embarrassed. If I do snort, it is not as a habit as I am conscious of its performance and my snorts are still  apologetic and reserved.

bathhouse interior

Koreans are far more guttural than we westerners, sighing loudly and mopping their forehead after finishing off a spicy meal and getting in to extremes of water in the bathhouse always elicits a large sigh, often accompanied with long and ecstatic, ‘shiwonhada!’   And the soju? That elicits  sounds like ‘wa.’ Snorting, hoiching and ‘haenging’  are all fairly common sounds, at least for men. One occasionally sees older men bent over a sidewalk or on the grass, pressing one thumb against a nostril while ‘haenging’ the other one clear.  Though I can recall very few occasions hearing a woman snort, I’ve never  heard or seen one  hoich or haeng though I’m told females hoich and haeng in a bathhouse, especially older women. I rarely hear my neighbours television or music but  every morning, around 6.30am, I’ll hear a man’s strangulated and at times alarming hoichs.

After a spell in the steam room and quick dip in the cold pool, I sit down on one of those bucket seats next to an elderly man I haven’t seen for a while. I attempt to make conversation, telling him I’ve had a string of colds and asking how his health is but he can’t understand me. Of late, I have noted a marked improvement in my Korean but his inability to understand me isn’t doing my confidence any good. When I have to resort to spelling words on the palm of my hand, I conclude he  must be hard of hearing!  Unable to communicate, we both drift off into the relaxing mental blankness that accompanies scrubbing and cleaning your body and which can at times, especially with the world obliterated by the soothing  sounds of water, be almost zen-like in its emptiness.

awesome

He’s scrubbing his foot, positioned on the ledge next to me, as I feel a need to snort. Though I have neither snorted in public  or spat one out, along with haenging your nose into the palm of your hand, many seem to do it. The congestion irritates  me so I snort and without any forethought,  decide to spit it into the gutter.  Now, as I was in the process  of forming my lips and amassing the clot subsequent to its expulsion, it occurred to me that I’ve heard people snorting, and seen them spitting but wasn’t quite sure if what they were spitting was actually the contents of a snort. I mean, when someone snorts you don’t stand and watch and then inspect what’s been expelled. Right on the edge of expulsion, I realised I had assumed  what comprised the spit was what had been snorted whereas it might simply be spit. Too late, I blew out large oyster. Instead of  hitting the gutter to be carried off in a river of  soapy suds, it  landed on the black marble ledge next to the older man’s soap. I quickly doused it with the shower only to aqua plane it towards his toes which he was busy scrubbing. Luckily, I was able to divert  it with another blast of water which sent it slinking over the edge of the ledge where it hung like a pendulum before slipping into the gutter. I’m not sure if he noticed but if his sight was as keen as his ears, I doubt he even knew who was sat next to him. I have decided to pay more attention  to the expelling of such matter in the future. And then there’s  the subject of pissing into the gutter as you’re showering…

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Tagged with:

I Saw a Snood

Alleged Korean mafia member

podcast 12

I was laying in the hot pool (열탕) this evening. I never hang around in there too long as this one is quite hot  and fifteen minutes is my maximum. As it was empty, I could wedge myself in my favourite corner and watch the television. Then this man with a large dragon tattooed on his thigh stepped into the pool. People often tell me that a tattoo is a sign of mafia membership but that might be prejudice. Last week I saw the first person I have ever seen in Korea with a tattoo on a part of the body not easily covered. It was a large cross which extended from the base of his neck right up until just under his ear. It wasn’t a good design and looked like he’d done it himself. A tattoo on the neck! That’s a bad sign and I heard myself mutter, ‘wanker,’ exactly as I do when I see those silly kids on hairdryer motorcycles zig-zaging from one side of the road to the other with an enormous speaker, masking-taped to the petrol tank and blaring at full volume over the whinnying strains of the engine. Yea, I know, those kids are probably harmless, but I had enough anti-social behaviour in the UK to last a life time.  A tattoo on the neck in Korea, will definitely impede life to the max!

The guy stands in front of me so his buttocks and are facing me, and for a few moments he stands watching the TV. I’ve seen plenty of guys with this sort of tattoo as well as the one cascading down the back and they’re never unfriendly or aggressive – not as you might expect a gang member to be. I’ve also noticed how many of them have the same stocky, slightly pot-bellied physiques. The water was starting to get uncomfortable but as I was going to change pools, the ‘ice room’ was calling me, Mafia Man turns about  and I get a glimpse of the first snood I’ve seen in several months.  Snoods are not common in bathhouses, but on non-western adults at least, they are  about as common as a foreskin.

Anyone who has ventured into a bathhouse will have noticed, especially if they come from Europe, that all Korean men are circumcised. Indeed Korea has the highest rate of non-religious circumcision in the world – thanks to the influence of the USA in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, N. Koreans remain intact. Finding data and statistics or indeed any information on the phenomenon of Korean circumcision is as difficult as finding information on frenulectomy / frenoplasty; the additional operation which the majority of American boys are subject to and which chops away even more of their dicks than their circumcision. When health ‘care’ secretly removes parts of the body and the victims don’t even know whats been removed, let alone their parents, it ceases to be ‘care.’

Korean circumcisions are usually performed shortly before the boy is about to go to middle school, the average age being around  13, though  for some it may be performed earlier and it is certainly not uncommon to see uncircumcised high school or even first year university students.  However, it is probably safe to assume 99.9% of males have been circumcised by the time they are conscripted into the forces. That this operation is not performed in infancy may be explained by the fact that until fairly recently, infant mortality rates were high  and circumcision placed an added risk  on a boy’s life. Unlike the USA, Korea has not exploited the clandestine removal of the frenulum.   Clinics for circumcising boys, most popular during the winter vacation, are as common as supermarkets and indeed, my local E-Mart has a clinic opposite so you can have your dick mutated and be sat in E-Mart McDonald’s in less time than a scale and polish. Operations taking about thirty minutes, are performed under local anesthetic and cost between 60.000 – 100.000 won (30-50 UK pounds).

And this is exactly what it looks like!

Back to the snood! When I first started going to bathhouses, I quite often saw a couple of guys with these very weird-looking things hanging from the underside of their dicks. At first, I thought they must have had botched circumcisions but I now know they were either Filipino or had been ‘circumcised,’ Filipino style, which is known as pagtutuli. The traditional Filipino version, which simply cleaves the foreskin in two, and then lets it hang off the underside like a chunk of fat,  hence the ‘snood,’ qualifies as a circumcision  about as much as rasping your face with the cheese grater qualifies as a face-lift. Meanwhile, if you want to know what happens to all those foreskins in the US – it’s a mega-buck industry with neonatal foreskins the most lucrative. Want to buy a batch? Apparently, they make very good anti-aging cream! Personally, I’ll stick with Nivea. http://ccr.coriell.org/Sections/BrowseCatalog/?SId=3

Creative Commons License

© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.