Elwood 5566

Soothing a Sore Crack

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care by 노강호 on October 19, 2011

I’ve never been into the habit of taking a used Italy towel from one of the bathhouse trash bins. However, if I don’t have one, which I usually do, most of my Korean friends think nothing of it. This is by no means an isolated habit and I regularly see individuals tramping about bins in search of the abrasive Italy towel, a razor or a squirt of residue from a shampoo sachet. However, no Korean would dream of using someone’s discarded toothbrush – at least not for cleaning their teeth.

nothing communal goes near the face

Bathhouse trash bins aren’t as gross as they sound and usually consist of two plastic laundry-type baskets at the end of each row of showers, one for towels and the other for rubbish such as shampoo sachets, razors and the like.  As they are regularly emptied, one is spared having to root through them and usually the bin only ever contains a few items. I suppose if you’re used to using a communal bars of soap, the use of a discarded Italy towel is no big deal. I don’t mind my friends using one on my back but communal soap and secondhand Italy towels go nowhere near my face.

I’ve been practicing taekwon-do after a ten-year break and one unexpected teething problem is cracked heels from pivoting on the ‘tatami’ mat floor of the training hall. Anyone who has had a cracked heel will appreciate that even though they are small and may not bleed, they are irritatingly painful. My training regime has been going well and there was no way I was going to be halted by a couple tiny fissures. I awoke one morning and almost as I was opening my eyes, had the solution. I’ve no idea where the idea originated  but  it was already rooted in the forefront of my brain as my eyes adjusted to the morning light. The remedy was obvious – super-glue. Doing a quick Google on its medical uses, it would seem my idea is far from novel, though no doubt foolish. Indeed, I read numerous articles, all from the USA, where basic medical aid starts at an inflated level and quality is dependent on how much you are prepared to pay, where super-glue is used to bond lacerations all with the intent of circumnavigating the hefty expense of a visit to a hospital. As I’m not living in the USA, and I’m not daft enough to squirt bond into an open wound, I nonetheless used the remedy to seal my crack and the result was excellent. Next day I was back training, unhindered.

a few drops did the trick – naturally, not recommended!

A week or so later, I’m sat in the bathhouse and noticed a guy sat next to me scraping the hard skin on his heels with a razor. Let me tell you, I tried it when I got home. First you need to soak your feet for around an hour by which time the skin is soft enough for the razor to manage. At home and in the bathhouse I use one of those expensive ‘super’ blades, the type that have several cutting edges and a psychedelic strip impregnated with aloe-vera. I used an old blade which although dull on my face, retained enough sharpness to slice through the rough skin around the crack with ease. I imagine you’d only get one foot shave from an old razor as the process seriously dulls the cutting sharpness and skin gets stuck between the blades. However, it was an effective if not a potentially expensive misuse of decent razor blades.

Solution – a bit of tramping in the bins to find discarded blades which I can use after a lengthy soaking, poolside. Every basket had a couple of razors and I even  found two ‘super’-blades which fitted the model I have.

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2.7 cms! A Load of Cock!

Posted in Bathhouse, Comparative by 노강호 on September 29, 2011

one example of the many surveys

One of the best means of purging a society with the obsession it has for the length of  male genitalia is nudity. I think it’s probably safe to say that wherever social mores have preferred people to keep their clothes on, myths about dicks size proliferate. I would imagine there are far fewer Korean teenagers with hang ups about the size of their tool than there are in British society where lads never see each other, or any other male naked unless it’s through the medium of porn where size is one of the primary employment specs.

the Ancient Greeks had a healthy attitude, big dicks were comical and often associated with ugliness and depravity

I have never considered Korean men to have particularly small penises and only yesterday saw a Korean guy with such a big tool it was obscene and I was instantly reminded of donkeys, horses and Greek satyrs.  I actually felt sorry for him. I wasn’t starring but was intrigued and even though I was very discrete and tried to pretend I was looking somewhere else or day dreaming, he knew what I was doing.  He must get that all the time!

I recently read an article on Koreans and dick size which claimed that Korean men have one of the smaller statistics for that appendage compared to men of other nations. If you’re interested you can ‘Google’ it and will find plenty of studies into dick length. In my delving into bathhouse culture, I often come across jibes made by western men about Korean dick size but dismiss them as they reveal more about the western psyche than that of Korea. That Koreans have smaller dicks should come as no surprise: Koreans are smaller. The average weight of an American male is 86.8 kilograms (CDC 2002 – and is now probably higher) while a Korean male weighs-in at  to 68.6 kgs (Chungnam Univ. Medical School, 2007). Indeed, the 2002 CDC survey cited a typical American 15-year-old boy as weighing 68.3 kilograms, basically the same as a fully grown Korean adult. Correspondingly, Koreans are shorter than the average American (male) by about 1.5 inches. I would imagine Koreans have smaller ears, fingers, feet and indeed noses but for a significant number of westerners such observations evaporate when the subject has a smaller penis.

a modern play mocks big dicks in an Aristophanic fashion (Paul Wignall's 'Bursting the Grape)

Trawling Google looking for statistics on penis size, it is clearly evident that immense resources are wasted on such irrelevancies. The results vary slightly but cite Korean and American flaccid lengths at an average of 2.7 and 3.5 inches, respectively. Having seen thousands of Korean dicks, I find 2.7 to be surprisingly small but perhaps this is because the Korean source of statistics is from 19-year-old military conscripts, who by western calculations, are only 18 years old. The US study used a sample with a far greater age range the youngest of which were mid twenties. And how are statistics gathered? I can very much imagine how the Korean conscripts were measured as much as I can imagine the American statistics being gathered via confidential questionnaires.

So, this week, in my regular sessions in the bathhouse, I’ve been trying to estimate the lengths of dicks. It isn’t easy. First, you can’t be seen to be peeping and second, dicks appear to change size depending on the angle from which they are viewed. Then there is the problem of variation because like the Korean specialty  known as the ‘dog dick,’ a turgid, worm-like sea animal, one moment they are looking a healthy ‘big,’ next they are positively ‘small.’  In the end I gave up firstly, because my long distant vision has deteriorated and either I need to take my glasses poolside or I will have to start squinting – which naturally I don’t want to do. Secondly, the one thing that stops you making a decent estimate is the nature of their pubic hair. Forget the boring twaddle about penis length because all that separates us is around three-quarters of an inch. But when it comes to the length of  pubic hair, Koreans win outright. I’ve seen Koreans with such long pubes they could braid them and often it sticks out straight as if gelled in situ. Korean pubic hair is not just water proof but resilient enough to remain in place even when being doused in the shower.

Koreans have smaller dicks! If they do – big deal! They have smaller toes, too. Meanwhile, a great many western men will take solace in the fact they are bigger than Koreans. You have to be some kind of uber-dork to feel better than another guy because your wadge of fat happens to be a little longer.  It’s all irrelevant and relative and last time I looked at my ruler, 3.5, 4.5 or even 6.5 are pathetically small lengths on which to base any sense of  national or masculine superiority.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Fit fathers, fat sons

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on September 16, 2011

the fit, fat and flabby

I arrived in back in Korea after my UK holiday a few days before work is due to begin and spent several sessions lazing in bathhouses. On Sunday, I spent almost two hours in a cool, massage pool drifting in and out of sleep and watching the weekend cleaning rituals between fathers and sons and friends. At one point, there were three fathers busy scrubbing their teenage sons but what was most interesting was that while the fathers were slim and fit looking, especially as I reckon they were aged in their 40’s or 50’s,  their sons were all pudgy and fat. Neither was it puppy fat but quite copious amounts of well established lard which far exceeds the requirements of puberty. One father and his son came and sat in my pool and the lad, despite being a foot shorter than I, was equally as broad.

flabby tummies at my old high school

The UK debate about obesity still stirs the emotions and a convenient theory is that fat parents produce fat kids. No doubt there is a correlation but my observation is a reminder that kids can turn fat independent of their parents and that the roots of obesity are complex and compound and not to be explained by one grand ‘theory.’

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Migwang Update, August 2011

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on August 31, 2011

The first thing needed after returning from dirty Britain, was a lengthy session at the bathhouse, this time one of my favourites, Migwang Spolex, in Song-so, Daegu.

The warm and hot pools in the female complex

I’ve only been absent three weeks but it is sufficient time for numerous changes to take place. Most noticeable was the level of lighting in the male bathhouse. Previously, the lighting was fairly subdued but now yellow and light blue ceiling panels have increased the levels substantially and the overall effect is much brighter. At first, I didn’t like the brightness but it is growing on me. A new mural has replaced an old one on a wall of the cold pool and most pools have had their bottoms re-tiled.

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Na-Seong Hawaii Bathhouse (Jinch’eon. Daegu)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Sport by 노강호 on August 4, 2011

Na Seong Hawaii – Jin-ch’eon.

Rating: Excellent

(First visited 7th of June 2011. Last visited 25th of July 2011). Despite the fact that you are likely to see more right angles in Na-seong Hawaii than in most other bathhouses, the atmosphere is calm and relaxing with a pervading sense of balance and lightness. Entering the atrium from the changing room, four pools occupy the centre contained within one large rectangle. The largest is the warm pool behind which lays a small bench massage pool and two smaller hot pools. At the far end of the pools, and contained within the rectangle are six ondol heated plinths made of jade. The large rectangle encompassing these features is mirrored by glass vaulted roof around the edges of which are small trees. The vaulted roof  provides natural light and has the effect of both ‘opening’ the atrium and giving it a sense of lightness. Sitting in the pools or lying on the jade plinths and being able to look up at the sky is quite relaxing but this feature is only present in the male complex.

the first floor lobby

The use of angles is continued with both square windows on the right hand wall and by the long rectangular mirrors on the sit down showers which run beneath them. Even the stand up shower mirrors, which flank either side of the entrance and exit, are square and the only point at which the domination of right angles is broken is at the head of the atrium where three large semi-circular designs mark each sauna. The saunas are an interesting speciality of Na-seong and each is jewelled. The right hand sauna is a steam room predominantly of rose quartz with additional patterns in jade. The central sauna, a dry sauna has a pyramid-shaped roof the wall as being tightly studded with black, smoky quartz. The left hand sauna, an even hotter dry sauna is walled with another gem stone and the furthest wall contains several partitions with tightly packed charcoal and cinnamon.

On the left hand side of the atrium is a sleeping room and a long cold pool which on the occasions I visited was substantially colder than other bathhouses. The far wall of this pool has large widows which overlooks the adjacent no-cheon. The entrance to the no-ch’eon, another speciality of Na-seong, is in the left hand corner but as with the nearby Saeng-hwal, this is an enclosed no-ch’eon and not the type fully open to the elements.

the medicine bath in the no-cheon

 The no-ch’eon area contains a salt sauna and three pools. The event pool has a different aroma everyday, including strawberry on a Saturday. There is a wooden sleeping area and a medicine bath which on my first visit contained a rather smelly sulphur additive. Finally, in the corner  is a cold sea bath.

Overall, this is an excellent bathhouse with some interesting features and a very pleasant atmosphere. For anyone interested in bathhouses or who simply enjoys spa lounging, Na-seong is well worth a visit.

Getting there – Na Seong Hawaii is five minutes walk from Saeng Hwal On-ch’eon. (Wikimapia link) It is close to Jinch’eon subway. From Song-seo, Lotte Cinema, it is about 5500 Won by taxi.

Na seong on the left and Saeng Hwal on the right

Daegu subway map (click to enlarge)

The x’s mark subway stations. Na-seong is on the left.

Times – Unsure, but it is not a 24 hour establishment.

Facilities – bathhouse, sports center, barber, shoe-shine, parking, screen golf.

floor guide

Jjimjilbang – no jjimjilbang.

Bathhouse (men) – around fifty stand up and

Cost – 5000 Won

Ambiance – very relaxing, light and open.

Waygukin -None

Address – 

Website

Layout (Male Bathhouse) – coming

Updates

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A Cake of Soap and Korean Hierarchical Collectivism

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, customs, Education, Korean language, podcasts by 노강호 on July 25, 2011

podcast 87

A few weeks ago, I was showering in the bathhouse. The soap is always provided which is something which irks many westerners. Somehow, we seem to find pollution everywhere but on ourselves and are quick to condemn a number of Korean habits, including the ones concerning communal hard soap as opposed liquid soap.  I have cited, on numerous occasions, the research on the hygiene of British people where a culture of super-clean toilets seems to mitigate the need to actually wash your hands. When you take a dump in a nice clean toilet with white tiled walls, devices that automatically jettison a fragrance into the air to mask unpleasant smells, and mop up with two ply, scented toilet paper, it is easy to forget how dirty shit is. In 2008, a major British study revealed 25% of those tested had faecal matter on their hands and 33% of home work surfaces were contaminated by faecal matter and strains of E-coli (Daily Telegraph). It is no exaggeration to say that British people have so much shit on their hands they might as well have mucked themselves out manually especially when international research ranks Britain as the third most contaminated society after India and Malaysia and more contaminated than Arabic countries where one traditionally cleans their bum with a hand and water. So, among Brits at least, I always titter when they bang-on about how dirty it is to use communal soap because only 43% of British mothers see fit to wash their hands after changing their baby’s nappy. The chances are, a great number of people who condemn communal hard soap are the same people who ‘shit and go,’ without bothering to wash their hands.

So, there I am using one of a hundred bars of communal soap and I notice it is rather hairy; in fact it’s so hairy I can feel the coarseness on my skin. For a moment, and it is brief, I am repulsed but then I’m pacified by the thought, it’s only hair, Korean hair and in that moment, not only do I continue using it, but I start to reminisce.

My family shared soap in the bathroom as well as towels and I can even remember we shared bath water. Back in the 60’s you didn’t shower every day, but on a weekly basis. For many children of the 50’s and 60’s, Sunday was traditionally bath day and for me that meant stepping into second-hand, scummy-gray water and wanting to get out as quickly as possible; not because the water was gross, but because by the time I got to use the bath the hot water had expired.

Maybe it’s the memory of the bathing experience as a child which makes me wallow in the luxury of a Korean bathhouse. I am not surprised we bathed on a weekly basis and hated the process. In the days when central heating was an emerging luxury, and before double glacéing and hot-water-on-demand heating systems, bathing, especially in cold weather, was unpleasant. Then there were the damp towels, the dubious face cloth and sponges whose possible journeys and uses, as a child, I never contemplated. Eventually, when the final dregs of gray scud whirled and gurgled down the drain, the final bather had to prostrate themselves at the edge of the bath, Ajax in hand, and scour away the crusty tide mark.  Drying my face with the ‘family’ bath towel and detecting an odour, the origins of which I don’t wish to recall, was an experience a lot less traumatic than had the odour belonged to an outsider. I think most of us are more tolerant of ‘dirt’ and ‘pollutants’ when we are either related genetically or are familiar with the owner. In sexual relationships, most people will happily rub their faces in the gutters of the human body but the moment they have to wash their hands with a communal bar of soap and they are offended. I have known numerous dog owners who would happily let their dog lick their face and lips, or lick their ice cream, after it had sniffed and tasted the back-end of every other dog in the neighbourhood. Familiarity has powers of sanitation far superior to the most stringent bleaches and cleaning agents, and as for sexual passion, the atomic bomb of hygienics, in its radiance all filth and the veiny, mucous-lined channels from which it oozes, are deified.

I want to see that bar of soap as a Korean sees it, not because I want to be Korean but because in its comprehension lies something of the mystery of what it means to be Korean as a Korean and which as a cultural phenomena, eludes  all outsiders. How Koreans perceive a simple bar of communal soap, I am beginning to think, shares a proximity to communal plates and bowls, the communal bowl of odeng which has almost disappeared, the act of drinking a shot of soju from another person’s glass, sharing water in the bathhouse, dipping your toothbrush into a communal bowl of salt, and cascades down through various other social interactions far removed from ablutions and yet intrinsically connected through their relationship with the community. This is not to say Korea doesn’t have taboos and social mores, it does. You can cough in someone’s face and share food from the same plate, picking at it with your chopsticks, but suck the end of your pen and you’re ‘dirty.’

 The bar of soap reminds me how human reactions to ‘pollution’ are affected by familiarity and hence a mother will find the contents of her baby’s nappy much less disturbing than if it belonged to that of a stranger. I have quite often seen Korean men pick an Italy towel or razor out of a bathhouse bin and proceed to use it and indeed, some of my friends do this. It’s easy to condemn this as a disgusting act but we have all used each others’ Italy towels and razors and the only difference between using your friend’s towel and a discarded one, is that your friend has a relationship with you and you know for sure they haven’t got face fungi.

Korean society is far more homogeneous than that of the UK where our gene-pool has been thoroughly mongrelised. Many Brits, often comment on how ‘orientals’ all look alike but the fact is Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Thais etc, all have their own distinguishing features and it is only ignorance and lack of familiarity, which masks them.  I can tell apart a Korean from a Chinese or Japanese person, with far greater accuracy than I can a Russian, Frenchman, Englishman or German. And the process of mongrelization in Britain, started well before the Viking raids and French conquest of 1066. That Koreans are more homogeneous genetically, plus their isolationist past, the influences of Confucianism and recent history in which their national identity was suppressed, have conspired to produce a society with a strong sense of group identity.

There are many points at which you can observe Koreans expressing their identity through a shared framework and one of the most obvious is through the values surrounding education. Regardless of social position, every Korean parent has much the same academic expectations for and of their children. In Britain, educational values, and sometimes the lack of them, tend to divide society.  Other examples, if practiced in the UK would be deemed archaic, even invasive. I don’t think I have ever heard a British school child talk about their future aspirations in terms of ‘their country’ but Korean students often tell me they want to do something to ‘help’ or ‘better’ their nation.  The National anthem is not only heard more often that it would be in the UK but most people can sing the verses. The national flower, the mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon – 무궁화), is a well know image. National Service is often perceived by many, though indeed not all, as a duty towards ones country. Even kimchi and Korean martial arts are important facets of Korean identity. Perhaps, because the formation of modern Korea and its struggles with both foreign aggressors and internal political fracture, are relatively recent events, the important historical figures, the Korean founding fathers, are well know to all Koreans. If you should praise Korean society, many Koreans will be quick to thank you. Meanwhile, back in the UK, political correctness has tarnished the Union Jack and anything British with slurs of imperialism, racism, and oppression. Indeed, I think it not wrong to claim that in Britain, British culture is a dirty word and British culture the most inferior of all the cultures now inhabiting the British Isles.  Meanwhile, the influences which shaped European and British history have been discarded and the significance of Marathon, Thermopylae and anything else pertaining to ancient civilizations are deemed crusty, boring and thoroughly elitist.

In western society, we value individuality and see its development as worthwhile and important and whenever we cooperate or interact with others we very much do so as individuals working with in a group. And if a person were to exhibit characteristics which conflicted with the group, their subsequent labelling as ‘an individual’ could be very positive. We respect ‘individuality’ even if we don’t agree with its content. For westerners, it is possible to develop as a respected individual without any need of group associations and one can forge an identity in isolation. For Koreans however, it is the group which defines their roles and gives them their identity and they can be quite lost without the security of its parameters. I have on numerous occasions seen students ‘shut down’ or socially paralyzed because group dynamics weren’t quite right.  Identities articulated around work, the army, school and university, ferrying individuals through the various stages of life are integrally important, lifelong points of reference.

And at all times in Korean society, you notice the importance of hierarchy. You can chuck western kids together, mixing ages, abilities and gender randomly and they will basically work but Koreans are likely to suffer almost a trauma if the groups aren’t structured properly. Difference, for Koreans, is much more difficult to deal with. Age cohorts are incredibly important and Koreans constantly refer to their position either currently or in the past, not only through age cohort terms like ‘first grade’ or ‘sixth grade’ but by larger structural ones such as ‘high school student’ or ‘university student.’ That you can address a young person as ‘student’ is reflective of both the pivotal role of education and age banding. I have know a number of Korean high school students who, after spending a year abroad, returned to Korea to be put back a year into a class with students younger than them and they found the experience quite difficult.

The importance of age in Korean society can never be underestimated and it is for this reasons they always want to know how old you are. Without knowing your age, a Korean is not only unsure what language to use addressing you, but is unsure how to act towards you. Knowledge of your age allows them to place you in the appropriate group from which they know how to treat you. And don’t necessarily expect relationships determined by such factors to change over time or with familiarity, as they would in the west. I’ve taught English students who very quickly treated me in manner which in Korean would be seen as intimate; that is they use familiar terms of address and treat you as an equal. But Korean ‘friends’ I taught almost 12 years ago, when they were high school students, still address me as ‘teacher’ and some find it difficult not to. Another, who will use my first name, finds it difficult to smoke in my presence and may turn their head while drinking alcohol. And you will be sorely reminded if you make a blunder and assume students belong to the same age cohort when in fact they occupy adjacent ones.

The Korean Language expresses both collectivism and hierarchical stratification. Indeed, Korean is a language of built-in deferentially and when using it you are constantly aware of your position in relation to others. The terms to address people are rarely their names, but their function within the group.  Koreans rarely uses personal pronouns as these are seen as intimate and in the wrong context rude, and position, rank, family relationships or specific occupations commonly replace these. In terms of collectivism, Koreans refer to their parents, schools, universities and the largest structural unit of all, nation, by way of ‘our’ rather than ‘my.’ Whenever I refer to ‘my mother’ as ‘our mother’ I am a little unsure whether this is correct, or possibly bizarre, as I am not Korean and not part of the collective.

There is probably no better example of the differences between ‘collective’ and individualistic’ ideologies than in the conflict westerners often encounter when the ‘interest’ of the ‘individual’ clash with the ‘interest’ of work. In the west, we are used to a very clear division between work and ‘play’ and it is not appropriate to spring meetings on people at the last moment, ask them to change their plans for that evening, or expect them to ‘stand a friend up’  in order to work. If this is a necessity, financial recompense can be expected. When Koreans expect westerners to behave in the same manner as Koreans, they do not really understand the sacrosanct nature of free time and the importance of individuality as an expression of identity. Koreans however, will suppress all individual pursuits, interests or engagements,  if work requires some additional input. Koreans do not divide work and free time so absolutely and they will work way past their contracted time if the organisation requires this and not expect a financial reward for doing so – though I suspect they would expect their diligence to be acknowledged and perhaps foresee some in-lieu benefit at a future date. (Of course, it is equally as plausible to interpret this work ethic as exploitative and manipulative). And, in terms of obesity, the collective ideology is definitely more judgmental.  I sense, that whenever I am in the presence of a Korean who is proportionally fatter than I, I can relax because it seems a far greater social offence to be a fat Korean betraying the parameters of the Korean frame, than a fat foreigner.

In the West, the rights of the individual are so crucial that it is almost the case that the rights one person can easily trample on the rights of another. I am reminded of the time I witnessed an argument about someone playing loud music at an inconvenient time and where the perpetrator claimed playing loud music was, his ‘right.’  As with many facets of life in Korea and life back home, there is a clear polarization where both extremes each seem too extreme. As much as I love living in a society that is a collective hierarchy, and enjoying the benefits it brings, it is as a foreigner and outsider who is absolved from transgressions and given leniency.  I would certainly hate to be part of that collective and stripped of those component parts which I believe are integral to my individuality and identity.  I actually shudder to think how my Korean friends, and especially my boss, perceive my passions and would imagine that for all the importance I attribute them, they probably view them as trite and puerile and in some way detracting from my responsibilities.

And so my little sojourn returns to the bar of hairy soap where this epic began. I realise of course, that most of the other bars are hairless and that I suspect the hairs are mine. Westerners, we’re gross! I love the Korean physical homogeneity because my western body, my British body is riddled with the mutations of cross breeding, of mongrelism. And, I’ve inherited that horrid propensity for chest hair, and worse, back hair which is just too great a reminder of my primate past. I can tolerate the soap with Korean hair attached, but with those western straggles matting the surface of the soap, I’m both revolted and ashamed. Westerners, we’re just too different, not just physically but mentally. We cling to immobile markers of identity and individuality, our sexuality, our colour, our religious and political affiliations, mountain dew, pop groups, and a ton of other crap, with such passion that our differences and the importance of our affiliations hinder and obscure that which we do share. When we do identify with each other to the extent of it representing some tangible community, it tends to be through trivia such as the royal weddings, football, Big Brother or Pop Idol. For so many westerners, their name and their sexual, political, religious, ethical or sporting affiliations are fundamental components of any social introduction are often of more importance than work. For many Koreans, the most important topic is work and for most adults life comprises of little much else.

And so I come to the conclusion that if my Korean friends can use someone else’s Italy towel, they can just as easily tolerate the hairy soap and do so because they are familiar with the hair’s owner, who was in all probability, a Korean and possibly a distant relative with whom they have much in common.  Meanwhile, the westerner perceives that last person as anything but a relative or countryman and instead a dirty fucking stranger who probably has a hideous skin disease.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Ch’eonchiwon Jewel Sauna (천지원보석사우나) Dae-myeong, Daegu

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu, Sport by 노강호 on July 13, 2011

Ch’eonchiwon Jewel Sauna

Rating – Functional

(First visited on Memorial Day Monday 6th of June 2011). This day started out bad as I’d set out with a student to find what was supposed to be an interesting Sauna in Seong-dang-mot (성당못) area of Daegu only to end up walking to Dae-myeong (대명) where our consolation prize was Ch’eonchiwon Jewel Sauna (천지원보석사우나). On a public holiday after a busy term we were looking for something special but even if our mission had been ‘the ordinary,’ Ch’eonchiwon would have scored a very low. In fairness, we didn’t view the jjimjilbang, which may have had redeeming qualities but the bathhouse was more functional than recreational and as a result we only stayed half an hour.

This is sort of establishment would perhaps be fine if it is in your local area and suitable for washing and a little lounging but other than this it is probably only of interest as an example of older bathhouse and as a reminder that not all establishments are equal. An occasional visit to such bathhouses makes you more appreciative of larger establishments.

The changing rooms were small and though not a ‘squeeze,’ I felt uncomfortable. The bathhouse was one of the oldest I’ve probably been in and though it was clean and tidy, I missed the luxury of bigger establishments. The pools were small and consisted of a circular warm pool and event pool and two small massage pools capable of holding 4 people. The cold pool was the largest pool. There was a steam room and salt room and a sleeping area which may have had a jade floor.

Location –  (Wikimapia link ) Come out of Dae-myeong  subway station (line 1), exit 4 and the sauna is a few blocks ahead of you on the right.

Ch’eonchiwon Po-sok Sauna 1

Ch’eonchiwon Po-sok Sauna 2

Ch’eonchiwon Po-sok Sauna 3

Ch’eonchiwon Po-sok Sauna 4

Ch’eonchiwon Po-sok Sauna 5

Ch’eonchiwon Po-sok Sauna 6

By taxi from Song-so, Lotte Cinema, Mega Town, approx 7000 Won (£3.50)

The front of the building

Times – 24 hour

Facilities – jjimjilbang, health club

Bathhouse (men) – about 10 stand up showers and perhaps 30 sit down ones. Warm-pool, event pool, cold pool, sleeping area, salt sauna, and steam room (? I think). A sleeping area in the bathhouse and a small massage pool that had another small pool next to it (?).

Cost – 4800 Won (which may be inclusive of jjimjilbang)

Others

Ambiance – very local and functional and though clean a little grim.

Waygukin – none (a brief first visit).

Address – 대구광역시 남구 대명6동 1054-2. Tel: 053-628-8831

Website

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Bathhouses and Jjimilbang in Ulsan

Posted in Bathhouse by 노강호 on July 5, 2011

Ulsan Bathhouses and Jjimjilbang

I stumbled across a review of some establishments in Ulsan and for anyone interested they can be found here.

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When Weird is Normal – Traditional ‘Beggar Singers’

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Entertainment, Food and Drink, Gender by 노강호 on July 5, 2011

Podcast 86

Experience has taught me to avoid them like the plague. Traditional singers (각설이 or 품바), sometimes known as ‘beggar singers’ are often seen in festivals, towns or cities; sometimes they appear in a troop, as a sort of band and at other times as individuals pushing a kind of decorated cart.

the ‘band’ in action

The ‘bands,’ for lack of a better term, consist of a central character, always bizarrely dressed, supported by others who take part in the comedy and play the various percussion instruments which accompany singer and prerecorded support.  This type of entertainment is popular at various types of festival.

The individual performers are also common at festivals but are often seen in towns. They usually push a barrow which carries various props, an audio system, sometimes even a computer and screen capable of playing karaoke and sell traditional pumpkin toffee, hoa-bak yeot (호박엿).

kak-sor-i

Why do I steer clear of them? My first encounter was on the streets of Daegu only a few weeks after arriving in Korea. It was a hot afternoon in September and I was on my way to work. Attracted by the strange singing and the even stranger apparel of a man who looked like Boy George in the early stages of his career; when he prettied his face and wore farmer’s milking smocks, I stopped to watch. A big mistake! Nothing aids a kak-sor-i’s performance more than the presence of a naive and uncomprehending waeg. I had no idea what he was saying into his portable microphone but suddenly the small crowd were starring in my direction, and laughing! Next moment, he grabs my arm and coaxes me into performing a ridiculous dance in the center of the crowd. Eleven years later, and the recollection still makes me cringe. His dance was similar to something that you might have performed around a Native American Indians fire, with a tomahawk, except I was carrying a briefcase and can remember swinging it wildly as I copied him. At the time, I didn’t feel a prat and simply thought I was responding in the correct manner. Perhaps the heat induced a temporary insanity or maybe it was the hypnotic rhythm he struck on his strange drum with which he accompanied his tinny ‘music box’ and weird wailing. Luckily, a friend pulled me back into the crowd and with a surprised and embarrassed look on her face, asked me what the hell I was doing. And she was Korean!

Boy George and his milking smock

Several months later, I saw a troop performing at a festival on the beach in Pohang and kept a respectful distance. On this occasion, the lead singer had something rather large dangling down the inside leg of his baggy pants and to the amusement of the children seated in the front, he frequently lunged his hips and what appeared like a hefty boner sprung forward.

It’s difficult interpreting how these artists are perceived by Koreans because for a westerner they verge on the obscene and bizarre. Often there is an element of cross dressing, both from male-female and female-male; the content is often mildly sexual with sprung activated codpieces down the pants, simulated stripping, flashing knickers or underwear and sometimes traits of campness. Kak-sor-i ‘drag down‘ rather than ‘up’ until everything becomes rustic, lopsided and the people a bit pumpkin. Verging on the grotesque, it is the antithesis of British drag. Whenever I see a troop of performers I am reminded both of the freakish scenes from Fellini’s Satyricon and Jackie Stallone and somewhere between the two lurks Michael Jackson.

a kak-sor-i performer

Fellini’s freaky Satyricon

Jackie Stallone – truly freaky

 I don’t have a zoom lens. They don’t make them for my cheapo camera so capturing a photograph of a performer can’t be achieved at a distance. Getting too close brings back bad memories and also, I’m culturally confused. A few weekends ago, I happened to see a kak-sor-i at a traditional wrestling festival in Daegu. He was on the edge of the festivities and with his barrow atop of which sat his music system and bags of pumpkin toffee, he was giving a half hearted rendition of some an old fox-trot song (트로트), almost apologetically and as if he shouldn’t have been there.

As far as such performers go, this one was slightly more cross-dresser than some and though it might not be politically correct to say so, if I  saw him performing on a London street, I’d probably consider him a freak and steer clear. I see nothing threatening in transsexuals or transvestites because I usually know into which category such individuals fall; a transsexual would do a much better job looking female and a transvestite would parody female characteristics and associations to the max. Neither would wear fishnets with a pair of socks and trainers. Unable to read the character, I’m confused and on British streets this would attract the label of ‘possible freak’ and cause me to avoid them. Kak-sor-i don’t seem to bother hiding their sex and this one is clearly male but  his hair is all wrong, his sequined shorts, or is it a skirt? too ambiguous, and  what’s with the blobs of intense rouge on his cheeks? The rouge is the freakiest part of his appearance because no self respecting trans-person would ever mock their face in such a clown-like manner. Further, his movement is male and there is nothing camp about him in mannerism and rather than performing songs by Barbara Striesand or Kylie Minogue, he  is warbling to some typical Korean trot.

not yet spotted…

I sit down at a distance and casually take out my camera. I’m thinking I can perhaps get a few shots while his back is turned but I really want a full frontal. Eventually, I catch his eye and before he has consented I click a few off. He’d previously been singing with intermittent announcements advertising his pumpkin toffee, at 2000 Won a bag. Suddenly, he starts talking about me, I can pick out the words ‘waygukin,’ meaning ‘foreigner’ and my cheeks start turning red. Not sure how Koreans read this character, I’m concerned if they see it as anyway perverse, or what Koreans term ‘pyontae’ (변태 – abnormal), they will likewise think I am for wanting to photograph him. Once I’ve got my photos I am polite and go up and buy some toffee and all the time I know he is talking about me. He tries telling me it’s 20.000 Won a bag but I know it isn’t and hand him 2000. Then I leave as quickly as possible.

See! He’s talking about me…

I now sense from discussions about performers, that they are not perceived as ‘strange’ (변태) and their costumes and make-up cast no dispersions on their sexuality, gender or mental state. Indeed, Koreans probably view even the most extreme kak-sor-i as more normal than they would some western celebrities whose’ freakishness’ goes beyond the cosmetic and transitory to pervade their entire persona. I am told kak-sor-i are no more the character they are wearing, than the actors in a drama or movie. However, my fear still lingers because without the ability to communicate effectively, I’m at their mercy. And once bitten, twice shy!

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Su-Mok-Won Saeng Hwal On-Ch’eon (수목원 생활온천)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on July 3, 2011

생활 - 'life, living'

Rating – Luxury

(First visited on 10th June 2011. Last visited on 24th of September 2011) Saeng Hwal instantly became one of my favourite establishments. This is a large complex with numerous facilities though there is no jjimjilbang (찜질방). The reception area on the ground floor is like that of a grand hotel and is large and spacious with sofas and television for relaxation. Grouped around here are numerous shops, manicure, body shop etc, and a pine wood, traditional style café.

Shoes are removed in the reception area, the number for your shoe locker is on your ticket and the key in the shoe locker is the same number for your locker in the changing area. From reception you proceed to your respective areas, women floor 2 and men floor 3.

The men’s changing room is very spacious with sofas and television, the usual snacks and accessories such as ties, socks and toiletries. The fee here is the most expensive I’ve paid, at 6000 Won (£3) but shampoo and shaving foam, as well as the usual toothpaste and soap, are provided in the showering areas. Though there are only around 10 stand up showers, there are 54 sit-down units traversing the left hand wall beyond which is a fairly large jade, ondol (under floor heated) sleeping area with pine walls and wooden head rests (목짐). Beyond this is the no-ch’eon (노천) area which is exposed to outside temperatures.

The Saeng Hwal complex

Traversing the right hand side of the bathing complex are various facilities, a powerful cold shower, a long, two channeled foot bath, each a different temperature. This long, open fronted room has a TV screen at the far end. There then follow a steam room and a dry, pine sauna. The steam sauna was hotter than I usually experience and there were stone benches with a central cold water gully in which to put your feet. TV access was through the central window to the pine sauna. Both saunas were large and lit with subdued lighting.

The massage pooling looking towards the no-ch'eon room

Beyond the saunas lay a decent size cold pool (냉탕) with high Japanese style water-outlet under which you can stand. The head of the bathing complex has a very large massage pool (안마탕) with 8 different types of massage and around 30 individual stations. The pool is interestingly designed and curves around, removing the harshness of angular edges. This format is utilized in some of the central pools and it is interesting to note, stands in direct contrast to the design of the nearby Na-Seong Hawaii. Both establishments are fairly new and whether the opposing features of one bathhouse were transposed into the other, I don’t know but despite their polarised differences, each has its own balance and individual atmosphere.

the roof garden (pool for children open only in summer)

As you enter the bathing complex, a large cold water bath, from which you dash your body with cold water from a small basin, stands in front of you.  Beyond this a  large warm pool (온탕) with cypress wood borders. One of the unfortunate aspects of Saeng Hwal, is the pool ledges are made from a rough granite and though you will not slip on it, it doesn’t do your buttocks any good to swivel! A central TV screen sits in the pool area, as does one in the massage pool. Towards the head of the bathing area, at the far end of the warm pool and on the right, is a semicircular hot pool (열탕). It is fairly small and could fit perhaps three westerners or six Koreans, not because westerners are larger, but because Koreans are not uncomfortable sitting close to each other. Curving around the top edge of this is a  lukewarm bath (미온탕).

a rather interesting herb shop directly next door

There is one area left to describe. In the far left corner, tucked between the far side of the jade sleeping floor, and the left hand side of the massage pool, is no-ch’eon (노천). However, like the no-ch’eon at Wonderful Spa Land and Na Seong Hawaii, it isn’t a proper no-ch’eon, but one exposed to the outside temperature. Real no-ch’eon, found in hot spring resorts, are outside. The Saeng Hwal no-ch’eon however, gave me a real buzz on my first visit when it was empty. To stop heat loss, the entrance is via two doors and inside, volcanic black rock form the lower walls and floor into which two natural hot spring baths are contained. The walls are pine wood or cypress as is a very small sleeping area and a central walk way. Here, in the absence of a TV, you can find real relaxation. There are even some real plants growing in one corner.

large rectangular warm pool, semi-circular hot pool and the lukewarm pool.

I once sat in a real no-ch’eon on my birthday, 30th of December, at something like 4 am in the morning in freezing cold temperatures in a snow storm. I was on a small island on the west coast and the sea water bathhouse was the edge of the sea and with the privacy, it meant you were able to stand up on lean on the wall, and look out at the numerous small islands dotted about. I would imagine that as summer kicks in and the humidity rises, it will possibly be more comfortable in the bathhouse than in the no-ch’eon but I am unsure. Taking opportunity of the recent cool weather, I decided to visit Saeng Hwal at 11 pm. It is quite strange bathing in a pool that is still a  little busy, and where kids are still playing, at not far short of midnight. I ended up sat in one of the hot no-ch’eon pools talking to a 22-year-old lad who is about to go into the army. I transpires he is the bathhouse owner’s grandson and after chatting for half an hour or so, he disappears in order to get me some complimentary tickets. I was rather hot and sat on one of the cypress wood benches which are dotted around the bathhouse and which are a welcome luxury from the usual white plastic bathhouse furniture.  The lighting is perfect lit by one subdued ceiling lamp and one between the plants on the ground. The cool evening air drifted through the enormous slated windows and was quite a fabulous sensation. I think if the building captures the breeze in such a manner throughout the year, the no-ch’eon might be quite refreshing on a balmy summer evening.

the reception area

Are there any downsides? Well, Saeng Hwal lacks the olfactory orgasm of Wonderful Spa Land and its incredible aromas, and it’s a little short on saunas, with only two, but the no-ch’eon is an experience and the bathhouse has a very relaxing atmosphere.

Getting there –  (Wiki Map link ) (Google Map link). On the 604, Dalseo 1 and Dalseo 4,  bus routes. A short distance, perhaps 15 minutes, from Jinch’eon (진청) subway. Taxi from Song-So Lotte Cinema Complex around 5000 Won.

Daegook and Chin-ch'eon subways (circled L-R) with 'X' marking Saeng Hwal. The green dot to the right is nearby Na-Seong Hawaii Sauna

The distance between sauna is a few minutes and indeed you can see one from the other

Times – 24 hour for the bathhouse.

Facilities – parking, fitness, climbing wall, basement ‘chambers,’ health related shops, traditional style café.

Bathhouse (men) – 12 stand up showers and 54 sit down units.  A large and deep warm pool (온탕) with cypress wood sides, hot pool (열탕) and lukewarm bath (미온탕), cold pool (냉탕), and a large massage pool. Pine sauna and steam sauna and jade sleeping floor. Enclosed are exposed to the outside temperature (노천) with two hot spring pools. A separate foot bath.

Cost – 6000 Won (bathhouse)

Others

B1 – 불가마 – kiln rooms yellow earth sauna (황토방). Oriental medicine chamber, Loess chamber, snow room, DVD room, snack room,      Korean food bar and internet corner.

1st Floor – reception, shoe shine, beauty shop, nail and manicure, body shop, sofas, TV and relaxation area.

2nd Floor – Women’s sauna

3rd Floor – Men’s sauna

4th Floor – climbing wall, aerobics, weight training, fitness room

5th Floor – roof garden, children’s pool (summer), general relaxation (노천)

Various interesting shops in the immediate vicinity including a large coffee shop and a very attractive shop, the ‘Herb Store.’

reception and information

Ambiance – very relaxing.

Waygukin – one so far (not friendly)

Address – 대구광역시 달서구 진천동 446  (Google map link) Tel: 053-641-0100

Websitewww.lifespa.kr

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