Elwood 5566

An Old Favourite – ‘The Supplanter’

Posted in Blogging, Education, esl by 노강호 on March 5, 2012

I’ve always enjoyed reading The Supplanter. Being a fellow Brit I enjoy his humour and we seem to share a common ground in our experience and analysis of Korean culture. Of more importance, it nearly always elicits a smile. When I first stumbled upon The Supplanter, around three years ago, I remember sitting up to the early hours of the morning reading some very amusing posts. Originally based in Korea, The Supplanter has relocated to China but he still publishes occasional posts on issues relevant to South Korea. The following is an extract from Teacher Bloopers:

Middle School, speaking test preparation after school class:

Me: ‘What’s your Father’s job?’

Student: ‘He no work’

Me: ‘He doesn’t work. Or you can say He is unemployed’

Student: ‘No, my Father dead’

Me: ‘Oh, erm, sorry to hear that’

***

Women’s University, Seoul, speaking test:

Me: ‘Describe your ideal man’

Student: ‘I don’t like men’

Me: ‘Why?’

Student: ‘I’m a lesbian’

Me: ‘Good answer’

***

At Elementary Summer Camp, Seoul, speaking to a parent about her son’s strange behaviour:

Me: ‘Your son pulls out his hair and tries to eat it. I’m very worried about him’

Mother: ‘Yes, he does that’

Me: ‘Do you know why?’

Mother: ‘The doctor says he’s worried about things. Stressed’

Me: ‘Yes, clearly he’s very stressed. What did the doctor say to do?’

Mother: ‘Oh doctor said he’d grow out of it and if it gets bad we can get a …? I don’t know the English …’ (Mimes)

Me: ‘A wig?’

Mother: ‘Yes! That’s it – Wig!’

***

Exiting from building in a Chinese university:

Me: [Walks into knee high metal bollard] OH FUCK ME!!!

[Shocked students turn to observe foreign teacher hobbling away in agony]

Me: [Looking up] ‘Oh, hello Dean … I …’

***

In conversation with a teaching assistant, University, China:

Me: ‘I really think you should change your English name, Enoch is not a good name if you’re British’

TA: ‘Why? I like it’

Me: ‘Well, it tends to make British people think of Enoch Powell, who was a racist politician’

TA: ‘You mean he hated black people?’

Me: ‘Well yes, amongst others …’

TA: ‘Me too’

Me: ‘Umm, that’s a terrible thing to say, but he’d also hate you too!’

TA: ‘Why? I’m not black!’

Me: ‘He didn’t like anyone who wasn’t white – or British – or not Christian’

TA: ‘Well, I’m not Christian, maybe he’d like me!’

Me: ‘… I think you’ve misunderstood, let me put it another way … Just change your name, ok?’

***

Responding to text from Female Chinese Student in Advanced English class:

Student: ‘I really like your class! Your so funny! But, I need some help, can I come and see you?’

Me: ‘Thank you, glad you enjoy the class. Come and see me before or after the lesson’

Student: ‘No, I mean we should meet up’

Me: ‘Yes, before or after lesson is fine’

Student: ‘No, I want to come to your apartment. We can hang out, watch a movie. I stay with you because dormitory close at midnght. Too early’

Me: ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. Bye’

***

Middle school, Seoul, in conversation with the baseball coach:

Korean Teacher: ‘Discipline is hard these days … students think they can do what they want …’

Me: ‘Well, they’re much better behaved than English students’

KT: ‘Really? I always thought English people were well behaved’

Me: ‘No’

KT: ‘Hmmnn … I got suspended last semester because I disciplined a student’

Me: ‘Really? What happened?’

KT: ‘Oh I just hit his legs with a baseball bat … and not broke but …’

Me: ‘Fracture?’

KT: ‘Yes – fracture! His parents complain … so I got suspended. You can’t harm students these days, parents complain about everything …’

Me: ‘…’

***

Eliciting from low-level students, University, China

Me: ‘So, here are things you like [indicates board] But what about things you don’t like – or dislike?’

Students: [Silence]

Me: ‘What do you dislike? Don’t like?’

Student 1: ‘Hate?’

Me: ‘No. Too strong. Dislike – Don’t like.’

Student 1: ‘Japanese?’

Me: ‘What?’

Student 1: ‘Hate Japanese’

Me: ‘No, no … not hate … and not Japanese. Dislike – don’t like – Hate [gesticulates] too strong’

Student 2: ‘Japanese people?’

Me: ‘No, no, no!’

Student 3: ‘Japanese culture?’

Me: ‘No! something else – forget the Japanese’

[Silence]

Me: ‘Anything else you dislike – don’t like – but not the Japanese’

Student 1: ‘Chinese people … Chinese people cannot forget Japanese’

Me: ‘Ok – write on your sheets things you don’t like – dislike – but NOT JAPANESE’

Me: [Checking answer sheets] ‘So, everyone has written Japanese …’

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Further References:

The Supplanter

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The Rantings of a Real Teacher – Music to my Ears

Posted in Blogging, Comparative, Education by 노강호 on April 4, 2011

This weekend, I stumbled across excellent posts on corporal punishment in Korea and the  meltdown occurring in schools and education in the USA (where the experience is not much different to the UK). Both posts were in Shotgun Korea.  All too often K-blogs berate the Korean education system and occasionally try to claim Korean students are much the same as they are in UK or the USA. Rarely are such authors professional teachers or have had experience teaching in mainstream education in their native countries.

lack of homework in my class – 20 press-ups

It is refreshing to read posts by an experienced, professional teacher, given that most foreign ‘teachers’ or ‘professors’ in Korea are neither.  And who is equipped more than most of us to reflect on the realities of education in the USA and subsequently gives some opinions on education and educational issues in Korea.  I have subsequently added Shotgun Korea to my list of recommended blogs in: Beyond the Blog.

Common Sense Corporal Punishment

Wicked Educational Values Rant

For the background on the corporal punishment issues in Korea, see the following link from Brian in Jeollonam-Do

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

In the Days When Google was Gobble-dee-gook

You naively expected this

Podcast 72

I often mention that ten only a few years ago there was little information available on most aspects of Korean culture. Looking back just a few years the changes that have taken place are truly incredible. For those of us who are older, it is easy to forget that access to a whole range of information, all at your fingertips, is a luxury that at one time did not exist and that ‘one time’ was only a couple of years ago; for those who are younger, it is worth pondering the Korean experience before the incredible growth in access to, and compilation of, information – a process still in development.

and found this

When I decided to come to Korea in 2000, it certainly wasn’t for a job and the only factor influencing my decision to step on the plane was to discover a country which at the time ranked with exotic and mysterious destinations such as Mongolia and Tibet.  Just ten years ago anyone coming to Korea, perhaps more so from Europe than the USA, which has had both a closer relationship with Korea and attracted a substantial number of Korean immigrants, did so blind. Other than the information supplied by your recruiter and the odd book in libraries, access to information or first hand accounts was scant. Those who decide to come to Korea today are able to furnish themselves from the abundance of information available in a range of formats and I suspect many are now lured here not because of  the mysterious, but in search of employment. I in no way mean to demean or underplay the reasons people currently come to Korea and it certainly provides a culture shock. But I envy  those who arrived here in the early 1990’s or 1980’s at a time when Korea was not the place it was in 2000.

when your PC looked like this (Macintosh PC circa 1999)

I kept a diary from my first day and reading through its pages it is clear how the internet has become a fundamental resource in both deliberating whether to undertake the experience and in influencing and developing your understanding of Korea. It may even influence the experiences you engage in while on the peninsula. Change has been so rapid, and the resources we now access  have become so integral, it is easy not just to take fore-granted its impact,  but to even doubt that it was really that difficult to access information in the first place.

and your mobile phone, if you had one, looked like this (2000)

Writing in hangul was a major obstacle and you simply couldn’t go into your PC, make a few tweaks and then be able to write in Korean or hanja and besides, in 2000, few teachers had air-conditioning let alone a personal computer with an internet connection. Before laptops and net-books, most of the waygukin you met were in PC bangs where you spent a substantial part of your week. And If you bought a PC  you were privileged but still required Microsoft Proofing Tools to enable you to write in Korean or hanja and which cost c£70 a package.

Korean dictionaries, certainly in the UK, were small and difficult to buy. On the eve of my first trip, I went to London’s largest bookshop, Foyles, and discovered the entire range of books on the Korean language amounted to two introductory books, a useless dictionary and the small copy of the NTC Compact Korean English Dictionary. I bought all four depleting them of their entire Korean language collection. The dictionaries used transliterated Korean rather than hangul script. Meanwhile, books devoted to Japanese occupied an entire book case.

and this was what you needed to write Hangul (and it was expensive)

I’ve known a number of westerners who arrived in Korea in the late 80’s  and whose Korean, many years later, is still rudimentary. It’s easy to criticise such apparent laziness until you remember there was no internet to support your learning or provide lessons, few decent language courses or dictionaries and unless you were in Seoul or one of the big cities, few language classes. After a few years enduring such conditions it becomes a case of, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ As for hanja, I’ve met westerners proficient in Korean who didn’t even know what hanja was. While access to information on the internet existed, certainly around 2000, there was very little compiled on Korea or Korean culture and the ability to write in hanja characters was difficult, costly and dependent on Korean based language packages. Today, though limited for the non Korean speaker, information on hanja is available and if you aren’t interested in trying to learning it, you can very easily research what it comprises.

a time when you really did have to 'teach yourself'

Once again, in the UK, other than on the Korean war, there were few books on Korean history and finding information on topics such as the Hwa-Rang-Do or one of the Korean dynasties, was difficult. And when you did find such books, usually in academic libraries rather than public ones, they were specialist and somewhat boring for the reader who wanted general information. It has only been in very recent years, by which I mean the last 6 or 7  that such information has appeared and I can remember trawling Google in 2002 or 2003 and finding very little other than specialist academic references to major, Korean historical periods. Exactly the same conditions applied to Korean culture, prominent figures, cooking or geography.  Back in the UK I have a small collection of books on Korean culture, history, cooking, hanja and language etc, but all of them were printed and bought in Korea, and ferried back to the UK. So, on returning to Britain in 2002 and 2004, I felt I had to take a part of Korea home with me because there was no way to access ‘Korea’ in the UK. In 1997, when TOPIK, the Korean language proficiency test was introduced for non-Korean speakers, it attracted 2274 people; in 2009, 180.000 people took the exam and test centers now exist globally.

TOPIK exam hall

Korean related information on the internet was in its infancy; Google, for example, became a registered domain name in 1997  and certainly before 2000 most lay-people researched information from software such as Encarta. In 2000, I was originally going to teach in Illsan, I can remember using the internet to find information on this location and found very little. I have just this moment keyed ‘Illsan’ into Google search and in 14 seconds have access to 1.800.000 written resources and 1200 images. Learning Korean and hanja meant you compiled your own dictionary because the words or characters your learnt weren’t in dictionaries and there were no translation tools such as Babblefish or Google to provide support. Even with hangul, I still keep my own dictionary because western ones, even on the internet, don’t explain words uniquely Korean. As for idioms? Try searching Korea idioms on the internet or the availability of electronic dictionaries which are designed for the English native speaker learning Korean. All resources still being developed.

Resources in their infancy 10 years ago, blogging, vlogging, podcast, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter etc, have since become a fundamental means of sharing experiences and providing first hand information not just about all aspects of Korean culture, but on more specific topics such as life for the foreigner and whether you are vegetarian, teacher or gay, information is readily available. Blogging now provides an immense wealth of information but it is worth remembering that the term ‘blog’ was only coined by Peter Merholz, in 1999. Major blogging software which has helped give rise to the blogging phenomena are recent developments: Blogger emerged in 1999 and WordPress in only in 2003.

Song So, Daegu, November 2000

Even today, unless you live in London, obtaining Korean foodstuff is still almost an impossibility and online order of Korean foodstuffs is undeveloped. None of this is very surprising given there were very few Korean living in the UK until recently. Between 1998-1992, at a university with one of the most diverse students populations in the UK, there was a total absence of Koreans and Russians. Indeed, I was to meet Mongolian students before I met any from Korea. And, I can recall the very first five Korean I met; the first, a taekwondo instructor in London, in 1979, the second, a taekwondo instructor in Paderborn, Germany, in 1986, the third, a student in a school near New Maldon,  London, in 1998, and finally, two Koreans in a hotel in the Philippines, in 1998. I had a fleeting ‘meeting’ with Rhee Ki-ha (now  9th Degree Black Belt, taekwon-do), in 1988 but as a grading taekwon-do student, I was forbidden to talk to him.

Daegu 2001. When westerners were still a little unique

Korean Culture – the Korean Wave, Korean football players playing for British football teams, LG, Nong Shim, I-River etc, all arrived on British shores in the years following my first visit and indeed, this Christmas, I was treated to the first Korean cookery program I have see on British television. However, I suspect its genuineness as the recipes included beetroot and English pear (you can easily buy Asian pear in the UK). And neither chopsticks or kimchi featured!

and before the advent of the Korean wave

Up until a few years ago, if you arrived in Korea from Britain, you probably knew nothing about Korean society and possibly expected ‘second world’ conditions. Much of what you learnt about Korea occurred through accidentally stumbling across something and you certainly couldn’t learn from a computer screen. Indeed, access to a computer was probably detrimental to your Korean experience, removing you from, rather than immersing you in, Korean culture. Today, a computer can certainly enhance your experience and if you need to know how to: use your Korean washing machine, plan a trip, find a doctor during a holiday or translate a sentence from Korean into Blackfoot, it’s at your fingertips. Day to day life in Korea has been ‘made simple’ by the tomes of information we can now access  and only last week I used the internet to help me adjust my ondol heating control. With hundreds of accounts on topics such as soju, the Boryeonng Mud Festival  and kimchi, done to death, a blogger is forced to use a range of media formats (vlogging, photographs, podcasts, even cartoons), and  driven to be more creative and original in their perspective  especially if posting on what are now common, if not mundane subjects.

Link to TOPIK Guide.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Bathhouse Ballads at Facebook

Posted in Blogging, Uncategorized by 노강호 on December 10, 2010

Bathhouse Ballads at Facebook

I’ve gradually learnt how to manipulate stuff around Facebook. All posts are now added to the Bathhouse Ballads at Facebook. Use the link in the side bar on the right, or click the icon above, to enter  Facebook site where you can follow posts.

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Minimal Intervention – Toilet Technology

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Blogging, Comparative by 노강호 on November 10, 2010

but what;s inside is a gamble

 

This month the Korean census is being compiled and on Sunday afternoon I was visited  by a friendly woman who took my details. Handing me the census form to complete, I sat at my desk by the front-door while she knelt on her knees so her shod feet hung over the small entrance where you leave your shoes. From that position she could just manage to offer me assistance without taking her shoes off and entering my one-room proper. With her at my feet looking up, I felt a little like a Buddha.

 

an unpleasant experience and even worse if there's no toilet paper

 

One of the questions on the census asked if my ‘one-room’ toilet is ‘sit-down’ or ‘squat’ and it would seem that the ‘sit-down’ toilet is more desirable or ‘classy’ than a ‘squat’ job and this might suggest that the proliferation of  such toilets is part of the ‘westernization’ of Korea. Not only are Koreans being encouraged to eat western shit in the form of  fast-food, but they are being encouraged to expel it whilst seated. I’ve had my fair share of squatting in countries like India and Morocco and having to do so in Korea always reminds me of unpleasant digital incursions necessitated by a lack of toilet paper. Of course, Korea has toilet paper, or at least it’s available but if you’re using a toilet away from home there is a probability that  both the toilet you are forced to use and you yourself, are tissue-less and hence a digital dredging will be required. Last time I encountered such a situation I was fortunate that both a hose lay in the  cubicle and a handkerchief  in my pocket (Emergency Dump)

 

Personally, the idea of squat toilets are rich in unpleasant associations but they do offer some advantage on the seated toilet bowl. Firstly, they conform to the Korean ideal of ‘well-being’ in that they ideally align the body to provide the greatest expulsion of waste and in the process help reduce or retard the development of hemorrhoids. Secondly, much less ‘skinship’ is required squatting and most notable are the fact you don’t have to sit on what is a public seat and neither do you have to reach for the  sheets from a communal toilet roll. Nothing is worse than having to sit on those stainless steel toilets in British public conveniences which look great if regularly cleaned, but when not are tarnished with stains of unspeakable origins.

 

I notice many K-bloggers don’t like squat toilets but for those who have traveled and have more than one frame of  reference, even the worst Korean public toilets aren’t that bad; they actually have partitions and doors, are usually made of porcelain, have running water, and there’s never a sea of shit six feet from your backside.  Regardless of where you are in the world, shitting anywhere but in your home is a gamble and the worst you can expect in Korea is a lack of toilet paper,  some bad smells and the need to squat. And unlike some of the more ‘developed’ countries in which I’ve traveled, you’re unlikely to encounter anything ‘seedy.’ I once wet for a piss in a toilet in Denver and what I witnessed can be left to the imagination.  Yes; Korean public toilets often lack toilet paper and they can be basic and require that you squat  but in the scale of things this isn’t that bad. But Korea is full of surprises and it is just possible to discover that the emergency toilet is not only impeccably clean but creatively designed. Last winter, on my way to Seoul, the bus pulled-in at what in the UK would be  ‘motorway services.’  The gents toilet was amazing with a large central, glass atrium which filled the toilet with natural light and under which a large garden flourished. There were even a number of showers. Many bloggers seem to think Koreans have a monopoly on dirty toilets and not  only could I cite truly unpleasant toilet experiences, but also that you don’t necessarily need to travel beyond Britain or the USA to find them.  I’ve taught in British schools where students would piss or shit on the floor because they thought it amusing and I have even seen examples where kids would jam a whole toilet roll in the ‘S’ bend and then cap it with a shit.  Every country has unclean toilets and  a lack of toilet paper does not make a toilet ‘dirty’ it just means you should have carried tissues with the same zeal in which you carry a bottled water in summer.

 

a luxury toilet

 

I  am tempted to refer to the toilet on which you sit as ‘comfortable.’ Of course, this is a  culturally orientated value judgment as Koreans do not find squatting, either on a toilet or waiting for a bus, uncomfortable. It isn’t that a Korean wouldn’t want to read a book or newspaper while squatting, but that to do so seated is preferable. The difference is much the same between that of a stool and an armchair;  a stool is great for milking a cow or weeding the garden but if you want to watch TV or read a novel, an armchair is much nicer.

 

control console

 

alternative control console

 

Basically, Korea has four classes of toilet which may be designated squat, seated, luxury-seated and deluxe-seated. The three classes can be further classified by four bands based on cleanliness: very bad, bad, okay, super nice. The UK, on the other hand, only has one class of toilet, ‘seated’ and though  UK toilets can be ‘super nice’ in terms of cleanliness, I have yet to witness a ‘luxury’ or ‘deluxe’ toilet though it’s been rumoured for a  long time that the Queen has one.

 

Hyundai's electronic bidet

 

Both Korea and Japan have taken the western style toilet and transformed it into a luxury item which has invested bathrooms and toilets with the same comfort one would expect in a bedroom or front room.  If the ubiquitous British toilet is suitable for reading and relaxation, the Korean luxury toilet provides the comfort in which to enjoy the marathon epics of Tolstoy and Wagner.  Many Koreans households now have toilets fitted with an additional tier which is plumbed and wired-in to create a crapper with the  same sophistication  as the Starship Enterprise. Among the state of the art additions are features such as a toilet lid which raises and closes at the touch of a button or even automatically as you enter or leave the toilet. Koreans love heat under them and so a heated toilet seat is ideal. Cleaning you arse properly never really caught on in the UK  and only on the rarest occasions have I ever seen a bidet in a British home. A  recent survey revealed 1 in 4 British commuters had fecal matter on their hands (Telegraph. UK) which would suggest either sinks by a toilet are a rarity or us Brits wash our hands in the toilet bowl before flushing it.  Meanwhile,  over 70% of  Japanese households have a bidet and Korea is rapidly catching up.

 

Korean toilet fixtures provide a high-tech control console from which to activated a bidet and by which the temperature, force, and location of the spray are controlled. Once douched, an anal-dryer kicks-in and blow-dries the entire area. So, far, only one digit has been required to complete a procedure that formally required at the very minimum, an entire hand. Equipped with musical accompaniment, the ability to automatically inject a variety of scents into the air as well as instantly sucking out  foul smells  from almost the exact point of their origin, deluxe models sanitize the entire process and take poo-ing where no one has gone before.

 

a luxury toilet (link to 'Sharon')

 

A luxury toilet in my last high school

 

There seems to be some discrepancy about whether toilet paper should be used before activating the bidet. Some sources suggest ‘wiping away’ excess matter, some suggest ‘patting’ it partially clean, which I guess means removing any ‘crumbs’,  while others opt for the immediate activation of the anal shower unit. I guess it all depends on the consistency of your crap and certainly, while you might be able to ‘pat’ a bum clean that has just expelled the remnants of a Korean diet,  a western diet will render a much stickier, chocolaty mess totally impervious to anything but a vigorous wiping.  The luxury of a hands-free crap, of cleaning your backside without any form of manual intervention is probably only possible on a diet high in fibre and as most waygukins who eat Korean food on a daily basis, will testify, this is achieved when what you expel looks much the same as when ingested. If the contents of your toilet bowl resemble last nights kimchi-stew, your bowels are blessed with  ‘well-being’ and a bidet will free your hands completely.

 

High School toilets, when kids clean them themselves they are less tempted to piss or shit on the floor

 

And often other luxurious bathroom innovations can be found. I worked in one academy where a kids toilet had been designed and not only were there a miniature urinal, sink and sit-down toilet, but the room itself was less than two meters high and the door by which you entered was miniature. The entire bathroom was like something from a doll’s house.

 

toilets for kids

 

great idea

 

For super clean hands, even after crapping 'hands-free' style, nothing purges loitering microbes like the ultra-violet hand dryer.

 

Korean toilets, the shape of things to come...

 

There is so much more to Korean toilets and ablutions than squat loos and lack of toilet paper and putting up with a little discomfort, which could just as well occur ‘back home’ seems to distract some many bloggers not just from what else is out there, but also the usefulness of their experience as a subject. So, next time you find yourself caught short and in a squat toilet with no tissue paper…

 

and then go write about it!

 

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Who Really 'Worships' the Wang?

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

Not Suitable for pumpkin people

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

Pumpkin people

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

Clueless

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

The voice of the majority

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

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

anthropology - not an academic pursuit for pumpkins

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

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

and some have a university education

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

The problem is some people are tourists in their own culture

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

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

 

Not suitable for pumpkin people

 

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Bogland Merit Badges

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Blogging by 노강호 on October 8, 2010

Best Blogs in Korea

Somewhere in cyber-space voting is taking place for the ‘Best Korean Blog.’ No, I am not including a link! Firstly Bathhouse Ballads is one of the nominees and, secondly, I am tempted to delete all references to it. To be honest, I have not been very happy with the boy scout badges that e-rags provide. Just being required to string a sentence together as a qualification for their banner is a little like buying a degree. Having that icon appear on my site somehow smacks of prostitution and now that I’ve been ‘exposed’ by An Idiots Tale, ironically asking people to vote for me, I’m tempted to remove it.

So, in response to a true guru of Korean blogs and writing in general, Mr Wonderful, who resides at An Idiot’s Tale, I fully admit that I arse licked to get that pretty badge which I could subsequently stick in my sidebar. I feel quite ashamed! Like I’ve been caught by mummy having a wank while wearing her knickers. And as shameful as it is, I’ll admit to those who asked, rhetorically, on An Idiot’s Tale’s pages, what you have to do to qualify for that coveted badge.  Simple, I wrote a begging e-mail. No one has to nominate you because you can nominate yourself! And I prostituted myself good, telling them I’d ‘been published’ as opposed to having ‘published myself’ – which was in fact exactly what I was doing at the time. Yes, it felt sleazy but you know what students are like when they want a gold star, it doesn’t really matter to them if they cheated or not, it’s the sticker that counts.

Mr Wonderful at An Idiot's Tale

And why is it a form of prostitution? Because even as I was composing that grovelling letter I was well aware that many of the other ‘nominated’ blogs where shite. Half of them provide the same experience as lifting the lid on an unflushed toilet, one with turds in residence! When people enter and subsequently leave your blog in the same click,  you need to reconsider.

In contrast, I visited several blogs last night via An Idiots Tale, all of them regular commentators on his site and ended up having to tear myself away at 2.am. And guess what? All of them had shitty ‘hit statistics.’ Now, I’m quite proud of my paltry hits even though they tally the same amount in one month, as the big bloggers get in a day, but these guys had really poor figures, in some cases under a thousand. And to compound matters, some blogs were much older than mine.  But their content and style was far superior to many of the blogs nominated for the ‘Best Blogs in Korea,’ mine included and many of the blogs I have read, or not read, in the last year!

Now, I love my blog and I love writing and being a snob, I profess I am a writer not a blogger. There is a difference! And of course, what qualifies me to self-aggrandizement is that I’ve been paid by other people to write and have had a substantial work published. Most first time authors earn less than £4000 for their efforts and after all the revisions, and late nights, the pay back is pitiful. But the one reward is that you’ve been published, preferably by a third-party and that’s a kick in the teeth to petty critics. But there is an irony; I have had more hits to Bathhouse Ballads in six months than my book sold copies in 10 years. It’s only natural that I love my blog, as a creative pursuit, above my published book. A book is dead! You write it and leave it and as much as you wish you could rewrite parts, you can’t. And as I have learnt to my cost, you can’t easily retract what you’ve said. And unless you’re famous and successful you have little or no interaction with your readers. Blogging is quite different and compared to a book, it can be changed, it grows and can respond (via its readers). Compared to a book, a blog is alive which also means it needs nurturing and can die.

So, seeing my blog swirling around in that cesspit, shoulder to shoulder with a substantial, amount of shite, made me feel pretty dirty. The feelings of prostitution, of being soiled were intensified when I noticed that some of the nominated blogs have more followers than they’ve had hits. How do you account for 940 followers when your site has only been visited 800 times?  Even the big bloggers don’t have a such a fan-base despite the fact they can attract over a 1000 hits a day!

I am going to vote for one of the nominated blogs as they’re not all crap! But I don’t particularly want anyone voting for me because winning it would really involve no victory, other than the one erected by An Idiot’s Tale and I’m probably going to zap that merit sticker in my sidebar. My artistic pride tells me to but the prostitute whispers  for me to hang on because it’s all about exposure. The only real reward in blogging, apart from the art of writing itself, are the number of individuals who subscribe to your site and read your work on a regular basis and no amount of self-delusion can increase that figure or alter the worth of your writing.

 

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Boring Boryeong and 'Waygukin Wankers'

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Blogging, Comparative, Entertainment, Westerners by 노강호 on August 29, 2010
Korea-Boryeong Mud Festival

Spot the Korean

Let me get my disclaimer out the way to begin with! Yes! there are plenty of decent, thoughtful and interesting waygukins in Korea and some may very well have visited Boryeong, but this post isn’t about them. This post is about the other types of waygukin, the ‘waygukin wanker’  types who generally ignore other westerners,  have no significant Korean friends, have boarded the bus to Boryeong,  and like to moan about Korean people and culture about which they like you to think they know everything.

I occasionally ‘rant’  about the unfriendly nature of many waygukins in Korea, it’s one of my minor idee-fixe. Two weeks ago, I had this idea to start a ‘waygukin wanker of the month,’ post in which I’d feature a photo of one of the numerous wankers around Song-So who will totally blank you if you pass them. I’ve lived in the building next to one for almost two years but even if we pass on an empty street, shoulder to shoulder, he will ignore me. I said hello on one occasion but he simply diverted his gaze to the floor and mumbled inarticulately. So, on one hot Friday afternoon, I stood for an hour waiting to get his photo but unfortunately he failed to turn up and missed the chance to be immortalized on my pages.  I haven’t seen him for two weeks and am beginning to assume he must have gone back to wherever. Good riddance! However, there are plenty of other candidates to replace him.

 

Courtesy of Roketship (link)

Maybe ‘waygukin wankerism’ is a disease, possibly contagious, and if so, one of the most potent sources of contamination has got to be the Boring Boryeong Mud Festival.  Bogland is full of boring accounts written by waygukin who assume they know all about Korea once they set foot on Korean soil and whose search for the spirit of Korea, it’s traditions and an understanding of the Korean psyche, lead them to splash about  in a bit of dirt chucked over a sheet of plastic on one of the only holidays of the year. If I had a list of a 100 things I want to do in Korea, the Boryeong Mud Festival wouldn’t even be on it. Even one of my closest Korean friends, who is 25, said it was disappointing with watered down wishy-washy mud piped onto plastic sheeting. But, he was impressed with the army of waygukins as he felt they provided the festival an international atmosphere.

Lovely plastic sheeting

 

Boryeong is as typically Korean as the Costa del Sol is Spanish or, Tijuana is Mexican and any place which attracts an army of waygukins should instantly loose its appeal especially because it’s the sort of ‘safe’ crap you do on a 18-30 cheapo package holiday to some place with bags of sun, sand, sangria and bouncing tits. It doesn’t attract interest because it’s Korean but because it’s the hip place for waygukins to go and which can be blagged about to mates afterwards. Those who like Boryeong probably find appeal in the likes of: Ko Phi Phi Le, the Costa del Sol or Costa Med, and Ibiza and other shitty destinations catering for the unadventurous, en-masse.   I find it amusing how so many foreigners will cue to take the bus to Boryeong yet are terrified of a trip to the local bathhouse which will provide a far more rewarding insight into Korean life.

Talking to a waygukin or two is fine, except most can’t talk, and having a beer with one is even better, I desperately miss the sense of humour, but slopping about in diluted mud with a million of them!! No thanks! I came to Korea to escape wanky-ways and in particular wanky British culture,  which doesn’t mean I don’t want talk or socialise with English speaking westerners per-se. I’m always on the look out for new friends but finding a western human who will talk is difficult. The last waygukin I swapped phone numbers with, declined an invitation to the cinema because he believed Koreans would perceive two men together as gay.

Boryeong should be towards the bottom of the ‘to do list’ but I suppose Korea is now such an easy country to live in, bilingual signs and menus, tourist information booths,  a wealth of information on the internet that didn’t exist 8 years ago, a modern international airport, all the major fast food chains, etc, that gone are the days when only the more adventurous risked coming here. It’ll soon be time to move on!

 

Too many westerners! YouTube link

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Danger! Donuts!

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Blogging, Comparative, Westerners by 노강호 on August 19, 2010

Bathhouse

I enjoy reading other westerners accounts of the bathhouse experience as so often, and to varying degrees, they highlight how ‘fucked up’ we waygukins are. I’m just as ‘fucked’ as everyone else, though probably in a different way, as I only have a problem with nudity and changing rooms if I am in the west when I find they ooze a hostile atmosphere that seems a juxtaposition of hyper masculinity and homo-eroticism. And I am further ‘fucked’ because I now find semi clothed far more sexually appealing than totally naked and in you face.

I stumbled upon  a commentary of a guy’s experiences in a bathhouse that was both open-minded and yet humorously exposed some reactions to the stranger observations bathhouses provide. Quote:

much nicer

We then had to soap up and shower down. An old man saw me struggling and helped me adjust the temperature of my shower, and even got me a fresh cloth to lather up with. After cleaning, we chilled in various hot tubs and saunas for about 30 minutes. Contrary to what I had heard from a female friend, nobody stared at me because I was a foreigner. This might be because men don’t give fuck about seeing other men naked. Personally, I got over seeing other men naked thanks to hockey change rooms, which can desensitize you to male nudity pretty quickly. I was feeling good about remaining unperturbed by this excessive nudity, because my colleague was worried I would not be able to handle all the male genitals/being naked in front of a hundred men. Then I saw a man doing push ups naked beside a man doing disgusting stretches I will never describe to anyone. At that point, I emphatically informed Mun-Gi I was ready to go.

I had to laugh because, as stark and to the point as it is, his comments capture some significant cultural differences. Unfortunately, the author of: I’m In Seoul but I’m not a Soldier, returned to Canada this month.

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Beyond the Blog – An Idiot’s Tale

Posted in Blogging by 노강호 on August 8, 2010

An Idiot's Tale

If you can take the bad language or dodgy opinions, one of the most entertaining K-blogs, if not blogs per-se, is An Idiot’s Tale. The shit floating in bogland is extensive and  finding material  which actually grips you, and Mr Wonderful grabs you by the bollocks, is rare. An Idiot’s Tale definitely meets my criteria as a writer and has an ability to say in a sentence something I might drag out to  a paragraph. Even though I don’t agree with all his comments or particularly like the things he writes, I love the way he says them. And unlike other writers he isn’t afraid to be outspoken or controversial, which may of course be part of his plan but in doing so he provides a refreshing change.

Too many blogs are simply badly written travel diaries, often written for mummy and daddy or mates back home and often full of misinformation. How many more posts do we need on mud festivals or the latest girl band? Other blogs, often over rated, simply give information everyone knows once they’ve lived here a short time and while they might have an occasional use, are in reality no more the product of a ‘writer’ than is a bus timetable. It seems you become an expert on Korean society the moment you launch your first post, even if you’ve only been here a week. And everyone is a writer! Blogs provide the perfect place to blag about ones credentials. Yesterday, I found a blog where the author gave a complete run down of their CV: journalist, newscaster, playwright, writer, poet, teacher, Phd educated, bla, bla, bla… What the fuck are you doing teaching English in Korea? Worse, his blog was shite!

Unlike so many other bloggers, Mr Wonderful doesn’t claim to be a writer, indeed he seems to shun such a label and yet  comes closer than most to actually being one. Not only is he able to take something as mundane as  a mud festival and say something  different about it, but  the bizarre background image he has painted, through characters such as Dragon Lady, Children of the Rice, Jughead and Queen Elephant, are highly evocative. Mr Wonderful has created a strange world, you  glimpse it through cracks, a photo here, a reference there; it’s a shady world hovering between dream and reality, a world that seems  a little sleazy or seedy, of darkened PC bangs, drunken stupors and dirty bodies. The intrigue of An Idiots Tale, its allure, lies in the fact that you can’t establish whether  is fantasy or fact – this is one masterful stroke of creativity. I still laugh at the strange and evocative phrases he uses – ‘off to the paddy’ field, ‘toad juice,’ get some coin.’

As for  political correctness, An Idiot’s Tale kicks it straight out the window. No one is beneath being ridiculed and he has taken the Kings of the K-blogs and re-christened them. I’m Sorry, but I find Clissy Snowfrake such a funny name even though I know it’s origins transgress political correctness. If Mr Wonderful is insulting to others, he is equally as insulting to himself and only this week describes his new haircut as giving him the appearance of a ‘dick with ears.’

A dick with ears

I like An Idiot’s Tale because it is short and punchy, offensive, provocative, rude, ignores the conventions of political correctness and  has the ability to say so much in so little space and in this sense bears an affinity with Roketship. I like it because like a soap drama, it is full of bitchiness and intrigue all of which can be drifted in and out of, easily. Most of the  blogs I read don’t inspire me to write or inspire me to write about them. An Idiot’s Tale does both. Though I know Mr Wonderful would despise me for trying to form a ‘circle jerk,’ I’m pissed of  my blog isn’t in his Hall of Shame. If there’s one place I value it being, it’s there.

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