Elwood 5566

Chicken Tonight?

Posted in Comparative, Entertainment, Gender by 노강호 on January 23, 2012

I am still fascinated by the differences in culture between gyms in Korea and those back in the UK. British gyms are always male dominated, not necessarily in terms of numbers but by the hyper-masculine aura that many men exude and if there are two places which demand a more masculine manner, they are the gym and the changing room. Numerous inflictions conspire to induce this aura: strutting about like a peacock, chest out and arms slight bowed, minimal eye contact, and an intense, focused facial expression. And the small group of hard-core muscle-men are always visibly aggressive, snorting, huffing and puffing as they pump their muscles often encouraging each other, if they have ‘spotters,’ with raised voices not too dissimilar in tone and content  from the old-school drill-sergeants I remember from basic training. British culture oozes aggression but you are only ever likely to notice it if you have lived abroad for long periods of time.

exercising ajummas

Most days my Korean gym is dominated by glitzy ajummas. Ajummas are married women, between 30-60, who have usually had children.  There are numerous images of ajummas lingering among the expat community and they are the butt of many jokes and perhaps one of the most common stereotype of the ajumma are of middle class ajummas who have salaried husbands who have free time to frequent coffee shops, restaurants and gyms in little gaggles. The ones frequenting my gym often wear sequined bling-bling tops, silver or gold stockings and wear make-up that is impervious to sweat. Despite intense workouts to high energy gay-pop (aka, K-pop), few seem to either perspire or grimace. With the school vacations the second most noticeable group are graduating high school boys who train in small groups pumping weights of little more than a few kilograms after which they enthusiastically compare their stick insect biceps. Among the migratory crowd of students and the ajummas, are a small group of hard core trainers who can be found exercising on most days. They are never loud, they train without making an aggressive exhibition and will always smile or talk to you.

apparently, though I can’t be bothered to source it, South Korea has the world’s highest percentage of men with six packs

I don’t think I’ve ever met a macho, hyper-masculine male in a Korean gym! Indeed, some of the Muscle Marys I know, despite their bulging biceps six packs and inflated chests, are quite camp. Six months ago, on a Sunday evening, I was sat in a coffee shop which specializes in cup cakes. I’ve never eaten their ‘fancies but if they’re anything like Korean cakes in general, they will be a disappointment. However, lined up in the cafe window they look visually tempting but you shouldn’t be fooled by the whirls of syntho-cream and Hershey-type chocolateless chocolate. My grandmother was a baker so perhaps I was spoilt and additionally, in my youth, most mothers actually knew how to bake cakes. The Muscle Mary hadn’t even got his frame in the front door before he’d spotted me and beamed a big smile. A little later, as he was leaving, he stopped by my table, and opened his box of cup cakes, under my nose, in a manner reminiscent of a wine waiter. The collection consisted of six exceedingly camp cakes bedecked with ‘hundreds and thousands,’ little whirls and here and there ornamented with the Korean equivalent of smarties.  The he invited me to take one in a manner that was both cute and poncy.

this typifies the high school boys who train in my gym next to the ajummas

A few weeks ago I was working out next to a Muscle Mary I hadn’t seen before. He spent an hour pumping weights and squatting before going to the adjoining gym, which doubles as an indoor tennis court, putting on some gay-pop and then spending 30 minutes doing the campest of dance routines part of which included shuffle dancing – a dance trend which is currently popular in Korea.  Another Muscle Mary is Min-su, a twenty six year old student who in addition to being close to six foot six tall, has the body of a muscled Adonis. He works out most days either pumping weights, doing aerobics or practicing taekwondo or judo, (he has third degree black belts in both). Everything about Min-su is male but his soft, smooth face is that of a big school boy.

a rather amusing photo of boy scrutinizing a yakuza-type’s tattoos in the bathhouse

All the Korean Muscle Mary’s I know, and even some of the tattooed yakuza-types who frequent the bathhouses, are camp. The Yakuza guys usually have a dragon on their back, or perhaps a large tattoo on their thigh. One, whom I regularly see is covered by a busy, interweaving  design of dragons, tigers, manga and hanja script that is so dense he looks like he is wearing a blue, short sleeved kimono. The intriguing tattoo stops above his neck, below his biceps and below his knees. Last week I watched a couple of Yakuza’s in the ‘powder room’  drying their hair, pubic and otherwise, with hairdryers and thought to myself that in the west, and armed with a photo you could easily blackmail them. You can find all the Muscle Marys, and indeed most men and boys in the powered room preening themselves, patting their faces with  lotions and gels and now it’s the academic vacation, there are always a couple of teenagers sat naked on the sofa in front of the powder-room television, pawing, loitering and lingering over each other in a manner totally homo and yet homo-less. No matter how camp Korean men behave, no matter how ‘unmasculine’ (and I’m using that straight jacket of a western definition),  it is rarely interpreted as ‘gay’ or ‘unnatural’.  Within reason, and in Korea that leaves immense scope, campness has little or nothing to do with sexuality and indeed seems to be a natural expression of masculinity, especially among younger men and teenagers.

The actor and ‘pretty boy’ Kim Hye-seong. All of 20 but looking 14. He is currently undergoing compulsory military service.

and after four-weeks basic training and now aged 24, Kim Hye-seong looks even younger…

The Korean star Jo Kwon, has a massive following both at home and abroad and has to be, by western definitions, one of the world’s campest male celebrities let alone the campest in Korea where gay-pop and nanciness are fashionable. But ask Korean girls and even boys why they like him and they will often tell you it is because he is ‘pretty’ or ‘handsome.’ To call any British boy ‘pretty’ is a slur that isn’t to short of accusing them of being gay and most British teenage boys will refrain from making any positive comments about the appearance of other boys as to do so is not just unmanly, but verging on ‘homosexual.’ I know plenty of gay men who can make a value judgement on the attractiveness of women and no matter how much they might do this it fails to make them straighter, but unfortunately, for many British men, to even ponder on the appearance of another male in anything but a derogatory fashion is likely to turn them gay. Most Korean teenagers I know seem quite shocked that in the West we would perceive Jo Kwons behaviour as ‘gay’ or ‘homo.’

Korean pretty-boy supremo, Jo-kwon

Here follows a little biography I found on a fan-site, the source of which is acknowledged in the footnotes below:

‘Jo Kwon (Hangul: 조권, born August 28, 1989) is a South Korean singer and entertainer, leader of ballad boyband 2AM.

Jo Kwon is the longest-serving male trainee in JYP entertainment, having trained for 2567 days; exactly 7 years and 10 days since joining JYP.

He was chosen as the last members of Park Jin Young’s “99% Challenge Project” along with Sunye of Wonder girls.

In 2008, he appeared on MNET’s Hot Blood, a program that showed the intense physical training that 13 male trainees had to go through for the opportunity to debut in either 4-member ballad group 2AM or 7-member dance group 2PM under JYPe.

After getting through the eliminations, Jo Kwon was given the position of 2AM’s leader.

Jo Kwon regularly appears as a regular guest on variety shows such as “Star King” and “Sebakwi”.

He also the permanent member of Family Outing 2.

He is also known as “kkap kwon” because of his kkap dance.

He is the member of Wonder Boys,Boys Generation,Bracademy and Dirty Eyed Girls which are the group which contain idol boys who perform girlgroup’s songs.

He joined the cast of We Got Married on October 3, 2009, coupled up with Brown Eyed Girls member Ga-in.

On June 30,2010 he released his first digital single titled ” the day i confessed”.’

Jo Kwon not only dances like a girl, jiggling his hips, pouting his lips and bending over to extenuate his butt in a manner reminiscent of a lewd Lollita but does so with such accuracy that it exposes the extent to which male and female body movements are gendered at least from a western perspective where men are supposed to dance like men and women like women.

Jo Kwon (born 1989)

It’s always difficult trying to perceive such imagery as Koreans themselves might see it but there is clearly an element who see  nothing out of the ordinary with Jo Kwon’s masculinity and indeed, many Koreans, especially teenagers, find it alluring. The fan-site previously quoted, notes that Jo Kwon’s:

‘room is full with dolls from fans and cosmetics. Even his bedsheet is pink.’ (it was only recently in the UK that men have been able to wear anything pink without some derision)

‘People who call his house and talked to him always think that Kwon is a girl’ (that would be a mortifying insult to levy at a British boy)

‘Kwon’s voice is so high’ (another slur on masculinity)

‘During pre debut days,Kwon is famous for being the male version of actress Choi Ji Wo’ (and another)

However, there are plenty of comments about Jo Kwons muscles and six pack to suggest that  there is a subtle mix of girly and masculine traits required to attach the label ‘flower boy’ to a celebrity or individual – a status greatly admired in Korea and Japan. Recently, he appeared in the Korean edition of Men’s Health, shirtless!

A COLLECTION OF FLOWER-BOY PERFORMANCES

2

3

4. JO KWON WOWING THE TROOPS

Finally – There’s nothing like a piece of chicken…

Big Hit Chicken (BHC). Advertising the allure of ‘chicken’ with pretty boy power

PS. I have no issue with gay-pop (K-pop) or indeed with what my culture would deem ‘camp’ men and would much rather be surrounded by ‘camp’ Koreans than the butch and aggressive type men that dominate much of British and American society. Incidentally, one of Kim Hye-seong first roles was in the gay themed short  movie, ‘Boy Meets Boy’ (소년 소년을 만나다).

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REFERENCES

Flower Boy Flesh (Bathhouse Ballads Sept 2010).

Jo Kown Profile (Tumblr)

Not Perfect but Preferable

Posted in Comparative, Education, Korean children by 노강호 on December 9, 2011

Okay, I’m 56 this month and I’ll probably return to the UK late next year because I need to get a decent job that pays well before I’m too close to retirement. Unfortunately, that means teaching in a British school, a prospect that fills me with terror. I dread returning to Britain, not just because I find the place boring and the people aggressive and somewhat backward, but because I feel I am going home to die rather than going there to live. Britain, as quaint as it can be, as beautiful, has become a little like the Elephants’ grave yard.

The extensive classical CD selection in Daegu’s ‘Kyobo Books’

Britain on the one hand is rich in culture and London is an awesome city but as in so many cultural areas, its culturally void. Accessing the rich variety of British culture is both expensive and inconvenient. It’s one thing for a country to have a vibrant culture but not so great if it’s focused in a view places, thin on the ground, and expensive to access. Take going out for a meal: I eat out everyday in Korea mostly in a range of mid-standard restaurants and occasionally in fancy ones. In the UK, even on a fairly decent wage, eating out is expensive especially if you have a family. While there are plenty of fast food restaurants, and a few top-notch places, finding a decent middle of the road restaurant is difficult. In Korea, there is a restaurant on every street corner in even the smallest towns whereas my village in the UK has 3 restaurants, all small and expensive to serve a community of 55.000 people.

My local rose park. In the UK, such parks are locked at night because of vandalism

In terms of sport, patriots will boast about British prowess but the reality is that while there are excellent facilities in key locations, elsewhere facilities are poor. For example, Colchester, UK, population 155.000, has one mediocre swimming pool and no outdoor swimming facility. Further, it has no concert hall and hence you can’t see the ballet or opera, or a big pop concert. While it does have a decent theater, there’s only one. However, there are hundreds of bars and clubs to get sloshed in, mostly pumping out pop music accompanied by enormous plasma screens and juke boxes. And when you’re pissed and staggering you can lurch to any number of greasy cheap fast food places and then take an expensive taxi home. This pattern, is a major lifestyle for a great number of Brits. Yes, I know not everything is doom and gloom in the UK but my point is that if you want to eat in a decent restaurant every day, possibly twice a day, and do things, it is going to cost you! And then there’s the violence, crime, vandalism and the hordes of a what constitutes a drongo underclass that dominate the streets. Britain is not a nice country and if you think it is you are blinkered. In all my years in Korea I have never walked into an environment in which I felt threatened or intimidated but in my rather small hometown (Colchester), there are places I wouldn’t want to be even in broad daylight. And the rather nicer village in which I live nonetheless feels like a sanctuary protected by the fields and a university which separate it from less savory areas and less savory people.

‘Smart’ street information. Another Korean facility that would be wrecked by vandals in the UK

Going back to the UK is a massive step down in terms of lifestyle, cultural opportunities and quality of life and even the massive hike in terms of pay can’t compensate for living in an expensive, insular little enclave surrounded by a cultural wilderness. My home town has a crappy library designed to appeal to the towns large population of drongoes, a couple of small bookshops, no shops which specialise in classical music and apart from bars and restaurants and sport, there is little else to do. I find it hard to imagine life without PC bangs, multi bangs, singing rooms, health centers, bathhouse, jjimjil-bang, stationery stores, coffee shops, medical clinics, dentists, opticians, hospitals, taekwondo, hapkido and comdo schools, cheap taxis and the rich variety of restaurants. So much of British life and British culture is the product of a  large drongo population. We are denied so many facilities or social niceties as the scum elements we tolerate ruin them. My local town has a rather attractive public garden but it has to be locked at night because the bowls green and gardens are regularly vandalised and when resident swans pair up and produce cygnets, they are killed by local yobs.

A public bicycle pump facility (and free). Another facility British drongoes would smash

Going back to the UK sucks and I dread it! There is no doubt if I was younger I would consider buying a property here and settling long-term.

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Suneung 2011. D-0

Posted in Comparative, customs, Education by 노강호 on November 18, 2011

‘Suneung Jackpot’

Early morning, 7.30 am and I’m outside the local boys’ high school to watch the ‘suneung’ students arriving for the most important exam of their lives; an exam which for most students will have been their sole goal for the last three years, if not longer. As always, a few students arrive with just enough time to run into the school before the exam begins. You ask yourself how students can be late on the suneung morning, an event they have been counting down towards for the last year but of course no matter how significant the suneung is in the Korean psyche, the unplanned and unexpected problems of life get in the way; an alarm clock that suddenly ceases to work, the parent’s car that has a problem starting, the unexpected traffic jam.

The school stands on the brow of a hill, its front entrance, in the common tradition of poong-su (feng-shui, 풍수), faces east. Behind the schools lies the Warayong Mountain in which the infamous ‘frog boys’ disappeared in March 1991, their murdered bodies being discovered in 2002 (Five Boys Meet Death Where the Dragon Dwells). In the distance, at the foot of the hill, the wail of a police car cuts through the murmur of morning traffic. Unable to meander through the congested traffic, it mounts the pavement and drives up the footpath towards the school. The car, lights flashing, stops outside the school and to a round of applause by parents and congregated well-wishers, a boy jumps out and hastily runs towards the examination rooms.

a student being delivered by police car

As much as I try to avoid making comparisons with my own country, suneung always forces me to acknowledge the immense ideological abyss that separates Korea and the UK in terms of education.   Suneung is an event which has a profound impact on Korean society and is reflected not just in the annual countdown to its manifestation, but in public regulations, guidelines, a host of gifts and items to aid exam success and a range of ‘gimics’ popularly ‘believed’ to aid exam performance. And after the exams, post suneung students are enticed, rewarded, with a host of reductions and offers appearing in shops, health clubs, cinemas and restaurants. Most profound and quite different to my western experiences however, are the attitudes to education.  Try explaining to Korea kids that in your country it isn’t cool to be clever, that intelligent students are often bullied and the cult of anti-intellectualism rife, that a teachers dare not leave their coffee mug on a classroom table for fear of it being spat in, smeared with a pair of testicles or ladled with drawing pins or paper clips (Metro, Feb 2011).   And then try explaining that achievement is leveled so that those who do well or are exceptional go unrecognized while those who were bone idle and lazy hide. In recent years one teaching organisation suggested removing the word ‘failure’ from the teacher’s diagnostic lexicon and replacing it with ‘deferred success’ (BBC News July 20th,2005).  My university, Essex University, no longer awards graduates’ degrees in academic rank from 1st class honours to pass, and instead, degree ceremonies are ordered alphabetically. The graduation ceremony allows for no distinction between degrees earned by three or four year’s hard work and those the product of a permanent party. In the politically correct world of the UK, we are compelled to down play success and hide failure behind Mickey Mouse courses and useless qualifications both of which are given the veneer of parity with subjects that demand hard graft.

juniors students give the exam students support

However much British politicians and school mangers blab about the importance of education, it is mostly hogwash. Most school are more alike than different and innovation is curtailed rather than encouraged. The quality of the teaching staff in schools, where some excellent teachers do exist, is basically bog-standard because job specifications, in the pursuit of politically correct ‘fair-play,’ castrate all applicants who have qualifications or skills not asked for by the specifications. It is totally irrelevant that an applicant can miraculously turn failing students into ‘A’ grade students, or is qualified to teach any subject on the curriculum, if such a skills or abilities aren’t requested on the specifications. Though rules can be circumnavigated they cannot be seen to do so and in the politically correct environment ‘fair-play’ and notions of ‘equality’ are dictatorial. It is a contradiction that any institution can have the ‘best staff’ when those with skills, qualifications and experience beyond the remit of the post’s specifications, have been rejected.

more prostrations

I can’t name one Korean celebrity who I would say is a dimwit but there exists an army of British celebrities who not only aren’t particularly bright, but whose lack of ability is celebrated. A good number of our football players lack a decent education and some are so repugnant and base they are detrimental to the boys who idolise them.  And not only does British society tolerate celebrities who abuse themselves with alcohol and drugs, it financially rewards them!  After being exposed as a cocaine snorter in 2005, super-model Kate Moss’ earnings between 2005-2006, increased by 3 million dollars. (Forbes. cited in Wikipedia) And in dumbed-down Britain, we love to celebrate mediocrity and stupidity. Jane Goody was a prime example of the failings of British education; despite eleven years compulsory education she was probably one of the most ignorant and dumbest adult humans ever to appear on TV. But more alarmingly, despite her tartish behaviour, foul mouth and racist attitudes, an enormous fan base developed even prior to the time she was diagnosed with cervical cancer (Jane Goody, Wikipedia).  For many Brits, Goody was an idol and an example of how brute dumbness, lack of class and vulgarity can triumph. Forget education, manners or decency, just behave like a stupid slag and you too can become a millionaire. And I know it’s pitiful and sad, but once diagnosed with cancer and the mostly moronic public were even more willing to both idolise and defend her.

suneung gifts

I remember when the Spice Girls were being interviewed ten years ago and one of them joked about the dismal report she received from her music teacher. The teacher’s suggestion that she not consider music as a career, was pathetically dismissed with the response, “and look at me now!”  I doubt any of the Spice Girls could have distinguished a bass clef from a treble clef and other than miming and pouting the lips like a blow-up doll, doubt they had anything but mediocre talent which certainly wouldn’t have survived a facial attack with acid or a vigorous chaffing by a cheese grater.

Parents pray for exam success at the Gatbawi (갓바위) shrine in Daegu

I have probably had to teach in one capacity or another in around twenty different British schools and in all but a couple it was hard and degrading work.  Most British kids need to be force-fed learning and the high percentage of bad attitudes, behaviour and disruption have a detrimental effect on most classes. Most British teachers are highly defensive about such accusations despite having little or no experience teaching in anything but their own country and school managers are quick to defend their schools and berate the competition in just the same manner the boss of a Burger King will slag-off McDonald’s.

Yes, Korean education has its faults but I prefer being in a system where students know where they stand instead being fed a lot of guff that their nail care technology or business studies course is the equivalent to traditional academic subjects such as maths, history or science. In all but two schools in which I’ve taught there has been a pool of retards in every grade. Of course, most are retards because they behave like scum, abusing teachers and disrupting the learning of their fellow pupils. However, I don’t think I’ve really met a Korean retard and I certainly haven’t met a Korean student who can’t read or write or doesn’t know where their country is on a map. And I’d claim that a number of my students have better English writing skills than kids I’ve taught back in the UK.

anxious mothers outside a school gate

Britain has lost all sense of values and the dumbest, least talented and badly behaved are often able to earn huge sums of money. It was only a matter of time before the dregs of society and their middle class chums, the army of do-gooders who form the politically correct brigade, were able to crown a cretin like Jade Goody. Indeed, one tabloid compared Goody with Princess Diana who despite an elite education wasn’t particularly bright but at least she had class. Britain needs a good dose of Korean education to rescue it from its anti-intellectual disposition and in the process it needs to purge itself of its predilection for mediocrity. Moron celebrities, bad parents and dimwit football players need public ridicule and condemnation and bad behaviour, especially in terms of drugs and alcohol abuse, requires termination by censorship.

a suneung watch often given to third year high school students

The whole of society, and most especially those involved in education, have colluded to tell the dregs they are ‘in with a chance’ if only they will apply themselves, which with many of the phony courses and qualifications provided, simply means, ‘attend the course.’  A cabbage has potential but only within the limitations of being a cabbage. You can tell a cabbage it could be an award-winning poet but there’s not much chance of that happening because the poor cabbage doesn’t possess the awareness it’s a cabbage.  What many of the dregs require, other than a massive brain-over, or better, a total brain transplant, is to be told the truth.

‘Hey kid! You’re a fucking brassica, a fucking cabbage head, a total semi minus moron and you’re going nowhere!’  Then they should be forcibly administered a powerful chemical concoction by the Pest Control Corps to prevent the possibility of ever being able to breed.

and now the discount season begins for suneung students

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Related Posts

Suneung 2010 (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

D Day and Korean Hooliganism (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

Suneung – A Day of Reckoning (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

A Video Tour of Suneung (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2010)

Suneung 2011. D-10 (Bathhouse Ballads Nov 2011)

Military Service Terminates Rain

Posted in Comparative by 노강호 on October 13, 2011

Rain, 29 going on 20

‘Rain,’ one of Korea’s most successful pop artists who has an international reputation. I remember him back in 2002 when he won a ‘new artist’ award. Actually, he received numerous awards in 2002 but the one I recall was was when he started crying on stage.  Rain (29), whose real name is Jung Ji-Hoon, had another little blab on Sunday when he gave his final concert before commencing his two year period of compulsory military service. Only yesterday, a student told me that her dad considers ‘real men’ those who have completed their military duty. Of course, in Korea, the category ‘real men’ is laced with the enchanting addition of ‘feely-touchy’ campness which wouldn’t be out of place in any ‘Carry-On’ movie,  And of course, Korean soldiers, just as easily as they can hold hands with their buddy, can cry as is often witnessed on Korean TV programs which elicit the weepies of both audience and participants by bringing parents into barracks unexpectedly.  One of my first memories of downtown Daegu was seeing a squad of riot police marching towards a demonstration in double-file, holding hands. I bet those lads could have had a little cry, unashamedly.

Rain’s fans outside the boot-camp he is to attend

Having served for almost fifteen years in the British Army,  in a capacity the least demanding of masculine attributes, I was a musician, I rarely saw soldiers crying and a display of the weepies, especially in public and  in all but the most warranted circumstances, was not ‘manly.’  The qualities of masculinity most cherished by British ‘squaddies’ were the ability to brawl and consume vast amounts of alcohol. The idea of a British military base being alcohol-free, or forbidding soldiers to drink alcohol, rules Korean conscripts are often subject to, is almost as outrageous as providing them a garrison gay club.

do I notice a slight sense of trepidation?

I am quite fascinated by the social leveling that takes place when the rich and famous are compelled into military service though I’m sure they often manage to wheedle themselves privileges. Looking at some of the obnoxious British celebrities who misbehave, openly abuse use drink and drugs, aren’t particularly intelligent and often have inflated egos, a dose of conscription would be socially beneficial. Kate Moss for example, appeared on the front pages of British newspapers several years ago, snorting cocaine  (Daily Mirror 15.09.2005). Most alarmingly, her crime, if anything served to increase her financial worth. The late Amy Winehouse‘s musical talents were are as famous as her infamous drug and alcohol binges none of which diminished her influence or earning power. Meanwhile, in Korea, MBC and KBS TV stations have banned 36 celebrities, 12 of them for drug related offenses. It would seem in Britain and the USA bad behaviour are lucrative investments which only in exceptional cases, one of which kiddy fiddling, terminate a celebrity’s career.

Rain in concert

I’m told Rain’s boot-camp, where he will endure 8 weeks basic training, is notorious for its Spartan facilities but I nonetheless wonder what privileges his position can earn. This far, fame and wealth have done nothing to thwart his impeding period of conscription and usually any attempt to circumnavigate military duty can terminate a celebrities career at the extreme or at the least ostracize it to China or Taiwan. Prior to his departure for the boot-camp, Rain gave a series of concerts culminating last weekend in a free street concert in Seoul. I find something totally healthy in the idea that a celebrity can be forced to join the ranks and contemplating the potential intrigues this poses is infinitely more entertaining than watching a bunch of  Western celebs on one of the numerous celebrity obsessed reality shows.

farewell salute to his fans

Meanwhile…

How far does his manager go with him before they say goodbye?

At what point is he finally alone?

Will he share a dormitory room or get a private bunk?

Will he have a bodyguard if he goes off base at any point?

Will he be whisked away by limousine on his first leave?

Who will be his his dormitory buddies?

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Kerbside Crap – Korean Style

Posted in Comparative, customs by 노강호 on October 4, 2011

and this is on a good day

Saturday evening and I was really feeling like I wanted some company. None of my friends were home and so I was forced to go out trawling the streets in the hope I might bump into an acquaintance that I knew well enough to have a coffee or dinner with. I would even have settled for a student but really wanted a makgeolli but drinking in their presence is taboo. Eventually, I was forced to sit outside a convenience store and make like some of the blog authors I read about who seem so acquainted with this ‘hobby’ and write so entertainingly about it (The Supplanter).

I’m not quite comfortable with this pastime and am forced to either sit at the GS25 near my one room, which is secluded but boring, or sit a little further where another GS25 is on a main crossroad and there is plenty to watch. I choose the latter. And the root of my discomfort? First, I’ve just bumped into the local vicar who has been accosting me at least once a week for three years. Despite the fact he always tries to encourage me to attend his church, I quite like him. He’s a music-major and likes Handel, one of my favourites and we seem to agree more than disagree about the political issues we’ve touched on. On this subject, he is the first Korean I met to describe their views as ‘socialist.’ He’s with his teenage son and in the process of going to cancel a contract for a Samsung Galaxy S which he’d only taken out a contract on that morning. It was a reward for his son’s doing well at school but when mum found he hadn’t ‘won the prize,’ that is achieved 100%, she insisted the contract be broken. The boy, who’s about 14, is looking noticeably glum. We’re standing directly outside the entrance to their church and Dad starts telling me about their new Saturday morning Bible class. All I have to do is look interested and mutter the occasional ‘maybe’ and he’ll give up. He offers an incentive, free breakfast, and immediately bacon, sausages, egg and toast spring to mind. Then, I remember a church ‘feast’ I once attended with a friend and the utter disappointment at finding it consisted of seaweed soup, five grain rice and some kimchi. Some sausages might have lured me but tofu beanpaste soup I can make at home. Sitting at the GS25 on the cross-road is bad as I’ve met him there only a few weeks ago, drinking makgeolli and I don’t want him thinking I’ve a problem.

Second, it’s been a hot day and the plastic street furniture is hot. Around a year ago, just after getting comfortable in one, a leg snapped off. It has been an old piece of ’furniture,’ its colour having faded and I guess over a long time they bake in the summer sun and become brittle. One moment I was enjoying myself, the next I was on my back, my arse still in the chair. Worse, I couldn’t get up and felt like an upturned tortoise. I flayed my limbs a few times, aware of the faces looking down at me. Instantly, I rolled over and got straight up, dusted myself down, moved the broken chair against the window and briskly walked off. I didn’t walk on that side of the street for the next six months.

My other discomfort stems from the fact I want to drink makgeolli and there is a sort of taboo with doing this in public and a few of my Korean friends will quite happily sit outside a convenience store with a beer, but not makgeolli. So, I eventually buy a few cans of beer and cautiously settle down in one of those horrid blue chairs, selecting as I do, one that looks new and robust.

Ideal for when you’re caught short

As I’m sitting watching life, a small boy steps out of the adjacent restaurant, his mum follows. Mums guides the boy to a tree with a patch of earth at its base upon which he proceeds to vomit. It’s only a small vomit, the boy is probably only 4 or 5 and he’s quite skinny but despite this mum takes a wadge of tissues out of  her handbag uses it to soak up what sick hasn’t already been absorbed into the thirsty ground. Next minute, another little boy comes out with his mum and he pees into a small bottle she has which she subsequently puts in her handbag. On this issue, I note that E-Mart now sells small piss bags exactly for this purpose. Apparently, urine or vomit is turned to a lump of gel once in the bag. Meanwhile, on every other street corner are small to large piles of trash. Trash on the road side, at designated points is the usual manner in which refuse is disposed of and it’s collected on a daily basis. I can still remember the song that refuse-carts used to play, a custom that stopped in Daegu well over 6 years ago. I never did get an accurate translation of the lyrics but was told it gave instructions for putting out rubbish and how plastic and glass needed to be separated. Few things about Korean culture annoy me but one that does that a significant number of the population dispense with the obligatory waste disposal bag and simply chuck their garbage, un-bagged, onto the designated area. Milk cartoons, egg shells, plastic bottles, bits of vegetable and food are all left to blow about. It’s hardly surprising how many Korean visitors to Japan comment on their clean streets. It seems quite strange that one should mop up a slither of sick destined to be absorbed by the soil, or to allow a toddler to piss in a bottle rather than in the gutter when littering is almost a universal custom. Only a few weeks ago, I watched an elderly man empty the rubbish from a cardboard box he wanted into the gutter before walking off with it.

unsightly and unhygienic!

In so many ways I prefer Korean life and culture to that back home but if there is one area where a massive improvement is needed it is in littering and bagging refuse appropriately. The correct bagging of refuse doesn’t just mean using designated disposal bags, but that it can also be publicly stored safe from the many cats and pigeons prior to collection.

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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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The Changing Face of Song-so, Daegu

Posted in Comparative, services and facilities by 노강호 on August 27, 2011

I returned to the UK for a summer break to the usual welcome. This time, the train company that carries me on the last leg of my journey, to Wivenhoe, Essex (UK), had changed from First Connect to National Express and for the third consecutive time, the train’s only toilet was out of order. In the winters of 2009 and 2010 it was locked. This summer, I took my wash-bag to the toilet, put shaving cream on my face in preparation of having a shave, only to discover there was no water. Indeed, there was more water swilling on the floor and the lip of the toilet was decorated with shit. A big thank-you to National Express and British standards! Then, a few days later the riots began. Britain is indeed a dirty, second-rate nation and I no longer intend bemoaning the state of the country.

great to see standards maintained over a number of years

Three weeks later and I return to Korea and to Song-so, Daegu. Mr Big has opened as a mobile telephone shop, Mutory, where you can sit and drink coffee while pondering which hand-phone to buy. The high-rise block which began in February 2011 is almost complete and the butcher’s in my local Dream Mart has closed. Meanwhile, Migwang Spolex, the sport center and bathhouse I use, has been given a face lift (Migwang Face-lift, August 2011).

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As a note, it is now autumn 2012. In summer 2012 I travelled back to the UK and on both trips to and from the airport, British rail toilets were again either in a filthy state or could not be used.

Forget About Fat People. What about Fat Supermarkets?

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative, Food and Drink, Health care by 노강호 on August 18, 2011

Recently, there has been some coverage in the British press about the findings of a twenty year study into weight gain. The findings reveal that over 20 years the average weight of the population has increased by sixteen pounds. Further, it seems that rather than weight gain being the product of lazy people lacking will power, an approach the media and many of the moronic public have taken in their attempt to stigmatise and persecute the overweight,  it is more the case that gradual changes in eating patterns, and what is available on shop shelves, over a long period of time, increase weight.

The speed at which Koreans are becoming fatter is quite alarming and while I only saw a few chubby kids 10 years ago, I now see obese Koreans on a daily basis. At the same time the girth of Koreans is expanding, changes are occurring in shops and you can almost see corresponding ballooning of Korean bellies as new foods are introduced. It is quite clear that obesity is a product not of sloth and ill-discipline, but the western-style diet which with its fried chicken, pizzas and burgers, has already made an impact on the Korean peninsula.

traditional Korean food is gradually being usurped by high sodium, high fat, western food.

My local E-Mart used to have one frozen food chest cabinet the contents of which were not very enticing, mostly mandu, pork cutlet and ice cream. In the last few weeks the amount of frozen food has tripled and now includes numerous micorwave-able options such as black noodles, spaghetti Bolognese,  garlic bread,  curry and rice etc. For the first time, I saw a co-worker eating a microwave meal for dinner. I also notice the introduction of cheeses and butter both of which were formerly difficult to obtain. Now, Monterrey Jack, British Cheddar, Brie, Camembert and Gouda  are all available plus Danish Lurpak butter. I wonder how long it will be before there are the 35 different types of butter and 46 different types of cheese I counted yesterday in the Waitrose in my hometown.

a British cheese counter probably contains more calories than the entire food section of a Korean supermarket

I have written before about the absence of tinned foods in Korea but no doubt their introduction, along with those enormous slabs of chocolate, almond, fruit and nut, Belgian white, Milky Bar etc, which will join the lonely double Snicker bar, are pending. Today, in my hometown Tesco’s One Stop, I counted 33 different brands of chocolate weighing between 125 and 250 gr per bar.

How the average person becomes 16 pounds heavier over 20 years ago ,(and the average weight is still increasing), is not rocket science. Along with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the many changes in what is available around us, the pounds gradually accumulate. The Big Mac and Whopper, former bulwarks of the fast food industry are now pathetic little things, dwarfed by subsequent generations of  super and mega burgers. Burger King’s, triple Whopper with cheese packs 1250 calories, Hardee’s 2/3 pound Monster Thickburger contains 1320 calories along with a massive 3.20mg of sodium while the humble cheese burger has psychologically shrunk to the size of a coin and seems a positively healthy morsel by comparison.

the equivalent to around 8 kimbaps

In my last stint in Korea, my weight has not only dropped by some 20 kg, but I have managed to keep it off without any real effort. The goodies that tempt me back home simply don’t exist and a trip to the supermarket, even the largest, isn’t half the temptation it is back home. It seems quite apparent to me that the more westernized the Korean palate becomes, the fatter their girths expand.

Currently, there in an obsession with obesity and attacking the obese has become a form of entertainment. Forget fat people and focus on fat supermarkets! It is abundantly clear there is a link between culture and weight so much so that it is perhaps time we demanded our supermarkets produce statistics which reveal not just the percentage of fat and sodium in their food, but its average calorific value. If the weight of the average British person is rising it probably because the places where they shop for the bulk of their food is providing a greater range of items high in calories. And if you shop in a fat supermarket, or live in a fat society, it should hardly come as a surprise. Fat supermarkets make fat people!

Further references

BBC. What is Obesity.

BBC. News: Health

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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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Eat Like a Dinosaur in Daegu

Posted in Comparative, Food and Drink by 노강호 on July 21, 2011

Dinosaur Buffet - a meat eaters heaven

Sometimes, I just want to indulge in some ‘western style eating’ – a euphemism for eating unhealthily. Korea has plenty of unhealthy western-style junk foods, most commonly fried chicken and pizza, but it’s never quite right and has been Korianised to make it more appealing to the home market. While the fried chicken often comes very close to satisfying my British taste-buds, I have never really taken to the way the bird is chopped up. That leaves the nastiest junk food of all, indeed the King of Junk, the Burger! Let’s face it, a real burger is vastly superior to corporate anatomical slurry patties containing up to one thousand different cows per burger, a claim made in the documentary movie, Food Inc.  And while corporate burgers can be ‘okay,’ they’re not that great unless of course, you’ve had your taste buds seriously dumbed down.

And the thing I miss most about western eating is a good plateful of meat. Most Korean meals contain much smaller portions of than we would eat back in the UK and I reckon that with a meaty breakfast and evening meal, I can consume more meat in one day, than I do in a week in Korea.  However, I recently discovered the ideal place to eat as much meat as you want; a carnivore’s paradise; Dinosaur Grill Meat Buffet. Here, salad, rice, and side dishes are minimal but the meat comes by the carcass. For 15.000 Won (£7) per person, you can just help yourself to the meat at the ‘in-house’ butcher’s counter and barbecue it at your table. There are burgers, real ones and not the pallid, dry one found in Mac D’s, great, spicy sausages, various cuts of sam-kyeop, pork steaks, and even cuts of beef.

a wide choice of meat

A few Koreans I recommended this establishment to ask me about the quality. I have to remind them I’m from Britain where the majority of pork has been bloated with water so that the moment you start cooking, it pisses all over the charcoal. Most British pork or bacon can no longer be fried because by the time the pan has heated, the meat is floating in a puddle of additional water, thereafter it simply boils. And then there is the pork from Poland, wadges of fat with the occasional slither of meat.  In Britain, meat has been adulterated forcing you to pay extra for what it should have been in the first place. Naturally, I find Korean meat of superior quality and after a bottle of makgeolli, it tastes even better.

Last week, the buffet bill for 3 adults plus 4 beers and 2 bottles of makgeoli amounted to a little over 60.000 Won (£30). The restaurant has both traditional floor seating and tables.

5 minutes walk from Wonderful Spa Land Bathhouse

Dinosaur Grill Buffet is very close to Wonderful Spa Land and indeed you can walk between them in around 5 minutes. For the Wikimapia link click here. Both Jincheon and Wolbae subway stations are nearby.

Jincheon and Wolbae subway stations lie this side of the restaurant

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