Elwood 5566

Images of Innocence (6) Annie

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, vodcast by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Annie, one of my students, is about to go to high school. She often finishes her evening studies at a study room (돗서실), at 1 or 2 am after which she walks home. Feeling unsafe, she has recently bought a whistle. I wouldn’t want to underplay the fears of Korean kids walking home late at night but the streets are far safer than in even the smallest UK towns. I wouldn’t let an unaccompanied girl, or boy,  into town on any evening of the week back in the UK and only an idiot parent would allow someone her age to be in town past 10 pm. You can read about my experiences of British streets in Scumland UK. Needless to say, even I feel unsafe on a British street at anything past 7 pm after which they rapidly degenerate.

It’s difficult explaining to those who have never experienced Korean life, how crucial and central education is in the Korean mindset. Streets are buzzing with students going from one place of study to another on everyday of the week, from the early hours until past midnight. Several years ago, the government made it illegal for private academies to teach students past 10 pm but it has changed little. Many schools still seem to operate and parents can always employ a tutor who can visit the home or have the student come to them. Wherever you are in Korea, ‘education’ in one form or another, is always apparent.

A Korean study room

A multitude of schools exists teaching every subject: maths, social studies, English,  Chinese, hanja, art; there are schools of music, taekwondo, kendo, hapkido, ballroom dancing, ballet; study rooms and places that offer student support. And all the time brightly coloured mini buses are ferrying kids between their homes and schools. Yes, there are flaws with the Korean system; kids sleep at their desk, they often look drained, they suffer stress and constantly face a barrage of exams by which they are ranked. There are many things I would change about the Korean system but, for all its flaws it is more effective than British education where around 50% of students don’t even achieve 5 A-C grades in core subjects. And I would argue that while British education largely provides kids a holiday in comparison with their Korean peers, it is British teachers who are stressed and abused. Korean teachers have their problems, but having to constantly battle bad students and worse, anti-intellectual attitudes, which are ingrained in British society, isn’t one of them.

Unlike Britain and the USA, there is a consensus in Korea about the importance of education and whether you are the lowest paid worker or a company CEO, the goals and expectations for your children, in terms of learning, are the same; good grades and entry to a good university. I have one friend in the UK who came from one of the worst housing estates in the country. When he gained a place at university in the 1970’s, his family disowned him. Education in the UK, and attitudes towards it are still influenced and articulated by class.

Yes, I know all about the flaws of Korean education, but I’ve also taught main stream in the UK for over ten years and it was a hideous experience. Every class in the UK is polluted by a couple of scum students, bred and conditioned by scum parents and their effect on the learning process has been catastrophic. (see, Scenes From the Battleground) Unless you are lucky enough to be in a top set or selective school, most British classrooms and schools have geared themselves to accommodate the scum and it is the decent kids, the majority, who suffer. Anyway, was I ranting???

Over to Annie…

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Looking Waeg With Mobile

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Westerners by 노강호 on June 27, 2011

who needs one?

Podcast 85

If there’s one technological item which has the potential to do the foreigner a disservice in Korea, it’s the mobile telephone. I’ll admit I’m a technological moron and am quite proud I’ve never bothered to learn to drive a car, and have no interest in doing so, most especially in Korea, and I have neither used an ATM machine in the West or posses or want to posses a mobile phone.

Recently, I’ve been observing how Koreans use mobiles. Everyone has one, at least one, even the youngest students. Everywhere you look they are being held like little pets and are constantly accessed. As I observe, I’m wondering, what they hell are they looking at? What is everybody doing that I’m not? At crossings, when people have to stand still for a minute, there is a sudden splurge of activity and out they pop. Mobiles are total mediocrity; they take mediocre photos, make mediocre videos, have mediocre sound production and anything which entails interfacing with that piddly little screen is definitely mediocre. Even one of their saving graces, a dictionary, is mediocre as it designed for Koreans learning English and not vice-versa. Apart from the  telephone facility, most of the functions built into a mobile are second-rate.

mobile mania starts at a young age

 I detest they way most Korean streets are infested with mobile mania stores in much the same way beautiful English villages have been invaded with estate agents. Every time a business shuts down, usually something useful and interesting, like a bakery, café, or restaurant, someplace where I might possibly go a few times a week or simply peer in the window, it is replaced by a mobile store which I am personally never likely to enter. Even if I owned one, I doubt I’d need to access it more than a couple of times a year. But that’s not all, I’m also irritated by the way they clutter up the streets, not just with young lads tempting customers into the store but with even more shit music blaring out and with the various forms of bait stashed against the store fronts which is used to lure and entice customers. It seems that on every corner of Song-so, in the area around the Lotte Cinema Complex, not just one store has opened but several. On one corner there are three and walking past them is like running a gauntlet; first, the hideous cacophony caused by the clash of three competing hip-hop ditties and then the onslaught of lads passing out leaflets or pointing at bait. I’m lucky, they usually ignore me because I’m male and foreign but if you are a lithe little female college student, I suspect being accosted is a regular encounter.

one company but two seperate shops

and just around the corner...

and next to the one just around the corner...

and next to that one...

and on the next corner, you can get your ' free' toilet rolls

Most of the mobile stores in my immediate area, and there must be fifteen of them, lure custom with offers which in one store are bicycles. Further down the road, another offers large packs of toilet paper which are stacked on the sidewalk. I can understand the bicycle appeal especially as some of the bikes are actually quite attractive, though probably made in China, but do punters really get lured into signing a mobile contract because they get twenty rolls of toilet-paper? I shouldn’t be condescending or judgmental because of course, Koreans use shit paper as napkins, kitchen roll, tissue and whatever. A bumper pack  lasts me a year and in Korea it’s a very versatile commodity.

...and a free bicycle

The most fascinating group who use mobile technology, however, are the waegs. I’m often bemused by westerners in Korea as they wander around with what is predominantly a piece of techno-trinketery. Most waegs can’t string together a few words in Korean, myself included, and even then it probably hasn’t been understood. This isn’t a criticism as there are a number of reason which make the learning of Korean a slow and labourious process but though we like to think we can ‘speak’ Korean, and often suggest we have an ability to ‘get by’, the reality is very much that once we have said ‘hello,’ or ‘more kimchi, please,’ that which follows is baffling and might as well be Venusian. Clearly, waeg possession of a mobile isn’t intended for communicating in Korean which leads me to conclude that its function is as a fancy address book where you compile, through numerous social media or the Boring Boroyeong (Mud Festival), the greatest waeg festival on the peninsula,  a network of waeg chums. Even in my area of Daegu there aren’t many foreigners and of those many do not want to communicate, are here for the job rather than through an interest in Korean culture, or are simply weird.  This is probably how I appear to many waegs as my views on life and cynical disposition towards western society, make compatibility elusive. Even back home I find it difficult ‘connecting’ and my circle of friends is small. However, every so often I met a waeg with whom there is a mutual connection and a friendship will develop. The number of foreigners I am likely to form a relationship with, and I should add, I’m not one of those waegs who passes-by and pretends not to notice you, is small and doesn’t warrant buying an address book let alone an expensive mobile. I came to Korea to experience its culture and escape the depression of Scumland UK and too many waeg chums not only takes me away from the Korean experience, but takes me too close to an expat community and many of  the things I dislike about the West.

marketing through mediocrity

Naturally, I’m being cynical and modern mobiles have a range of  facilities which are very useful but which we learn to need. But I can’t help but see that the more advanced the tools of communication become, the less we actually communicate. I did once use a mobile for a short period but after having to respond to frequent inane questions from friends, I chucked it out. I can remember my one and only week with a mobile phone;  7.30 in the morning on the bus to work, and a colleague is texting me: ‘wot u d-ing?’ It’s busy, I’m having to stand and I’m surrounded by teenage schools kids who are actually texting each other.  What a waste of freaking technology! Texting a message which is beamed up to a satellite and instantly beamed back to Earth and all that separates the correspondents is me!  Suddenly, I’m a member of the moron club! I try keying a response to my dumb-ass colleague but my fingers are too fat for the keys so I keep hitting two at a time and it doesn’t help that the bus is jiggling about. I don’t even get to send a reply before another message appears on the screen; ‘is any 1 sxy sat near u?’ This is a deep and meaningful communique! I can’t be bothered replying and chuck the phone in my bag and simply ignore it. A few moments later, a mobile starts ringing. It emanates from nearby but I don’t know from where. The horrid jangle is lost in the noise of the bus and busy morning traffic. The ring continues and people are beginning to mutter. “Answer the bloody thing!”  Someone suggests, loudly. Then I realise the ringing is coming from my bag! It’s my phone! I ignore it but it persists and so I am forced to leave the bus two stops early and avoid looking back over my shoulder as I alight. I can feel eyes burning into my back as the annoying ring diminuendos with my departure.

dingly-danglies

Texting, the art of communicating without really communicating, has to be one of the dumbest forms of human interchange to have evolved and has probably done more to retard those attributes that separate us from other primates, notably the manipulation of symbols, than develop them. I’m convinced that for many, texting is both a means of keeping people at bay rather than risking any real, meaningful dialogue, and giving the impression you have something to say when actually, you don’t. With a mobile phone hooked up to your various social network sites, you can very quickly have a few hundred ‘friends’ and be spared actually having to get to know them. By pumping out a continual splurge of text we not only give the impression we are important and have something to say but in the meantime, we keep others at a distance. And, of course, mobiles have a use in enhancing your image by providing a  range of accessories, similar to those for toys such as Barbie Doll or My Little Pony, by which you can personalize your mobile, not just with fab jangles and cute stickers but by an infinite range of little dingly danglies.

jazz it up with a dingly-dangly

For the week I trialled a mobile phone, I was pestered by the texting assault by the aforementioned colleague and suggested he phone me to talk rather than insist on using that silly digital semaphore. The problem however, was when he did phone he had nothing to say and what communication we had was filled with embarrassing black-holes. Digit-speak was far less painful than attempts to actually talk to each other.  I suspect a great swathe of text communication has been rendered by individuals ‘letting their fingers do the talking’ and certainly many of the examples I’ve seen and experienced are the product of something brainless. Perhaps their really is some closer relationship between the mobile and toilet tissue.

kids displaying their danglies

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The Chang Ma Arrives in Daegu

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on June 22, 2011

watching the chang-ma under the cheong-cha

I always find it strange how Koreans know almost every adjective to describe the weather apart from what I consider one of the most important and certainly one of the most impressionable. And as I write, I can already recall as song I taught years ago entitled: ‘How’s the Weather? It’s Sunny…’ etc, etc. There are probably numerous versions of this but the one my inner ear is currently playing has a particularly memorable tune. Apart from not rhyming very well, ‘humid’ would have fitted but when it comes to learning the weather in Korea, this manifestation is usually ignored. And come to think of it, the weather that produces this condition is also absent from the average Korean lexicon.

Chang Ma in Daegu

I can tolerate the heat but once the Chang Ma (장마 – monsoon) arrives, as it has this afternoon in Daegu, and Korean weather becomes horribly humid and particularly uncomfortable. Arriving in Korea in August, ‘humidity’ (습기) was one of the first words I learnt and being British and noted for their obsession with the weather, it is one of my most frequently used words through the sticky, muggy months.

cherry blossom festival - Korean blossom is more predicable than its British counterpart

When it comes to the change of seasons in the UK, they have a mind of their own and winter, for example, might arrive in November one year and January the next. British seasons tend to be technical and the season it is supposed to be is not necessarily representative of the weather you are experiencing. Several years ago, I attended a Korean spring festival in a school I had previously taught in and it has been scheduled for the weekend when the cherry blossom was supposed to be at it’s most spectacular, on this occasion, April 13th. I arrived to find the blossom so prolific, when the breeze blew it fell from the trees like snow. That same year I had been in Britain in January and a cherry blossom and magnolia spasmed into bloom in the street in which I live. Days later, a frost viciously wreaked decimation.

for a Brit, warm rain is quite strange

Back to the Chang Ma; several people told me it would arrive on Wednesday, and that is exactly what happened and as I write, the rain is beating down outside. Though the Chang Ma has been hanging in the air for around a week, it now seems to be fully here and so,  from which ever date you take as its arrival in Daegu, they fit within an 8 day window of  2010 (June 17th) and 2009’s (June 15th)  Chang Ma. That’s a fairly consistent pattern!

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FURTHER REFERENCES

The Rainy Season Arrives (June 2010) Bathhouse Ballads

Pray it’s a Foreigner Serving Your High Tea

chocolate fingers – as British as high tea

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

Podcast 75

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

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

guess where they’ve been?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

beware the communal soy sauce dip – great for herpes

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

an ultra-violet sanitizer in my last Korean high school

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

my students find this a dirty habit

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

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

 

there are times when nudity is undoubtedly preferable (Borat)

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

to contract -E-coli!

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

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Who’s Pissing in the Pool?

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, podcasts by 노강호 on June 4, 2011

pissing in the pool

Podcast 83

Here are three Korean habits which I find displeasing: spitting, littering and pissing in public. Now, before getting on a cultural high horse, all three habits can be observed in Britain and certainly, in my hometown on most evenings of the week, you can observe both public spitting and urinating. I have even seen a teenage girl squat against a shop door and urinate without even pulling her jeans or knickers down. A month earlier the Queen herself had walked through the very same doorway (William and Griffith’s in Colchester). Not only can you see the displays of public urination, spitting, as well as vomiting, but in the daytime every recess oozes the reek of urine. And then there is a habit among British teenage boys and low-class men which you will not see in Korea, and which was taboo when I was a boy, of one or both hands down the front of ‘trousers’ toying with genitalia.  I’m sure this habit has evolved along with the spreading popularity of ‘trackie’-type trousers where an elasticated waistband provides ease of access. I once watched a young man in a supermarket constantly first contacting his tackle intermittently touching fruit and vegetables and worse, other people!

there is even a Facebook for this practice

It has taken me a while to ascertain how common urinating is in the bathhouse. I’m afraid I don’t go for those waygukin (foreigners) who claim Koreans golden shower all over bathhouses, piss in the pools and constantly gawk at their nudity. Such accusations are normally levied as a means of excusing yourself the bathing experience because you fear an unclothed environment. Of course Koreans stare! They stare everywhere you go but if you have any cultural awareness you will know that all you need do is look around busily, instead of lowering your gaze which you naturally do when embarrassed, and make eye contact. Koreans will instantly look away because starring is considered rude and eye contact exposes this. Better still, make eye contact and smile. Nothing dispels the tension caused by starring quicker than a smile and instantly, a stressful encounter is made friendly. As for accusations about pissing in the showers, from my experience, they are exaggerated.   Firstly, it is not easy to determine if someone is pissing at the same time they are showering. Indeed, from my own ‘experimentation’ it seems that if you stand in a certain position you can actually manipulate the flow of water so it appears you are urinating. How you determine someone is urinating while in a pool eludes me. With considerable bathhouse hours clocked-up over a long period of time in many different bathhouses, I have only witnessed a few people who were definitely urinating in the shower.

One such occasions occurred a few days ago when a teenage boy entered the complex with his friends. I immediately noticed him as he spat onto the pile of used towels by the entrance. Teenage boys often spit as they enter the bathing complex and I perceive this a territorial act an animal might make when it urinates on ‘its patch.’ Then, as he stood in the shower, he arched his back and pissed as high as he could up the shower wall. In the meantime, he is busy talking with his friends. I am also reminded that not too long ago, I watched two boys larking in the showers during which boy golden showered on his friend’s leg. Considering it is deemed dirty to blow your nose in a handkerchief and rude to even blow it in public, I would have thought pissing on your friend’s leg totally taboo. However, they found the act highly entertaining.

as long as I don't see it

I have no problem with snorting or spitting in the bathhouse provided it is expelled in a gully and not on the areas walked over. For most cases this is what happens, often with a spray or douse of water to speed the emission on its way. However, last week a man bathing next to me, noisily coughed up a projectile and spat it onto the floor. He did this several times and without the usual habit of throwing water over it to wash it away. This was particularly revolting especially as I was about to eat breakfast.

Yes, Koreans have some grotty habits but so do most cultures and teenage boys aren’t the best candidates on which to judge a nation’s hygiene. Personally, pissing in the bathhouse, by which I mean pissing on the floor or tiles doesn’t bother me if it’s done discretely; in other words don’t let me see you doing it or if you do at least make the act ambiguous. Blatant disregard of protocol is more an act of disrespect than of pollution.  I’m sure people sometimes piddle in the pool but I am not that bothered unless I see them doing it when I would be angered, not by urine contaminating my bathing water, but by the perpetrator’s gall at pissing in front of me and hence challenging my adult authority.

As for the third offence I began this post with, namely, littering,’ there is no doubt Koreans excel at this anti social habit. Korean refuse collection leaves much to be desired both in terms of public provision and personal standards. It is one thing to put out garbage in the legally required bin-bag, and quite another to simply empty the contents against a lamppost, as many seem to do.  In terms of littering the street, teenage boys are the worst offenders and seem to assume that rubbish can be dropped anywhere and cleaned up by someone else – which it generally is. This isn’t much different to the misguided attitude many British school kids have, that you can drop little on the floor because cleaners are paid to pick it up. Now that dog muck has been largely banished from British streets, and ten years ago it was tolerated, it is only fair to say British streets are far cleaner than their Korean counterparts and littering is clearly anti-social and illegal.

(2002) in around eight years it has become anti-social to let your dog foul the pavement

So, how prevalent is pissing while in the pool?

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A Peek Into a Seoul Bathhouse (Korea Times April 28th 2011)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Comparative, Uncategorized by 노강호 on May 24, 2011

Nam Sang-so

By Nam Sang-so

Dear Pablo, after you were free from diapers, I used to take you to a public bathhouse in Seoul. I do not think you would remember that.

Public bathhouses are abundant here. I enjoy visiting them. For a mere 4,000 won (less than $4), people can enjoy unlimited time in hot spas, saunas and hot or cold showers with free soap and “Italy towels.” Someone gave them the snappy honorific. They are made of sieve-like knitted nylon, woven pink or blue for the purpose of…read more – for touching account of a grandfather’s bathhouse experience.

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Books are Bad for Your Back

Posted in Comparative, Education, Technology by 노강호 on May 8, 2011

one of my student’s bags

Student’s bags stuffed full of books seem to  be a concern globally. Of course, it seems only to be books that are bad as often the heaviest and bulkiest bags are ones crammed full of sporting equipment. In the UK, I live near a sports college , a euphemism I’ll refrain from exploring, and kids carry bags stuffed with football, cricket and sporting equipment. And what about kids who deliver newspapers?

Of course, the solution is simple, more online resources (which are not just credible but free) and reading materials produced in CD form. Unfortunately, in the dumbed down world, we’ve had to wait for several generations of software toys to be produced for the worlds cretons while the e-book and palm readers and a myriad of other intellectual potentials dawdle in the backwater. I still can’t effectively read a musical score in anything but book form and haven’t been that impressed with palm readers (though I haven’t tried a Kindle). You can realistically bludgeon someone to death in Grand Theft Auto yet the technology for reading a book is in its infancy.

This year, in an effort to reduce the strain on Korean students backs, many reading resources are being produced in CD format.

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Outed by the Makgeolli

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, bathhouse Basics, Comparative, Diary notes, podcasts by 노강호 on April 14, 2011

podcast 79

I’ve had some interesting experiences coming out which isn’t too surprising given I was in the British Army at a time when anything but normal was illegal and stepping out the closet risqué. Despite twice being implicated and subsequently made the subject of inquiry by that branch of British military affairs that investigates crime, notably the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), I was never charged even though I naively admitted my inclinations. In retrospect, this was probably because in my military band of some 25 musicians, quite a few had ‘meddled’  and  the ‘brass’ were always afraid of exposing too much as investigations tended to encourage soldiers to seek a discharge. Then there was the risk of scandal! With a history of 300 years and all the tradition to boot, such noted members as Baden Powell and Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, a famous cavalry regiment didn’t want egg on its face.  My autobiography, All the Queen’s Men, narrating many of the anecdotes of an ‘out’ soldier at a time of repression, was published by GMP in 1999. I think it’s now out of print.

Koreans seem to forget the fact British regiments fought in the Korean War

After the army, I spent 10 years teaching and certainly, for the first five years, had to be careful about providing students or staff too many personal details. I was an out in two schools when most were trembling in the closet and in both schools attitudes were challenged and changed by my presence.  One principal lambasted me for outing myself, claiming I should never have mixed private with professional, meanwhile his wife’s photo is on his desk and that morning he had mentioned his family in assembly. He is still the school’s principal and I often wonder if his attitudes have genuinely changed.

In Korea, for obvious reasons, I am quiet about my past and though civil rights are on their way, along with more insidious western influences, I am defensive when Korean attitudes are criticised. Korea is homophobic in a Korean way but much of that homophobia was instilled by western influences as well as the Choson upper classes.  Korea, like Japan and China, tolerated and even romanticised same sex relationships’ and primary sources from the Silla and Koryo dynasties survive to attest this. In particular, the Hwa Rang provides the best examples of homosexuality in ancient Korea. Naturally, the subject is more complex and convoluted than I make it appear.  Christianity in particular swept the evidence from the history books and turned the subject into a taboo with as much success as is evident in British schools when ancient Greek history is taught senza anything sexual. Christianity’s arcane moral legacy is still influential.

 

the legacy of the Hwa-rang lives on

Coming out in the UK has become boring! It not only used to shock people, which was always amusing, but provided a useful means of measuring a potential friends attitudes and the extent of their conservatism. Today, all the former bigots have been suppressed and though they all claim to be okay with your sexuality, you know they often find it objectionable.  I spent a few years working for an LGBT organisation and regularly attended forums organised by the police which focused on ‘hate crime.’ Not wanting to be left in the cold, the forums were a bizarre mish-mash comprising the most conservative elements of society. The worst, as would be expected, were the religious groups; bastions of institutionalized and established bigotry, against a broad range of people, seeking to protect their bigotry by promoting the idea that any criticism of their practice constitutes a persecution. In particular, Muslims have been quick to advance their agenda by virtue of democratic process they would most likely deny others if they had political power.  Of course such obvious contradictions and machinations can never be voiced and instead have to be shaded behind that sickeningly friendly facade for fear of transgressing the dictates of political correctness. The Jews at such meetings didn’t like the Muslims, the Muslims didn’t like the Jews, and they all hated the gays.  I can only invite your speculation as to how they viewed those present who were transsexual or transgendered.  We are living in volatile times when a change in regime, and a change in ideology could so very quickly reverse attitudes. It will take many years before most people are fundamentally accepting and currently, the apparent acceptance is for many a veneer.

I’ve never felt Koreans have hatred towards ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they just don’t seem to understand them and as a practice is doesn’t fit their family obsessed social order.  I wouldn’t fear being gay bashed here anymore than I’d fear being mugged and I certainly don’t detect the same rabid hatred for gay people as I still witness back home. British school children in particular, are extremely homophobic. Nonetheless, I would imagine being different on the peninsula, totally sucks.

I’ve only ever outed myself to a couple of Korean friends and despite being Christian, they were fine about it. Many foreigners assume Koreans are homophobic and many will be, but ten years ago I randomly met two Korean at random, who became good friends and to whom I subsequently came out. I think it says much about Korean attitudes when one is now my boss and the other would happily employ me in his school.  My boss never initiates a discussion about the issue while  while the  other can do so happily and on occasion makes friendly jokes about the clandestine side of my personality. Nor do I suspect they have gossiped to others though I am not sure this is because of shame or out of loyalty – ironically  ‘faith’ (신) between friends is both one of the five Hwa Rang commandments and one of the five laws of Confucianism. The fear of losing the friendship of other Koreans prevented me broadening my circle of confidants.  Ji-won is one such friend. I hadn’t planned to come out to him but his professed hatred for gays, though he didn’t seem genuinely ‘ hateful,’ as he was narrating a story to me, prompted me to expose my true nature.

Ji-won

So, in a bar on a Saturday evening,  surrounded by a growing battery of empty makgeolli bottles, he is telling me about his travel in Australia. On a visit to Sydney, some guy had run up to him and declaring undying love, kissed him on the cheek and as quickly as appearing, disappeared. Knowing Ji-won’s luck he’d probably arrived in Sydney during the Mardi Gras and in that typical Korean innocence, one of the world’s great gay events would have been perceived as anything but gay.  I can understand his confusion; with all the same-sex, hand-holding, shoulder clasping and general skinship-fondling coupled with the fashions of skinny camp pretty boys, it is easy to see the similarity between every day experiences on the streets of Korea and a gay Mardi Gras. On my fist day in Korea I thought I was in gay heaven until I discovered they were all straight, from then it was all downhill.

Though I tried to pacify him and help him perceive the experience from a different perspective, because I certainly wasn’t planning to come out, he remained adamant.  Ji-won is almost on a rant, which demanding passion is unique for a Korean. ‘But he kissed me! I wanted to punch him!’ He threw what looked like a punch to add emphasis but it wasn’t very nasty. He is one of the gentlest men I know and his punch wouldn’t have knocked the wind out of a school girl.

‘Do you love me!’ he asked but quickly pre-empting my response added, do you want to sex me?’ Of course not, I told him but meanwhile I was thinking how I’d love to if it weren’t for the disappointing fact he’s straight and I’m 25 years his senior – actually, I’m the same age as his dad. Poor Ji-won claims he’s never met any gay men so I tell him that one of my friends whom he’d met ten years ago, and with whom we’d gone to a bathhouse, was gay. ‘Really!?’ he inquires. ‘And do you remember Nick who you met in 2004?’ And with whom we also went to a bathhouse. ‘He was too!’  For any westerner, the coin would have dropped but Ji-won’s Korean psyche prevents him reaching the conclusion my revelation is supposed to prompt.

The makgeollii, and we’d drunk five bottles between us, was taking effect but so was the nature of the conversation and I could feel myself trembling.  ‘What if I was?’ I asked. ‘Would you want to hit me?’  Ji-won tells me this is a stupid idea because he knows me so well and besides, it’s just not true. ‘After all,’ he continues. ‘You once told me you weren’t married because you preferred being single.’ I laughed heartily. ‘Yes, and you believed me! But what if I was? Would you hate me, too?’

Ji-won and I: the usual Saturday evening English lesson. 2001

I’ve known Ji-won for over 10 years and taught him every Saturday for a year during his final year of high school. Both he and his father, Jun-hee refer to me as their ‘dick friend’ (고추 친구) and I’ve often heard them on their mobiles telling friends they’re with their ‘English go-chu chin-gu.’ Back in 2000 Jun-hee ran a large restaurant and every Saturday evening my evening meal was on the house. His wife, Sun-hee made the most delicious mandu, great big fat ones stuffed with minced meat and there was always a vat of home brewed dong-dong-ju sitting in the fridge. Leaving Korea in 2001 was a nightmare and my last visit to their restaurant, like a funeral. Ji-won had bought a new suit  in which to say goodbye and we were all crying. He gave me a present of his high school name badge and it remains one of my most treasured possessions and Hyun-chun, his younger sister gave me a beautiful little picture frame.  Meanwhile, Jun-hee and Sun-hee gave me a large box of kimchi in which lies another story!

Saying goodbye in late summer of 2001

One the eve of my departure back to England, late summer 2001

I’d always regretted the fact they didn’t know the real me especially as I’d already come out to two other  Koreans. My friendship with Jun-hee and his family was always more important than my sexuality and the rewards my silence provided outweighed the potential risks of  revealing it. I always wanted to let Jun-hee and Ji-won into my little secret as much as I’ve wanted to tell them that the box of kimchi they’d given me ten years ago, had to be thrown in the bin at Daegu railway station; it was simply too big and cumbersome to carry back to England and it would never have passed as hand baggage. Putting it into a bin was as heart wrenching as saying goodbye to them.

Jun-hee, Sun-hee, Hyun-chon, Ji-won in 2001

Our session continues, this time with a bottle of schizandra berry makgeollii (oh-mi-ja – 오미자) which as a ‘well being’ makgeolli, can be guzzled without guilt. Ji-won is still insisting I couldn’t be gay and suddenly I hear myself announcing…‘I am.’ I had every intention of retracting my confession but when I try to I suddenly realise I’d left it too late and that to do so would just leave him with a niggling suspicion. Ji-won is stunned and for a few moments is silent. ‘You are?’ Then, after realizing the truth, thirty seconds of utterly bewildered head shaking; the typical Korean type of dumbfounded head-shaking accompanied by one hand rubbing the head. All he can mutter is, ‘Oh my God!’

More makgeolli and several hours later and we pick up a few cans of beer in the local GS 25. I’m concerned that after the buzz of alcohol has worn off he might not talk to me again but the fact he wants to come back to my one room is consoling. That he wants a few sausages for a snack would have added to the consolation in a British context but for Koreans the point at which a cock and a sausage mentally exist before they collide into fnarr-fnarr humour, is infinitely greater. Maybe it was the makkalli or the fact we’d discussed gay stuff all evening, but on this occasion they collide. ‘Do you want your sausages hot or cold?’ he asks. ‘Why, hot of course! Don’t you like your sausages hot?’ I hold one before his mouth like a microphone; it’s sheathed in plastic and a stick has been viciously rammed into its center so you don’t have to get your hands messy. With a laugh he adds, ”I like hot sausage for eating, but not sexing.’  Yea! Me too! A voice inside my head regretfully sighs.

The following week I give him a call and we meet up. Our friendship has not changed and if anything, is probably deeper. Sat in a coffee shop he apologised for not having any secrets he can tell me but claims to know lots of local gossip. And meanwhile, he intends testing out his father’s reactions so I can eventually come out to him. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait another ten years.

 

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The Sad Implications of an Hilarious Photo

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative by 노강호 on April 6, 2011

ha ha! Excellent, if not ironic

This is too funny to be true!  Should I even find it funny?  Before I suppress the urge to rant about cultural contamination, I have to consider it either posed or possibly taken anywhere in the world where a few Asian kids have gathered. Sadly, it looks like it could actually be a Korean elementary school. The more au-fait the former ‘Hermit Kingdom’  becomes with the West, the more I am exposed to language such as ‘puc’ or ”puc you,’ all uttered with the typical Korean kiddy innocence. I am waiting for the first time I hear the most offensive of all four letter words, which as yet I doubt have ever been uttered on Korean soil.

 

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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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