Elwood 5566

Castrated Cake and Bollockless Beer

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Food and Drink, podcasts by 노강호 on April 1, 2011

podcast 78

Recently, a blogger whose posts I regularly read (The Supplanter), has been condemning Korean cake and ridiculing its ersatz quality (Happy Spam Day). The Supplanter has made similar accusations against Korean beer (cASS and sHITE) but he is not a member of the substantial army of westerners that live here, some of them for decades, who continually berate Korean society. And I have to agree with him; Korean beer is shite and their cake, as scrumptious as it looks, is not much better.

Real beer! Beer with bollocks! From one of the many British micro-breweries.

I’m not much of a beer drink and if anything prefer what we Brits refer to as ‘real ale’ and I was also spoilt by ten years living in Germany where there is a vast range of decent pils-type lager. Korean lager never quite satisfies and drinking it tends to make me yearn for the real thing. Not only is it weak, watery and blatantly bland, but in every sip is the constant reminder of a chemical process and a factory production line.


Korean cake, at least in appearance, is certainly comparable with the fabulous creations of German torte and such delights as Schwarzwälder Kirchetorte, Sachertorte and kaβekuchen. In terms of taste however, you can expect a tragic disappointment.

German torten

Several weeks ago, I had a coffee in one of the numerous Sleepless in Seattle cafés to be found around Song-So, in Daegu. Having learnt not to coax disappointment, I rarely buy anything other than a coffee bun but when I noticed Camembert cheesecake on the menu, I couldn’t resist. Quite a strange concoction, Camembert, chocolate and cream, I thought, especially if you’ve experienced the almost putrefied, overripe Camembert which exudes the slightly pungent pong of ammonia. And Camembert in Korea is also strange as decent cheese is one of the hardest products to buy. I had heard that certain cheeses could not be imported because there were restrictions on foods with certain bacteriological properties.  Then there is the theory that Koreans, like the Chinese, haven’t developed a taste for cheese  or many other milk products as the climate and pastures for rearing cattle don’t exist as they do, for example, in Europe. Korean cheeses are usually always mild, stretchy and in terms of cheese, totally synthetic.

the Vienese Sacher torte

Well, the Camembert was quite delicious and there certainly was a tinge of Camembert flavour; present but not pronounced and as distant almost as Europe itself. The combination worked but the cheesecake was really just mildly cheesy syntho-cream.  And then, last week, when I had some spare cash in my pocket, I noticed a complete Camembert cheesecake sitting in a Paris Baguette bakery. It was certainly very vocal and for a good ten minutes I stood outside the shop deliberating whether or not to buy it and apart from the calories with which I knew it would be loaded, I don’t usually spend 16.000 Won (£8) on a cake. Well, it was Friday and my boss had given me a bonus, so I bought it!

Camembert cheese

However, my reasoning wasn’t purely gluttonous as I’d hoped to salvage the reputation of Korean cake after reading the Supplanter’s condemnation. I was going to pen a response basically agreeing with his observations but  forwarding the Camembert cheesecake as an exception and as soon as I got home took a few photos to help secure my intended argument.

Looks fantastic!

Korean bakeries are certainly adept at creating visual feasts and cakes covered in cream, chocolate and fruit, in a fascinating and artistically inspired range of designs, mesmerize and tempt the viewer. Unfortunately, visual creativity far outweighs culinary inspiration and innovation. My beautiful cheesecake, which looked like an entire mould encrusted round of Camembert, was nothing other than a boring sponge with a lick of creamy substance providing the filling and a thin painting of Camembert forming the facade, and a facade was exactly what it was! As far as sponge cake went it was delicious but cheesecake – it was not!

exposed as a sponge centered fraud

a real Camembert cheesecake – not sponge, not aerated cream, but Camembert!

I have now come to the conclusion there is more value and taste in a humble coffee bun than the entire gamut of glamorous gateaux where a thin wall of creamless-cream, coffeeless-coffee and chocolateless-chocolate hide a either a basic sponge cake or simply more aerated syntho-cream.

The simple coffee bun, nothing more, nothing less

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I Don’t Mind Fat People – I Have a Fat Neighbour!

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Health care, podcasts by 노강호 on March 29, 2011

Currently, Korea has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the world, but things are rapidly changing

podcast 77

I’m a fat arse and not particularly ashamed of it but then it’s much easier being fat if you’re male. This week I’ve had a difficult time being large as I’ve injured my knee and with the snow and ice have had to take taxis to work. I only work three or four minutes from where I live but I’ve noticed a pattern with what is probably a case of tendinitis in that if I rest it gets better, if I walk it aggravates it and hence I am trying to rest as much as possible. The problem is compounded because constant hobbling has already put strain on other muscles and joints and they too have joined the rebellion.

But the hard time I am currently suffering doesn’t just concern the extra pressure that weight puts on the joints but the extra pressure that you incur socially as a result of being fat. I haven’t bothered to go to the hospital as I immediately know their first response will be to tell me to loose weight. Frankly, an obvious response but one that is usually made and which is both a euphemism for attributing you with the blame and also a means of gloating over your predicament because you’ve taken too much pleasure in food. I see much of the attack made on fat people, especially in Britain where the debate is front page news, as a form of schadenfreude and largely media induced.   Even two pharmacists have very kindly told me I should eat less.

Many people simply have no grasp of the problems involved in being overweight and are apt to make the most asinine comments. Fat people know they should loose weight, they know they should eat less, and they probably know more about healthy eating than many professionals and probably more than you. It should be clear to any sensible person that the trends in weight gain witnessed in numerous countries with diverse cultures between them goes deeper than individual lack of will power or not knowing that a stick of carrot is healthier than a pack of lard, and is rooted in an array of social factors.

Most kids would prefer this to a quarter pounder and fries!

There is a concern with obesity in Korea, but fatness is still very much in its infancy. However, the number of fast-food establishments grows and the number of convenience foods available in supermarkets rapidly expands. McDonald’s plan to have 500 restaurants situated in Korea by 2015 (Korea JoongAng Daily March 2010). Worse, they intend increasing the number of schools participating in their ‘after school program’ which includes lessons on healthy eating. At this stage, I want to tear my hair out because parents actually send their kids to these programs, schools and politicians actually help facilitate their dissemination and teachers actually deliver their content. Any parent who allows a corporation like McDonald’s to take a hand in the ‘education’ of their kids needs arresting for child abuse and subsequently requires sterilization.  As for the politicians, schools management and teachers… shame on you!  In Britain, parents who are overweight or have overweight kids are slammed and ridiculed by the media and a moronic public who fiddle with themselves over the ‘successes’ of celebrities who have lost weight by undergoing expensive gastric surgery but ignore how McDonalds, (and others companies such as BP, Sunny Delight, Flora, etc) get a foot in schools with after school clubs, painting and story competitions, promotional goods or school equipment etc, etc. Yes, it might be innocuous, but as innocuous as booking a paedophile for a kid’s party. I know McDonalds encourage healthy eating but that’s the ploy to get the kids in the restaurant.  Have you ever taken a hungry kid in McDonald’s and then satisfied them with a couple of slices of bagged apple? The ‘apple’ gimmick works all round: it’s the passport for McDonald’s to get a foot in the door of schools, for parents, politicians and those loco parentis it absolves them of guilt and shame and for kids it’s a ticket into a McDonald’s store where they will quickly demand burgers, fries and milkshakes with the apple dipper bag either discarded on the tray with the wrappers or taken away as a snack.

McDonald’s – where foods are transformed into toy-like things in the attempt to secure future consumer loyalty

This week, my boss and a friend were excitedly talking about some shopping they had bought in E-Mart which included a new range of microwave meals such as bokkumbap and black noodles. The line in microwaveable fast food has been almost nonexistent and I was immediately reminded of supermarkets back in the UK where a substantial portion of the store is devoted to gargantuan freezers providing an enormous range of microwaveable food.   Unlike convenience stores in Korea, UK versions such as Tesco One Stops provide a large range of unhealthy foods: frozen burgers, burgers ready to microwave, frozen curries, rolls and sandwiches, various pies, pasties, pizzas, microwave French fries and sausage rolls. I haven’t even mentioned the fast food available in cans! I can only snack in my local GS25, there are only ever one or two sandwiches, a few kimbaps and the remainder mostly crisps and drinks and you certainly couldn’t furnish enough to make a meal. There are no mega pound bars of chocolate and biscuits come in piddly little packets and/or are individually wrapped – which sort of kills the fun! However, I could eat very unhealthily on a daily basis on the junk from my local Tesco One Stop. In terms of supermarkets, the same differences exists except greatly magnified. In a western supermarket there are plenty of unhealthy options to lure me and they are usually instant or at the very most require bunging in a pan or microwave. In Korea, there are plenty of goodies available but only if you assemble them with a recipe – which if you do is healthier because to produce the item requires physical activity. And in Korea I don’t even have a can opener!

Imperial Tesco – the One Stop

Living in Korea makes you more aware of the unhealthy nature of western eating habits and trends which the obesity debate in the UK generally overlooks. There is a stupid assumption that the nature of how we shop, what is available, and the impact of advertising haven’t changed in the last hundred years and that all that has happened is that people, the weak willed or working class,  are ‘eating too much and exercising less.’ I very much suspect that not only has the production and consumption of food radically changed, but what foods contain, what fillers and padding now adulterate them, are recent exploitations.

the ultimate in ersatz, Hershy’s chocolateless chocolate

I  love chocolate, but rarely buy it in Korea firstly because it is often that shite American type Hershey’s chocolate which  in comparison to Belgian or Swiss chocolate, is totally chocolate-less and ersatz and secondly; it looks like chocolate, smells like chocolate, but there’s hardly any chocolate in it at all (and I know there are exceptions). Secondly, the bars are too small and thin. Crunchy for example is wafer thin. Other brands come in small packets or involve unwrapping each piece. In the UK, where chocolate is one up from Hershey’s but still pretty crappy,we now have bars of chocolate that are so big you could knock  someone out with one, bludgeon them to death and the little bars of chocolate I remember from my childhood, Mars Bar, Kit-Kat, Twix, Marathon, etc, are now enormous bars that you eat single-handed. The  accusations manufacturers were promoting obesity by producing such enormous bars has been rectified by dividing the bar into two segments,  each the same size as the original single bar, and wrapping it in one wrapper. Divided or not it still amounts to twice the amount of chocolate!  And burgers have increased in size. I remember when a Whopper or Big Mac was the ultimate burgers. The Big Mac was so big it had to be sold in a box. Now it’s in a wrapper and though it still looks big it’s not the dead weight of a double quarter-pounder let alone a triple quarter-pounder. A double quarter-pounder is almost one-third more calories than a Big Mac. I also remember when the Whopper, now known as the Original Whopper (710 calories), was the largest Burger King had to offer and was provided in a box with a fold down side so you could slide it into your mouth. The Original Whopper, a massive burger in the 1980’s, is now small compared to the almost 1000 calorie-laden Double Whopper Sandwich.

I have to admit, this is clever

If I was to be able to see the size of meals my family ate when I was a boy, I’d probably be shocked. I’m sure I eat as much meat in one UK meal now as my entire family ate  in one meal when I was young. Of course, what one eats is an individual choice but if I buy a bar a chocolate that has two segments, I find it hard not to eat them both. However, if there were only one segment in the packet, I’d have been content. If you put a pound of meat on my plate I’m probably going to eat it or at least I will eat more than I would have if you’d only given me 4 ounces.  I know it’s my individual choice that makes me consume but I don’t need help to do so. I have eventually come to the conclusion that I am overweight largely because I’ve been a single person in a family orientated consumer society. The packet of biscuits for a family of four are the biscuits I buy for one and it’s the same with most food that is packaged. However, it’s much easier food shopping for one in Korea as biscuits, chocolates and even tins of tuna are available in smaller portions. (Ironically, with toilet paper, washing-up liquid and washing powder, it’s the opposite). Meanwhile, the enormous Snicker bars, containing two segments, have arrived on Korean shores as has it’s cousin, the Snickers ice cream bar.

Welcome to Korea!

So, when I ask my pharmacist for some pain killers for a sore knee, she very kindly tells me I should lose weight.  She almost whispers it with an accompanying smile. I want to call her a ‘fucking nosey bitch!’ but I like her and her lack of tact is cultural.  However, the audacity catches me unaware and momentarily transfixed, I stare at her gormlessly. There is a sudden mellowing of my mental processes; lose weight? Why hadn’t I thought of that before?  Such snippets of professional wisdom, the result of years of intense study, woke me to my senses.  I never realised that people within normal weight parameters never suffer injured knees! Have you ever seen a skinny person limping or a grey-haired skinny requiring a walking stick? No!  Knee problems only ever affect fatties and clearly injuries such as ‘athlete’s knee’ and ‘tennis elbow’ are sarcastic terms for anything but a sporty person’s ailments.

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Finding a Pathology to Fit the Procedure – Circumcision (포경)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, Gender, Health care, podcasts, seasons by 노강호 on March 24, 2011

a sometimes used image on Korean urology websites

podcast 76

Mention ‘whaling’ (포경) to Korean men and most will cross their legs in pain while boys about to go to middle school (at about 13) , and perhaps some about to go to high school (16), will turn white with fear. ‘Whaling’ is a touchy subject and it is during the lengthy winter vacation that the cull reaches its peak. In Korean, ‘po-kyeong’ is a homonym attributed to the hunting of whales and of the widespread practice of circumcision, (포경 수슬), and in this case, as I will explain later, it is a misnomer. Finding information about or attitudes towards this subject are difficult and very little is available in English. That Korea has the world’s highest rate of secular circumcision is rarely acknowledged and the practice is generally associated with the USA.

it needs to be…you don’t have to…

However, attitudes are changing. I recently spoke to two men (one 27 the other 32), who explained that while they didn’t blame their parents for undergoing circumcision, they are nonetheless angry it had been performed. Both felt the procedure resulted in a reduction in sensation and given boys are well into puberty by the time they have the operation, their claims are perhaps more valid than those from American audiences where it is usually performed neo-natal and where men are not really qualified to make qualitative comparisons. One friend clearly remembers his circumcision and the fear invoked in anticipation even though it is done under local anaesthetic.  I have discovered Korean boys tend to be more squeamish about injections than girls and this is hardly surprising given that you are either anticipating multiple injections in your dick or in a cold sweat recalling the memory. Both men are adamant that it will be their sons who choose whether or not to be circumcised.

once you’re out of elementary school you need a circumcision

The circumcision debate is a great subject for exposing how dumb people really are. There is nothing intrinsically superior about a circumcised dick and the aesthetics attributed to penal status are largely derived from whatever is the most accepted social custom.  Circumcision looks ‘weird’ to many Europeans as much as a foreskin looks ‘weird’ to many Americans. Meanwhile, a Filipino boy might be proud of his new circumcision (pagtutuli), which isn’t really a circumcision at all, while both Americans and Europeans are likely to consider it reminiscent of an accident incurred with a meat grinder. Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder but the beholder is significantly influenced by their social and cultural milieu. In the USA where radical circumcision, including the unnecessary and extraneous removal of the frenulum, have several decades’ dominance, cultural values have transformed wonky stitches and chewed up scar tissue into aesthetically pleasing damage which in the least is seen as an enhancement and at the extreme deemed natural.  If a society can eradicate the botched and overzealous circumcisions many American males have been subject to, making them ‘disappear’ with far greater success than any cosmetic surgery or skin cream,  just imagine how it could transform attitudes to acne, obesity and aging.

beauty is culturally informed

Then there is the ridiculous argument that circumcision protects one from HIV and STI’s. Well, maybe there is some medical evidence to support this but I suspect it is spurious or simply invalid. When rates of  circumcision in the USA were almost at a peak, in the 1980’s,  HIV was able to infect a significantly large number of people. Surely the answer lies in safer sexual practices rather than in an amputation which leaves the recipient under the assumption that a circumcision is as good as a condom in terms of safer sex.

Circumcision has a long history of being a cure for something and when not the foreskin has been identified as a cause of immorality and perversion. The ‘benefits’ of circumcision, apart from the obvious, which ironically is currently one of the most contested, namely that it reduces sensitivity, include: reducing a tendency to masturbation (Athol Johnson, Lancet, London,  April 7, 1860),  cures polio and reduces masturbation, (Dr. Lewis Sayre, USA, 1870),  reduces masturbation (J.H. Kellogg,  USA, 1877. Not only did he advocate circumcision, but that it be performed without anesthetic, a trend that continued in the USA  until recently.),  reduces lethal diarrhea (AAP, USA, 1880’s advocating routine neo-natal circumcision), cited as cure for bed-wetting, syphilis and tuberculosis (Dr P.C Remodino, 1893), will reduce syphilis by 49% (Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson, London, Lancet. 29th December,1900), will prevent cancer, masturbation and syphilis (A. Wolbarst, USA 1914), will prevent HIV in Africa (Halperpin and Bailey, Lancet, London 1999). Not only has there been a crusade against the foreskin for several hundred years, but its possession has been associated with physical and moral degeneracy. Remodino accused it of being a ‘moral outlaw.’ From the 19th century onwards, and repeatedly, a tight foreskin (phimosis) has been attributed with promoting masturbation (an immorality) and circumcision presented as its cure.  Even as late as 1935, circumcision was being advocated to curb the sins of self abuse.

Nature intends that the adult male shall copulate as often and as promiscuously as possible, and to that end covers the sensitive glans so that it shall be ever ready to receive stimuli. Civilization, on the contrary, requires chastity, and the glans of the circumcised rapidly assumes a leathery texture less sensitive than skin. Thus the adolescent has his attention drawn to his penis much less often. I am convinced that masturbation is much less common in the circumcised. [Cockshut RW. Circumcision (letter). Br Med J. 1935; 19 October: 764.]

And perhaps the greatest exposé of how dumb nations can be is when parents fall for the shite spouted a ‘medical’ profession which benefits financially from the procedure. In the USA, the procedure produces approx $400 million dollars profit a year in addition, foreskins are sold to biotechnology and cosmetic companies.

Despite the obviously irrational cruelty of circumcision, the profit incentive in American medical practice is unlikely to allow science or human rights principles to interrupt the highly lucrative American circumcision industry. It is now time for European medical associations loudly to condemn the North American medical community for participating in and profiting from what is by any standard a senseless and barbaric sexual mutilation of innocent children. [Paul M. Fleiss. Circumcision. Lancet 1995;345:927.]

At a time when neo-natal circumcision has declined drastically in Australia, the USA and Canada, it should be wholly anticipated that in any  country where medical procedures are paid for by the patient or parent, that claims will now be made that mass circumcision will reduce transmission rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.  The USA is one of the most poxed up countries in the world, and the most poxed up in the developed world and  incredibly high rates of circumcision have done nothing to curb this. Whatever your particular view on the topic, the decision to be circumcised or not should ultimately rest with the consenting individual especially when medical claims are spurious and made in the interests of profit.

and yes, some facecreams really are manufactured from redundant foreskins

Korean circumcision, influenced by the USA’s involvement on the peninsula during the Korean War, is widespread and by the age of conscription most men are circumcised.  However, Korean medical ‘care’ has made a significant leap affixing a pathology to the procedure and the most commonly used term for circumcision, ‘po-kyong’ (포경) isn’t really an operation but the condition a circumcision will cure.  When Korean boys and young men head off for session with the scissors,  it is because  they have been led to believe foreskins are inherently tight and in need of amputation.  Indeed, po-kyong (포경 수슬) is simply phimosis and if you have a foreskin it is naturally phimotic and requires removing – once you’ve paid the fee!  The word for circumcision proper is ‘hal-lye’ (할례) but its usage to describe the procedure is much less common.

So, a few weeks ago I overhear that, ‘Tom is going for his circumcision,’ except what is really said is, ‘Tom is going for his tight ‘foreskin operation.’  And I think, like the majority of boys, he probably hasn’t got a tight foreskin at all. However, the debate about medical ethics vs. profiteering and the pros and cons of the procedure has a long way to go especially in a society where conformity is a perquisite.  With a pathology already affixed to the procedure, and a few more claims waiting in the wings, whaling is a lucrative business and for the foreseeable future the victims are not just parents and boys, but social integrity.



Summer Snippet (an inside view of Korean circumcision)

I Saw a Snood

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Nothing God Makes is Useless

Posted in Comparative, Entertainment, Korean children by 노강호 on March 3, 2011


more stuff on Korean pooh

I’ve read Puppy Pooh (강아지똥), politely renamed in English, The Dandelion Story, in Korean, I have the book, and though I didn’t understand much, the pictures were great. Naming it the Dandelion Story, as the play production was named in Edinburgh, so as not to offend British sensibilities, does a great job of predicting the direction the story is going to take. If I was the author I’d be pissed off at a title that destroys all expectations before you even get a chance to formulate them.

I recommend watching the animation in Korean before watching it in English; even if you don’t understand Korean, or very little, the Pooh seems cuter speaking  Korean and like the dandelion, will quickly endear themselves to you. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe a dog shit could be so lovable!




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I Would Have Played Hooky But…

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Daegu, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on February 16, 2011

Daegu under snow and suddenly I need a ‘sicky’

Podcast 70

I woke this morning (Monday) to find Daegu covered in snow; and heavy clouds, typical of the ones that exist much of the year in the UK, hugging the tops of nearby apartment buildings.  The clouds are gray and that they are pregnant with snow is forecast by the fact they are tinged yellow. There is a bitter wind that nips the extremities and all around large snow flakes, whipped by whirls of wind fall crazily. The flakes are so soft, delicate and light that they accumulate thickly on the branches of nearby pine trees.   I would love this kind of day in the UK, the perfect conditions for phoning in sick if you live within walking distance of work, or if you use public transport or car, then by exaggerating how bad travel conditions are. Neither would there be a need to use one of the trump-card, ‘sicky’ excuses, such as having diarrhoea or cancer; ‘excuses’ which are perfect for terminating any form of interrogation.  Of course, a cancer excuse demands further action as it  doesn’t just go away and colleagues would expect further developments, unless it’s posed as a ‘scare,’ in which case you can  script yourself ‘all clear.’  Neither is it likely to do you any favours if your ploy is foiled.

Most people would spare a chuckle for the colleague  feigning  a cold, flu or diarrhoea but a cancer feign is taking  too far and  is definitely likely to backfire,  if discovered. ‘Diarrhoea’ however, is a great excuse because at 7 am and half way through their egg, bacon and brown sauce, no boss is going to start quizzing the causes or manifestation of your condition.  If your boss is a bit of a twat, a few references to how runny your condition is or how you never quite made it out of bed on time, will quickly see them eager to terminate the call while simultaneously offering you the speediest recovery.   And next, with an authorized day pass, it would be a trip to the local corner shop, braving the conditions  en-route that prevent you from getting to work, for a few bars of chocolate, or whatever comfort food  takes your fancy. Then, once back home, it’s off to bed accompanied by a hot-water bottle and a couple of good movies.

It’s amazing how utterly relaxing and enjoyable a ‘mental health day’ is when taken in someone else’s time. You can never get the right feel if you take one at a weekend or during a holiday because guilt at your laziness gnaws your conscience and in any case, the weather is rarely suitable.  ‘Sickies’ in summer lack the potential to pamper and fail to provide that cosy snugness and if you have a house or garden there’s always something else you should be doing.  Climatic conditions which drive you indoors and force you to seek the warmth of your bed or duvet,  the sort of weather which typifies disaster movies, are prerequisite for a rewarding ‘sicky’ and they are even better accompanied by a suitable  climatic disaster movie involving nuclear winters  or avalanches.  And there’s absolutely no guilt because conditions are so shit you wouldn’t be doing anything in the garden anyway!  But the ultimate ‘sicky,’ one which unless you are cursed with the protestant work ethic, provides a taste of heaven,  is  one which is taken both at somebody else’s expense and during bad weather when the only thing you would be doing, is working.


a choppy yellow sea ( winter 2007)

In the UK, a flurry of snow is enough to cause trains and buses to cease  and you can guarantee that once public transport has shut shop, half the population will be phoning in with colds or flu or excuses about being ice-bound. The merest dusting of  anything more than frost and my niece and nephew are begging to be excused school and their front room looks directly onto their school facade.  You can’t blame them as in recent years the example of the rich and powerful are ones predominantly inspired by decadence and self-interest.

snowy sunrise (Do-bi-do, Winter 2007)

When I was a teacher in the UK, I probably averaged 10 ‘sick’ days a year, even if I was on a part-time contract.  Sometimes they were taken  because I had better things to do than work – things such as taking an exam or a driving test. More likely, they were because I was simply stressed and  found it difficult to amass the energy to teach a bunch of kids who usually had little interest in learning. I would have few allegiances to a school in the UK, certainly not as a chalk-front teacher in a run of the mill school (as most are even though they all claim the opposite), and consider teaching a form of prostitution.  Indeed, I’ve known teaching friends incite the scummiest pupil they knew until enraged, they attacked them. Strange, how even though the attacks were minor, sometimes involving pats rather than punches, and the teachers of strong constitution,  they had to take months off work suffering from a range of psychological problems – time off on full pay, of course. I even knew one teacher, a teacher of comparative religious studies, who managed to get long-term sick leave due to ‘stress’  during which she  secretly taught in another school. I admire people who hold down two jobs but that’s  genius and an excuse that possibly exceeds the moral boundaries demarcating ones  involving cancer.

bitterly cold (Do-bi-do, Winter 2007)

In Korea,  life isn’t that laid back and most people still make it to work or school through both bad weather and illness and often both! I’ve not had one day off for sickness in four years, not even for a genuine sickness! Even when I’ve had a problem, as I have had today with a buggered knee, I’ve gone to work and simply suffered. This is partly because I’m a personal friend of my boss but it’s also because the kids are decent and working conditions good.  I know this isn’t the case in all Korean schools, but it is in mine. But on a day like today, with Daegu buried in snow, the temperature freezing and the visage from my one-room like a scene from The Day After Tomorrow,  I feel a yearning, a pang for something British and for once it’s not roast beef, roast potatoes or  a pint of British bitter.   The adverse weather conditions have initiated a cultural call, a siren invoking  me to invent an appropriate excuse and play hooky and doing so is a cultural institution as British as fish and chips.  If I was British Rail the announcement on all stations throughout the next few days would be,  ‘services suspended until further notice!’  Suddenly, I realise the mild headache I felt all last night, that would otherwise have been the initial stages of a brain tumour,  are just my imagination. Reluctantly, I pull on my coat and gloves and head out into the Arctic winter, on my way to work!

‘Winter 2007 – perfect dossing weather

Footnote – You know how every two hundred photos you take you have one that’s actually decent?  Well. yesterday I had two which encapsulated the conditions which inspired the content of this post. And then, after ‘processing’ them they were somehow deleted. I was quite pissed off!  Hence the Winter 2007 photos.

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KTX – Gold Standard

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, services and facilities, Technology by 노강호 on January 29, 2011

the impressive KTX, launched on April 1 2004 with speed of 186 mph (later increased to 190 mph)

KTX 1 launched April 1 2002 with top working speed of 300 kph (186 mph)

(This was later increased to 305 kph (190 mph))

KTX 2 (Sancheon) introduced March 2 2010 with top working speed of 350 kph (217 mph) It is named ‘Sancheon’ after the Cherry Salmon

KTX 3 with a top working speed now  likely to be 370 kph (230 mph) is due to appear in 2015

HEMU 400X will take speeds to 400 kph (249 mph). Line test begin in 2012. This is the second of 2 experimental trains the other being the HSR-350x

Cherry Salmon

If I hadn’t been so tired after almost 32 hours of traveling, I’d have taken some photos. I am totally in love with the Korean KTX train service and traveling first class is well worth the extra money. Though the British 125, high-speed train towing 7-8 carriages at a maximum speed of 125 mile per hour, has been the backbone of British intercity travel for thirty years, it is far from the golden standard of travel even if you sit in first class. And it might not be upgraded within the next 10 years! The KTX service is certainly a limited service, operating to only a few destinations but despite being less than 10 years old,  services are being extended and new engines and rolling stock introduced.  Towing 18 carriages, at a top speed of just over 200 mph, the compartments are fairly quiet  and you might be fooled into thinking the train isn’t traveling so fast. However, having kept an eye on the carriage plasma screens, where the speed is constantly visible, we traveled at about 290 kph for most of the journey (that’s c. 180 mph). The KTX, modeled on the French TGV system, is a technological masterpiece but  it isn’t just technology and speed that make a service ‘gold standard.’

British first-class train travel when it was more than just ‘oik’ free

When trains stop at stations prior to departing for another destination, a small army of cleaners purge the train and ‘spruce it up.’  In the UK, a class divided society, first-class bestows kudos and is a great way to feel superior over fellow travelers by reminding them you have more money. Apart from the absence of  ‘oiks,’ there is very little else to attract potential customers and first class on British trains can hardly be compared to business-class on airlines. KTX first-class however, is quite different and very comparable to airline business class standards.  A carpet with at least a little pile cushions your feet and it’s clean, a fact you can tell because the light fawn colour highlights any dirt – which there isn’t. I don’t remember if British Rail has carpets on the first-class floor but if they do, they are certainly not a light colour but most definitely dark blue or brown or some other dirt-masking colour.   The seats are broad and spacious and their backs can be adjusted with an electrically assisted motor, to provide ultimate comfort. A small buffet car provides refreshments and is the headquarters for the refreshment trolleys that service both first and second class. There are male and female toilets, baby changing and feeding stations, small recesses to power mobile devices and wi-fi internet access and sockets for powering computers are provide throughout the train. In all carriages plasma screens  provide a range of information and are coordinated with the journey’s progress so that as a program ends the approaching station is announced and often there may then follow some useful information on that town or city. On first class, snacks such as peanuts or biscuits and bottled water are complimentary provisions.

The KTX cinema carriage

Staff are highly visible on trains and their bearing and dress is impeccable and perhaps it is this more than anything else that puts the KTX service on a par with the business class of an airline. In addition, if you’re making a longer journey, the train’s cinema carriage provides a unique experience. The next wave of KTX rolling stock will have first class seats that can swivel 360 degrees and though I’m not sure how it will materialise, but several reports claim the new rolling stock will have basic cooking resources for passengers. I can’t imagine this meaning trains will have gas ranges and barbecue facilities so imagine it might mean publicly available microwaves.



Meanwhile, back in ‘Broken Britain,’ from early 2011, London-Scotland routes will be terminating the refreshment trolley to second class carriages while  first class provisions will be upgraded with passengers being served, at their seats, as many sandwiches and drinks as they can consume before  reaching their destination.  Management seem to think this will attract more customers but with British rail prices one of the most expensive in Europe, you have to be a retard to spend the equivalent of between the price of a two course all for the sake of  some complimentary sandwiches.  British rail sandwiches were never very palatable even when you paid inflated prices for them. I am reminded of the doomed Titanic and the manning of lifeboats in order of class.

This model, currently being developed, is able to tilt

The experimental HSR 350X which reaches speeds of 350 kph (217 mph)

I am very tempted to make a first-class journey on one of East Coast’s trains simply to see how many sandwiches I could gorge myself on before the train reaches the first stop, where I would alight.

At this point I did a little research. A ticket  from London King’s Cross, to Nottingham, on an East Coast train, which can be used at anytime of day making it comparable to the KTX ticket, on which there are no time restrictions,  costs £64 second-class and £90 first class. That’s a difference of £26. At 2 hours 11 minutes, the traveling time is about 20 minutes longer than Seoul to Daegu. If I travel 2nd class the difference will easily buy a two course meal in a decent restaurant or,  short of £9, book a room in Nottingham’s Days Hotel.  If I go first-class I am sure I could  eat at least ten sandwiches and a couple of cups of tea and with a sandwich or two in my pocket, I could certainly eat my way into a substantial part of the profit the company would otherwise take.

the sleek shark-like design was apparently deliberate

The blue shark. An urban myth, perhaps?

Out of interest, Seoul to Daegu cost approx £38 (first class) with the distance being 322 kilometers. King’s Cross to Nottingham is 174 kilometers.  Based on departure and arrival times, I calculated the KTX travels at approx 175 kph or 108 mph while the Nottingham destined train, an intercity train, travels at 108 kph or 49 mph.  Using my rather basic skills of arithmetic, this means the KTX costs 19 pence per mile (12 pence per kilometer) while the East Coast company train costs 83 pence per mile (51 pence per kilometer). Travel on a comparative service in terms of ticket usage and  train service means the UK service is 4.37 times more expensive and yet  2.2o times slower than a journey on KTX. The London to Aberdeen journey is a long haul of  8 hours thirty minutes which means a second class passenger is going to be very thirsty and hungry at the end of their journey. However, simply pay the extra £50 and all the sandwiches and tea you want will be waiting for you.

The KTX Sancheon began service on March 2 2010 and reaches 230 kph (205 mph)  KTX 3, with a speed of 250 kph (217 mph) will be introduced in 2015

The shape of things to come. The next generation capable of speeds in excess of 400 kph (248 mph) are already being planned

Related Articles

(Several years ago Korail reduced the numbers of staff on the KTX and dismissed a large number of attendants. Many took the matter to court and even went  on hunger strike. Link to Korea Times article.)

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It's Alive!

Posted in Comparative, Food and Drink, My Recipes, recipes for Kimchi, vegetables by 노강호 on January 21, 2011

Judging by the proliferation of cooking programs on British television, you might assume we are a nation which appreciates good food and enjoys cooking. Unfortunately, with the demise of many good quality butchers and fishmongers and the ascendancy of enormous supermarkets stocked full with frozen food and microwave meals, it becomes apparent that we are more interested in watching food being cooked and positively captivated if the chef is some contrived character who has enough family members in his show to almost make it a soap drama. The fact the supermarkets and brands they endorse represent the very opposite of  ‘back to basic cooking,’ is rarely acknowledged.

Over my holiday, I happened to watch a program on Korean cooking which bore all the hallmarks of cooking programs which really have nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with self promotion and the establishment of a dynasty. The entire program was filmed either in the presenter’s village or in her home and introduced us to most of her family and friends.

As for the cooking, anyone acquainted with Korean cuisine knows that kimchi, a form of spicy fermented cabbage, as well as numerous other kimchi, accompany a meal. This Korean cooking was as Korean as the standard Korean pizza is Italian. Not only was there no mention of kimchi, but some very odd items were used in some standard Korean meals. I’ve both eaten and cooked bulgogi many times but this version used beetroot, asparagus and English pear. Though you can probably buy these somewhere in Korea, I’ve never seen beetroot or asparagus. As for English pear, once again this is a fruit you do not see in Korea and yet Asian pear is not difficult to buy in the UK. The program further irritated me when it was eaten off individual plates with knives and forks and in the total absence of side dishes or a plate of assorted leaves in which to wrap the bulgogi. During the entire cooking process red chili powder and red pepper paste were absent.

With so little knowledge of Korean food in the UK, especially outside London and a few other areas, it is possible for chefs to concoct any food combination and call it Korean.

Meanwhile, here is a video from my November batch of kimchi in which I opened the lid to catch the contents in the middle of a very active bout of fermentation.

This video doesn’t exist

I’m currently  on holiday and my usual posts will re- commence next week.

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Images of Innocence (3) – Knives

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children by 노강호 on January 9, 2011

sole purpose – sharpening pencils and cutting paper

As I write, highly civilised human beings are stabbing each other. In the UK  stabbings are a regular occurrence and in 2010 19 youths were stabbed to death in London alone (Guardian UK). In 2007, 322 fatal stabbings (Guardian UK) were recorded marking the highest number of knife related deaths since records began in 1977. As the focus of media attention and political concern, definitions change and competing theories are forwarded, some related to the weather, others to disadvantage.  Anti-stabbing kitchen knives are now available as are stab proof school uniforms made from kevlar and one of my local schools has installed metal detectors through which students have to pass on their way into school.

Stanley blades - every student has one

an assortment of blades

While Britain is plagued with knife related crimes, one currently being covered by the media as I write, Korean kids of all ages carry the equivalent of a stanley knife in their pencil cases and do so not to protect themselves, look cool, or as part of gang defense plans, but simply to sharpen pencils and cut paper.

as harmless as its owner

and then there are the scissors...

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Korea 'Made Simple'

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Westerners by 노강호 on December 20, 2010

(This post refers to Chris Backe’s blog and uses the term ”made simple’ which bears a similarity to the title of Chris’ recent book on learning Korean, Korean Made Easy). My references to ‘Korea made simple’ have nothing to do with his excellent  book )


waygookin - foreigner

I had a drink this weekend in a bar around the corner from where I live. Everything was going well until the place was invaded by fifteen foreigners who were all drunk and noisy. As they entered, only one acknowledged the presence of either myself, or the two westerners I was with. When we decided to leave, just a few minutes later, the same woman that had said hello, apologised for not having been friendlier, meanwhile, the rest of the crowd she was with, continued to blank us.



Scene from a Typicaly British high street

It seems that expat-sub-culture slang, recently highlighted by Chris Backe (Chris in Korea), describes our experience as that of, ‘being waygooked.’ Chris lists a number Korean words adopted by westerners to use as slang and  all comprise the first and only words many westerners learn during their short stay in Korea. I am pleased to report I wasn’t aware of any other meanings than those of the original Korean.

A sub-culture lingo lurks in any foreign place with a substantial numbers of foreigners but without doubt, the increased numbers of foreigners now living in Korea, coupled with the internet and the high number of ESL teachers  help to consolidate and disseminate its lexicon. Whilst some of the examples Chris cites are harmless and amusing, a ‘chunner’ for a thousand Won, ‘manner’ for 10.000 Won, for example, others are not just unpleasant, but suggest many come to Korea with cultural attitudes cast in stone and from which they judge everything Korean – generally in a negative light.



a 'manner' - 10000 Won

To use expat, sub-culture slang self reflectively, Korea has been well and truly ‘waygooked’ though it might be more appropriate to stick to English and simply use the word ‘invaded!’ As each one of us arrives on the peninsula the reception for subsequent ‘visitors’ is made less unique and more mundane. Anyone who was here just ten years ago, will testify how much Korea has  changed. To allow westerners to interface with Korean culture, and in order to look progressive, Korea has been ‘made simple.’  Gone are the days when you were compelled to either try to learn Korean or enjoy taking a gamble as everything from menus to bus arrival and departure boards, are now bilingual.  About the only item still to be ‘made simple’  is the train ticket. Western food is now available everywhere and it is now possible to eat in different restaurants everyday without being required to sit on the floor or use chopsticks. And a wealth of information relative to Korea grows at a rapid rate. Language packages, blogs, cultural information, official websites, cooking websites, all proliferate. The Daegu, Kyobo book store’s section on the Korea Language for foreigners now occupies ten times the space it did ten years ago and one of the most elusive aspects of Korean culture, notably hanja, now has a number of books designed specifically for English speakers. Learning about Korea has never been easier but in the process, acquiring that information has never been more boring and unchallenging. The diary I kept on a daily basis during my first visit to Korea, before the days of blogging, vlogging and podcasts was was written with a view to publication back in the UK and the audience were clearly western. Today, a high percentage of the audience who access this blog live on the peninsula and are themselves bloggers.



Boryeong, thogoughly 'waygooked'

Not too long ago, Korea needed to be discovered, it was elusive and mysterious and attracted a kind of foreigner with some spirit of adventure. I’m not saying that such individuals no longer come here, they do, but if you’re looking to ‘discover’ and ‘uncover’ things unique, as well as discover something about your own character, Korea is rapidly becoming a very safe option and  ‘waygookinized’ almost, but not quite, to the same extent Thailand was ‘DeCaprionized.’ Soon the entire peninsula will posses as much potential to offer a unique experience as the Boring Boryeong Mud Festival. Not only can you research a wealth of information before you even buy passage, but you can communicate in various formats with those already here and discover just how safe it all is. And when you arrive you can pal-up, online and in reality, with a community predominantly doing the same thing you are – probably teaching. If I was setting out to Korea anew, it would be to somewhere like backwater Kangwondo or Ulundo and certainly not to any of the major cities which have now been saturated.

Yes, I am making a mountain out of a mole hill! I shouldn’t take it too seriously! But if anything is likely to make me leave Korea it is when it reaches a point where the experience of being here is not that different to being back-home. I came to Korea to experience its uniqueness and the more waygookins that come here, and I too am part of the problem, the more we connect and form a sub-culture, the more we  adapt Korean to express our own predjudices (especially when so few of us can actually speak Korean), and assert a cultural superiority, the more unease I feel.

‘Ganging up’ with other foreigners to invade places, to ‘waygook’ them, is last thing I want to participant in and I certainly don’t want to be  its victim. Many foreigners share such feelings and come to Korea to escape aspects of their own culture and to immerse themselves in a  new one; ‘waygooking’ an environment is counterproductive to such objectives.   And while I can chuckle at terms such as ‘chunner’ and ‘manner,’ and may  well use them, other terms verge on either the culturally elite, or are racist. Korean ‘ajjumas’ can dress ‘loudly’ and those dollies that participate in high energy aerobic classes, decked out in glitzy leggings and multi-coloured, sequined apparel, are a constant source of interest rather than mockery.  Back in the UK the dress code for a great number of younger women can be summarized as ‘vulgar and skimpy.’ For many Brits, fashion, which of course we think the ultimate, is on much the same level as that of  some former soviet bloc nations. And yes, ‘ajjumas’ push and shove but this is a cultural difference and the way to diffuse your annoyance is to embrace it and simply shove back.

Yes, ajjumas can be somewhat exotic in the mish-mash of colours, but how much nicer and civilised that of a man-like female, covered in tattoos and with a mouth like a sewer. Where I live in the UK some of the females are  very unpleasant. And Koreans can push  and shove but I’ve never had one treat me with the anything like the level of aggression I would face on many a street in the UK.  Meanwhile, here are some Korean words which can be adapted to describe some foreigners or indeed broader idiosyncrasies of western, or more specifically, British culture.

Sir-e-ki  sa-ram – ‘dirty people’ who don’t wash properly especially as a report last year highlighted how as many as 40% of Brits don’t wash their hands after having a shit. ‘That businessman looks like a sir-e-ki saram‘ (he looks dirty or unclean).

Tre-shi ot – ‘trash clothes’ / ‘trash bag’ – the term used to describe the clothes worn by British people. ”The whole family wear tre-shi ot’ (the whole family dress like shit). This could aptly describe those teachers in Korea who go to work in cargo shorts and flip-flops.

Ch’ang n’yeo hak – ‘Prostitute girls’ – to describe the promiscuous manner in which many teenagers dress. (That crotchless thong makes your nine year old daughter look like a ch’ang n’yeo hak. (Basically, you little kid looks like a slapper!)


ch'ang n'yeo hak (prostitute student)

ch'ang n'yeo hak (prostitute student)


Bok pal-ip – ‘mouth explosion’ – to describe notoriously bad British teeth. ‘Look at the bok pal ip on him. (Look at his shit teeth)




too gross to enlarge

Ddong mul pa-i-peu – ‘sewer pipe’ – a term used to describe both the physical and mental degeneracy of many British people – basically clean on the outside and filthy within. ‘Their kids are as wholesome as a ddong mul pa-i-peu.’ (The underwear might be clean but their contents house numerous infectious diseases).

ch’a-pi – chav – ‘most of the nation are ch’a-pi’ (most of the nation are chav).


di-pi-di – ‘dirty, violent , depressing” – DVD.

But I don’t mean to be offensive…


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Images of Innocence (1)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 13, 2010

the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한)

In the prestigious boys high school in which I taught for a year, on sports day a class of first year students wore T-shirts on which was emblazoned the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한). Capturing the innocence of Korea students in writing is not only difficult, but contended; there will be many Koreans and westerns alike who see their proclaimed ‘purity and innocence’ as over rated or mistaken. But in Korea, I have never taught scum students, students who are vile human beings and whom if had to label, I would classify as violent, anti-intellectual, promiscuous, untrustworthy, grossly disrespectful, and foul-mouthed. Often they had parents who were equally as bad and in most of the UK schools in which I have taught have encountered boys and girls who basically epitomise what it is to be anti-social.

‘Pure’ – not a fashionable concept among British teenagers

Among most teenagers in Britain, ‘innocence and purity,’ which as usual we immediately associate with sexual conduct, but which I think Koreans would understand in a much broader context, is not something to be aspired to; indeed, I would suggest it is something to be shunned. I would absolutely agree that not all Korean students are angels and that there will exist some who could be classified ‘scum’ and I also agree that most British students are decent. I am suggesting, however,  that standards and expectations in Korea are higher than in the UK and that associated values are currently much more effective in providing social cohesion, especially across generations. It is the values of Korean society that put the nation in the top echelons in terms of educational achievement, despite the systems pressures and flaws, and those values which produce a society with one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnant, sexual activity and infection by sexually transmitted diseases.

Yes! Bad things happen in Korea and under the surface there is more nastiness than is immediately apparent. But unlike Britain, I have never seen a Korean girl of 13 giving a boy oral sex in the bike sheds and I have never taught or seen girls of 14, 15 or 16 who are pregnant.   Instead of leaping to the defence of the moral and personal degeneracy of the west, which festers like an  open wound and is visible at every level, instead of raising reminders that Korea too has a bad side, which I do not doubt, we need to acknowledge that in some spheres, Korean society is  very successful and perhaps worthy of emulation.

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