Elwood 5566

Somewhat Greener Grass

Posted in Comparative, Entertainment, services and facilities by 노강호 on July 18, 2012

The speed of construction in Korea; a year between clearing the lot to the opening of Starbuck’s on the ground floor

Koreans will tell you their economy is in recession but there are recessions and recessions. Prices don’t seem to have increased much over the years and my utilities bills are in some cases cheaper than they were five years ago. Meanwhile, my electricity bill in the UK has increased by almost 300% in the last five years and it’s the same with gas and water utilities. Indeed, the price of one bill in the UK, my Community Charge, currently almost £150pm (w300.000), would not just cover my all monthly Korean utility bills but, my health contribution, internet and cable TV, and my monthly subscription to the most exclusive gym and jimjjilbang in my area.

My monthly Korean gas and electric bills always contain a graph showing the price you have paid for each month over 13 months so at a glance you can not just see if you’re paying more this month than you were in the corresponding month last year, but can access seasonal variations. The same system in the UK would mortify me as we have been subject to massive hikes every year for the last five years – indeed in one year there were two large increases. Meanwhile, the restaurant in which I’ve eaten for the last four years has increased the price of pork kimchi stew by 500Won (25 pence).

Coffee houses – an indicator of disposable income

When business folds, another quickly opens, more often than not, a mobile phone store or a coffee house. Coffee houses in Korea are often used as an indicator of disposable incomes. One of the most pertinent signs that the Korean economy isn’t in the same depressing mess it is back home, is that rate at which buildings are erected. It isn’t just the case that buildings are being built but that they are speedily completed. In Korea, you can expect a 12 story building to be completed within a year and in a five mile journey across the city a few weeks ago, I must have past at least 20 buildings being erected. In one area alone there were at least six that that weren’t there a year ago.

a busy building program in Dasa, Daegu. Construction can be seen from early morning until it begins to get dark – six days a week!

But there are other markers of a relatively healthy economy despite the world recession; many of my students have the latest mobile technology and in some cases expensive technology and on the streets at the weekends it’s easy to spot new jeans and trousers, especially on teenagers. New trainers are common and the current trend New Balance, not just in trainers but as logos on T-shirts and bags. Korean students have a ‘preppy,’  respectable appeal and there is a distinct lack of the ‘East European fashions’ which tend to dominate British streets such as leggings, cheap trackies and hoodies.

new trainers on my students

And then there are middle school students with cameras costing anything up to 1.000.000KRW(£500). Take a trip to any popular Korean destination and you’ll see an inordinate number of Koreans not just with expensive cameras, but with enormous telescopic lenses.

The quality of life in Korea is high and living on the peninsula reminds me of the years I spent in Germany, during the late 70’s and 80’s, in an economy equally as vibrant. More important is the atmosphere generated when there is a good quality of life. Economic depression casts a gloom over the societies it infects and no amount of social manipulation in the form of festivals, flag waving jamborees or ‘big events’ can shake off the feeling that society is sick. Yes, currently, Korea is probably one of the best places to be to ride out not just the current global recession, but the general greed that seems an endemic part of my own culture and in which most transactions leave you feeling ‘ripped-off.’

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Fake Cake at ‘Pathetically Bland’

Posted in Entertainment, Food and Drink by 노강호 on July 3, 2012

It’s Friday evening at the end of what is one of the most stressful weeks in Korean education: it’s the end of semester exams. Stress in my school, has been high amongst both staff and students. At the end of the evening, after a few beers with friends, and slightly inebriated, I decide I needed a cake and visited my local Paris Baguette. There’s a PB on every corner in Korea.  It was an exercise destined to disappoint.

Paris Baguette – Pathetically Bland – but it looks great!

5000 miles from Paris and Paris Baguette is about as French as you can get. The franchise, the largest bakery franchise in Korea, has a little picture of the Eifel Tower on its logo and at that point anything French stops. There are only two things I ever buy in PB: one is a choux pastry cake filled with syntho-cream and the other is cheese cake. The choux pastry’s synthetic cream is second best compared to fresh cream and the cheese cake is somewhat of a lottery, I think it depends on the temperature but sometimes it seems to contain cheese cake and at others, simply sponge.

There is no doubt that in terms of visual stimulation, PB is alluring. The array of cakes in the display cabinet is stunning but they’re all totally shit and totally syntho! The cake is a fake, a fraud but I should have known because I’ve written two former posts on exactly the same topic! Fake cream, fake cheese, chocolateless chocolate, the type Americans love and mock essence additives of everything from coffee to blueberry.

The beer has washed away all recollection of former disappointments and swished aside any powers of discernment. At 11.50pm, the choux pastry tray is empty and in the display cabinet there is an absence of cheesecake. However, I’m tempted by a rather delicious looking mascarpone tiramisu.

don’t be fooled – it’s as much a tiramisu as a Big Mac is a burger

From somewhere on the periphery of my awareness, currently dulled by a few too many bottles of Korea’s shitiest beer (was it Cass or was it Hite?), something is telling me to forgo the tiramisu and go and pig out on some fried chicken but the layers of sponge between that thick, yellowy, cheesy cream filling are overwhelming.  I concede.

the art of syntho-cream, bland sponge, chocolate-less chocolate, tasteless coloured powders and bits of fruit

Picking up the boxed cake, which isn’t cheap at around W21.000 (11 UK pounds), I’m struck by how light it is. And once home, with the tiramisu exposed and ready for consumption, I notice how the creamy cheese filling has a spongy texture to it. PB excel at disappointment and even the crappiest fancies of Mr Kipling exceed the tasteless experience of the tiramisu. There was nothing creamy in the cream and certainly nothing cheesy, even mildly mascarpone cheesy. In all, a totally tasteless experience and even the ‘mouth-feel,’ something MacDonald’s excel at, failed. After eating the entire cake, I didn’t even feel as if I’d broken my regular eating pattern: the sponge was airy and light and the cream filling – simply nothing – no taste with a cream-less texture.

Paris Baguette (PB), aka Pathetically Bland

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Related Posts on Paris Baguette fake cake:

Castrated Cake and Bollockless Beer (April 1st, 2011)

Chu-Sok Cheesecake (September 26th, 2010)

‘Korean Boy’ – You’re Brilliant!

Posted in Entertainment by 노강호 on April 15, 2012

‘Korea Boy’s’ (Dong Won-kim) cover version of Maria Carey’s, Touch My Body, went ‘viral’ on Youtube in October 2008. Yea, it’s old news but only having recently discovered him, I decided he needed a post.

Here’s a sample…

I’m sorry, I find the translations funny and yes! I know it’s politically incorrect but when the person adding the translations isn’t extensively elaborating, it’s amusing and I’m afraid the reality is this is how some Koreans render their ‘Engrish.’

Despite the attempts to ridicule Korean Boy’s pronunciation, the fact is his diction is often clearer than that of some native speakers and besides, the lyrics of most pop song are meaningless anyway.  This guy clearly loves to perform, is incredibly at ease doing so and watching his video you feel his passion. As for his singing, I doubt many of the ‘haters’ who’ve commented on Youtube could match his range and stay pretty well in tune at the same time.

After a chuckle reading the sometimes exaggerated translation, I have found myself simply listening to Korean Boys singing as background music and without reading the lyrics to distract one from what is basically an excellent musical performance. Dong Won-kim,  I admire you  – ‘Fighting!”

An unadulterated version from Dong Won-kim’s Youtube

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Lineage of the Voice – Pansori (판소리)

Posted in Art, customs, Entertainment by 노강호 on February 5, 2012

Having been a life long musician, both as a player and listener, I love Korean music. I don’t mean K-pop which though at times tuneful, is as much cultural chewing-gum as any western ‘fast-food’ pop music, but examples which are uniquely Korean such as pansori (판소리), pungmulnori (풍물노리) and even trot (트로트). I am not ashamed to admit owning the collected works of the Korean Daddy of trot, Nahuna which in a western context would be the equivalent of owning the works of Des O’Connor.

In the West, as well as in Korea with K-pop, tonality is usually diatonic, only a small number of chords are used and their sequence is always predictable, tunes seldom modulate and if they do it is most likely to the dominant, the time structure is nearly always 2 or 4 beats per bar and perhaps ocassionally, three. As for the lyrics, they best described as repetitive and vacuous.  However, I’m not a total snob, after all, I have Nahuna’s life works and I do listen to and enjoy ‘pop’ as much as I can enjoy eating a ‘Mcburger’ or chewing a stick of gum. If there is one quality that pop has, it’s the ability to represent, to surmise periods of time not in large spans like classical music, but in much smaller chunks such as the 6o’s or 80’s.  Pop can rekindle specific periods of your life, evoking emotions and memories with far greater intensity and emotional accuracy than grander music which is quite amazing given the paltry array of tools it utilizes. Naturally, there have been pop musicians with great insight and innovation, though they are often overlooked or marginalised.

The music of Captain Beefheart, (when he was with his Magic Band,’circa 1968) has examples of intricate rhythmic patterns and shifts in modality which would confuse less capable performers. And who remembers the 1976 ‘hit of the year,’  Music, by John Miles with the driving 4/4-3/4, (or is it 7/4?), time pattern. With most pop rigidly confined to the same old formula, such exotic innovation is rare. As a boy, Steeleye Span’s use of modes captivated me, an interest that hasn’t diminished as I now find myself mesmerized by medieval rock groups such as In Extremo and of course, Korean traditional music is modal.  And there are many other phenomenal popular song writers/performers who have shaped the sound of history, though our choices in this matter are personal: Abba, Queen, the Beatles, Meatloaf to name of few of my favourites.




My interest in traditional Korean music (국악) derives from my attraction to difference, and specifically to the different world of sound created by tonality, timbre, rhythm,  instrument as well as visual differences. l would like to include my interest in lyrics but unfortunately my Korean is not good enough to appreciate them without the aid of a translation. This situation is not much different faced with opera and as I write I am listening to Verdi’s, Rigoletto; having no idea what the plot is about the singers become instruments and I gleam a sense of an emotion without knowing the specifics. This is not an ideal situation but I don’t think too different to how we sometimes listen to a great deal of pop music where the lyrics aren’t really that important or are vacuous and aren’t really needed to convey a sense of meaning.

Korean pansori contains all the elements to engage my interest and whenever I hear performances I am compelled to stop and listen. What’s it about? I haven’t a clue and it’s even difficult to sense the emotional content! Nevertheless, it’s captivating and as alien to my ear and its cultural conditioning, as it could possibly get.

Pansori is basically a vocal line accompanied by a single drum and performances are epic in proportion, usually taking several hours or more, to perform. The texts are satires and love stories, known as madang (마당) which alternate between spoken dialogue and song.  Popular in the 18th century, only five of the original 12 now survive: Heungbuga, Shimcheongga, Chunhyangga, Jyeokbyeoga and Sugunga. The singer carries a fan which is used to emphasize emotions and when opened, to mark changes of scene.

I recently came across an excellent Korean documentary, with translation following the lives of two boy pansori singers as they trained for an important competition. The program unveils many of the mysteries of this strange form of Korean art and better, provides snippets of song with accompanying translation – this has subsequently deepened my interest in pansori. Like many things Korean, it has only been in the last few years that reliable information has appeared on the internet but I still have not been able to find examples of madang with English translations. The documentary is disturbing in places as one of the boys has a well-meaning, but drunken father who frequently beats the boy.

Unfortunately, for some reason, the series of 10 clips I originally linked to here have been removed from Youtube but different clips have been added and are provided below. These new clips provide a deeper insight into madang in translation than did the previous clips.

The DVD of the documentary is also available for purchase.

Lineage of the Voice

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Chicken Tonight?

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

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

exercising ajummas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korean pretty-boy supremo, Jo-kwon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also the permanent member of Family Outing 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Kwon (born 1989)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A COLLECTION OF FLOWER-BOY PERFORMANCES

2

3

4. JO KWON WOWING THE TROOPS

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

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

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

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REFERENCES

Flower Boy Flesh (Bathhouse Ballads Sept 2010).

Jo Kown Profile (Tumblr)

When Weird is Normal – Traditional ‘Beggar Singers’

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

Podcast 86

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

the ‘band’ in action

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

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

kak-sor-i

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

Boy George and his milking smock

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

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

a kak-sor-i performer

Fellini’s freaky Satyricon

Jackie Stallone – truly freaky

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

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

not yet spotted…

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

See! He’s talking about me…

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

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Exposing Those Seedy Searches

Posted in Entertainment, Uncategorized by 노강호 on June 28, 2011

There are plenty of degenerates trawling around the internet looking for ‘interesting’ tid-bits. Sometimes I’m one of them but I’m not degenerate, my interests are cultural and academic – honestly!  The great thing about WordPress, is the access to  a large amount of statistical data and this was certainly absent from Blogger a few years ago and which prompted  me to switch platforms. Every now and then I look at the ‘search terms’ people have used to access Bathhouse Ballads and it’s depressing; because I’ve written about ‘girls knickers’, ‘penises‘, ‘skinship,’ ‘circumcision,’ ‘corporal punishment,’ ‘showering,’ ‘shitting,‘pissing,’teenagers,’plus the mention of ‘sex,’ ‘gays,’ and lots of stuff on ‘bathhouses,’ many search terms are from those looking for something seedy. And all mixed together, the permutations are extensive, I’m attracting some weird searches.

Here are my favourites:

Chillies on his willy – rather a bizarre search term but why not go the whole hog with chillies that look like willies.

click photo for link to relevant post

Boys stripped to the waist – clearly a frustrated waeg! Go to the bathhouse and you can see them naked! Actually, better still, have a wank!

Girl’s Knickers – interestingly, the only word I don’t think I’ve ever written in this blog is, ‘vagina.’ So, girl’s knickers? Like used, unused, soiled? And by ‘knickers’ I guess you mean the shapeless baggy things as opposed panties or the Devil’s Panty – ie a thong.

Dirty Gays – now is this an opinion or do you mean gay people with dirty hands?

Bathhouse Ballards – I actually have 16 entries with this spelling.

Boy flesh – Look at Jay Park and have a wank!

Bathhouse squirt – another bizarre entry. Is this a small person or does it refer to some strange practice?

Little kids nude skinship – you can find all you need under 변태 성욕.

Jimjjilbang Penis – well, you’d be much better searching for this in Korean rather than badly spelt English (jjimjilbang).

Korean kid saw me poop – please tell me it didn’t arouse you? Actually, I used to know a boy who used to invite you into his house to watch him shite? He was very sexy but watching someone crap is not just a freaking turn off, but puts you off your food!

Little man cok poto – clearly from a Korean which is ‘pine.’

cute yes, but sexy, no!

And my favourite…

Water forced up arse in spa – yes, you need to take a trip to Wonderful Spa Land, Wolbae in Daegu. They have an amazing set of massage stations one of which you sit over and it lifts you up. If you hold onto the sides and pull yourself down you can manipulate the jet to provide a very intimate probing. My Korean friend and I had quite a laugh doing this and the interesting thing was, that he had never previously thought to pull himself down onto it. Mind you, he’s getting regular sex so he’s clearly satisfied. Wonderful Spaland also has 4 excellent chest massage water jets but you’d have to mount these or bend over in front of them, which might attractive some attention. These will certainly provide a deep aqua invasion and you’ll probably need to expel your intake on the toilet immediately after. Good luck!

Interestingly, Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, is a popular search term especially considering this painting depicts all forms of human vice and ‘perversion.’

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Senior Citizens’ ‘Street Party’

Posted in Diary notes, Entertainment, Photo diary, video clips by 노강호 on May 24, 2011

dancing to traditional ‘trot’

Last Saturday, as I was returning home from an outing I heard the sound of gongs and drums and walking down to the small park near my ‘one room,’ where an old peoples facility house is located (이곡경로당), discovered the old folks in the area where having a street party. In the middle of the small park a television screen had been set up and a small group were in the throes of a trot-style (트로트) karaoke session. One the periphery another group were busy accompanying the singing with an assortments of gongs and drums usually associated with traditional music such as pungmul nori (풍물놀이 and samul nori (사물놀이). Meanwhile, others were dancing in the style typical senior citizens. And the soju and makgeolli were flowing freely…

belting one out

as I sat watching, a tray of snacks was brought to my seat

a passing boy joins in…

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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!

 

ORIGINAL IN KOREAN

ORIGINAL KOREAN ANIMATION IN ENGLISH

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It Can Pay to be a Pygmy

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Entertainment, Gender, Korean children by 노강호 on October 7, 2010

Not suitable for Pumpkin people

My Korean girl students love camp boys, other wise known as ‘flower boys.’ Camp is totally in and the poncier and more androgynous a boy or man is, the better – provided of course, he’s straight. If you dressed a frond of ooo-wong (우엉 – burdock) in fashionable clothes, gave it a nice haircut and sent it flouncing down the street all limp and bendy, girls would swoon.

‘Boys over Flowers;’  highly successful!

Jay Park (박재범) – Handsome or Pretty? Or even pretty handsome!

Boys over Flowers (꽃보다 남자) was a highly successful drama which ran in early 2009, was aired in numerous other Asian countries and has subsequently been identified with the migration of Korean culture to other countries, a phenomena known as the ‘Korean Wave’ (할류). The first ‘wave’ (2005-2009), often associated with Winter Sonata,’ consisted exclusively of drama which gradually gained a fan base outside Korea, predominantly in Asia. With the export package now including  pop music, theater and musicals, a second wave (dating from 2010), can be identified. As an example, the singer Jay Park created more traffic via Twitter, on March 8th, 2010, than did that day’s Oscar nominations. Coined by some as ‘Hallyu 2.0,’ the ‘2nd ‘wave’ has encompassed Egypt, Turkey, Romania,  India and even Uzbekistan. Interest in Korean has increased and a country as small as  Nepal now has 30.000 people a year  signing up for  Korean language proficiency tests.

Burdock, wu-weong (우엉) Limper than a lettuce!

The incredibly popular, ‘Boys over Flowers,’ which has among other things, helped lower the fan-base age associated with the ‘Korean Wave,’ consists  of 29 episodes following the intrigues of a group of  high school boys. The four central characters, often refereed to as ‘F4,’ have been attributed with consolidating the interest in ‘flower boys’ and encouraging men to take more pride in their appearance. As a result, significantly more Korean men now use cosmetics and the current trend for teenage boy fashion is what Americans might call ‘preppy.’

Boys over Flowers‘ (꽃보다 남자) was inspired by the Japanese bi-weekly manga comic, Hana Yori Dango, by Yokio Kamio and ran from 1992-2003.   The magazine was targeted at Japanese high school girls. I find the title, ‘Boys over Flowers,‘ a little clumsy and  feel ‘Boy’s before Flowers,’ a frequently used alternative, much clearer. The title is a pun on  the Japanese saying, ‘dumplings before flowers’, which refers to the habit of being more interested in eating snacks than viewing the cherry blossom during the famous Hanami festivals.  It is the snacks and  festival foods that  are the most alluring; the blossom simply provides an excuse to indulge.  And if you’re not eating the snacks, you’re probably watching the passing boys, especially if they are as beautiful as the blossom.

A Japanese hanami party. Beautiful blossom, beautiful boys, delicious food. What’s your priority?

‘Flower boys,’ basically meaning ‘pretty boys,’ is not in the least offensive and Korean youngsters, even boys, are able to differentiate between those who are ‘handsome’ and those who are ‘pretty.’ Neither identifying someone as ‘pretty’ or indeed being labeled ‘pretty,’ implies  any accusations of homosexuality or effeminacy.

A boy nominated by his class as a ‘pretty boy.’

‘Pretty boys’ have delicate features, soft skin, and are usually a  little gaunt and certainly very androgynous. In terms of western, and certainly British standards, they’d babyishly be deemed ‘gay’ and might even get the shit kicked out of them.  Korean ‘flower boys’ can also get a rough  ride, not because they’re gay, but because  of their pin-up status and ability to capture the hearts of girls and women.   One significant mystery-comedy movie, ‘Flower Boys,‘ often called by the crappy title, Attack of the Pin Up Boys’ (2007), centers on the theme of ‘flower boy bashing.’ There’s no pleasing thuggy straight men who will just as quickly bash you for being gay as they will for being heterosexual and a babe magnet.  Of course,  Attack of the Pin Up Boys is only a story and doesn’t reflect real life. From what I’m led to believe however, the biggest problem ‘flower boys’ face, is in convincing girlfriends they are not ‘playboys’ (바람둥이) because they are often too pretty for their own good.

Leetuk, one of the Super Junior celebrities. A possible candidate for a ‘pretty boy’ nomination.

Unlike many British girls, Korean girls tend to like a boy who is well-mannered, slim and  averagely muscled (which given we are talking predominantly about boys, means skinny), has broad shoulders, is fashionable and  intelligent. Neither do they have to have a six pack or look manly. Indeed, a few of my female students positively dislike both aggressive boys and muscles. But the most important quality of all, one which  constantly supersede all others, is that a boy has to be taller than his girlfriend. Girls can be quite cruel about this requirement and while talking to a class of girls about the celebrity Tae-Yang (태양), I overheard  one call him a ‘loser.’ The reason? He is under 180 cm tall. Basically, if you’re a boy and short your fucked!

Taeyang Big Bang member. ‘Handsome’ or ”pretty?’

Though they wouldn’t understand the word even if explained to them, the definition most reflecting the sort of boys Korean girls like, is camp! In the very words of one of my students,  ‘we’ like boys who ‘look like girls.’ And though ‘handsome’ boys, that is boys who look like men, are attractive and certainly seem to be preferable in terms of a solid relationship,  many girls will swoon in discussions about ‘pretty boys’ even if they prefer the ‘handsome’ type.

Back in Scumland UK, when it comes to boys, many girls have no taste at all often because their priority is a quick rummage in their panties or a passionate-less poking behind the bike sheds and hence prefer boys who are one step up from brute primates and who are valued for being aggressive, butch, sporty, loud mouthed and promiscuous. If British girls demand any prettiness, it is that their lads be, ‘pretty unintelligent.’ Yes, I’m being horribly unfair but in the UK, currently riddled with anti-intellectualism,  teenage pregnancy and sexual diseases, for many, any spark of brain is a turn off.   The reason why the Korean predilection with ‘flower boys’ is so refreshing is that it is a kick in the mouth to the belief that the alpha male is universally appealing. I would go as far as to suggest that in Korea, even the boys and men who look like men pail into effeminacy when compared to the shaven heads and brute physogs of the men that dominant and epitomize so much of British culture. Meanwhile, if you’re a Korean girl with the stature of a pygmy or dwarf, life’s gonna be one big ride!

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