Elwood 5566

‘Flower Boy’ Flesh – The Quest for the Tastiest Dumpling. 박재범 (Jay Park)

Posted in Entertainment, Gender by 노강호 on September 1, 2010

My female students largely advise me on which boys are the sexiest but the problem I find with Korean youth fashion is that celebrity boys tend to have a range of images rather than one. So, in some photos they look rough and ready, in others more like throwbacks to the UK of the 1980’s, typified with big hair and frills and at the furthest extreme, their campness borders on transgenderism. In the middle and toying with the androgynous, is handsome or pretty.

I have to admit, I have little interest in Korean pop music (K-pop) and like the western equivalent, most of it is superficial shite. However, the K-pop industry, is one of the largest pop industries in the world and in terms of production and choreography, incredibly well produced and slick. There are undoubtedly plenty of other sites providing information, gossip and images of the current ‘artists’ and the purpose of this corner of Bathhouse Ballads is purely, and superficially, to introduce a little eye candy and a light, visual insight into the ‘Flower Boy’ phenomenon. (Clicking the following link will give you background information on the significance of Flower Boys’ and ‘Tastiest Dumplings.)

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

One of the tastiest dumplings qualifying for Flower Boy Flesh is Jay Park (박재범), a 22 year-old 3rd generation Korean from the USA. Jay Park is surrounded by scintillating intrigue all of which can be read at Wiki. He even topped the Twitters chart on the day of the Oscar Awards. He sang in the boy bands 2pm and 2am and currently is pursuing other projects.

Mmm…getting a little too 80’s. That collar thing is a too Wham.

Getting tougher

 Korea meets the Ghetto. Not my scene! I think the tats are temporary which is cool because permanent tats are rank. Only flower boys can wear temporary tats but the Catholic theme is horribly tacky and on a par with blessed furniture spray and luminous rosary beads.  Hopefully a shower excommunicates it. The hair is horrid and the side-panels on his head remind me of a skinny Mr T from the ‘A Team.’ Educated in the USA, he probably knows all about naughty things like drugs, being disrespectful, underage sex and sexually transmitted diseases, though looking Korean one can have hope that he is really a nice boy. He can certainly look it but  unfortunately, not on this occasion.

Mr T. Blinged to the max in the days before bling was bling.

Are you looking at the same thing as I am? What the fuck is it?

Okay, Jay is looking pretty pretty and somewhat handsome but my attention is drawn to that thing the other guy is wearing. What the fuck is it? A fancy face mask? A sequined gas mask? A fake beard? One of those things a belly-dancer might wear or is it possibly one of the Wonder Girl’s, Satan’s Panties? Whatever it is, it looks kinky and completely kills Jay’s handsome physog. Thank God he isn’t wearing one!

Handsome? Probably!

And then you notice the silly thing  on his head which instantly reminds me of the Korean habit for spoiling something tasty, like putting jam on a cheese, ham and salad sandwich or dipping your hot-dog in sugar!

Dominant! Say no more!

Somewhat cute – but it’s not Jay Park but Nich-khun

 And finally, for a glimpse under his T-shirt…

Revealing  – the tastiest dumpling!

Links for Jay Park:

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Boring Boryeong and 'Waygukin Wankers'

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

Spot the Korean

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

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

 

Courtesy of Roketship (link)

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

Lovely plastic sheeting

 

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

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

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

 

Too many westerners! YouTube link

Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Ear Piece Mania

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Entertainment by 노강호 on July 19, 2010

Have you noticed that it seems a trendy, usually in western style restaurants, to equip your staff with radio earpieces. I often eat in a couple of places where the CIA and Personal Protection Services collide and fully expect to see staff with the barrel of a revolver poking from the waistband. It would be understandable if there were only a few members of staff per restaurant, but  in Korea it’s customer service overload.

Two of the restaurants I frequent involve parking in a supermarket where I am always amused by the directions provided to vacant parking. First, there is the manic series of Power Ranger poses that alert you to the fact you have to turn left to enter the parking facilities. Of course, directions are adequately posted on both the tarmac itself and on street signs and you can hardly miss the building; it’s five stories high! Korean drivers have a reputation for multi-tasking, mobile phone in one hand, sandwich in the other; so I guess the Power Ranger routine grabs the attention of even the most inattentive driver. And  next, once in the car park building, you can enjoy being mesmerized by the glitzy-glamour gals and their sequined stetsons that stand to attention on the apex of every corner and provide you a selection of semi-sexual hand gestures. My favourite is the direction to, ‘dim your head lamps,’ which looks like sign-language for, ‘it’s snowing.’ Performing this motion for several hours a day would drive you potty, unless of course you’d dropped an acid tab which in tandem with the glitzy-gloves, would be an exhilarating experience. Simply parking the car has been facilitated by 10 student staff, and that was only as far as the first level, but  no one’s complaining when an hour’s wages are just enough to buy you a coffee and bun.

The Power Range Poses for directing traffic to parking lot

In the restaurant, another batch of students are re-enacting Men in Black. It’s early lunchtime and despite the fact there are only three customers, there are nine waiters each adorned with an ear-piece! I remember when CB radio was a fad and it was common to listen ‘into’ police radios, for fun. I wonder if you can listen ‘into’ restaurant radios because I’d love to know what instructions are transmitted. Do individual waiters have a ‘handle?’ Do they follow standard radio protocol?

Han Man One calling Waiter Number 10, take order from table number 5. Over.

Han Man One calling Waiter number 6, deliver steak and banana jam, with portion of kimchi and pickle, to table 5. Over.

The radios remind me of a Burger King restaurant in Osnabruck, Germany, which installed radios where you made you order. Staff had to speak your order into the radio which then broadcast it to the staff ‘cooking.’  Not a bad idea except the staff doing the ‘cooking’ were less than a meter from the staff collecting the order, and sometimes the staff ordering would turn about and become the staff ‘cooking.’ It seems nothing could be done without speaking first into the radio-loud speaker contraption. Worse, the sound the radio produced, perhaps because of the proximity, was muffled and incomprehensible and so, ‘Whopper,’ sounded like, ‘wowa.’

Maybe the ear pieces transmit calming music to anesthetize staff when there are no customers or when staff outnumber  them. Maybe they’re totally dead, simply window-dressing, because I never seen any staff directing waiters. I’d sure like to have a whirl on them, secretly – and if of course, I could speak Korean. One of the places I eat has the most handsome waiter and I’d love to say a few things directly into his ear-hole.  Unfortunately, though the restaurant serves a rather delicious sausage, amusingly called ‘sausage on the bone’ as it has a spare rib painfully protruding from one end, the only sausage I want is not on the menu!

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

New York, New York

Posted in Daegu, Entertainment by 노강호 on July 4, 2010

New York, New York, is a franchise restaurant  where the menu differs substantially between one restaurant and another.  Currently, New York, New York, Song-So, Daegu, is my favourite western style restaurant and it does an excellent pork steak topped with pineapple and blueberry sauce, and one half of a delicious, almost roast potato.  I think it’s probably pan-fried but it comes close to roast. Since getting pally with the owner I now get 1 whole roast potato. And, the Korean fried rice (벅금밥) compliments the pork chop and blue berry very well. Yes’ it’s still ‘pusion pood’ (fusion food) but only just. The meal is usually served with kimchi and pickles but as these appear on a side dish, if you push them to one side, you can almost imagine  you’re back home. If the ‘pusion’ element doesn’t bother you, you can try the Korean rice wine (막갈리) cocktail, 4000W (£2) and served with strawberry and pineapple.

Ground floor

From my experience, apart from a burger bar, New York, New York is the only restaurant I’ve eaten in which doesn’t provide chopsticks. Eating kimchi with a fork is weird, like something out of The Twilightzone. The ambiance is great, if not a little fake, with plastic geraniums but the extensive wine racks contain wine, the lighting is suitably subdued and as always the army of staff are attentive and generous. Considering the price, around 8000W (£4), for a very nice meal, a few plastic geraniums don’t bother  me and I console myself with the fact they are actually in  bloom. This  week a waiter asked if I had any requests for the sound system. Ah, the music!  Why is it that places with tasteful interiors go and ruin them by splurging shit music into the air. A rap version of, The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round, was slowly beginning to irritate me. The choice of music can be a little variable and  swing from rap crap to Mozart and Sinatra, in an instant. Overall, the atmosphere certainly suits Sinatra. Then, on the window ledges are real branches of wood, standing in large glass vases filled with chunks of cookie and cream-looking rock and topped with water. The plastic plants are the sort that are realistic enough to provoke both conversation and  are difficult to distinguish as fake , especially with real branches. Last week I noticed the branches had all sprouted leaves and yet still had plastic botanical Borg implants. Quite bizarre.

Bizarre Borg technology – plant plastic pushion

New York New York, Song-So is a few minutes walk from the Song-So Industrial Complex subway station. Go  past E-Marte, turn right at the end of E-Marte on the crossroad, and it’s on your left half way up the hill and equidistant between Migwang Sporlex , on the crest of the hill, and E-Marte, on the cross-road. (Wiki Map Link) THIS CLOSED DOWN IN JUNE 2011!

Conversely, for some spacious swank, try the New York, New York, (Wedding) at Susong-gu, Daegu.

Susong-gu – swanky

Entrance

A monk (수님)

Beautifully designed

Water feature

The restaurant is very large

Entrance fountain

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

The Song So ‘New York, New York’, closed in 2011

Migwang Spolex (Jjimjilbang), Daegu, Song-So. (미광스포랙스)

Migwang Spolex (미광, 성서, 대구)

First visited February 2009. Last visited September 28th 2012. Migwang Spolex is my favourite local jjimjilbang, bathhouse sports complex. Migwang has five stories of amenities including squash courts, billiard rooms, and a very well equipped and friendly gymnasium. It is very clean and has well laundered towels which smell fresh. The bathhouse, a large one, is one to enjoy and relax in rather than to use  solely for washing and cleaning. Sunday afternoons and holidays can be very busy. The gym is very well equipped and spacious and home to many Muscle Marys, especially in the evenings. In summer, the ice rooms, of which there are two, one in the bathhouse and one in the jjimjilbang, are a refuge from the summer heat and humidity. I particularly like the  changing areas as there are very roomy and with small poofes on which to sit while putting on socks’ etc – I hate having to do that sat on the floor or while trying to balance on one leg. Friendly staff.

The ‘event’ and warm pool (male)

The warm and hot pools in the female complex

Women’s facility

Unlike many other businesses in Korea, many which simply border on existing, I think Migwang is doing very well, financially. I’m told it has over 1000 members with a monthly membership. More to the point, I notice Migwang regularly installs or renovates features during major holidays. A new ceiling and what looks like a new water feature is currently being built (October 2010). However, the water feature seems to have stopped  mid program.  In April 2011 new poofes appeared. Migwang is always impeccably clean and the staff very friendly – oh, apart from some grumpy old guy!

Migwang’s sit down shower units

This is what the British call a ‘poofe.’

The male ‘powder’ room

The warm pool with the pine, steam and ice room (L-R) in the background. A large TV sits above the central circular window

Plan

Migwang Spolex. Bathhouse Design (male)

The stand up showers (male)

The women’s cold pool

Location – five minutes walk from the Song-So (성서) industrial Complex subway station and just 2 minutes walk from E-Marte. Come out E-Marte, turn right, turn right again at the cross roads and walk to the crest of the hill where the road bears left. The complex sits on the turning on the left hand side. (Wiki Map link )

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang and bathhouse. Gym open from around 6 am Mon-Sat until around 11 pm. Sundays 8 am – 8 pm. Double check opening and closing times as they occasionally change.

Facilities – 2nd floor, reception,  women’s bathhouse, women’s hair dressers. 3rd floor jjimjilbang, 4th floor men’s bathhouse, 5th floor gymnasium. Also squash facilities, martial arts, aerobics classes etc.

Jjimjilbang – ice room, various saunas, sleeping rooms, children’s play area, refreshments and food, small pc room, televisions, etc.

Jjimjilbang area

Bathhouse (men) – around fifty stand up shower facilities and around the same number of sitting down shower units, event pool, (이벤트탕), hot pool (열탕), large warm pool with jacuzzi (온탕), large cold pool (냉탕), small tepid pool (안마탕),  ice room, steam room, 2 jade saunas, relaxation area, heated sleeping area. Large changing room with television and sofas. Televisions are also located in front of the e-bente-tang and hot pool, and in one sauna room but which can be viewed via from the other saunas.

Cost – bathhouse 5500 Won, jjimjilbang 7000 won. Monthly all-inclusive (including the gym) once a day usage, 100.000 Won (£50).

Others – hairdressers, massage and rub downs, parking, associated buffet restaurant opposite (Arden Hills), and Screen Golf Range. Various seasonal discounts. Very close to E-Marte and from there the Song-So Industrial Complex subway station, and surrounded by various restaurants and some excellent coffee shops Vincent Van Gogh, Hands Coffee, Sleepless in Seattle). The barbers now seems to offer massage, haircut and shave all being a euphemisms for a hand-job – cost 30.000Won. Barber’s is closed on Monday and residency of the barber’s now seems to shift between the actual barber and the ‘girls’

Ambiance – relaxing, mid-level lighting, subdued television, very clean, very comfortable, friendly.

Waygukin –  I’m gradually seeing more and more westerners here. For a year I didn’t see any, but in the last year I have seen a total of 5. Some just shower, while others use the pools, some are friendly, some clearly do not want to speak.

Address – Daegu, South Korea, 1250-14번 지 (behind E-mart)

Website – (Migwang Spolex Website Link)


Migwang Updates

Migwang on a Sunday Morning (August 1st 2010.)

Migwang Update August 2011

Creative Commons License©  林東哲 2010. Creative Commons Licence.

Fat is Here

A Bathhouse Ballad

In the ebente-tang, the aroma of the day is lavender (라벤더). I’m wallowing while I see some guy stood in the cold pool snot-up into his hand and casually just wash it off – into the pool water. Filthy twat! I occasionally take in a mouthful of that water, I guess most people do and, I open my eyes underwater! Pissing in the baths is one thing, at least you are unaware of people doing it, but if you’re going to snot up, be discrete! The snotting incident made me wonder if the water is filtered. It is certainly changed on a regular basis and probably filtered. Neither is it chlorinated but as most people shower before entering the baths this doesn’t bother me. I can remember seeing a few turds in British swimming pools but despite the chlorinated water, I wasn’t going to swim anywhere near them! Often I notice children, usually unaccompanied, get straight into a bath without showering. Last Thursday, which was the eve of Buddha’s birthday, and a public holiday, there were about 10 teenagers running around. Usually, adults get irritated by raucous behaviour but the atmosphere was jovial and I noticed several men lounging in surrounding pools watching them and smiling. There was a definite holiday spirit; they held the door shut to the ice room door trapping friends inside and threw bowls of freezing cold water  at each other. For almost an hour the bathhouse, the noisiest I have ever heard it, despite it not being very busy, resonated with their laughter.   Then a fat guy walked in and I started thinking…

At one time, when there were few other wayguks around, I used to be the fattest man in Song-So and one of my companions, a woman from Australia, was probably the fattest woman. Though she was excellent company, I hated walking around with her. A fat person, especially one who is 1.95 cm tall, attracts attention but two fat people together, well, the assumption is they are a couple and that all western wayguks are fat. Two fat wayguks together loose their identity in the conflation that reduces them to, ‘they’ and ‘fat.’  If you’re sweating, unable to buy clothes that fit, if you’re seen eating, if you don’t like walking up four floors to your place of work, well, it’s all because you’re fat! And eating an ice-cream in public! No wonder you’re fat! I happen to take size 14 (UK) shoes. You can’t buy them in Korea, apart from perhaps in Seoul. And the reason my feet are so big, despite being the leanest parts of my body?  I’m fat, of course!  When Koreans see a fatty or a fatty couple, this is how they probably think, and I assume this, as in the west, it is how we think. Even if I see a fat person eating an ice cream on a hot summer’s day, even if I am eating one myself,  my immediate thought is, ‘go on a diet, fat arse!’ Two fat people with backsides like hippopotami, holding hands on the beach front promenade, and wobbling like jelly…  ‘gross! The contradictory nature of my thought, doesn’t even sully the flavour of my ice-cream.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but when my fat female friend and I took a taxi, along with two petit Koreans, and her and I ended up sitting on the same side of the cab,  it was clear what caused the problem, and it wasn’t paranoia! The window on our side of the taxi looked directly onto the tarmac while the opposite window framed the full moon. After a hundred meters and a few grating sounds from some part of the vehicle now in contact with the road, the taxi driver evicted us.

In  2000, and probably until fairly recently, I was the fattest person I ever saw in a bathhouse. Even proportionately, no Korean ever came close to my dimensions. This isn’t because I have the girth of Jabba the Hutte, but because Koreans were, and to some extent still are,  smaller than westerners. My diary pages from that period provide several references to there being a distinct lack of fat people. In the school at which I taught there was one fat boy, I even remember his name, Jack; a photo of him hangs in my bedroom bathroom, back in the  UK. In my taekwondo school was another chubby. Neither boys were particularly fat and today, just ten years later, would be classified as fairly normal.

I need no helpers for this size portion!

In the last few months, I have noticed that on almost every visit to  a bathhouse there are one or two Koreans proportionately the same size and sometimes fatter than I. Very often, other fatties are kiddies. Burger bars, fried chicken, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donut and plenty of other western style fast food outlets have proliferated, and the price Korea is paying, especially their youth,  is the bulging waistline. Ten years ago I went into a Baskin Robbins in downtown Daegu. I was with a Korean friend and her daughter and when I arrived at their table with a tray containing  three, what I considered ‘normal’ size ice creams, they starred in amazement. One tub, they told me, would have been enough for all three of us but to me, they were the sort of size you would buy yourself back home. In the ten years interim, I now have two Baskin Robbins within a 7 minutes walk of my home and occasionally I will treat myself to an 11.000Won (£5.50), pot of ice cream. I think it holds about 5 scoops. I can easily eat this and could also finish off one of their  larger buckets. Even if I buy the smaller pot, smaller than a Macdonald milkshake cup,  staff will ask how many spoons I want. Shame prevents me from replying’ ‘one’ so, pondering in thought for a moment, as if counting the number of people back home waiting for me to deliver, I reply, ‘four.’

Along with the western fast food diet, fat has finally arrived in Korea

Korean proportions are always piddly and I’m not really into the act of sharing my food, especially ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a Korean meal, even at a buffet restaurant, and left feeling properly stuffed, stuffed western style where you can’t breathe properly and feel you’ve mutated into an enormous maggot. In the west, there are countless times I’ve gone for a meal and reached the point where Mr Creosote, in Monty Python’s, The Meaning of Life, cannot eat another chocolate wafer. But in the midst of a Korean public,  usually much skinnier than I, being a fatty fills me with guilt and curbs my glutenous instincts. The fatties I now see around me  at the bathhouse, and who attract more attention than I because, they are Korean and fat, which is novel, and not wayguk western and fat, which is common, certainly know what it feels to be ‘stuffed’ and all I am left pondering, as I wallow in my scented bath, feeling  more like a warthog than large bottomed hippopotamus,  is how do you pig out on Korean food? Fat has finally arrived and the blubberier it becomes, the slimmer I feel.

Link to Crazy Fat Korean Video

Penis Paradise. Palgongsan National Park

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Daegu, Entertainment by 노강호 on May 19, 2010

Highly recommended

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life in Korea, it’s that cocks can turn up in the oddest places and at the most unexpected times. Of course, if you’re a westerner you might be surprised as we so often perceive Korea as conservative in its values. Well of course it’s freaking conservative! If you’ve been socialised and educated in one of those degenerate moral and ethical cesspits, such as the UK or USA, you cannot fail to perceive Korea as naive and  innocent. Most westerners, myself included, are so used to cesspit values we hardly notice the toilet paper and bits of turd clinging to our bodies as we travel the globe. Being British and from the land where teenage pregnancy and STI’s are at ‘epidemic proportions,’ in Korea, with one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, 2.1 per thousand, it is quite natural to perceive the country as conservative and even innocent. Ironically, despite Korea’s low rate of  STI’s and teenage pregnancy, the existing figures are a current social and political concern! I am neither religious nor particularly moralistic but, I prefer my students, especially ones under 14, to be innocent as opposed promiscuous,  predatory, precocious, tarty and cheap.

純 순수한 - 'Innocent '

In Autumn last year,  I visited Palgongsan National Park, on the edge of Daegu. After a very delicious smoked duck barbecue, I took a little troll around the restaurant grounds only to discover 42 penises, (yes, I actually counted them!), all poking skywards and congregated in an area about the size of a large living room. This little patch of cock I endearingly referred to as Penis Paradise. On my initial trip, I’d forgotten to take my camera and all year I’d been planning to go back and capture, albeit it on a digital, the only cocks I am probably likely to get close  enough to touch between now and the grave. You can imagine how gutted I was when I enthusiastically arrived at my  little paradise, tucked away in some obscure corner of the mountains, only to discover all but one cock remained. The adjoining restaurant had made some alterations but even after trolling around the building and snooping in tucked away corners, it became apparent I’d missed my one and only  opportunity.

Where a patch of proud penises had majestically stood there remained one solitary cock which poked up pathetically from a surrounding pile of junk robbing it of any remaining grandeur. Up closer it retained an air of pride despite  probably  being the poorest specimen with a shaft looking hacked, holed and even split as if old or simply unfinished. The other ones had been smooth, perfected and each imbued with particular qualities suggested by both the  nature of their wood as well as their individual design; qualities that only someone who likes natural wood and  cock could appreciate.

Surrounded by junk - Sacrilege!

A badly hacked shaft in need of some oil!

Penis Paradise had originally stood outside a carpenter’s workshop/gallery and inside I found another penis. It was a big fat number, somewhat interesting but with a face carved on one side which I didn’t particularly like but it had the bonus of and added appendage ….yet another cock.

Two for the price of one

The epitomisation of Korea

Knotted and gnarled were the qualities that had enamored me when I first encountered that patch of penises. Korean wood is invested with a strange quality probably induced by struggling into life in quite difficult surroundings. Back in England, near where I live, are some examples of the most enormous oak trees and in a five-minute cycle I can be stood under trees that Constable himself painted.  Korean mountain forests exude a sense of gargantuan Bonsai and walking in one, especially when daylight is ebbing, is like wandering through a Mahler symphony, most especially, his fourth.  It’s a dark, warped, and knotted world, with craggy imposing crops of rock, mossy and lichened,  the perfect background for goblins, ghosts and  other imaginary forest creatures.   There are no immense oaks on those rugged rocky slopes where every tree has had to fight its way into existence with roots seeking out and voraciously burrowing into nutritious gaps and fissures in that dense, granite-like base. Tress are wind swept, stunted, knotted, gnarled and twisted in manners which betray both pain and tenacity.

In my last  high school, the top class of first, second and third year students, were called, ‘so-namu’ (소나무),  ‘pine tree, classes,’ and the boys affectionately called, ‘so-namu.’ ‘He’s ‘so-namu’ would be used to describe and explain  a boy’s exam success or identify the fact he was  in the top class.  That pained-tenacious existence, evident in Korean forests where life has been fought for, exists on other plains: you see it in the bodies of old men and women, bodies muscled and knotted, damaged and strengthened by an arduous life, yet supple enough to sit cross-legged, all  a rarity in the west. I have seen  old grannies who cannot stand up straight and are forced to walk with a right  angle between their spine and legs,  bodies damaged by a lifetime of carrying children or heavy loads on their backs, sit into a cross-legged position, and rise, without using their hands or moving their feet.  Even at forty, I had to get on all fours to escape this position. Sometimes you see it in the bodies of younger children, but this is without doubt rapidly disappearing. I have several nine-year olds, usually ones whose hobbies are taekwondo, hapkido, or komdo, with six packs and thighs looking like they regularly squat.  You see it in the faces of students as they trudge, bleary eyed from school to haggwon and on to another haggwon and then to the reading room, life a constant round of tests and assignments. Pain and tenacity are features of Korea which are engraved into the education system, their martial arts, encapsulated by the popular phrase ‘fighting!’ and also a reflection of their history. Penis Paradise was intriguing because wrought in the bodies of each penis, in both  the nature of the wood and  their design, was a sense of that  pain-and tenacity – the struggle for life and triumph at its persistence.

'Tenacity' is often a key concept in Taekwondo, Hapkido and Komdo tenets

A reflection of Korea on many levels

Only one cock stood, an epitaph to its vanished members. Where had they gone? In fact, they’d been sold for  exhibition at the Haeshindang Folk Village, Samcheok,  also known as Penis Park.

Family Fun at Penis Park

Penis Park, Samcheok, A Collection of colossal Cocks

With only one cock standing, the juicy aroma of barbecued smoked duck, attracted my attention. Putting my camera away, I went and enjoyed a wholesome meal. It’s no substitute for the real thing, but here is the menu:

Smoked barbecued duck a specialty


Bathhouse Basics 1 – What is a bathhouse? (목욕탕)

Aquatic Symphony

Bathhouse (목욕탕) – exactly as the name suggests. Simply a place to wash. However, while some establishments are not much more than a place to administer yourself a thorough scrub down, others offer the chance to wallow in luxurious ambiance. The range is broad and bathhouses often have their own distinct atmosphere shaded by the time you visit. What you will find common to all  are: nudity,  segregation by sex,  places to shower, both standing and sitting and a number of pools. This is the most basic I have experienced. Others will have a number of adjoining ‘rooms’ containing various saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms (어름방), salt saunas, yellow mud sauna (황토방) sleeping rooms, and a place to be scrubbed down by an attendant. Once again, the variation is extensive. Pools vary in size and number and like the various ‘rooms’ often utilise specific minerals which are believed to promote good health. The most common are probably hot pools (열탕 – yeol-tang), warm pools (온탕 – on-tang),  cold pools (냉탕 – naeng tang) but I have also bathed in pools of gold and saunaed in silver. Baths may contain herbs, or green tea or be built with health inducing minerals. In addition, some bathhouses have heated areas around the pools where it is possible to take a nap and these may be heated by ondol (온돌) heating (underground heating) or by infra-red lights.

Changing rooms

Chilling

In the bathing area, bathhouses often have:

conveniently located televisions

various types of massage

soap, towel, body clothes, toothpaste

a large stone on which to eradicate hard skin

In the changing area:

sofas, television

a room in which to dry and preen yourself

toothbrushes, shampoo, Italy towels, hair conditioner

socks, underwear, ties

soft drinks, some snacks, especially smoked eggs

In the steam room of the Kayasan Hotel Bathhouse

A typical seated shower area

Grouped around the bathhouse (목욕탕):

barber, hairdresser

shoe shine facility

shoe repair facility

a sports complex or some exercise facilities

a jjimjilbang (찜질방)

In the pools

Some may have outside areas or indeed, be located in outdoor settings. Finally, some establishments have limited opening hours while others are open twenty-four hours.

Variations are extensive and endless!

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Bathhouses are Gay!

I frequently hear or see this comment and consider it the dumbest a westerner could make! Anyone who comes to Korea and doesn’t try a bathhouse is denying themselves an experience rich in its uniqueness and in its ability to afford you a very intimate glimpse of Korean culture. I have probably attended a bathhouse 3 times a week for a period of almost 4 years and in all that time I have only seen 3 western people in bathhouse, 2 adults and a boy. Neither have the numerous westerners I worked with over this period attended one with me. I am no bathhouse guru and there will be foreigners living in Korea far more experienced in this pursuit than I, but turning to my own culture, we certainly have a terrifying fear of nudity.

In UK schools, the practice of showering after sports was phased out around 15-20 years ago. Cutting the heating bill was a good way to save cash even if it meant that students, especially boys, spent the day putrefying in their own sweat. No one seemed to mind especially as showering was only ever enforced when one started puberty and felt uncomfortable being naked. And one common feature of many schools was that boys usually had to undress in front of each other while girls were often, but not always, afforded some privacy.  From my own experiences and conversations with other men, there is an agreement that male changing  rooms are often charged with a bizarre juxtaposition of the erotic and aggressive.  When I last taught in an English High School, around 2003, I had to take several classes of boys preparing for swimming lessons. Each boy was equipped with the most enormous towel  of sufficient proportions to cover a single bed.  I have several female friends who told me stories about convent life where, after sport or swimming, girls were required to shower in, and undress, under large smocks designed to hide their bodies. This was exactly the same except this wasn’t a catholic school! It wasn’t even Church of England. Most of the boys were around thirteen or fourteen and their bodies were still puny but hidden from the neck down, the material enveloped them twice and doubly guaranteed that not the slightest naked thigh, knee or even elbow should be inadvertently exposed. All the boys were skilled at holding secure the neck of their towelling  smock from within its confines, while the remaining free hand, buttocks, hips and knees, shimmied their underwear off and then pulled on their swimming shorts – and this in the reverse order when changing back into uniform. Some boys were unfortunate enough to have restrictive, ordinary size towels and if they slipped or were  insufficient to hide their bodies and they were exposed, not only were they mortified but so too was any boy who happened to glimpse what lay under that towel. Then a string of accusations were spat forth declaring the observed and any unfortunate observers,  ‘gay.’  In Britain, certainly among school boys, to either see another boy’s dick or for yours to be seen, implies homosexuality. This juvenile attitude is similar to the ones levied at Korean bathhouses and seems to be a western attitude rather than one confined to British men. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

if you think bathhouses are ‘gay’ you totally misunderstand Korean social practices

To be honest, in Britain, I too find nudity or even semi nudity uncomfortable. We seem adept at criticizing the bodies of others and many of us, myself included, have been imbued with various attitudes towards the body and nudity. Ironically, I feel more human as a naked,  fat foreigner,  in a Korean bathhouse, than I do wearing shorts in a British swimming pool.  In addition to our internalized assumptions about bodies, we conflate both nudity with sex and same-sex nudity with homosexuality. I am sure that something sexual must  occasionally occur in Korean bathhouses,  probably in specific bathhouses, but I have never witnessed anything of a sexual nature.

My first experience of bathhouse culture was in 2001, when I was visiting Masan with friends. I was asked which three things I’d like to do before leaving Korea. I replied: I wanted to try dog stew, silk worm and go to a bathhouse. My stomach almost hit the floor when my friend smiled and told me we’d probably visit a bathhouse that very afternoon. The whole experience terrified me but I swallowed my pride and went through with it and then, when back in Daegu, I made myself go to other establishments. I still feel a little uneasy entering a bathing complex probably as I have a negative image of my own body but I have never been made to feel uncomfortable. Koreans will all peak at you but once they’ve looked you up and down you blend in with the other clientele. As usual, if you should make eye contact with them while they are peaking, they will instantly look away.

On the streets of Korea the novelty of foreigners is rapidly declining and I find my presence attracts far less attention than it did 10 years ago. I find it boring that my presence on the street is almost non eventful though I would imagine in rural areas we are still  a novelty.  Most establishments, bars, restaurants, shops etc, have learned to accommodated foreigners. In many restaurants, menus  are available in Korean and English but ten years ago you were only likely to find this in fast food restaurants. I can even remember Pohang bus terminal’s arrival and departure board only being in Korean. If you want to experience the Korea relatively unchanged  by the presence of westerners then bathhouses are an ideal location. I am still fascinated by this cultural phenomenon as it has afforded me a far deeper insight into Korean life than probably any other experience. Bathhouses expose not just our bodies but the differences between the Korean and western psyche. Most obvious of course, is the attitude to nudity. I would imagine Korean’s have seen every permutation possible in the human body before they even reach their teens and the traumas our teenagers associate with puberty are minimized in Korea. Also exposed is the level of intimacy that Koreans share not just with their immediate family but with friends and strangers. That horrid male macho-ism that is magnified when western males are in changing rooms or semi naked, a mechanism used to assert masculinity as well as heterosexuality, is absent in a Korean context.  To get naked with your friends doesn’t require mitigating the homosexual implications by playing some aggressive sport beforehand. Koreans can sit close to each other, touch each other and even clean each other without any fears of being misunderstood. The most exposed behaviour though, and one that would shock many westerners, is the intimacy shared between fathers and their sons as well as older men and younger people in general. I doubt there are many westerners who would allow their 10-year-old to go to a bathhouse unaccompanied let alone allow them to have an intimate scrub down by  a bathhouse attendant who may very well be a stranger to that child. This situation was highlighted several years ago when a youth taekwondo team visiting from the UK was put in a very awkward position when their hosts took the British kids and instructors to  a bathhouse.  How do you explain to Koreans that in your culture, this activity would be illegal and that  children and adults naked together, even if immediate family, is treated with great suspicion and constitutes one enormous taboo.

Cooling off

The most interesting aspect of a bathhouse experience is that it not only exposes Korean culture to the foreign observer, but also exposes you  to the nature of your own culture and encourages you to reflect on many taken for granted assumptions and practices. Using bathhouses has given me a deeper insight into both Korean and British culture.  On my return to Korea after a holiday, my first task is to take myself into a bathhouse.  I have come to perceive communal bathing  and the intimacy  practiced around it as natural and certainly healthy, both physically and mentally and concurrently, I have come to realise the  unhealthy nature of western attitudes where natural human relationships have been moralised if not perversified. To deem bathhouses ‘gay’ is a moral statement in that it suggests ‘not natural,’ ‘wrong’ and ‘unhealthy.’ In the UK, we have already embarked on a brave new future where the most innocent of associations with a minor is suspect and where even the most checked, verified and scrutinized professionals have to be permanently policed.  In Britain, I do not think we are too distant from a future where any form of communication with a minor, outside that of the  family and school, will be classified as a potential crime and sufficient to call the police.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

The Last Taboo

Recently,  I changed my routine so I often go to my favourite bathhouse (목욕탕) after I finish work, around 8.pm, rather than in the morning.  However, I prefer the morning as it is quieter and unless it’s a holiday or a weekend there are rarely any kids or university students. As I lay in the ‘special event bath,’ this week scented with lavender, another westerner entered. In four years of fairly daily bathing, this is only the second time I have seen a westerner in a bath house. He probably saw me but as usual, didn’t acknowledge my presence. Most westerners will walk straight passed you even on an early Sunday morning when the streets are empty. I’ve given up being friendly as a cold shoulder is the usual treatment if you are polite. There are exceptions, of course, but this has been my experience. I didn’t particularly want him talking to me anyway; I don’t mind being naked in front of Koreans but have never relished the idea of bumping into a westerner when nude as we tend to be critical and judgmental about nudity and the bodies of others as well as our own. In reality, the westerners who do use bathhouses, especially if alone, probably have healthier attitudes to bodies than those who avoid them. I don’t think he felt particularly comfortable in my presence as he left  after only a few minutes which was a shame as, my apprehension aside, it would have been a good opportunity to exchange experiences.

Usually, I have to wiggle my backside like a gigantic duck in order to disengage that little seat from my bum.

I don’t think he was a bathhouse novice, either. From the lavender bath in which I was relaxing, I could see him drying off  in the area immediately beyond the bathhouse exit. He had no problem bending over to dry his feet and calves and did so without maneuvering  his backside into a corner, thus censoring that most private place from public view. One of my remaining inhibitions, though not as acute as it was,  is exposing or touching this area in public. Perhaps I need to set myself the task of  prostrating myself 5 times a session and soaping my backside  in a position where my neighbours can see, as a therapy to neutralise this remaining inhibition. I would like to squat right down, Korean fashion, and give my entire undercarriage a thorough scrubbing, if it were not for the fact that I find deep squatting  both easy to topple over in and difficult to stand up from. I have enough problems standing after sitting on the  bucket sized seat  from which you wash yourself  as often it remains stuck to my arse as I stand. Then, if it clangs to the floor, it attracts unwanted attention. I have a similar, though quieter problem, if I sit on a towel as this too will remain in the grip of my buttocks, as I stand.  The term, ‘taking in washing’, which is used to describe the backside’s ability to grip things, usually underwear, comes to mind, but bathhouse furniture and towels  is taking it too far! Maybe it’s my arse, I don’t know and I’ve never paid much attention to what Koreans do after sitting on a towel. I have a niggling suspicion that the propensity for my buttocks to grip towels and  seats, even the large plastic type, similar to the ones we use in gardens in the UK in summer and which are often found in the steam rooms and saunas, have more to do with my dimensions than my ethnicity; I have a large arse to put it mildly.  Of course, I don’t know how other westerners conduct themselves in a bathhouse as I’ve never observed any but I would imagine that many would find it disconcerting to drop the soap  and have to pick it up.   This chap was quite at ease, as at ease as the Koreans around him, at prostrating himself right in front of the glass doors to the bathhouse and in full view of everyone lounging in the baths. Whoever he was, he left the bathhouse with my admiration.

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