Elwood 5566

A Touch of Heaven

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Entertainment, services and facilities by 노강호 on March 17, 2010

If this were back home, this restaurant would be in my back garden!

I recently went home to the UK for a Christmas break. I live in a rather attractive village on the south coast with a reputable university and a medium-sized town 3 miles away. I’m not the type of character to bore easily as I always have things to do which is just as well as I find British culture exceedingly boring. Unless you live in one of the major cities there is often little to do in the UK and pubs and restaurants are fairly expensive. For 2 pints of beer you can expect to pay around 12.000W and a fairly average meal will coast you 40.000W, minimum. In the last year in which I lived in the UK, I probably went out in an evening on only a few occasions. In the UK, high prices, poor transport networks, expensive taxis, violence and lack of amenities, are all barriers to stepping outside your front door.  I have lived in places in Korea where isolation and boredom were a problem and my sole point is simply that my present location in Daegu,  provides a very comfortable lifestyle.

My next door neighbour - a bar

So,,in  the particular area  of Daegu in which I live, I am totally spoilt. The parameters of my world extend approximately 600 paces in 3 directions and approx 1000 in another. Everything I need is contained within this space. I can comfortably walk 100 paces in a minute.  Before any blog-bullies assault my calculations as inaccurate, they are only estimations.  If I leave my apartment on my trip to my favourite sports complex, I pass the following facilities:

47  paces, 25 seconds – Kimchi jjim restaurant

65 paces, 35 seconds –  a bar

75 paces, 40 seconds – a barbecue restaurant

106 paces, 1 minutes 5 secs – a 24 hour store

146 paces,  1 minutes 25 secs –  chemist

247 – paces, 2 minutes 25 secs – a tailor and dry cleaner

250 paces, 2 minutes 30 secs – a bakery

324 paces, 3 minutes 25 secs  –  a 24 hour kimbap restaurant

348 paces, 3 minutes 30 secs – a dentist

390 paces, 3 minutes 55 secs – my school

433 paces, 4 minutes 20 secs – 24 hour restaurant

450 paces, 4 mins 30 secs – my doctors

520 paces, 5 mins 12 secs – E-mart supermarket

601 paces, 6 minutes – my sports complex, containing a bathhouse and jjimjilbang. In the interim I have passed 4 different and luxurious coffee houses, a small hospital, numerous doctors, singing rooms, bars, internet cafes and dentists as well as around 15 different private academies.

6 minutes walk: gym, squash courts, martial arts classes and 24 hours bathhouse and jjimjilbang

On a Monday:

150 paces, 1 min 30 secs takes me to an extensive street market.

In another direction:

60 paces, 30 secs – a barbecue restaurant.

72 paces, 31 secs  – a fish restaurant.

110 paces, 1 minute 6 secs – a computer repair shop

302 paces, 3 minutes (plus the lift) – a 24 hour jjimjilbang and gym.

330 paces – 3 minutes 20 secs – my bank

380 paces, 3 minutes 40 secs ( plus the lift) – a multi complex cinema, seafood buffet restaurant and a large pizza restaurant.

890 paces, 8 mins 55 secs – underground railway system.

And approx 1000 paces, 10 minutes, in the opposite direction takes me to the local swimming pool besides which lays the tranquility of the mountains.

Many of the amenities I am pampered with here I would not experience even in the major cities of the UK. If 24 hour restaurants or food delivery services exist they are very rare and I have never seen a MacDonald’s 24 hour home delivery service. Apart from the odd spa amenity, difficult to access, expensive and basic by comparison,  jjimjilbangs and bathhouses are all unheard of in the UK. Likewise, singing rooms, where families, friends and children can go, do not exist and neither do decent internet cafes. Britain’s main pastime is premised around boozing and watching TV which is ironic considering British people, as most westerners, have significantly more free time than do Koreans.

However, I still miss a good indian curry, a decent pizza and Cantonese style Chinese food and roast potatoes make me drool excessively.

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Back to the Treadmill

Posted in Diary notes, Entertainment by 노강호 on February 23, 2010

새해 복 많이 받으세요! ‘Happy New Year.’ I’ve been practicing this for the last week knowing that it’s a phrase I can’t use for another year. I returned from the UK with a nasty cough, several weeks ago. My first job when I returned was to buy a new PC monitor to replace the car size contraption sitting on my desk. I bought a 23 inch plasma screen from E-Mart at 198.oooW (£111 sterling) which was around the same price as one I recently bought in the UK. Luck would have it that two days later my antediluvian hard drive decided to pack in. I don’t have much patience with inanimate objects and after kicking it and administering it a hefty palm heel strike, I proceeded to smash the DVD loading trays with a six-foot bo (a martial art staff). I must admit I lost it for a few moments and was surprised I didn’t suffer coronary.  In my defence however, my defunct hard drive had plagued me all year and the work I can now do in a day, previously took me three.  I have a fleeting suspicion that when I tried to reboot it, I may have inadvertently turned off my monitor and diagnosed the lack of activity as death.  By the time I had viciously assaulted it, it was quite useless.

Half an hour later and a PC technician was installing a new PC in my apartment. A local PC shop, like most other services and facilities, is only a two-minute walk from house. I brag about the convenience of Korea when I’m back home and though I think services and culture here outstrip what’s on offer in the UK, I am especially well located. The unit cost 424.000W (£237 sterling) and as usual, the call out installation was free. In addition, he uploaded all the programs I  use with the operating system and Word 7 in English. In rip-off-Britain and probably most of the western world, the Microsoft Word Package alone would have cost me a hundred pounds. I have no sympathy for money grabbing Microsoft and the constant changes of software, deliberately made incompatible with operating systems or other software, are analogous to having to buy a new car every time the road markings are changed or re-painted.

I spent two intense weeks re-organising the various blogs I write and nursing an annoying cough which has  almost cleared up. This morning I decided it was time to start doing some exercise so, at 7.30, I walked the 5  mins to a local sports complex, a five storey complex owned by the father of one of my students. I plan to give a full account of this facility at a later stage as Korean bathhouses and jjimjilbang, a speciality of mine, warrant some lengthy posts. The gym, situated on the top floor is luxurious and not  representative of all Korean gym facilities. Naturally this is reflected in the fee. My last gym, actually on the floor under my school, was both a  little grotty and tended to pump out pop music, in competition with the TV’s mounted on the treadmill machines, at such a volume your MP3 was rendered useless. Pak Sang-il is the trainer usually on duty when I train. He’s a lad of about 24 and like many Korean men he is gentle and attentive. In summer he would regularly bring me new towels when I was sweating on the treadmill or top up my water bottle with cold coffee or water. Often, he  beckons me into his office for breakfast; sometimes fruit, boiled chicken or hard-boiled eggs. And when I ‘m  aching or have tight muscles, like many Korean men, he thinks nothing of massaging my legs or back. Many westerners would interpret this as a sign of homosexuality and probably find the intimacy threatening.

유가 자

On the day I left for the UK he gave me an especially big hug. Pak Sang-il is quite masculine with a good body, six-pack, pec’s and muscles that many men would love to posses. The combination of masculinity and effeminate personality, which is probably the best way to describe it, make an alluring combination and again, a combination that characterises many Korean men. I have trained enough in gyms in the UK and taekwon-do schools throughout Europe to know that such intimacy is deemed suspect and if anything, the combination of men and gyms usually results in increased aggression and machoism.

I took Pak Sang-il a large pineapple as a small gift, not an unusual thing to do  in Korea. After my session we had a coffee in his office and he told me he had ‘thought a  lot about me’ and ‘wanted to see me’. No! Nothing homo-ey! This is Korea and men can be quite intimate both physically and verbally without it implying they are gay. So, he insists that after my visiting the bathhouse, on the floor below,  I return to his office. When I finally oblige him he presents me with a jar of grapefruit tea neatly wrapped up. It resembles jam and is a remedy for bad coughs and sore throats. Accompanying the tea is a handwritten note  wishing me good health and a Happy New Year. Then, as I step into the lift, he shyly thrusts a hard-boiled egg into my palm. ‘You haven’t eaten breakfasts,’ he reminds me.

Pak Sang-il's note

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

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Trip to Pohang – Monday 25th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Entertainment, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 25, 2000

A typical ‘beggar singer’

On Saturday, I was due meet Pauline in the morning and the go to U-chun’s in the afternoon where I am supposed to be giving her daughter and niece an English lesson. Pauline and I spent ages talking and then left my house to walk down the road together. It was a really bright afternoon and very dry has it hasn’t rained for several weeks. By the pedestrian crossing almost opposite MacDonald’s, some kind of a busker was performing to a small crowd. He had an amplifier mounted on a trolley and was singing and dancing on the side of the road. The music, which I assume, was traditional Korean folk music was captivating. Most strange however, was the man’s dancing. He danced with his body bent so far forward that his chest was parallel to the floor. His steps were long, rhythmically erratic and awkward and involved lots of pivoting and sudden changes of direction. He was dressed in shorts and a jacket which was pinned with hundreds of pieces of coloured cloth. The pedestrian light was red and so we stood and watched him and naturally, the moment he noticed me he danced towards me, took my hand and led me out into the front of the crowd where I had to try to copy his dance. I was quite embarrassed, in fact very embarrassed. Suddenly, U-chun appeared and rescued me. Walking on down the road to just past Di Dim Dol and Lotteria, we took the bus to another Daegu suburb known as Dasa (다사). (note – I’ve since discovered these are a type of ‘singing beggars’ known as 각설이 or 품바 – see link at end).

The bus journey was only short but we left the valley in which Song So is situated and headed west into another valley. I have since learnt that Korea is a land of mountains and where there is human habitation it exists in meandering valleys. Though part of Daegu, Dasa  felt like another city. After leaving the bus, it would so happen that U-chun’s flat is in a high-rise the furthest point from the bus stop and at the edge of the largest hill in Dasa.

Inside, the apartments are very large, spacious and well-built. Koreans tend to be more minimalist than Europeans in terms of clutter and furniture. The kitchen, dining room and front room were combined into one very large room and leading from this were bedrooms, a study and a European style bathroom. U-chun and her family sleep on beds and not the floor. In the kitchen was a voice activated telephone, something I had not seen before. I discovered that U-chun had resigned from Di Dim Dol earlier in the week so I will miss her friendly face. Unlike many of the other Koreans with whom I work, she is very keen to take advantage of my being a native English speaker, many Koreans shy away from me rather than practice their English.

Even though it’s Christmas week, Jo started his antics again. On the Monday, at 8 pm, and just as I was going home he asked me to accompany him to Letter and Sound, his school in Yon San Dong. He wanted me to give a presentation to prospective parents! Well, I became quite angry and began to tell him off. Then, I suggested we go into his office to ‘sort things out.’ I made it quite clear that I didn’t appreciate being told to do something with little or no time to reschedule my life. Earlier in the week my sister had told me how there is an alarming number of South Korean people who pay people to kill them as they are fed up with their working life. Jo apologised and said that he had been so busy he had forgotten about the presentation. I politely told him he was talking rubbish and he had been involved in organising an advertising campaign for the new school.

On the Wednesday he called Nana and I and asked for a meeting in his office in which he told us that we had a week’s holiday beginning next week. What a fat lot of use is that as there is no time to plan anything. If you want to book flights in Korea they are almost impossible to get at short notice during any school vacation period. Nana and I didn’t particularly want time off if we couldn’t do things with our free time so we both decided to come back to work on the Wednesday after Christmas.

Pohang – Bay of Yongil, Christmas Eve 2000

On Sunday, Christmas Eve, Pauline and I took the bus to Pohang (포항) which is a town on the east coast not too far from Andong. I wanted to see the Sea of Japan, otherwise known as the Sea of Korea or East Sea (동해). We arrived at the bus station and immediately boarded a bus. The journey took 2 hours and would have been a lot shorter if the bus hadn’t made a journey around all the suburbs of Pohang before arriving at the city centre. On the beach front an enormous market, all under tents, sold all sorts of electrical goods from massage machines to electric organs. At the end of one enormous marquee stood a small stage on which a weird folk band was playing. There were six of them all together two men and four women. The men, perhaps in their fifties were both heavily covered in lipstick, eye shadow and had white powdered faces. They wore clothes similar to those worn in Aladdin’s Lamp. The men banged drums of assorted sizes and danced in a very bizarre fashion (note – more ‘beggar singers’ – 각설이). One of the men started playing the giant scissors of which he had two pairs and all I can say is that they resembled cattle castration implements. Every now and then he would stand with he legs firmly apart, in a straddle stance, make a very perverted facial feature (he had no front teeth), and then start gyrating his hips in a very sexual manner. At his feet sat about thirty children. Stranger however, was the fact that as he gyrated his hips and made thrusting movements, something very large and heavy banged about in his baggy white trousers. I suspect he had some form of dildo, mounted on a spring, strapped to his groin. Whatever it was the children found it very funny.

The beach was set on the Bay of Yongil (영일 만) and the sand was clean and white. All along the beach promenade were seafood restaurants with enormous fish tanks beside or in front of them. In these swam all manner of sea creatures from small sharks, squid, octopus, eels, ray fish and sea cucumbers. You pick which one you wish to eat and then it is brought to your table in the restaurant – though depending on what meal you choose, the creature isn’t always dead. It was a bitterly cold day and a freezing wind blew in across the sea. We found a small noodle tent where I contemplated how I never expected to be sat on the edge of the East Sea eating noodles and drinking soju on Christmas Eve. As we were leaving Pohang on the bus, we noticed a couple of Koreans dressed as Santa. They were stood on a plinth on the sidewalk giving children free sweets as they passed. The only problem was that each Santa weighed about 10 stone and had a sylph like waist!

Outside KFC Song-So, Christmas Eve 2000. One of the first photos I took in Korea

When we arrived back at Daegu central bus terminal, we took at taxi to Song-So and had a chicken burger in KFC. When I walk to my school, I usually come out my front door, turn right and then walked down to the crossroad where I take a left turn. This road leads down to Kemyoung University though this is probably a twenty-minute walk. There is a definite divide of apartment blocks and parks between Song So and Kemyoung. From the crossroad on this road to my school, is no more than a few minutes’ walk but in that time one passes MacDonald’s, KFC and a Korean burger chain called Lotteria. Apparently, Lotteria is more popular than is MacDonald’s.  Since my first trip to Daegu there has since appeared a Baskin Robbins ice-cream parlour with a second one being built at the new plaza complex near the crossroads to my apartment. A Pizza Hut restaurant is the very last commercial enterprise as you leave Song So on the road towards Kemyoung. Back to the KFC restaurant where Pauline and I are sat on New Year’s Eve; outside the restaurant stood a life-size plastic statue of Colonel Sanders, the staff have dressed him in a Santa outfit and even given him a cane which hung from one of his wrists. The cane, which wasn’t fixed on the statue but just hooked over a wrist, remained there for my whole stay in Korea; no one thought to steal it, remove it or throw it away.

Well, it’s now Christmas Day and I am sat in the internet cafe where life goes on a usual. The place is full of Korean boys playing internet games like Diablo 2 on the networked system. It is bitterly cold outside and the only thing that makes today special is that it snowed a little last night and there was a glaze of ice on the road outside my apartment.

(Notes – KFC was still in situ when I returned to Korea several years later and was still guarded by Colonel Sauders and his cane. When I returned around 2005, it had closed. However, the premises is now a stationary shop and the face of Col Sanders can still be seen embossed in the glass paneling going up the stairs. Lotte Burger closed around the same time and is now an optician. Baskin Robins and MacDonald’s are still here but MacDonalds moved further down the road in 2014).


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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Further References

On ‘beggar singers: When Weird is Normal (Bathhouse Ballads, July 2011)