Elwood 5566

Homophobic Juncture – Justin Bieber Meets K-Pop

Posted in Comparative, Gender, No Pumpkin Category, Westerners by 노강호 on May 18, 2012

I should feel quite sorry for Justin Bieber, but given that he made more money last year than I’ll have made in a lifetime, I’m not too sympathetic. But I’m not ashamed to admit, that having been forced to watch his movie on a flight from Dubai to Seoul, I actually think he’s got some talent.

Bieber’s name alone is enough to expose homophobia

With all the ‘hate crime’ initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic, and the varied policies to tackle homophobia in schools and society at large, some consider homophobic taunting something of the past but unfortunately, it’s alive and kicking.

While millions of youngsters are bitten by Bieber fever, an equally as large a contingent consider him everything from effeminate to lesbian. What is most alarming is not just that the Bieber-hater vitriol is predominantly homophobic, but that it is masked and tolerated as jealously or simply a dislike for a particular kind of music. Somehow, it seems acceptable to slag-off Bieber’s masculinity, minimalise the size of his penis or even claim he doesn’t have one, and then call him ‘gay.’ Homophobes are expert at labeling someone ‘gay’ and then, when accused of being homophobic, hide behind the ‘ambiguity’ of the ‘gay’ slur claiming that it has nothing to do with sexuality and simply means ‘bad’ or ‘uncool.’ If Justin Bieber was a normal school kid being taunted there would be no mistaking the nature of the abuse to which he is subject and schools, colleges and workplaces would have an array of policies to deal with what is at the least bullying and at the extreme, a homophobic hate crime.

Currently, in the UK, if you are assaulted for no apparent reason, you can expect the police to respond to your phone-call within several weeks. However, if you claim the assault was ‘hate crime’ orientated, you can expect a visit within minutes. A young student who arrived at my house with friends suffering a broken rib and broken tooth waited two weeks for the police to visit and take details. The same week, they responded within fifteen minutes of my reporting being called a ‘fag’ by two workmen as I entered an LGBT office on business.

What is interesting about the vitriol of Bieber-haters is that they are most likely to slander K-Pop with exactly the same kind of language; Bieber and K-pop, more specifically boy band K-pop, are, lame, effeminate, ‘gay’ and poncy. Indeed, K-pop is often a greater target for homophobic ridicule because Westerners construe male to male ‘skinship’ as signifier of ‘homosexuality.’ For many of us dumb-ass Westerners, males have to be beating the fuck out of each other, pissed senseless or hyper aggressive in order to way-lay any accusation of being anything but 100% heterosexual. So great is the pressure on males to maintain a hyper-hetero appearance that it is both a major part of their identity and a full time pursuit.  Conversely, there is no mistaking that if Bieber were a Korean, he’d most certainly fit the category ‘pretty boy’ or ‘flower boy’ – neither of which would be any kind slur on his masculinity.

 

skinship in Korea is frequently construed as ‘gay’ by Western audiences

Now, I have to admit, I too have made jokes about K-pop in classes. I quite often pretend to hear, ‘K-pop’ as ‘gay-pop’ and my students think it’s quite funny when I do so. However, my defense is that I absolutely prefer the Korean version of ‘masculinity’ to macho-western masculinity and infinitely prefer it to the hideous kind of rap typified by Beenie Man and Elephantman which is both homophobic and misogynistic. Some versions of rap, most notably ‘gansta,’  have to be among the most revolting forms of cultural expression and are a sad indictment not just on the culture spawning such hatred, but also on the hordes of people who laud such trash and help give it credibility.

When I do make a joke about K-pop, notably that is is ‘gay-pop,’ it is to open a dialogue about such cultural differences and to draw my students attention to the more repugnant and unpleasant aspects of Western society, the pox, violence, teenage pregnancy, anti-intellectualism and general moral and social degeneracy, and of course, the particular kind of unpleasant masculinity,  all of which get lost in the allure of Hollywood, celebrity fetishism and the general uncritical obsession many Koreans have with the USA and Western culture in general.

the West Koreans don’t see

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Further References

Bored by Cowell Pop? Try K-Pop (Guardian UK, 15th Dec, 2011)

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All Camp in Korea

Posted in Comparative, customs, Gender by 노강호 on February 11, 2012

In your face

I’m always amused at the way some of my friends in the UK assume that because a country doesn’t ram gay issues down your throat and a significant number of the population constantly proclaim themselves out, that it must therefore be rabidly homophobic to the point of executing or imprisoning transgressors. When in Britain, it suddenly became possible, within certain settings, to pronounce your sexuality with pride, we did so with embarrassing drama. As a student teacher, I remember numerous people introducing themselves to working groups and seminars with their name and then, in the same breadth, declaring their sexuality. Usually, it was a simple one liner such as, ‘and I’m gay’ but in the early 90’s, with the growth of ‘queer politics,’ it was more usual to throw down the gauntlet and declare, ‘and I’m a queer.’  Then they’d glare around the room daring anyone to object. It was the spirit of the times but it now seems so ‘old hat’ and I cannot help but stifle a cringe at such honesty.

Back in the UK, being gay has become boring! There was a time when ‘coming out’ was an act with as much destructive capability as an atomic detonation and wielding that potential gave one an immense sense of power. I’ve known people drop to their haunches and seen jaws drop in disbelief. Coming out had the capacity to traumatize friends who often needed a period of acclimatization which in some cases meant not talking to you for several weeks. The whole process made you feel very special which at least went some way to compensating your lack of relationships and access to  physical intimacy. Now, ‘coming out’ rarely creates a stir and those that do have a problem with it are compelled to silence by the dictates of political correctness but in the current climate, where half the population of young people declare themselves bisexual, the prospects of intimacy and relationships are probably greatly enhanced. Today, the atomic bomb you detonate is more likely to fizzle into oblivion as the person being confided in calmly tells you, ‘why, I’ve known all along.’

Yes, it’s still evolving and nothing like London Pride. Susan Morgan describes it as a ‘parade of shame’ rather than pride, but it’s evolving.

However, even with advances in civil rights and changes in legislation, gays in the armed forces, gay marriage, LGBT rights etc, I still feel that while you are guaranteed to keep your job, you are more likely to get your face kicked in. While Korean gays do suffer physical abuse, I think their greatest problem come from employers and family. In the UK, there are still those with rabid homophobic views and who in the right environment will verbally abuse and gay bash. I have a fleeting suspicion that in the street, in my home town, there are a significant number of ‘homophobic sleepers,’ individuals forced to silence their opinions in the current political climate but a potential source of hate should things change. While I’ve met Koreans who are not particularly supportive of gay rights, they are never as outspoken, particularly hateful or  vehemently opposed to such rights as those I’ve met in ‘liberal’ Britain (but this is only my experience). While a number of outed celebrities have committed suicide, I also remember Harisu (이경업), Korea’s first transgender entertainer who in 2001 was a pin-up to many of my male students.

Violence in the UK

Part of this ‘ingrained’ hatred stems from the fact that in Britain (and in the West in general), there are more codes governing what it is to be male and which inform and consolidate practices concerning male emotion, male physicality, body language, interests and other facets of masculinity.  That women aren’t usually the object of gay bashing possibly stems from the fact that lesbianism is quite appealing to many heterosexual men and has not had the same history of legislation levied against it. However, though British women aren’t subject to such rigid gender codes as men, they are still required to behave within certain parameters. Meanwhile, in Korea, I perceive less difference between male and females gender roles.

Shameful – and most perpetrators will be men

I’ve never met a butch Korean male and neither have I met a Korean man who in any way made me feel threatened or intimidated. Does Korea even have any macho, aggressive type men, the type who will shove a glass in your face if you so much as look at their girlfriend or knock into them in a bar?  And when I have seen them fighting it has been quite hilarious. I saw a fight a few months ago and stopped to watch. There were three men, all in their fifties, all drunk and shouting while intermittently smacking each other with their umbrellas. The fight was wonderfully cute, like it was being performed by ducks or rabbits or some other animals incapable of actually causing real damage. And despite their anger they wielded their umbrellas in a manner that might be described as totally pussy. An umbrella can be a particularly nasty weapon especially if the spike is jammed into your eyeball or mouth, or the hooked handle swung upwards into your testicles or used to cause damage to the windpipe. I can think of an entire arsenal of umbrella techniques all the result of  earning a taekwon-do black belt in Europe, which took  a minimum of  four years study with the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) as opposed to the taekwondo taught in Korea (WTF), where black-belts and dan grades are handed out like candy, often in less than a year.

S Korean politicians pussying about

Yes, no butch men in Korea, thankfully! And neither are you likely to find examples of the rough and aggressive type of female that seems particularly common in the UK. Maybe they exist on the Mainland of Europe or the USA,  though I don’t remember their type in Germany, but we have women in the UK, and don’t think they are necessarily lesbian, who are more masculine than a significant number of British men and certainly more masculine than the majority of Koreans.  I suppose they are a product of our class society because they are always found in poor areas or on sprawling estates and are typified by their hardened faces, aggressive sneers, tattoos and propensity to physical and verbal violence.

In the UK, the number of social transgressions which would predispose you to being labelled ‘gay’ are far larger than in Korea. In the UK, no matter which way your sexuality swings, you’re a homo and less of a man if you play any musical instrument, like art or classical music and enjoy drama. One reason which can be attributed to why Britain is so dumbed-down is that the dominant ideology concerning male masculinity is largely one determined by the dregs of society. In Britain, all classical music, literature, ballet, art, poetry, drama, books and even the ability to read, or subjects or institutions related to learning and the intellect, are deemed arty-farty, poncy, nancy, boffin, elitist,  or gay – and you will note I use the lexicon of this dominant ideology, a lexicon that is immediately understood by any British person regardless of their status. The movie Billy Elliot is a prime example of the view held by some British people, but understood by all, that arty-farty is poofda!

From the Korean movie, ‘Between Friends'(친구사이). I once saw a complete squad of riot police holding hands in Daegu. as they marched in a double file to a demonstration

Yesterday, I attended a middle school graduation ceremony during which year books were handed out to the graduating students. I had to suppress a smile at the photos of the boys’ classes. In every photos of 6 classes of boys, there are not only boys draped over each other, sometimes sitting in each others laps but a significant number were in ‘girly’ poses and while not ‘girly’ to the point of being knock-kneed, pouting and with their bottoms sticking out, were still ‘girly’ enough within a British context, to question their masculinity and label them ‘gay.’  Don’t forget, in the UK you can be 100% heterosexual but still be homosexual.  And amidst the boys hugging and draping their arms over each other and the significant number of ‘girly’ poses with hand-like paws held on either side of their cheeks, are the boys cuddling little white fluffy dolls.  ‘Affectionately cuddling’ is perhaps a more precise description, sometimes against their chest and at others nestled against their faces and with their heads tilted to one side in a manner which if girls, would be slightly flirtatious, slightly titillating.  As far as I know, the Korean language has no word for ‘camp’, but campness permeates so much of Korea to the point that camp behaviour is quite acceptable and normal without it being any slur on your gender. Most of the boys I teach play musical instruments, I’ve had boys who do ballroom dancing and those girls who have not the least interest in make-up or enjoy playing Sudden Attack, are not deemed less of a girl.

first year high school students with the hanja character for “innocence’ (순소한) emblazoned on the t-shirts

While we have more freedoms and rights in relation to sexuality in the UK, we are crippled and damaged by both anti-intellectual and hyper-masculine ideologies which have help spawn a very unpleasant breed of men and women who are quite uniquely British. While Korea might not be the best place to live if you are gay, it is not the worst place to live as a ‘human’ and I always feel more ‘human’ in Korea as a foreigner than I do in the UK as a citizen with the rights of a gay person and the potential to label myself as I choose. It’s all a matter of how much importance and significance you attribute to different parts of your identity. I might feel very different if I was younger but at 56 years of age my happiness as a ‘person’ is of more importance than one of sexual identity.

For those who think Korea tortures gays and imprisons them for their sins, I provide and interesting and rather cute, short gay movie, Boy Meets Boy (소년 소년을 만나다) which I recently discovered while researching information on the actor Kim Hye-Seong ( 김헤성).

I am no authority on LGBT issues within a Korean context and these are my views based on my limited experiences. For a ‘wart and all’ expose of the gay side of Seoul see Susan Morgan’s blog post, The Evolution of Homosexuality in South Korea. I believe there are several gay clubs in Daegu one of particularly long-standing.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

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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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

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.

More Than Words can Say

Posted in Education, Gender, Korean language by 노강호 on March 28, 2011

Preamble. One of my friends, who is actually my boss, has a daughter who has recently been accepted into the top high school for English, in Daegu. Gaining entrance was highly competitive and as such local middle schools can nominate only a limited number of applicants, based on their student population. Her school nominated 6 students but she was the only one to pass the entrance procedure. Not only did she have to compete with a large number of students from her school, but then with students from all over Daegu. Nominated students then had to endure a rigorous selection process held over two weekends the first of which included a fifty minute essay and a question paper. The results of the first weekend provided the final batch of applicants who on the following weekend were subject to group debates and an individual interview.

Korean mothers pray for their children’s exam success

On Wednesday, when the results were released, my boss was hooting with delight and for the remainder of the week the atmosphere in school was hyper. I could probably have canceled my classes and gone home and she wouldn’t have minded. On Friday, I was given a cash bonus and thanked for the extra work I’d volunteered to help her daughter succeed.

Now, this isn’t really the point of this post. After being handed my bonus, as usual in an unsealed envelope and presented with two hands, we walked to a nearby cafe and on the way my boss stopped on several occasions to talk to women she knew and during each brief interaction told them of her daughter’s success. Suddenly my sociologist’s head was activated as I noticed some fleeting, but very interesting behaviour. Perhaps mothers share a special empathy but on two different occasions the conversing women held their clasped hands to their chests and emitted this strange squeal. I noticed it instantly and almost asked, ‘what the fuck are you doing?  Perhaps it was just coincidence or maybe it really is a shared habit – I’ve no idea. The squeal, sounded in unison lasted only a few seconds and is quite hard to describe. It was certainly joyous but in a totally feminine manner. Being a musician, I have a fairly good ear and the strangest aspect of each occurrence was how their squeals rapidly attuned themselves to one pitch so that for a few seconds both were squealing the same note. In that instant, and it was an instant, they seemed to share an understanding, to mutually empathize.

All cultures have their own variations of body language and of sounds, guttural and otherwise that can’t be  located in dictionaries. Probably the cutest Korean one I know is when someone doesn’t know something or is unsure and they the touch the back of their head and inhale slightly between their teeth.  In a very strange way the shared squeal, their faces and the way they preciously clasped their hands at their chests, conveyed far more emotion and intimacy than their spoken words. Was it a coincidence or is this a gender based, non-verbal, socially shared form of communication?

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

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

a sometimes used image on Korean urology websites

podcast 76

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

it needs to be…you don’t have to…

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

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

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

beauty is culturally informed

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

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

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

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

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

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

and yes, some facecreams really are manufactured from redundant foreskins

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

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

 

RELATED ARTICLES ON THIS SITE

Summer Snippet (an inside view of Korean circumcision)

I Saw a Snood

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Laura -Korean Teenagers (3) Magical Moments

Posted in Gender, Korean children by 노강호 on October 24, 2010

Korean school girls

Laura is perhaps one of the most pleasant girls in my school and I have now been teaching her for over 2 years. Her grades in her State school aren’t the best, which for Koreans is always 100%, but she excelled this year when she twice gained 100% in her English exams. As usual, she still comes to the academy wearing an assortment of scents and will thrust her wrist under my nose and ask my opinion. In the last few months however, she has learnt to use them with discretion and they no longer overpower the entire academy. Eye-liner is a recent addition but is only minimally applied and she doesn’t wear it in school;  it isn’t allowed. Contact lenses, it seems, are tolerated and I have noticed a number of girls have started wearing them. I’m told a pair cost around 10.000 Won (£5). Although I’ve seen two girls in supermarkets with blue contact lenses, which actually looked attractive, the colours most girls seem to wear are either dark brown or more usually, black.

The Hanja character for 'innocence.'

In class one week, Laura and her friends told me the procedure for attracting a boy’s attention and then going on a date with them. The first part of the process is to offer the boy small gifts such as chocolate or candies. One of the most significant moments, and one a few girls seem to cherish, is when a boy they are interested in makes substantial eye contact. Once an interest has been established, photos might be exchanged by way of their mobile-phones. The aim of preliminary overtures is to secure going out with the boy, either on a trip to town or more significantly, a trip to the cinema. Such events give their friendship the status of ‘going out’ and it is from this date that teenagers start  referring to their ‘sweetheart’ as a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ and counting the days until their relationship reaches its hundredth day, a date which is usually celebrated (백일 – ‘100th day,’ is also celebrated a 100 days after a baby’s birth).

 

'Boy hunting'

The most significant part of going to a cinema is that soft drinks and popcorn are shared and Laura and her friends are quite excited when they talk about the ‘skinship’ involved in putting their hands in the large container of popcorn at the same time  as their ‘boyfriend’ or  their heads knocking or touching when drinking from straws  in the same cup of drink.

 

...as long as there's room for two hands

Most of the girls in my academy, even ones older than Laura, who is 14 in western years, (Koreans are one year old the moment they are born), neither date boys nor express much interest in them. Indeed, despite its innocence and cuteness, many parents do not allow dating . Unlike the west, cinemas are not the venue for groping or fondling and such sexual intimacy does not seem to be anticipated or envisaged by anything other than university aged students. Boys the corresponding age of Laura profess much less interest in dating ‘rituals’ though some have crushes and I have only met a couple of boys who seemed interested in dating girls. Of course, this is only my limited observation.

Around the town young ‘sweethearts,’ probably Laura’s age and older are occasionally seen holding hands or having a meal together in a restaurant which is one of the ways in which a hundredth day celebration is marked.

Such ‘rituals’ seem trivial and naturally, they are played out in western culture, however, in Korea they are vastly more significant because more intimate physical affection between the sexes, even between adults, is frowned upon. No doubt this may be changing but other than holding hands, petting and kissing in public is a non-event. That Korean teenagers are not likely to engage in sex before adulthood, a phenomenon backed up by Korea possessing among the world’s lowest figures for teenage pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases, places more significance on events such as eye contact and non-sexual intimacy. The very most the average teenager can expect in terms of any intimacy before adulthood, is probably a kiss on the cheek. Korean teenagers, unlike their western counterparts are under no pressure to either be, or appear to be, sexually active. Further, it seems Korean teenagers are quite scathing of the character of teenagers, boys or girls, who do engage in sexually activity while still school children.

 

height is crucial, looks secondary

And what are the criteria for a suitable ‘boyfriend?’ As with older girls I have talked to, height is  crucial and ideally the boy needs to be 10 cm taller than the girl. I have been told this is  because the boy needs to be taller than the girl should she wear high heels. Boys need to be attractive, kind, considerate towards the girl, funny and smart. Not all the girls think alike and a few said they would consider a boy shorter than themselves or one academically weak.

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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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Food to Put Hair on your Chest

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Gender by 노강호 on September 14, 2010

Klingon Gourmet – Food to put hair on your chest! Raw stomach and liver!

‘Klingon’ was how I used to describe Korean food in my first six months of living in Korea. I’m sure many of  the first Koreans I met, and probably everyone meets on their initiation into Korean culture,  enjoyed taking me to places where eating was either a trial or simply difficult. Everything seemed to be either raw, alive, recently butchered, or some part of the animal associated with intestines or anuses. Even the infamous dog stew is almost an English Sunday dinner in comparison to some of the ‘Klingon’ menu. I’ve eaten dog meat twice under the assumption it was another meat and masked by copious soju,  was unaware. Not the same can be said for some of the other foods which would chill your spine in all but the most extreme states of intoxication. And if the initiation to Korean cuisine isn’t focused on eating as a test of will power, basically of suppressing revulsion, getting it into your mouth is problematic.

No matter how good a westerner’s chopstick skills are, eating a bowl of noodles without a splash zone encompassing anyone sat at adjacent tables, is difficult. Usually, it’s the final little suck that whips them into the mouth and flips soup broth over yourself and your neighbours.  Eating noodles is an art and Koreans only have to purse their lips as if kissing, for the noodles to levitate into their mouths. Only Koreans seem able to eat noodles so effortlessly and without actually sucking and hoovering them. Eating buckwheat noodles, traditionally eaten chilled in a broth, in the summer, is weird. If I didn’t cook naengmyon (냉면) myself,  I would assume the noodles were several meters long because as you start to suck them up, more and more are dragged up into your mouth. Naengmyon must be the only food where one end arrives in your stomach as the other end is leaving your bowl.

Barfing up ectoplasm? No, but a great photo which captures the art of eating buckwheat noodles. Once you start you can’t stop!

But there are stranger foods for the ‘gourmet’ and the naive to ‘stumble’ upon: Sea squirt (멍개), the Jekyll and Hyde of Fruit de la mare, has flesh which is beautifully orange and inviting, resembling a juicy peach but the outside looks more like a biological hand grenade genetically modified from a bloated tumour.  The detergent taste of its flesh certainly cleanses your palate as does the watery bile from the innards of the closely related, styela clava, midoedoek ((미더덕), which I’d trade for a silkworm cocoon or spoonful of dog-stew, any day. Then there’s ‘dog dick’  (개불 – Urechis unicinctus), which resemble large pink worms and which you’ll enjoy far more if you haven’t witnessed them in their living state. The rubbery bodies are tasteless but coated in sesame oil, they slip down the gullet with ease.

the vegetable-leaf wrap (쌈) typifies much of Korean eating

Raw fish, often killed at your table or within sight, is a mild experience, though I have to put a tissue over the heads of fish when their eyes twitch manically as they are being slowly sliced to death. And raw meat thinly sliced and eaten in a similar style to the fish, that is wrapped in various leaves (쌈) with kimchis, garlic and chili, is fairly tolerable; at least you haven’t watched the cow being slaughtered but raw liver and stomach are certainly not my choice for a delicious meal. I ate raw stomach pissed and nearly gagged and the liver I mistakenly took for acorn curd (도투리묵). In the restaurant’s lighting the colours weren’t so distinguishable.

Raw liver (생간) prettied up with sesame seeds…

acord curd (도투리묵) sprinkled with sesame seeds

If you like healthy snacks, nothing could be more natural and packed with protein than silk worm cocoon (번데기). Indeed, the silk worm was an important food along the silk routes though Chinese silk worm is generally much larger than the type eaten in Korea.

Chinese silk worm snacks – meaty!

Being pissed helps swallow this delicacy and a chaser of soju or  beer will purge the mouth of the muddy flesh but will do little to remove the aftertaste which incidentally, tastes exactly like the smell they exude while being steamed. A toothpick is a necessary to dig out the numerous shards of exoskeleton that lodge between the teeth. In reality, eating this should be no different from eating a prawn or shrimp but of course the dislike is cultural and as Herodotus said, Nomos is king of all.

you can definitely taste the land in the flesh of a silk worm (Korean silk-worm)

Not my bag!

Grasshopper (메뚜기), coated in red pepper paste (고추장) is another crunchy, healthy snack and I know a few students, usually boys, who eat these and silk with as much enthusiasm as many kids eat candy. However, cultural chasms are narrowing and this year a London pizza restaurant started serving a grasshopper topping.

How to ruin a good pizza. All the rage? I don’t think so.

After a line up of insects, barbecued intestines (막창) are un-adventurous, especially after a soju and even the infamous chicken’s arse hole (똥집),  in reality the gizzard which functions as a secondary stomach, or chicken feet (닭발), are palatable.

Chicken feet, (닭발), spend most of their life walking on shite and where’s the meat?

For a real experience, you can try saeng-nakji (생낙지), small octopuses swimming in a sea of sesame oil and swimming they are as they are still alive. Whether it is urban myth I am unsure, but apparently, a small number of people choke to death every year from octopi which refuse to go down without a fight.

Nakji (the small octopus) often eaten alive.

I love black pudding but some cultural obstacle stops me enjoying, sun-ji-guk (선지국) which is basically soup made with blood. Sundae (순대), is pig intestine sausage stuffed with noodle and vegetables but I find it difficult to eat perhaps because it often appears in small road side stalls accompanied by pigs intestines, and boiled lung. Most of the food you’d class as ‘Klingon’ are the types of food Koreans believe increase a man’s virility, ‘put hair on your chest,’ and are usually predominantly eaten by men (and in some cases boys). Korean food tends to leave you either in a cold sweat or totally impartial and so many examples are simply – ‘okay,’ or as Koreans might say, ‘just’ (그냥). Personally, I don’t think Korean food rates alongside Cantonese, Thai, Indian or Mexican, but there is nonetheless something alluring and fascinating about it.  However, one shouldn’t  think their culture aloof, I can remember, as a boy, eating pig feet and distinctly recall the bristly hairs on the shins that tickled your chin as you gnawed the meat. I can remember my mum cooking tripe, probably the only meal she cooked which I couldn’t eat and occasionally, I’d arrive home on Saturday afternoon to the welcome of a pig’s head bobbling in a pot as my father prepared brawn.  When I was still a teenager I can remember traversing Limassol, Cyprus, trying to find a restaurant that served cow brain, a supposed local delicacy. Thank-god I never ate it! Most of the food we would class as ‘gross,’ we unwittingly eat,  pulverised  to a paste in potted meats,  formed into patties or luncheon meats or destined to appear in those famous anatomical dumping grounds, the pork pie and the sausage.

Like northern English black-sausage

But don’t worry, alongside the foods fit for a full-blooded Klingon, are the burgers, pizza and  fried chicken we waygukin love so much. Burgers, I can leave; I don’t trust them and the patties just don’t look like meat. At least with Korean ‘horror food’ you know exactly what you are eating, a silk worm is a silk worm but in the modern food industry, typified by the USA and Europe, knowing exactly what your food consists of is becoming both a secret and a rapidly disappearing right. And have you noticed when eating Korean pork, that it doesn’t drown the barbecue in water…?

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‘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:

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