Elwood 5566

The ‘Whale Hunt’ and Vacation Misery

Posted in customs, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on January 27, 2012

vacation misery!

Most of my lessons have at least one student whose character is strong enough to shade a class’s persona. Sometimes there are a few and usually, though not always, their characters are beneficial as they enliven lessons with their humour and marginal misbehaviour. Most of the characters, at least in classes with girls and boys, tend to be the boys but on their own or when boys are outnumbered, the characters of girls are just as entertaining. Among elementary and even high school students, girls and boys in the same class can cause a tension and rarely do they like to be partnered together. Elementary aged girls and boys seem to have much less problems working together. I’ve seen middle school and high school boys with strong and personalities, often the class comedian and prankster, totally silenced when outnumbered by girls. Indeed, nothing silences a boisterous boy more than a handful of girls, all except that is, when they’re involved in the ‘whale hunt.’

The ‘whale-hunt’ (포경) is the Korean euphemism for circumcision which many boys are subject  to on the verge of entering either middle school or high-school. The winter vacation is the most preferred season for the procedure as there is ample time to recuperate and infection less likely in the dry, as opposed humid weather of summer.

In the last ten days, a few of the boys in my classes have been muted by either having undergone the procedure, and they are often in class the next day, or muted by the impending prospect. I would imagine the Lunar New Year vacation has been totally ruined if their appointment with the ‘hunt’ falls in the next few days, as it does with several of my students.  Unlike other cultures, circumcision in Korea is not a celebrated rite of passage and apart from the obvious trepidation, seems no more socially significant than a trip to the dentist. Indeed, the procedure, currently costing between 80.000-100.000W (£40-50), is cheaper than most dental work and infinitely cheaper than in the USA where the medical profession has a history of  exploiting  the public (see link below).  Though I can understand the reasons parents and boys fall for the myths surrounding the need for this surgery, the normal rubbish about it improving hygiene or facilitating a bigger penis, I certainly can’t understand why you would ruin a boy’s vacation by booking an appointment a day or two after a major holiday and worse, sending them to school the next day!

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Searching for a Pathology to Fit the Procedure of Circumcision (Bathhouse Ballads, March 2011)

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Soothing a Sore Crack

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care by 노강호 on October 19, 2011

I’ve never been into the habit of taking a used Italy towel from one of the bathhouse trash bins. However, if I don’t have one, which I usually do, most of my Korean friends think nothing of it. This is by no means an isolated habit and I regularly see individuals tramping about bins in search of the abrasive Italy towel, a razor or a squirt of residue from a shampoo sachet. However, no Korean would dream of using someone’s discarded toothbrush – at least not for cleaning their teeth.

nothing communal goes near the face

Bathhouse trash bins aren’t as gross as they sound and usually consist of two plastic laundry-type baskets at the end of each row of showers, one for towels and the other for rubbish such as shampoo sachets, razors and the like.  As they are regularly emptied, one is spared having to root through them and usually the bin only ever contains a few items. I suppose if you’re used to using a communal bars of soap, the use of a discarded Italy towel is no big deal. I don’t mind my friends using one on my back but communal soap and secondhand Italy towels go nowhere near my face.

I’ve been practicing taekwon-do after a ten-year break and one unexpected teething problem is cracked heels from pivoting on the ‘tatami’ mat floor of the training hall. Anyone who has had a cracked heel will appreciate that even though they are small and may not bleed, they are irritatingly painful. My training regime has been going well and there was no way I was going to be halted by a couple tiny fissures. I awoke one morning and almost as I was opening my eyes, had the solution. I’ve no idea where the idea originated  but  it was already rooted in the forefront of my brain as my eyes adjusted to the morning light. The remedy was obvious – super-glue. Doing a quick Google on its medical uses, it would seem my idea is far from novel, though no doubt foolish. Indeed, I read numerous articles, all from the USA, where basic medical aid starts at an inflated level and quality is dependent on how much you are prepared to pay, where super-glue is used to bond lacerations all with the intent of circumnavigating the hefty expense of a visit to a hospital. As I’m not living in the USA, and I’m not daft enough to squirt bond into an open wound, I nonetheless used the remedy to seal my crack and the result was excellent. Next day I was back training, unhindered.

a few drops did the trick – naturally, not recommended!

A week or so later, I’m sat in the bathhouse and noticed a guy sat next to me scraping the hard skin on his heels with a razor. Let me tell you, I tried it when I got home. First you need to soak your feet for around an hour by which time the skin is soft enough for the razor to manage. At home and in the bathhouse I use one of those expensive ‘super’ blades, the type that have several cutting edges and a psychedelic strip impregnated with aloe-vera. I used an old blade which although dull on my face, retained enough sharpness to slice through the rough skin around the crack with ease. I imagine you’d only get one foot shave from an old razor as the process seriously dulls the cutting sharpness and skin gets stuck between the blades. However, it was an effective if not a potentially expensive misuse of decent razor blades.

Solution – a bit of tramping in the bins to find discarded blades which I can use after a lengthy soaking, poolside. Every basket had a couple of razors and I even  found two ‘super’-blades which fitted the model I have.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Fit fathers, fat sons

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on September 16, 2011

the fit, fat and flabby

I arrived in back in Korea after my UK holiday a few days before work is due to begin and spent several sessions lazing in bathhouses. On Sunday, I spent almost two hours in a cool, massage pool drifting in and out of sleep and watching the weekend cleaning rituals between fathers and sons and friends. At one point, there were three fathers busy scrubbing their teenage sons but what was most interesting was that while the fathers were slim and fit looking, especially as I reckon they were aged in their 40’s or 50’s,  their sons were all pudgy and fat. Neither was it puppy fat but quite copious amounts of well established lard which far exceeds the requirements of puberty. One father and his son came and sat in my pool and the lad, despite being a foot shorter than I, was equally as broad.

flabby tummies at my old high school

The UK debate about obesity still stirs the emotions and a convenient theory is that fat parents produce fat kids. No doubt there is a correlation but my observation is a reminder that kids can turn fat independent of their parents and that the roots of obesity are complex and compound and not to be explained by one grand ‘theory.’

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Forget About Fat People. What about Fat Supermarkets?

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative, Food and Drink, Health care by 노강호 on August 18, 2011

Recently, there has been some coverage in the British press about the findings of a twenty year study into weight gain. The findings reveal that over 20 years the average weight of the population has increased by sixteen pounds. Further, it seems that rather than weight gain being the product of lazy people lacking will power, an approach the media and many of the moronic public have taken in their attempt to stigmatise and persecute the overweight,  it is more the case that gradual changes in eating patterns, and what is available on shop shelves, over a long period of time, increase weight.

The speed at which Koreans are becoming fatter is quite alarming and while I only saw a few chubby kids 10 years ago, I now see obese Koreans on a daily basis. At the same time the girth of Koreans is expanding, changes are occurring in shops and you can almost see corresponding ballooning of Korean bellies as new foods are introduced. It is quite clear that obesity is a product not of sloth and ill-discipline, but the western-style diet which with its fried chicken, pizzas and burgers, has already made an impact on the Korean peninsula.

traditional Korean food is gradually being usurped by high sodium, high fat, western food.

My local E-Mart used to have one frozen food chest cabinet the contents of which were not very enticing, mostly mandu, pork cutlet and ice cream. In the last few weeks the amount of frozen food has tripled and now includes numerous micorwave-able options such as black noodles, spaghetti Bolognese,  garlic bread,  curry and rice etc. For the first time, I saw a co-worker eating a microwave meal for dinner. I also notice the introduction of cheeses and butter both of which were formerly difficult to obtain. Now, Monterrey Jack, British Cheddar, Brie, Camembert and Gouda  are all available plus Danish Lurpak butter. I wonder how long it will be before there are the 35 different types of butter and 46 different types of cheese I counted yesterday in the Waitrose in my hometown.

a British cheese counter probably contains more calories than the entire food section of a Korean supermarket

I have written before about the absence of tinned foods in Korea but no doubt their introduction, along with those enormous slabs of chocolate, almond, fruit and nut, Belgian white, Milky Bar etc, which will join the lonely double Snicker bar, are pending. Today, in my hometown Tesco’s One Stop, I counted 33 different brands of chocolate weighing between 125 and 250 gr per bar.

How the average person becomes 16 pounds heavier over 20 years ago ,(and the average weight is still increasing), is not rocket science. Along with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the many changes in what is available around us, the pounds gradually accumulate. The Big Mac and Whopper, former bulwarks of the fast food industry are now pathetic little things, dwarfed by subsequent generations of  super and mega burgers. Burger King’s, triple Whopper with cheese packs 1250 calories, Hardee’s 2/3 pound Monster Thickburger contains 1320 calories along with a massive 3.20mg of sodium while the humble cheese burger has psychologically shrunk to the size of a coin and seems a positively healthy morsel by comparison.

the equivalent to around 8 kimbaps

In my last stint in Korea, my weight has not only dropped by some 20 kg, but I have managed to keep it off without any real effort. The goodies that tempt me back home simply don’t exist and a trip to the supermarket, even the largest, isn’t half the temptation it is back home. It seems quite apparent to me that the more westernized the Korean palate becomes, the fatter their girths expand.

Currently, there in an obsession with obesity and attacking the obese has become a form of entertainment. Forget fat people and focus on fat supermarkets! It is abundantly clear there is a link between culture and weight so much so that it is perhaps time we demanded our supermarkets produce statistics which reveal not just the percentage of fat and sodium in their food, but its average calorific value. If the weight of the average British person is rising it probably because the places where they shop for the bulk of their food is providing a greater range of items high in calories. And if you shop in a fat supermarket, or live in a fat society, it should hardly come as a surprise. Fat supermarkets make fat people!

Further references

BBC. What is Obesity.

BBC. News: Health

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Beating Boknal (4) 2011

Posted in Food and Drink, Health care, seasons by 노강호 on July 10, 2011

Boknal (복날) is coming!

The hottest period of Korean weather will begin in mid-July when the chang-ma (장마 – monsoon season) has begun to move north towards  Manchuria. The hottest period, lasting 2o days, known as boknal (복날), begins on ch’obok (초복) which this year is July 14th. 10 days later is chung-bok ( 중복 – July 24th) followed another 10 days later by mal-bok (말복 – August 3rd). The three days, ch’o, chung and mal, (초, 중, 말) are known as sambok (삼복), ‘sam’ being the Sino-Korean for ‘three.’

Two add confusion, there is Hanyorum (or hanyeoreum, 한여름) which is basically ‘midsummer’ and this begins once the chang-ma (monsoon) has fully moved north. Hanyorum, usually in August, is typified by hot days and balmy evenings. Though the monsoon has gone, it is still humid but perhaps I notice it more being British.

Boknal is supposed to be uncomfortable but personally, I find the humid monsoon season just as horrid. I suppose with boknal you know the end of summer is in sight.

Ways to beat boknal – or at least make it bearable:

sleep with a ‘wooden wife’ – she’ll only cost you about 10.000 Won and apart from being lazy she’s totally mute!

Korean teas, chilled are wonderfully refreshing if not a little ‘just’ in terms of taste.

iced coffee

wear silver summer trousers – I’ve heard the material these suits and trousers are made  sometimes called ‘kal-ch’i (갈치) after the silver cutlass fish seen in markets. I’ve had two pairs of these made and they lower body heat considerably.

brilliant at lowering body temperature

handkerchiefs and towels – in cheapo ‘dollar shops’ you can buy handkerchiefs for about 1000 Won. I usually find Koreans regard sweat almost as nasty as urine – which is basically what it is!

ice rooms and cold pools –  a brilliant way to cool down.

cold showers – pretty obvious, really.

hand fans – plenty to choose from

Then there are a range of foods for combating heat  known as bo-yang-shik (보양식). Fight heat with heat (이열치열); Ginseng chicken, and stews including dog stew (보신탕), are the foods typically eaten on three days marking boknal and chicken ginseng is a big favourite right through summer.

Alternatively, fight heat with cold and cool down with patpingsu (받빙수),  naeng myeon (cold noodles) and plenty of water melon.

Green tea patpingsu

Chill out in one of the numerous cheong-cha (arbors – 정자), they are great at capturing what little breeze is in the air.

Best of all, get naked and lie in the blast of the air-con!

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Korean Teas: Solomon's Seal Tea – 둘굴레 차

Posted in Food and Drink, oriental Medicine, tea (cereal, herb) by 노강호 on June 26, 2011

I prefer it cold when it is wonderfully refreshing

Specifics: Solomon’s Seal (둥굴레 차). Made from a root but available in tea bags.

Okay, you can easily buy this in boxes of 50 or so tea bags at most decent stores. However, if you’ve wandered around Korean markets you may actually have seen this tea’s  main ingredients, in the form of dried roots looking a little like brown turmeric.

the roots, according to one company, are 'pan fried' to dry them

Solomon’s Seal is a tea made from the roots of plants bearing the same name. The plant is one of an extensive group, similar to lilies, and known by its botanical name, Polygonatum. The species in Korea, is specifically Polygonatum Sibiricum. The Korean species is particularly noted for its medicinal properties due to its demulcent properties, that is its ability to soothe and protect swollen ligaments and tissue.  However, it has numerous other applications and widespread medicinal uses. Naturally, it can also be enjoyed simply as a beverage.

Solomon's Seal tea bags

Like most of the Korean teas I drink, I usually drink it cold and it is probably one of my more favourite teas with a distinct flavour which lacks any bitterness and is quite smooth. It has a slightly sweet smell which is reminiscent of caramel.

'caramel' aroma

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor – First Birthday Celebrations (돌잔치)

Posted in customs, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on June 10, 2011

the first birthday party – when baby is 2

Poverty and hardship have left deep impressions on the Korean cultural landscape many of which are still evident today. Korean food, often reflects former economic hardships which is one reason why black-noodles (자짱면) is still a favourite when students graduate. Though many families now go to elaborate buffet restaurants, black-noodles are still eaten to mark graduation as it was at one time considered a ‘luxury’ food. The obsessions Koreans have with food, which might be expected if you are starving, almost matches the British obsession with the weather, the result of living in an unpredictable climate. I am still not used to responding appropriately when a Korean asks me if ‘I’ve eaten’ and on so many occasions still reply with a list of what comprised my last meal or perceive it as the opening for an invite to dine together. Instead, they are really inquiring as to my general well being but so ingrained has this become that for some, even this is not implied and the comment reduced to a basic nicety void of any real meaning and synonymous to British observation about the weather.  Historically however, it developed at a time when many people were starving and was a question of much deeper significance. Dog stew (보신탕), silk worm (번데기), grasshopper (메뚜기) and a whole range of roots, woods and barks, many of which grow in the UK (shepherd’s purse 냉이, burdock 우엉, ㅡmugwort 쑥, etc, but which are no longer commonly used), reflect the former scarcity of food.

a lavish affair – Lee On-yu’s (이온유) 1st birthday. Hee-ho, On-yu’s older brother, who was the subject of an earlier post, is on the far right (Diary of a Little Boy)

Former high infant mortality rates can be attributed to the custom of a child being one year of age upon being born and with infancy and childhood being so precious, when circumcision was introduced to the peninsula, in the 1950’s, it was an ordeal sparred babies and infants and instead postponed to early adolescence. In 2006, Korea was cited by a UN report (link) of having the world’s lowest infant mortality rate of 3 (3 in 1000) compared to 45 in 1970.  A further development of the high infant mortality rate was the importance of a child’s first birthday celebration (돌잔치),  when in Korean reckoning they are two years old.

traditional first birthday attire - the dol-bok (돌복)

traditional first birthday attire – the dol-bok (돌복)

45 deaths per thousand within the first year doesn’t seem high until you consider that currently, 49 deaths per 1000 is the global average and that today’s most poverty stricken countries have infant mortality rates of around 50 per 1000.  The fear your baby may have been one of the unfortunate led to babies, pre and post natal mothers being secluded until deemed healthy. The threats to life weren’t just from disease but also from famine and the wide swings  in the Korean climate. Even today, circumcision is usually carried out in the winter rather than the summer vacation where the incredibly high humidity prolongs healing and increases the chances of infection.

Un-yu. The microphone he played with suggests he might be a future singer – he was certainly in good voice here

The first significant event to celebrate was a child’s 100th day celebration, the baek-il (백일). However, as might be expected, this was a fairly low-key affair and the baby wasn’t ‘publicly’ paraded. On the child’s first birthday, at two years of age, it was time for parents to present their baby to the world and hence the lavish dol-jan-ch’i (돌잔치) celebration.

In today’s affluent Korean society, this event usually takes place in a large, specifically designed function room to which families and friends are invited. Historically, and traditionally, the celebration varied depending on local custom. Today, the baby maybe be casually dressed or might be attired in the highly colourful dol-bok  (돌복) which differ according to gender. An elaborate buffet is provided which, along with the usual food one might expect, are foods of a more traditional and symbolic nature.

what will it be?

Now the child has survived the most threatening period of childhood, it is time to ponder what they might achieve in life and hence one of the most important parts of the celebration is when the baby is sat on a traditional duvet, propped by pillows and surrounded by objects which if played with or handled, predict the child’s future. The objects include:

pen, brush, book or calligraphy set – scholar

bow and arrow – warrior/soldier/strength (not as common as in the past)

rice cake – rich or possibly unintelligent

money -rich

thread – long life

ruler, scissors, needle – dexterous

However, numerous other gifts might appear, such as a microphone for a potential singer or a gold ball for a golf player. Nowadays, you seem to be able to add what you want.

The first birthday party has a long tradition and there are numerous variations to the celebrations which I have not done justice to in this short account. A good starting point for more in-depth information can be found at Wikipedia.

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At Least it’s not a Cockroach – Rice Weevils (쌀벌레)

Posted in Food and Drink, Health care, seasons by 노강호 on May 11, 2011

apparently, you can eat them

Over the long humid summer, one problem with rice is infestation by rice weevils. Their presence is noticed by small black additions to otherwise white rice. There are several means of keeping them out of your rice container, one of them being to place dried chillies and a head of garlic in the same container. Others are the use of airtight containers or placing your new bag of rice in the freezer for 24 hours. This method isn’t the best if you buy rice by the sack.

Home Z Rice Worm Repellent (쌀벌레). Naturally made

The best deterrent is a packet of ‘Rice Weevil’ (쌀벌레, by 방충선언), which costs about 4000 Won and is widely available. You simply snip open the packet and it sticks on the inside of your container. The smell is pungent and very similar to intense wasabi (horseradish) but it stays in the container and doesn’t flavour the rice. One packet gives 3 months protection.

deters nasty visitors

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

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

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

podcast 77

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperial Tesco – the One Stop

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

the ultimate in ersatz, Hershy’s chocolateless chocolate

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

I have to admit, this is clever

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

Welcome to Korea!

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

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

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

a sometimes used image on Korean urology websites

podcast 76

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

it needs to be…you don’t have to…

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

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

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

beauty is culturally informed

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

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

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

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

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

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

and yes, some facecreams really are manufactured from redundant foreskins

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

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

 

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Summer Snippet (an inside view of Korean circumcision)

I Saw a Snood

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