Elwood 5566

Five Second Hanja (11) Unify – Tong-il (통일)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language, taekwon-do by 노강호 on December 11, 2010

Okay, it’s more complicated, but one of my favourite character combinations, and of significant importance in South Korea is, ”Tong-il.’ ‘Tong’ is the character for ‘govern,’ rule’; ‘unite’, ‘all’ while the single stroke on the right, is the character for, ‘one.’  Combined, they mean ”unification which naturally, is an emotive subject on the peninsula.

tong-il

‘Tong-il’ is also the 24th,  and final pattern (tul, hyong) of the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) system.

Simply highlighting some of the important and simpler characters. For information on stroke order, radicals and the two elements of a character (spoken – meaning), I suggest you obtain a dictionary such as; A Guide to Korean Characters.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Master Georg Soupidis – Osnabruck Song-Do-Kwan (Taekwon-do)

Posted in Diary notes, taekwondo by 노강호 on August 14, 2010

Master Georg Soupidis (6th Dan around 1972))

The e-bente-tang today was mugwort (쑥) and because it is the school holidays it was fairly busy. It was disgustingly hot on my way to Migwang, my favourite bathhouse and it rained all night and a good deal yesterday, so it was humid. As I said, I’m not spending much time in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) so I wallowed for a long time in the cold pool (냉탕).  I had a dream last night, a taekwondo dream. My most recurrent dreams are either about taekwondo- which I studied for 20 years or the British Army, in which I served around 15 years. They are the sort of dreams, the specifics of which you can’t recall but which shadow your days with their atmosphere.

As I was in the cool pool I started thinking about my taekwondo teacher, Georg Soupidis. I studied almost all my taekwondo in Germany, in a fascinating town called Osnabruck. George had been an ex-soldier, originally from Greece and he was an excellent teacher. There are thousands of fantastic taekwondo practitioners in the world but few fantastic teachers, and Georg was one of them. I left Osnabruck in 1984 and I haven’t seen him since. I’ve spoken to him on the phone a few times and always planned to re-visit Osnabruck but time is running out.

Georg Soupidis (far left)

I entered my first taekwondo school back in 1974 and can still remember the feelings I had training there. All the black belts were decent people and mostly studying at  University. I remember Lutz and Heinz, who became lawyers, and there was Stephan who worked in a bank and another youngster called Stefan Wawer whom I had a crush on, but never told.  Then there was Stephan Bic, a lad about the same age as myself with a kind and gentle nature. He had a blue belt and being tall we often partnered each other. I admired him for a long time but once again, he never knew. Coming out was just too much of a risk! It was super-cool to practice martial arts in the mid 70’s and having a black belt or advanced belt was revered. Bruce Lee had only just died and his last film, Game of Death, was still to be released and hence the martial arts fad was at its peak .

Georg (left) and myself. (1982)

My school was the Song Do Kwan, a professional martials arts academy situated a short walk from the central railway station, in Osnabruck, on Mosse Strasse. General Choi Hong-hi himself had stayed at  Georg’s house when visiting for a training seminar. General Choi  was one of the founding fathers of taekwondo though his contributions have subsequently been whitewashed from much of Korean history.  If you read anything by the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation ), the sport version of taekwon-do popular  throughout the pennisula and perceived as the only form of taekwon-do, it seems to  emerge from out of the blue somewhere around 1973. However,  it’s history stretched back before this and  in  Choi’s second manual on taekwon-do, published in 1972, Georg can be seen with the core of German  black-belts with General Choi stood in the middle. My point? When this photo was taken the WTF didn’t even exist. I trained in the Song Do Kwan from 1974 until 1981 after-which the school moved into a public facility. However, for the next 5 years, whenever I passed the home of my old school in Mosse Strasse, Osnabruck, I would respectfully bow towards it as I passed.

The Song Do Kwan team after a competition in early 1982.

For years my life was the Song Do Kwan and I trained diligently and became a very competent  competition fighter. I eventually passed my black belt on April 3rd 1982. Even after enduring military exercises in the middle of winter I would return to camp and head straight to my dojang. I remember Georg with great affection and he was one of the greatest influences on my  life. Walking into the Song Do Kwan changed my life and though I no longer practice taekwondo, it teachings took me elsewhere.

Once I left Osnabruck, in 1986, I lost my focus. I trained in a  school in Paderborn,  Germany, and  when I returned to the UK in 1988, trained in Aylesbury and then at a Karate school in Essex University. When I came to Korea in 2000, I trained in a WTF school, and though I gained my red belt, didn’t think the style was as efficient as the ITF style (International Taekwondo Federation).  Of course, a style is as good as its practitioner and a good martial artist borrows from whatever style to improve their technique but WTF was just too much ineffectual bum kicking.  Just my  opinion!

To all my old friends in martial arts, and especially Master Georg Soupidis, I send my greetings.

(I haven’t written any posts on martial arts despite their having been part of my life for many years. Keep checking as  they are long overdue!)

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

Blue Belt Grading – May 1-16th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Bathhouse, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on May 1, 2001

On Saturday, I met U-chun. During the period of the middle school exams she is working seven days a week and this situation will continue in all hagkwons until May 12th when the exams finish. She works from 2pm until midnight on six days a week and on Sundays works from 9am until 3pm. I am writing this diary On May 1st which is a public holiday for Buddha’s birthday but as you can expect, the hagkwon teachers are working today, as are many of their pupils. None of them will get a day’s holiday in lieu which is so typically Korean.

We wandered around E-Mart for a while so I could question her on what is what. It was my turn to buy lunch today and I chose a restaurant near MacDonalds, one I had passed many times before and one where you sat at tables and not on the floor. I never find sitting on the floor comfortable as I can’t get my long legs under the low tables. We ordered a seafood meal which was cooked at our table in large frying pans built into the table. The meal looked fairly Klingon but tasted very good. First the chef put water in the pan and then a massive stack of seafood consisting of crab, prawn, squid, squid roe, shellfish and octopus. This was topped with vegetables and red pepper paste. There was easily enough for four people and when the pan was half empty some noodles were added to it. The meal took us over an hour to eat and as U-chun had to go back to school, we left quite a bit. It was a pricey meal costing 24000W (£15) but we really enjoyed it.

The video player in our house, which is a pile of shit and has been playing up ever since I have been here, eventually died after I bashed it with my fist. A cassette was left in it and to get it out we had to dismantle it rather forcefully. However, Mr Joe replaced it without any questions; but of course, the replacement video isn’t new and is the size and weight of a computer hard drive. It must be at least ten years old. Matt is pleased as his sole entertainment is lying in bed, (even when it’s hot), with a packet of cigarettes, a bottle of coke, some Pringles and a couple of videos.

every day as my mini-bus passed an apartment, this little boy would bow

I went to Pak Ji-won’s this evening. He was really excited as he is off on his school picnic this week. He is spending four days at Mount Sorak in the north east of the peninsula, not too far from the 38th parallel. It is the third highest mountain in Korea. Although Ji-won’s is almost 18 (17 UK age), he was like a little boy looking forward to Christmas. I happened to bump into him and his class mates as they were shopping at E-Mart, on Sunday. They had two trolleys full of apples, oranges, Korean crisps and coke. I did my shopping and as I was leaving the supermarket I noticed them waiting outside the store entrance. Ji-won’s wasn’t with them and I sat opposite and observed them for a little. I tried hard to imagine what it must be like to be a Korean teenager going on your one big school trip. Korean and western cultures are so different that it is impossible for a westerner to become Korean. Ten years living in France, Germany or the USA would be enough to make you a native, provided you immersed yourself in that culture but too many differences exist between Korean and the west. Many of these differences are born out of childhood socialization. The boys were all excited in a way only Korean kids can be. Affectionately, they draped themselves over each other. I wondered how much this excitement was scripted knowing that once schooling is finished life becomes even more prescriptive, regimented and seconded to work. As much as I respect and admire and have fallen in love with the Korean psyche, I find their lives horribly myopic: the nightmare of schooling, which for Ji-won’s is some seventy hours of study a week, the brief reprise of university followed by army service for the boys, followed by the bondage of marriage. I really think that in Korea, education, like football in the west, has become one of the main forms of social control.

I am still going to the mokyuktang several times a week and still enjoy it. I have discovered the various types of pools and the properties they are supposed to have. Both mokyuktang I use have green tea baths which are believed to be good for the skin. There is usually also a herb bath as well as a bubbly Jacuzzi. I am now completely relaxed preening myself in the drying area where I put on hair gel, clean my ears with cotton buds and help myself to the various skin creams and skin bracers. All this is performed naked and in a roomful of other preening men. I even dry my balls with the hair dryer, something I have learnt from observation though I haven’t directed it up my arse which is something I have seen several men do. I am able to stay in the sauna much longer than when I first started – even when it is over 100 degrees. One mokyuktang provides a huge pot of salt in the steam room which you rub all over your body. In another steam room I often sit on the floor cross legged or do stretching exercises as the heat is conducive to stretching. Stretching exercise is regularly practised by young and old alike in the steam room.

I had only had my purple belt about twelve days when I was told I would be grading for my blue belt. In fact, I have only worn my purple belt three times and had washed it over the weekend to take the stiffness out of it. I was training during the week when there was a pre-grading class and everyone was asked to run through their patterns. Though I knew my pattern well, (대국), there were some errors that needed ironing out. Master Bae, the head instructor, took me through it and pointed out a few minor errors and told me I would be performing the pattern the following evening. He then told me I would be taking my black belt exam in August or perhaps a little earlier.

Now I have got to say that some of the kids in Di Dim Dol treat me strangely. I think some of them find it odd having a coloured belt training beside them who is old enough to be their father. If you do come across adults in the dojang are either instructors or black belts. In one of my classes in Di Dim Dol school there is a boy called Jake who was in a few of my first Taekwondo classes. I suppose he is about 13 and naturally, he is a black belt. In an English class it emerged I did Taekwondo at the Songham School and I could deduce from the conversation he was having that he peers were asking him what belt I wore. Well, he quite took the piss out of me and mimicked to them I was stiff and couldn’t kick well. It hurt me a little and I was annoyed as some of the kids were laughing. As he was leaving the class I pulled him to one side and thrust the Songham oath in his face. I made him repeat some of the lines which referred to mutual respect, team spirit and working together. He was embarrassed, put his head down and apologised. Then there is another boy called Jordan who I have taught several times and is another black belt. Even though we have trained in the same Taekwondo class he refuses to say hello to me. Whenever he sees me he looks at me as if I am mad. I ran through my patterns thirty times on the day of the grading and as I am one of the lowest belts in the class, I was called up fairly early in the grading. Well, I was really on form and I performed a really powerful pattern with a massive ‘kia’ at the conclusion which quite made the youngsters sat close to me jump. My ‘kia’ had been pretty Pathetic until fairly recently. Anyway, Master Bae said something after I had finished and the whole class applauded me. Afterwards, the little Fat kid who can’t do sit-ups came up, held his thumb up and said, ‘poomse choayo.’ (‘good pattern’). Then Jordan, the boy who had never spoken to make, came up to me and bowed. Ever since this, whenever he arrives or leaves my lessons at Di Dim Dol School, the waves and smiles at me.

I am now fitter than I have ever been since I took my black-belt in 1982. In some ways I am fitter. I cannot believe how terribly unfit I was when I arrived in Korea as a big fat blob. My experience here is quietly unfolding and it is an experience that I have people interested in Martial arts dream of. It was a pure fluke I came to Korea at all and I could have ended up in any number of countries. I don’t think it’s pretentious that and I give myself a lot of credit and respect for the way in which I walked into a Korean Taekwondo school looking like a lump of lard, surrounded by kiddies and teenagers and set about undertaking a training regime which humiliated me. My only response to this was to grin stupidly and try harder.

On Friday evening Ryo Hyu-sun took me to Woobang Tower Park. First we went to McDonald’s and had a burger and then we walked around the park for several hours. There were loads of young people skateboarding and roller blading. Just as you’d expect here, they were peaceful, un-offensive and friendly. We had a coffee at one of the park cafes and I saw a couple of men who were most certainly gay. It certainly made me realize how miss gay company as I haven’t met or spoken to a gay person since I’ve been here. One couple walked past me. One of the men, perhaps in his late twenties or thirties was dressed like John Travolta and wore a white suit. He had a hairdo and a very camp, practiced lip pout. He walked with an incredibly pouncy wiggle and I would have excused his effeminacy had he not been carrying this tiny little handbag dog. Handbag dogs are very fashionable here and even Dong-soo (박동수), my Taekwondo instructor, wants one. However, the fact that the dog had fluffy ears that were dyed pink aroused my suspicions.  Right now, I’d love to have some gay company, even those horribly superficial gays that I usually detest back home.

In Yong San Dong I had the morning of cleaning up piss, which I must say, is something rare here. First of all, Dong-seop wet himself. He performed his usual stint of pissing into his trousers at the urinal; then I got back to my classroom to discover little Song-joon looking flustered and gripping his dick. Then I notice he is sat in a puddle of piss so I have to take him to the toilet, wash him and get him to change his pants and trousers. He has the most amazingly tiny pecker but I shouldn’t mention this as it is lynching material in the west. But hey! This is Korea and the day’s not over. Next, I have to get a bucket and cloth and mop up the piss on and around his seat. I have to stress, piss problems are very rare in Korea kindergarten classes and only ever seem to be experienced by boys. Just as I finish this is Matt and Amy, (a Korean teacher), come into my class and ask me to look at a boys balls. He had just been kicked between the legs, was holding himself and crying.

‘ Why can’t you do it?’ I ask. Matt begs me to do it goading me with the fact I know something about balls and first aid. We pull the boys pants down and I make a private joke to Matt about the antics of Monsieur Jelle Fangre as I’m checking the lad still has two balls. One of them has disappeared so we bounce him up and down on his heels until it reappears. After that he is fine and within minutes he is running around. When I wrote these diary notes up, back in the UK and some years later, I was tempted to edit this experience simply as we have a total obsession with anything to do with the bodies of little kids. If an English toddler suffered the same experience nobody would help them for fear of accusations – even if there were a crowd of adults present. Personally, I do not think this an attitude reflects a caring society. On several occasions I know Becky, my niece, has been left to sit nursing a painful splinter as no member of staff are allowed to touch her. Kids are left suffering until a parent arrives.

On Saturday U-chun and I found a really nice Japanese restaurant which specializes in pork fillet served with pickles, sauce and udong noodles. The restaurant is new and typically Japanese with contrasting black and white colours and minimalist use of furniture. A group of boys came in and had a birthday party during which they sang the Korean version of ‘Happy Birthday’ which is sung to the same tune we use in the west.

In the evening I met Pak Ji-won who told me all about his picnic in Mount Sorak. Jun-hee had put two bottles of soju in his bag and this behaviour seems pretty standard as a right of passage. Ji-won was very animated as he told me how he and his friends got a little drunk and how he fell over a friend’s bed and almost got caught by his teachers. He told me one of his friend’s was sick on another friend as they slept in bed. He told me how Korean students will remember the High School picnic for the rest of their lives – ‘until the day they die,’ were his exact words, spoken in English. He said this without any severity or weight and  in a way only the young can talk about death. Jun-hee, his father, meets up with his old school friends every six months and there have been occasions when I have since met his childhood friends. This practice is standard among Korean males at least who refer to their closest childhood friends as ‘gochu chingoo’ (고추친구). ‘Gochu’ (고추) is the Korean word for a ‘chilli pepper’ but it is also a simile for a penis. I believe it is still a tradition in Korea, though not necessarily widely practiced nowadays, to hand a bunch of chillies on the front door of a house when a boy is born.  ‘Chingoo’ (친구) is the Korean for ‘friend’ or ‘circle’ and so the phrase can be translated as ‘penis friends.’  Jun-hee told me all his old friends know what each other’s dick is like. I am sort of detecting that nakedness in Korea is seen to promote a deeper level of friendship between two people naturally as a result of the sharing of intimate experiences. Jun-hee and Ji-won keep asking me to accompany them to the mokyuktang. I certainly sense I have a different level of friendship with U-no and Lee Seong-gyu, both with whom I have bathed with. Even men who I don’t know but recognise from the mokyuktang all say hello to me in the street; one man even squeezed my arm as he last saw me. Nudity is certainly a wonderful social leveler.

I had a long chat with Pak Dong-soo during his weekly English lesson, this time about his experiences in the army. It sounded ghastly! Six weeks of basic training in winter and all living in one tent next to a river in which they drank and bathed. A week of exercise, a week of intensive Taekwondo training, a week of making bobby-traps and a week of shooting fire arms. Every day included strenuous runs. Interestingly alcohol, in the Korean army, is illegal!

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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Mogyuktang Observations Plus – Tuesday 3rd April, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Now I am getting quite relaxed using the mokyuktang, I am beginning to discover a different aspect to them. Regularly, I use the steam room and sauna, only for a short while, and after that I go and sit in the cold pool. The process of going from very warm to cold has the most amazing effect on the mind. I experience a strange taste in the back of my throat and start to feel a little dizzy after which my mind becomes calm and floaty. The whole sensation is rather like a little drug hit. In this state, which is very pleasant, I notice other men just sat around all in their own little worlds. If such an institution existed in the west it would probably be polluted with pop music. The mokyuktang is filled with music which when in the right state is wonderfully relaxing. It is the music of running, splashing and spraying water. If you sit at one end of the cold bath you can look down of the mirror-like surface of the pool and really enjoy the state of calm the experience induces. When you get out of the cold pool you have to be a little careful as your body is slightly wobbly and I have noticed, men usually get out of this pool and sit awhile on the edge of the pool before moving to another bath.  I still can’t believe I’m naked in a place full of other naked people and have even started sitting on the floor of the steam room, cross legged.

Han Song Bathhouse, Song-So. The third Bathhouse I visited. It became my regular bathhouse in 2001.

It is interesting watching the interaction between children and their fathers; last week a young boy and girl sat playing beside their father. Young children bring toys to the pool and between being scrubbed and scrubbing their father’s back, they run around enjoying the water and playing. They were fairly interested in me and for quite a while they stared whenever they thought I wasn’t watching them.

One day there were two lads in the mokyuktang, probably in their early twenties and most likely from the local university. As is usual, one sits behind the other on the low plastic seats which look like upturned washing-up bowls, and then they take it in turn to scrub each others’ back. There was an old man in one corner of a pool and one of the lads went over to him and scrubbed his back for him. I was hoping he might volunteer to do mine but I was out of luck. A visit to the mokyuktang would give any artist a deeper insight into the human body and I find it amazing watching naked bodies from an aesthetic perspective. It is fascinating how they are designed and how the muscles interact and are articulated and how the human body is structured and proportioned.

At taekwon-do on Tuesday evening, I discovered the school oath is being replaced. I was rather annoyed as it was the first evening I had been able to recite it at the same speed as the Korean students. A new oath hung on the wall and is to be used from now on and so I will have to learn this. As my body has become fitter and more agile, I am able to exert myself more in classes. The sessions are grueling! I hadn’t realised how unfit I had become after three years of writing. Pak Dong-soo spent sometime during a lesson working out on the bag; he is beautiful to watch and can do flying kicks well over six foot high. He moves like a bird.

The English teaching I am doing is becoming increasingly boring. Last week, in one class I went berserk and smashed my stick on a table. This is the third stick I have broken in three months. I called for a senior teacher and he came along and shouted at them. The kids are not disruptive but more inattentive and chatty. Sometimes it is impossible to get their collective attention and sometimes I just despair – especially after a long day. It doesn’t help that I rant and shout as Koreans find such displays of emotive behaviour unpleasant and deem it to be a loss of self control – which of course it is.

Fridays are a drag as I teach in another kindergarten and have no time for lunch. There are days when I observe something that I realise gives me a greater understanding of the Korean psyche. In the kindergarten, when I pass out a handout, the kids all gather around me. There is rarely any pushing, they just stand passively in front of you with both hands extended and wait for you to place the handout directly into their hands. One day, I was watching two boys who came into the PC bang (room). They were eating an ice-cream which consists of a plastic ball, a little larger than a snooker ball, with a built in straw. Both of them just stood in the middle of the room, passively sucking. They sucked in a way so totally different from how children might suck or eat an ice-cream in the West, without the greed and voracious consumerism. If there is one thing I am learning about my culture, it is how vulgar, greedy and selfish it is. English kids are always on the want, they are always squabbling over possessions and in particular, over food. In six months of teaching in Korea, I haven’t once seen a fight or seen one child strike another. In my kindergarten class last week, which is held in a small school situated in an apartment complex, the Korean teacher left the room briefly. Suddenly fifteen or so little children converged on me eager to stroke the hair on my arms, which fascinates them. Some wanted to stroke my hair, a few wanted to pat my belly. Korean children can be quite beautiful in both features and mannerisms.

After a hideous class at Di Dim Dol, I went and sat at the table Nana and I share outside Joe’s office. Lisa was there for her afternoon class. I started moaning about my lesson and she immediately started complaining loudly.

“Korean children have no manners. They’re rude, ignorant, and need training.” I almost told her to shut-up.

“No! They’re not rude!” I replied. ‘They are usually well mannered, polite and very gentle. Yes’ they run around between classes and don’t recognise your personal space but that’s cultural.”

The other day she told me how she has this tone of voice she reserves for ‘foreigners!’ She then went on to say she had a ‘men-sahib’ attitude towards Koreans which confirmed my suspicions about her having a colonial attitude.

On Friday it snowed heavily for most of the morning and suddenly it has turned cold and wintry. In the evening Ryo Hyu-sun took me for a meal, we had pork barbecue and a few bowls of dong dong ju (동동주) after which we went for a walk in a nearby park. The cheery blossom and lilac are in full blossom despite the cold recess.

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

Senior Green Belt Grading – March 10th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in customs, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 10, 2001

In Di Dim Dol last week I passed one of Young-seop’s (영섭) classes. The door was open and he was stood out in the corridor. Inside, the entire class of fifteen year olds were sat meditating. Young-seop told me that by seven in the evening many of his students were exhausted and meditating cleared their minds and prepared them to focus on the lesson. When the older students come into the school there are teenagers in every classroom, very often they sit with their heads on the desk taking a short sleep before their lessons begin. They have quite a funny way of doing this probably as the result of years of practice. They usually sit with their arms hanging loosely at their sides and their head on the table.

'filial piety' - an important Confucian value

The spring holiday has just finished and Ji-won tells me that for the next two years he will be in school from 7am until 9pm and I have noticed that there are now taekwon do classes for high school students who have to adopt these hours. While Korean kids seem brighter than their English counterparts, I don’t think they are proportionally better and I am critical of the Korean education system which put youngsters under so much pressure. Most Koreans lack creativity and their education seems to consist of a lot of rote learning. It seems that social control in Korea is exerted through education and employment. A lot of effort in the west is put into moaning about children who do sweat shop labour or are poorly paid  in third world countries and yet  Korean teenagers find themselves imprisoned in their schools.

During the spring vacation,  many boys are visible hobbling on the streets after being circumcised (포경 수술) . You see them hobbling along as if they have just spent several days in the saddle of a horse. I noticed one boy in KFC who was obviously  in a lot of discomfort and who kept having to stand up to adjust his underwear.

I bumped into Ji-won last week, he was walking down the road, arm in arm with his mum, Sun-hee. There seems to be much less evidence of a generation gap between teenagers and their parents than is apparent in the west. Several times he has told me he wants to do something his father has recommend, and the reason he gives for this is that his ‘father knows best.’ When it was raining last week, the seventh shower in almost 5 months, a boy accompanied me home under the protection of his umbrella. He had seen me go into a shop without a brolly and waited for me to reappear. He then walked me under his umbrella which as in the opposite direction to his apartment – how nice!

I had a sore shoulder last week and visited a Korean osteopath. They treated my shoulder with some form of electric shock treatment. I wasn’t very impressed but I was given the most amazing head massage. It was so relaxing and weird as it didn’t feel like I had hands on my head at all. It was quite indescribable and I think I will have to go back for another one.

I had my taekwon do grading this week and managed to jump several belts so I now have my senior green belt which is dark green. I was the first person to be called up as I was still the class junior. I had been told I was to perform the patterns, Taegeuk Il Jang (태극 一 장) and Taegeuk I Jang (태극 二 장) and so I had stopped practising the third pattern, Taegeuk Sam Jang (태극 三 장). Anyway, the moment I was on the mat, with thirty or so Korean students sat behind me, Mr Bae asked me to perform my two patterns and then asked if I could perform the third, Taegeuk Sam Jang (태극 三  장). Confused, and not understanding him, I said I couldn’t and so sat back down. I later discovered I’d been given my first green belt. The grading continued with the black belts, which is a large number of the class, going through patterns or performing with sticks or nunchaku. The following day I had someone write a letter for me explaining that I could perform Taegeuk Sam Jang (태극 三 장) and so that afternoon he asked me to perform it and immediately gave me my senior green belt.

I usually go to the taekwon do school early so I can warm-up and do some bag work. I have discovered there is a class where boys aged between 11 and 14 do dance routines to Korean pop music – affectionately known as k-pop. It is really amazing to watch as it is all choreographed and well rehearsed. I had a job telling my instructors that in the west such a class, despite the fact most of the boys were red or black belts would be seen as effeminate and ‘gay.’

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

A Peaceful City, Feb 28th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Comparative, Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on February 28, 2001

Once a week at the taekwondo school we practice tae kuk kkwon (태국권). During one class Pak Dong-soo performed a set which took several minutes to perform. It was really quite beautiful as he moved slowly from one position to another without and wobbling and with absolute grace. The next day we did a weapons training session. Increasingly, I am beginning to see martial arts training in Korea as the training ground for boys prior to their national service. The lessons on fairly relaxed and there is a lot of banter between students and instructors which of course, I don’t understand. There are a number of girls who train in the school and they don’t take any crap from the boys. Sometimes I seem to detect more aggression between the girls and boys than between the boys themselves.

two fourth dan boys in my local taekwondo school (2012)

One aspect I really like about being in Korea, and something other foreign teachers also mention, is being able to go out in Korea without being on your guard. Although I have lived in Wivenhoe for two years, I have only ever been into Colchester in the evening on two occasions. The atmosphere on the High Street, in the evening is threatening and aggressive, crowds of marauding youths, with slaggy, cheap girls who regardless of weather wear flimsy clothes. Then there are the aggressive men and youths who strut around swearing, usually drunk and looking primarily for sex and if that can’t be found the frustration will be vented by a punch-up.  You daren’t make eye contact with these men or lads as to do so is to challenge their pathetic sexuality. God! So many straight men are disgusting and even many of my straight friends are quick to disassociate themselves from them. We British like to believe we are an educated society but by and large this is a myth. The masses are just as stupid and ignorant as they have been in the past and it is for political reasons they have been kept this way. I am not claiming Koreans are superior, most of the world is full of stupid people but it is wonderful to walk the streets of a busy city without fear of being assaulted or abused by football yobs, drunken louts, lads looking for trouble. Despite the fact I live above two bars, neither of which close until well after midnight, I haven’t witnessed a brawl or argument or even heard drunken revelry.

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Letterland Fiasco – 14th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on December 14, 2000

On Monday morning I had to cancel my lesson with Dong-soo. It didn’t please me as I had cancelled several engagements this weekend and I would not have minded so much if Jo either mentioned money or asked or begged a little instead of simply presuming I am at his service. Jo always gets someone else to do the begging for him.

Nana and I arrived at the Yon San Dong School by luck as we weren’t sure exactly where it was and our taxi driver hadn’t heard of the school as it was new. We had to pay the taxi fare. I had made some lessons plans over the weekend and was feeling a little more positive about the whole affair. At Letterland we entered another meeting with Young-seop only this time there were no Korean-English teachers present. Young-seop then tells us we will only be required to be ‘on hand’ in three different classes, a class each, and to entertain kids as they arrive and answer any questions the parents have. So much for the work I had done over the weekend. It is clear there is a lack of organisation, planning and communication but I had read the Korean system can sometimes be like this. We each sorted out a teaching room and then took the taxi back to Song-So for the afternoon teaching schedule. Just as we were leaving Young-seop told us that we were to do two sets of presentations tomorrow: one at 11 am and the other at 2 pm.

In the evening I went to taekwondo but took the kicking really easy due to my pulled right hamstring. I felt very conspicuous kicking low and with no power and I can’t effectively explain to anyone why I am doing this though I think Mr Lee and Bae understood my hand communications which I regularly give them. I’ve become an expert at charades. When I got home I discovered Jo has left a message for us that we are to be at school for 9 am. Nana, Pauline and I had planned to gout out for an evening meal so that real scuppered any plans for a lie in the morning.

In the morning Nana and I once again had to pay a taxi to Yon San Dong. When we arrived we discovered a team of Letterland teachers, including Catherine and Christine, whom I had met when I arrived in Korea, were in the school. Christine, otherwise known as Miss Lam, looked bloody awful like maybe she was  on heroin. Her hair was shit and she looked very tired and to make matters worse she had a hideous purple eye shadow troweled around her eyes. However, they had brought a whole stack of books, videos and tapes for us to use. Jo must have known this was going to materialise but hadn’t thought to tell us. Jo wasn’t in the school and Miss Lam took control of events by having us all sit and watch a Letterland video. This was obviously our Letterland induction, one and a half hours before our first potential customers arrived. The video was incredibly boring and a real homemade job. I took the piss and said that if you watch it once you’re qualified to teach pupils and if you watch it twice you are promoted to a senior teacher. Miss Lam then passed us Letterland name tags which we all had to wear.

Apparently, Jo is charging parents 430.000W a month for lessons – that is over two hundred pounds. What a rip off! Pauline and I have been inventing our own Letterland characters such as Bouncy Balls, Clicking Clit, and Hairy Hole. Even Nana used the word ‘fuck’ several times today and I have never heard him swear. When parents began arriving Young-seop ordered us to ‘go and teach!

‘Teach what?’ I asked. ‘We only know a few characters.’ Anyway, I sat with a few very small children, made them say some words and then colour in some pictures.

At lunchtime all the staff, including lots of teachers from Di Dim Dol in Song-So, went for bibimbap at a local restaurant, all paid for by Jo. U-chun, a female teacher I had made friends with was there with her daughter, Ga-in whom she wants me to teach English. I really like U-chun and we are meeting for lunch on Wednesday. Back at Letterland more parents arrived after which we we took a taxi back to Song-So for the afternoon schedule.

In the evening, I went to taekwon do but when I got back home I discovered Jo had been on the phone again – pissed. He had apologised for not paying us as today was pay day. He then asked us to be ready for 9 am as he is going to send someone around to collect us and take us to another Letterland school on the other side of town, a school owned by a friend. Nana relayed all this to me because I didn’t want to talk to Jo. I told Nana I was going to the doctor in the morning to get some gout pills.

In the morning Mr Song arrived. Jo had telephoned him at midnight to ‘order’ him to pick us up. He was quite upset as it was his free time and of course there will be no extra money for his time or petrol. There is little he can do except obey him and this sort of attitude towards employees seems quite common in Korea (what I now call the ‘rice cooker syndrome). I went to the doctors instead and got my supply of pills.

My leg is getting better and I am starting to enjoy the training. Master Bae gave me a yellow belt to wear and towards the end of the training session I was asked if I wanted to spar. I should really have refused and rested my leg but I really wanted to. I was matched with their best student black-belt, a lad of about 20 who is very well built for a Korean and a powerful technician. With my leg still strained, and not wanting to put too much stress on it, the techniques at my disposal were few. He rushed in on me and one of my kicks caught him in the balls, which was embarrassing. He was playing with me but wary of the fact I had a good defence. I caught him in the stomach with a front kick which despite his body shield knocked the wind out of him. The problem is my brain knows exactly what to do but my body is not yet ready or able to do what the brain commands and with everyone watching and being under pressure, one goes into auto-pilot. My last kick, a turning kick, caught him on the chest and at that moment my supporting leg, the bad one, suddenly gave way. I don’t think I’ve torn the muscle but I certainly jarred it. I so wish it would bloody heal!

 

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A New Rice Cooker (Teacher) Arrives from Australia – Sunday December 10th (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Food and Drink, Korean Accounts Part 1, Martial Arts by 노강호 on December 10, 2000

At the taegeukkweon this week, (태극권 – is a Korean form of tai chi which is taught twice a week as part of  my  taekwondo classes), one of the boys was hit with a padded stick used to simulate a club attack. I don’t know what the boy had been doing but the instructor, Mr Park, struck him three times across the back of his legs. The boy, aged about 12, started crying and had his head bowed and Mr Park seemed to be telling him to stand in the ready position. The boy ignored him and so he was beaten. Eventually he complied and the class continued.

a rice cooker and a teacher share a lot in common in Korea

On Thursday, Mr Jo asked me if I would go to the railway station with him to meet a teacher arriving from New Zealand. He wanted me to go there at eight in the evening and as I wasn’t going training, I agreed. Nothing in Korea is simple, at least not in my school and after waiting at the school to be collected by Mr Jo, I discover she isn’t arriving until nine. Nine-thirty arrived and still there was no sign of Mr Jo and then Miss Pak, the school secretary, told me she was arriving at eleven. Next, Mr Jo arrives with a change of plans and sent another teacher to collect the new teacher  and decided to take Nana and I for dinner. We went to one of the many restaurants near the school, a sort of cross between a drinking house and a restaurant and there were western style tables to sit at. Before the drinks arrived at our table Mr Jo started telling us about some of his plans and I quickly sensed something else was afoot (note – Koreans initiate business meetings through food and drink). I had originally arranged to meet this Korean woman, a teacher in the school, for dinner, at 10.pm, her name is Pak U-chun (박유천 – 12 years later, she was to become my boss). As soon as I told Mr Jo I was supposed to be meeting her he telephoned her on his mobile and cancelled our meeting. He then decided we should meet at 10.am but I was supposed to be giving Dong-soo (박동수) an English lesson then. Nana suggested I phone him and cancel the meeting but I quickly retorted that I didn’t have his phone number. Nana’s next suggestion was that I should simply not turn up for Dong-soo (박동수). Jo got up and went to the toilet and I told Nana that I didn’t want to cancel my plans on the whims of Jo. When Mr Jo returned, we agreed to meet at 10.45 next morning.

If I was pissed off with Jo, I was even more pissed off when the meal arrived as it was totally Klingon and disgusting. What I thought was a purple bean curd (note – probably my early under standing of acorn curd, 도토리묵) and octopus turned out to be raw lived and stomach. Then there was this thick, white gloopy soup which resembled ejaculate. The liver and tripe I passed aside and the soup actually made me gag. However some recognizable meat and vegetables arrived for us to cook on the pot at our table and this was quite tasty (note – I’ve gradually become more accustomed to Korean food but there are still some foods I don’t enjoy and raw liver and stomach or good examples).

As we drank more soju (소주), Mr Jo’s plans began to unfold and it transpires that he wants Nana and I to go to his new Letterland school tomorrow to start planning the Letterland system. The trouble with the Korean way of business is that you have to be very careful about committing yourself through the influence of alcohol and do you even have a choice?

By the time we left the restaurant we’d drunk several bottles of soju (소주)  and beer and despite this Jo drove us to a noraebang (노래 방)  almost adjacent my flat. We spent several hours here singing and I must have ordered 7 or 8 rounds of beer. Next morning I had a bad hangover and had lost my voice.

(note- I’ve learnt that a number of Korean bosses treat you like a ‘rice cooker’ and once you have a problem or don’t function as they want and you’re simply replaced with another wayguk. Others bosses are quite the opposite!)

 

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Further References

When the Cuckoo Dies (Bathhouse Ballads, June 2010)

Teachers’ Party and Andong – Friday November 17th 2000 (Korean Accounts 2001-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on November 17, 2000

Today, I called into the taekwondo school to give Mr Park, one of the instructors, an English lesson. In classes he often ends up instructing me as he is the only one who can speak a little English. I’ve been beginning to think he might find this task tedious and so I offered to teach him. He’s a very good martial artist, very fast and agile but then he only weighs about two stone. I guess he is aged about 22—24 but it is hard to tell as Korean men have little facial hair and have very boyish looks. His pronunciation is actually very good and he doesn’t have the problems with ‘p’s’ and ‘f’s’ like most Koreans do. They all pronounce ‘sofa’ as ‘sopa’ and find it hard to pronounce the ‘v’ in ‘video’. It also makes me laugh when they say ‘fish’ as they pronounce it ‘pish.’ You can imagine how the pronounce ‘vacuum?’ In one class a boy of about 8 said ‘vacuum’ but pronounced it ‘fak-uum,’ but to make it funnier he held up his middle finger. Obviously he had learnt it from American movies.

Most of the Korean kids all have western names which is confusing as when you talk to a Korean teacher about pupils, and you use the pupils western names, they have no idea about whom you are talking. Lots of the names are outdated and some examples include: Mabel, Ted, and Cindy. However, some are very bizarre and these include: Sonic, Carrot, Purple and Sky.

On Friday, evening Mr Jo organised a party for the teachers of which there are about forty across all subject areas. Nana and I were the only foreign teachers. I wasn’t particularly keen on going as I didn’t finish training until 10pm and knew I would be tired and aching. Nana and I met outside the school which is on the main road through the Song-so district and took one of the school buses to the nearby restaurant. All private schools have their own fleet of minibuses as do the taekwondo schools. Korean restaurants are all restricted in what they serve and special in one or two items. This restaurant served pork which you barbecued at your table. Like most restaurants it was a sit on the ground affair and from there the waiters delivered plates of sliced pork which you barbecued on the grill nearest to you. There were side dishes of dried shrimp, chillies, anchovy, mussels, garlic and the usual kimchies and leaves. My favourite leaf is called gaenip and is a wild sesame leaf unlike any leaf I have eaten in the west. Mr Jo paid for the whole meal and kept us supplied in soju. Jo got pissed very quickly and moved around talking to everybody. The school’s vice principal is Mr Lee who looks like a stereotypical image of a Chinese person with thick-set black rimmed glasses and goofy teeth. At work he is always very serious. He made some speeches and welcomed Nana and I to the school. Apparently, Nana has only recently arrived from a school in Andong. When people began to drift home, Mr Lee positioned himself at the front door and turned those leaving back into the restaurant.

Though soju is only 23%, I got fairly tipsy, enough to impress the Koreans. Mr Jo however, became so pissed Mr Lee and a teacher called Young-seop (영섭)  had to help him up. I was hoping we were all now able to go home but Mr Jo ordered everyone to the nearest noraebang. However, the soju had taken effect.

A noraebang  consist of a series of varying size rooms which you hire and all of which contain a large video screen in front of which is a large table surrounded by a sofas. Several folders sit on the table which contain an alphabetical list of songs and their number which you then fed into the remote control. Also on the table are a number of microphones and some percussion instruments such as tambourines or castanets. Everyone was shouting for Nana to sing but the first song was sung by Mr Lee. Mr Lee suddenly transformed and if you’d seen him you would have thought him a professional singer. Next Nana and I sang ‘My Way’ which I actually enjoyed doing. Everyone took turns to sing and joined in the choruses. I have since discovered there is a noraebang  just a few doors away from my flat (and is still there 16 years later – which in Korea is amazing)

Nana was away again at the weekend as he goes to teach in Andong. Feeling like a bit of lard, I visited KFC, which Koreans pronounce ‘k-peep-shee.’ Here I met a man who wanted English lessons and said he would take me sightseeing to temples in return. Then a boy of about 11 came and talked to me and introduced me to his little brother. Later, yet another stranger came up and asked if I would read stories in his kindergarten and I said I would ring him on Monday (this is interesting because in the last five years I’ve only been asked if I would teach privates on 2 occasions). I spent Sunday in the school writing my e-mails.

Sunday lunchtime Young-seop (영섭), one of the younger teachers, bought me lunch which was bibimbap (비빔밥), this consists of rice and vegetables in a bowl served with red pepper paste. This meal appears in a hot and cold version.

On Tuesday I didn’t have to teach until the afternoon so I accompanied Nana on a visit to Andong. Since I’ve been here all I have really seen is the area immediately around where I live and I still haven’t discovered all this area has to offer. However, Andong would be an interesting excursion. We left at 9 am and took the taxi to one of the city bus terminals – this was a twenty-minute journey which cost a couple of pounds. The buses are very punctual and ours left at exactly 9.30 am and I had more leg room on it than I am accustomed to on any British bus. Within ten minutes I had my first glimpse of Korea beyond city life. The road, a highway didn’t meander through any mountains but simply passed straight through them by a continual series of tunnels. In between the tunnels, in small valleys, were farms and rice fields. The mountains aren’t huge but they are bigger than hills and grander than anything I’ve seen in England. Nana talked incessantly which irritated me as I wanted to look at passing scenery. The forests are loosing their leaves and the view was very colourful.

Andong is a fairly big town but is much smaller than Daegu. There were a couple of beggars around the bus terminal and these were to be almost the only beggars I was ever to see in Korea. This was certainly less beggars than you were likely to see in Colchester at this time. Nana has taught in Andong for three years and was most likely the only black man the town has ever seen and so lots of people knew him.  We visited the principal of a language school and then had lunch with a couple of  Nana’s friends. There is a village on the edge of Andong where the Queen visited to watched masked dancing for which Andong is world-famous.

I missed taekwondo on Monday as my leg was sore but I made myself go on Tuesday. On the Wednesday the class did a Korean form of tai-chi during which floaty Korean pipe music was played. I missed the energetic training but it gave my muscles time to relax. The Thursday class was back to normal with plenty of press-up, sit-ups and leg techniques. Half of this class consisted of sparring during which everyone sat in an enormous circle while two people fought in the middle of it. I thought they were going to leave me out but then Mr Lee asked if I wanted to spar one of the green belts – a broad lad of about 20. I got up and quite impressed myself. Trundling up and down the gym kicking at a break neck speed I look like a lard arse but the moment I was confronted with an opponent all my old skills seemed to drift back. I was all over him and really only toyed with him. I used only basic kicks and didn’t use my hands. I have noticed that while most Korean students look pretty doing their kicks, moving fast and with agility, and even though many can do the splits, they are fairly crap at making a technique connect. And of course, many of them lack power. Even though I’d only been back in training for a  little less than a month. I was able to place gentle kicks on his chest, kidney and stomach. Of course, he was only a green belt and I have many years experience, which is something I sometimes forget. No doubt I would have found it harder fighting a senior belt.  Nonetheless, I felt good about myself and suddenly, when we had finished, I sensed a changed attitude towards me. I felt I would no longer be viewed as a spaker foreigner wanting to learn a bit of their art.

There is the third dan black belt lad of about 15. He is always very serious and so far he is the only person in the school who has failed to bow at me when I enter the dojang – I should add they are not bowing because I am a martial artist but because I am an adult. In the class, I don’t stand alongside other beginners but at the back of the class alongside senior belts. This is partly because I am foreign, a teacher and partly because I am probably the eldest in the class – apart from Master Bae, the ‘Captain.’  To put me anywhere else except with the black belts would probably be an insult. Anyway, this boy ignores me. After my fight with the green belt we were called to the front of the class and presented a stick on gold star each – I think our fight had been the most entertaining of the evening. When I was about to leave the class, after changing, the 3rd degree black belt boy came up to me, pulled himself to attention and proceeded to bow deeply.

On Friday I gave Mr Park, whose first name is Dong-soo, an English lesson. Tonight I am meeting a New Zealander called Roger, whom I met on the street where we talked for a while. Though there are few foreigners here, most talk to you.

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My Dobok Arrives – Tuesday 7th November (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on November 7, 2000

My taekwondo suit (dobok) arrived today. When I arrived at the dojang some excited boys were shouting, ‘dobok! dobok’ and holding their arms wide. Obviously the suit had been put on display for the amusement of the kids but I’m not bothered as I’ve become a little hardened to being the center of attention. Mr Bae let me change into it in his office but a huddle of boys stood watching me through the Perspex windows which looks onto the training hall. Politely, the boys held up their bags to stop any girls seeing me. The suit fitted fine and when I left the office half the school surrounded me to pull the material and help me put on the belt.

I actually hate the period just before I have to leave to go to the dojang as everything aches, my stomach, knees, thighs, even my buttocks. I’d much rather go home and relax but I have adopted this state of mind where I am resigned to accepting the pain of training. I totally commit myself to the will of the instructors. As there are no beginners’ classes and I am the only white belt, I ended up training with everyone else: Spinning kick, flying kick or jumping kicks, I attempted them all. We even had to do a running jumping kick during which we thrust out both legs parallel to the floor and touched our toes. I must have looked a sight as twenty odd stone doesn’t do such a technique with any finesse but as I said, I am beyond embarrassment.

Nana had a woman friend call around the house one evening. Her name is Po-yeoung and she is very nice company. She brought some dried squid with her which we toasted on the cooker, cut into strips and chewed with beer. It is rather like fishy jerky.

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