Elwood 5566

Homophobic Juncture – Justin Bieber Meets K-Pop

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

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

Bieber’s name alone is enough to expose homophobia

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

the West Koreans don’t see

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

Further References

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

Pray it’s a Foreigner Serving Your High Tea

chocolate fingers – as British as high tea

(Originally published March 15th 2011) Here’s something to ponder. You’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someone’s butt. They might be clothed, they might not. The only choice you have in the matter is what nationality they will be.

Podcast 75

When I used to train and teach taekwondo in the UK, sweaty sessions often produced brown watery stains on the butts of students’ white suits. I used to refer to it as ‘bum lick’ and basically, after rubbing shit around your arse  smearing it clean, residue remains which when mingled with sweat produces shitty water which then stains your pants. Despite the hideously hot summers in Korea, I have never seen ‘bum lick’ on kids taekwondo pants probably because their diet is substantially different. The moment you convert to loading up on pizza, big mac, bread and pastries plus a churn load of milk, cheese, butter and cream and it takes five minutes and half a roll of toilet paper to smear yourself clean.

Now, I’m not into backsides but if I were forced to stick my nose up someone’s crack, but could choose the nationality of the backside, it would most definitely be Korean. I base my choice on two reasons, firstly: a Korean diet leaves less mess and secondly, Koreans are simply more fastidious about personal hygiene.

guess where they’ve been?

With a culinary repository heavily based on soupy type recipes, Korean food never hangs about in the gut too long and when it is expelled it is ejected with such force that suction drags out any loitering debris.  Typical British food however, loiters in the intestines and has to be squeezed out of the body like toothpaste.  It passes through the body at such a slow pace that the entire intestinal track contains one enormous fecal sausage, a gigantic colonic conga which congests the entire gut like an enormous traffic jam as it slowly worms its way downward. Kimchi jjim, or a bowl of bean curd soup however, is ingested and processed at such speed that by the time it is blown out not only is the consistency unchanged but so too is its temperature.  With such force is it ejected from the body that it cleans your backside as it departs.   And I have to say, cleaning-up up after a Korean meal is not much different to dabbing your mouth after a drink of water whereas a British diet can only be compared with trying to smear-up a muddy hole.

despite what you might hear, most Koreans do shower before getting in a pool

And you know most Koreans wash their backsides thoroughly because  you can watch them doing it in a bathhouse. Many people in the UK still use bathtubs as a primary source of personal hygiene but how can you wash your arse in a little swaddling tub that binds your knees together and prevents easy access. Worse, the same water than cleans your body, that contains dead skin cells, hair, and other scud, the same water that rinsed out your backside and crotch, is then wallowed in. Yew! What a filthy habit and one almost as revolting as fitted carpets or cotton handkerchiefs. British showers aren’t much better being taken standing in restrictive bathtubs or in shower cubicles that provide as much freedom of movement as would a coffin.  Have you ever seen a westerner clean their backside?  And how do western kids learn how to clean themselves in that area? Are they just left to learn for themselves or do they simply let their underwear soak it up? I assume most westerners clean out their arses but I’ve never seen them doing it.

Nothing annoys me more than those who condemn Korean bathhouses, especially if they’ve only been a few times, and consider them places of moral and physical corruption or seething with rampant contagious infections; or those who like to bash Koreans because they use chopsticks in communal bowls of food or because they once had to use a crappy toilet.  Yes, of course somethings in Korea seem ‘dirtier than they do back home but traveling shouldn’t just spotlight the inadequacies in your host country but should also expose ones you hadn’t considered back home. Last year I came across a commentary by a westerner who complained:

And my 02. worth. Korean bathhouses? Dirty. Think about this for a minute.
The hot and cold pools. The water is NOT filtered. You have people who scrub their body and DON’T rinse off and still jump into the pools. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have also. Leave the sauna, sweat pouring off you and hop into the cold pool! I have never seen a sauna in Korea that filters the water. It gets changed once or twice a day. Japan? Yes the water is filtered and cleaned. Not Korea. I know a few people who caught the crabs in these saunas. The blankets in the sleeping rooms are not washed daily. The towels that the saunas give you to dry off usually are not washed in hot water. I’m not bad mouthing Korea saunas, I have been to a few but most are dirty. Even the fancy looking saunas that are expensive to enter do not filter the hot/cold pool water. People are peeing in them also. I’d think twice. The saunas are good things but many are lacking customers who use good hygiene. If you are lucky enough, you might have been using one when it was being cleaned. I was and never did return.

Actually, I don’t totally disagree! People, me included, go from the various saunas into one of the pools, bodies sweating, and occasionally I see kids get straight in a pool without showering and some bathhouses are cleaner than others. I’m sure some people must pee in the water and I’ve certainly seen people pee in the showers. Is the water filtered? Well, I know water is sucked in through vents and in other places blown out. Is this filtration? I’m no more aware of filtration systems than I would be in British swimming pools where people often swim without showering, and if they do it’s only in a cursory manner, and in which they do urinate. I’ve even seen a turd floating in a British swimming pool but most of us aren’t too bothered about pool hygiene because chlorine sanitizes not just the watery environment but mentally as it leads us to believe the environment is biologically sanitized.  British pools might be bug free, but are they clean? Would you wallow in a cesspit if it were purged with a bottle of chlorine?

with a chlorinated pool one can wash their muck off in the water

Without doubt some infections are passed in bathhouses, ‘red eye’ (conjunctivitis) being one and possibly a nasty infection of the testicles but even a mild infection of the bollocks is nasty as it results in them needing to be groped by your GP.  Personally, such risks I consider small and I’m happy to gamble infection for the pleasures bathhouses provide.  In years of using bathhouses I only ever had one infection and it’s debatable where it would have been contracted. I can identify a number of practices I consider unsavoury in Korea, some examples being how individuals might dump garbage at collection points which isn’t bagged, or dipping odeng (오댕 -fish cake snacks) into communal soy sauce bowls, a habit which I think might actually have almost phased out.  Then there is the habit many kids have of coughing in your face without covering their mouth with a hand.

beware the communal soy sauce dip – great for herpes

Some restaurants, especially small ones, have dubious cooking areas but once again I’ve seen just as bad in the UK where kitchens are usually hidden from public view.  Several years ago I attended a course which was hosted in a prestigious yacht club. When the caterer didn’t turn up, we took it upon ourselves to use the kitchen to make tea and coffee and what we found was alarming; filthy fridges containing curdled milk and atrophied onions, meat placed above vegetables and shelves tacky with sugary residue on which cups were stored upside down. I made a complaint to the local authorities which resulted in the restaurant being fined several thousand pounds. The head chef, who was subsequently sacked, had previously owned a swanky sea food restaurant in the same village.  Though lots of westerners will bemoan the state of many public toilets, I’ve seen far worse examples in the UK. I taught in one school where kids would deliberately urinate on the toilet floor, and even, on occasion, defecate beside the toilet rather than in it. There’s good and bad in all cultures but I will admit to being more lenient in terms of standards when I am eating something that costs next to nothing than I am when confronted with bad practices in an expensive, pretentious eatery. When eating out is expensive and an exception rather than the rule, as it is in the UK, I don’t expect Faecal Fingers or dirty anything.

an ultra-violet sanitizer in my last Korean high school

Generally, I do not think standards differ too much between Britain and Korea except in terms of personal hygiene, which unfortunately is one of the most important criteria. It’s great having no rubbish lying in your streets or chlorine in public bathing water but it makes little odds if the community around you are filthy fuckers. Several years ago, research by a British University revealed that between 6 and 53% of city commuters had faecal matter on their hands. (BBC News 2008) Apparently, the further north you go in Britain, the higher the rates of contamination.  This is especially alarming when you consider British people will usually fully unwrap a burger before eating it and are much more likely to put things like fingers and pens in their mouths. I’m the first to admit I unwrap my burger fully in order to consume it and find comfort in fingering the bun but Koreans always eat it from the wrapper even after washing their hands.

my students find this a dirty habit

A person’s hands are the prime tools of first contact, they touch people, open doors, activate buttons and knobs, finger and prepare food and much more; they are the tools which, with an opposing thumb, not only define us as primates, but facilitate and make possible our interaction with the physical world.  You can have all the brains in the world but without thumbs – you’re screwed! At the other end of the scale, your bum-hole does very little and generally spends a large proportion of the day sitting on its arse. If a person fails to sanitize their hands after a dump , if they can’t even be bothered to keep clean such an important tools, what horrendous microscopic offenses are lurking in that dark and humid crevice. And then there are the peanuts in bars which in the UK are usually contaminated with multiple traces of urine.   My Koreans students often call me ‘dirty’ if I stir my coffee with a pen or put a pen end in my mouth and they are unaware that so many Brits have faecal fingers.  Now I know why a number of British confections focus on ‘fingers.’ I have rarely met a dirty Korean student and the pissy urine smell that I’ve noted in numerous infant schools in Britain certainly never existed in the Korean kindergartens in which I taught.

I suspect much of the animosity towards bathhouses is simply the result of nudity; some westerners clearly perceive bathhouses physically ‘dirty’ because they consider nudity morally dirty. As one commentator wrote: I’ve also been here since 2001 and have never gone to a bathhouse. I’m not into sausage fests. I work out every day and shower at home. The room of soapy Koreans just doesn’t appeal to me. For some westerners, all it takes for a clean environment is a piece of cloth over a cock and buttock and suddenly the environment is clean; splash a bit of chlorine around and we will happily swim in each other’s neutralized dirt. In 2008, when I first read how widespread faecal matter was on the hands a large chunk of its population, I made a resolution to be extra vigilant in terms of personal hygiene and not only do I wash my hands after using the toilet, but I sanitize them with a spray or anti-bacterial hand cream. I have not once broken this resolution!

 

there are times when nudity is undoubtedly preferable (Borat)

It’s pointless getting defensive about our lack of hygiene, for years the British have been the butt of jokes about bad teeth. I once meet an Australian who told me he’d been taught Brits changed their trousers once every few weeks and I’ve seen the skid marks in changing rooms and smelt the effects of using underwear as blotting paper, in British schools. If you’re British at least, observing how fastidious Koreans are about personal hygiene should prompt you to realise your own cultural failings. What’s important is that you learn from such observations and of course, the process goes both ways. Koreans are also fastidious about dental hygiene and I recently read that brushing teeth three times a day over decades can lead to receding gums. A number of sources now suggest only cleaning teeth with a brush, twice a day.  As I said, there are good and bad practices in all cultures.

to contract -E-coli!

Okay, so now you’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someones butt. It’s time to choose. What nationality are you going to pick?

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Bathhouse Intimacy – Fathers and Sons

Podcast 82

I never really enjoy writing about some of the intimate moments I observe in bathhouses or even in everyday life as many western readers have a real problem with both the authors of such texts, whom they perceive as a perverts, and with the nature of its content, which they categorise, as ‘gay’ and ‘sickening’.

When fathers and sons are mutually washing each other I don’t like to sit and stare but over the last six months and through discussions with Korean friends I have managed to piece together how this process, which might possibly be defined as a ‘ritual,’ functions. At times of the week, usually the weekend, many fathers and sons visit the bathhouse and while for some the cleaning process is the prime function of the visit, for others it is simply for relaxation. I regularly see fathers and sons who will spend as much time cleaning each other, as I might in the pools and it is not in the least unusual for some to spend well over an hour cleaning either cleaning themselves or, in the case of a father, their son.

The process begins with showering under the stand-up showers and entails much the same as a standard ablution – washing the body, shampooing, shaving and brushing teeth. We have now reached the point at which most westerners would consider themselves clean but which for the majority of Koreans is only the preamble to a meticulous ablution. After the stand up shower some visitors go straight to the sit down shower units while others will spend some time enjoying the various pools and saunas. For younger children, this often means playing while older boys are content to sit with their fathers. Most of my Korean friends will soak and sweat in the various facilities for anything up to several hours, at which point dead skin cells and callouses have absorbed water and are easily removed.

the bathhouse, where ‘skinship’ is taken to the extreme

Between friends, scrubbing each others’ backs is an accepted intimacy and it is not unusual to see peer groups, especially school boys, university students or even monks sat in a line each scrubbing the person in front. Several years ago an advert depicted young boys doing exactly this and attracted some  negative and hostile comments from foreigners living in Korea. Unless you opt for a scrub down by a bathhouse attendant, the scrubbing of backs is probably the most intimate extent to which friendships, even between the closest friends, goes and seems much the same as from son to father. However, from father to son, the level of intimacy is much greater and certainly, into middle adolescence, a boy is often totally passive in this procedure. Indeed, there isn’t much difference between how some fathers clean their sons, and how you might wash a car, care for a baby or invalided person.

The cleaning process reflects a close bond between fathers and sons

The procedure often takes place in silence and begins with the boy bending over and supporting themselves on the ledge that runs under the mirrors so that their father can vigorously scrub their back with an Italy towel progressing down their buttocks, backs of thighs and calves. For anyone who has visited a bathhouse and seen for themselves this type of ritualistic cleaning, the process isn’t brief or cursory. The Italy towel is used with only the smallest amount of soap, not enough to even produce a lather and in a rough enough manner to produce a visible line of dead skins cells. Once an area has been ex-foliated, it is showered after which the Italy towel is again used, this time with a generous amount of soap.

Next, the boy sits down facing his father and puts each leg, in turn, on his father’s thigh and the same process is repeated from the soles of the feet to the thighs. Then the boy sits with his back,  neck or shoulders supported over his father’s knee so that his chest and stomach can be scrubbed. It is not in the least unusual for boys or even their fathers, to hold their genitals to one side while scrubbing the groin. Finally, with head resting on their dad’s thigh, their face is scrubbed even to the extent of cleaning noses and ears. The meticulous process ends with a session under the stand up shower. Sometimes the procedure is organised slightly differently, for example if the boy is not very tall, he might stand for much of the ablution. What is most bizarre for the westerner is the proximity between the face and genitals or backside of another person. Even between friends, if someone is standing and someone sitting, as for example might sometimes be the case when one person is scrubbing another’s back, there is no concern about the distance between the face of one and the genitals of another.

the Italy towel in action

Often the process is performed by a bathhouse attendant and every bathhouse has an area with one or several couches on which you lay for this purpose. I rarely see young children receiving a scrub down but older boys, sometimes unaccompanied and at other times with their fathers, will subject themselves to this ritual. A scrub down from an attendant is every bit as intimate, and for the westerner, invasive, as the one between fathers and sons. Koreans are so used to the cleaning ritual, they subconsciously place their limbs in the required position or require only the briefest prompt, for westerners however, the process is awkward and the body, unaccustomed to the procedure, is antagonistic to the attendant’s manipulation. And yes! They do hold your ‘bits’ to one side as they’re scrubbing. However, the experience is invigorating as well as liberating.

Clearly, father-son, as well as mother-daughter bathhouse rituals are an integral expression of ‘skinship’ and undoubtedly provide the most extreme example of intimacy between individuals in a platonic setting. On several occasions I have witnessed a father bathing his severely mentally and physically disabled son and much that was sad and tragic in the procedure was nullified by the close bond they clearly shared. But it is also possible to see such parent-child intimacy as one aspect of a broader cycle and sons can often be seen tending their aged fathers in the exact reversal of the father-son ritual.

Koreans do not carry the same cultural baggage as regards the body as many westerners either in terms of prudery or propriety and appear much less  judgmental about the bodies’ of other people. I recently read a very interesting article by a Korean grandfather who was approached by  a little girl in a bathhouse who wanted lifting into a hot pool, because she was cold (link). In many other cultures, racked with obsessions which perversify any contact between minor and adult, such intimacy, and many other intimacies observed in a bathhouse setting, are taboo. It would also seem that what is observed between those of the same gender remains private. To discuss or gossip about the body of another person would be highly inappropriate and improper and certainly, between males and females, would constitute a cultural taboo. And one of the greatest Korean attributes, especially when you’re naked and vulnerable, is that they are excellent at complimenting those parts of your body you don’t like. I wouldn’t wish my body on anyone but even naked many Koreans are able to make you feel very good about yourself.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Teenage Pluckers’ and Cottagers

Posted in Korean children, No Pumpkin Category by 노강호 on April 10, 2011

a sign of stress?

It was a personal opinion and I’m not generalizing, but I was once told the worst affliction for a Korean teenage, one worse than acne, was grey hair. I rarely see Korean girls preening themselves or each other to the extent that occurs in British schools but the occasional group plucking usually among girls, but occasionally boys, is not uncommon. Whether grey hairs are a sign of stress I am unsure but Koreans believe them to be so.

As all waygukin know, Korean kids are fascinated with the bodies of westerners and especially with body hair. I have a girl in one class who will regularly play with my fingers and pinch out any bits of skin from around my nails. Another boy will check my eyebrows and pluck out any straggly hairs. I don’t know how long it takes other western teachers to become oblivious, if at all, to the increased levels of physical contact between teachers and pupils; I ceased judging it by British standards a long time ago.

Sometimes however, Korean inquisitiveness goes too far for western sensibilities. Not once have I used the boys toilets in my school as we have ones specifically for staff but when a repairman was resident last week and I was bursting, I slipped into the boys toilets and immediately two middle school boys who had been leaving, turned back. Despite positioning my back to them, which in mid flow is all I can do as I am too tall to hide between the sides of the urinal, one ventured to the side of me. Undeterred either by my embarrassment or suggestions to ‘fuck off,’ he simply starred.  Was this cheeky inquisitiveness, blatant cottaging or urophilia? I wasn’t angry and there was something comical about the incident. In all however, one of the minor embarrassments of life in Korea and for those waygukin unable to ditch their cultural prejudices, it is probably an incident that can only be understood in relation to perversion (hence the pumpkin logo above.) I shared the incident with my boss; she found it very amusing.

 

a greater degree of physical intimacy

And if ever your shoulders and back are tense simply ask a student for a massage. Korean kids, and indeed Koreans in general are as eager to pummel your shoulders and back as British kids are to arm wrestle though in my absence from the British education system, that too might now be taboo.

a group plucking during a break

FURTHER REFERENCES TO SKINSHIP WITHIN THIS BLOG

It’s All in the Touch (April 2010) Also in podact

Korean Teenager (Ben 2) And Other Stuff (June 2010)

When ‘Gay’ is ‘Gay’ (June 2010)

Who Really Worships the Wang (October 2010)

Laura (3) Korean Teenagers – Magical Moments (Oct 2010)

Bathhouse Zen (1) Dec 2010

Bathhouse Zen (2) (Dec 2010)

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

The Pumpkin People Logo

Posted in No Pumpkin Category by 노강호 on December 7, 2010

I have actually removed the ‘Pumpkin Logo’ from relevant posts partly as I realise those that do take objection are usually just trolling.  However, I’m leaving this post up should I ever have to refer a reader to it.

I am about to post a series of articles on bathhouses which will contain the often used ‘not suitable for pumpkin people,’ logo. You can access the rationale behind this logo via the link.

Not suitable for Pumpkin People

This logo will at times appear to warn away pumpkin people. The world’s dominated by dumb-asses and some visit here. Just to set the record straight, this is a blog predominantly about bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture in South Korea as well as about other observations on Korean, and sometimes western culture.

Writing about bathhouse culture necessitates writing about bathhouses, gender and the observations I  experience therein so, for the dumb-asses who put pen to paper under the maxim of Sydney Smith:

‘I never read a ‘blog’ (book) before writing a review – it prejudices one so’

Let me help you:

This is not a ‘gay blog’ though it may be of interest to people of any sexual orientation

It is not a blog about ‘kiddies’

The content should not imply I am ‘gay’ any more than my observations about insects should assume I am an entomologist.

If the word ‘boy’ appears within a post containing a word for the male genitalia, do not jump to the dumb-assumption I am a pervert. That I am male and use  the appropriate section for bathing means I am more likely to use the words ‘man’ and ‘boy’, rather than ‘woman’ or ‘girl.’ This has nothing to do with my sexuality and I would love to be able to access the female section.

If you find the concept of ‘skinship’ repulsive, no problem, but what do you expect to find in a blog about bathhouses and Korean culture? Skinship is an integral part of Korean gender and as someone interested in sociology, I would be amiss to ignore it.

I prefer Korean ‘masculinity’ to western masculinity which is one reason I live in Korea. I’m not into macho shit or being aggressive despite being an ex-soldier of 15 years service and a taekwon-do instructor who at one time was a competent martial artist. Korea is safer and teaching Korean students does not involve the psychological and physical abuse it often does in Scumland UK and other western countries.

I write about a lot more than bathhouses

This blog is not written for expats though they too, may also find it interesting

The opinions contained within are not the utterances of the Delphic Oracle and are simply my opinions.

If you are a pumpkin and leave a pumpkin comment I probably won’t publish it. I am interested in and welcome educated and thoughtful responses, even if they are contrary to my own and especially ones with some sociological insight.

Sorry for the male bias, but Korean bathhouses are segregated!

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Uncle Ernie's Daegu Antics Prompt a Rant

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, Korean children, No Pumpkin Category, Westerners by 노강호 on July 21, 2010

Uncle Ernie’s been at it again, this time in Daegu but he managed to escape to Japan before the police caught him. A little jigery-pokery in the pants of a few students and suddenly every one ‘loves’ kiddies and starts baying for those accused to be tortured, brutally beaten, executed or incarcerated for life. It’s basic, Witch-hunts and Pogroms for Dummies.

Twenty years ago the word ‘paedo’ didn’t exist and even today many people can’t spell the word and constantly use it incorrectly, often conflating pederasty with paedophilia. Of course, I’m on dangerous ground as  the baying often insists that anyone not whipped into a raging frenzy and demanding draconian punishments for offenders, must be a paedo themselves. The parallels are obvious, Krystalnacht, the Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism and the Spanish Inquisition.

Ernie at work in one of his guises - lovely hat

Fiddling with kids is bad and crimes involving rape and violence against children are terrible but get real! First, ‘fiddling all about,’ Uncle Ernie’s favourite pastime, usually committed at bedtime, is only a recent concern. Twenty years ago no one really gave it much attention. I can certainly remember a time when the media often reported cases of teenage boys who’d been fiddled with by ‘sexy’ housewives and reported in a manner which implied it was a wholesome, fun-frolicking experience that every boy fantasized and in which every dad could be proud that at the very least, their son wasn’t ‘queer.’  The Catholic Church, the ideal religion for committing a range of offences, including Ernie’s favourite, but additionally more heinous ones like buggery, violence and murder, are still trying to pay it as little attention as possible. If you want to commit crime and be happy and guilt free doing so, the Catholic Church provides a suitable ideological package and  joining their club provides some lovely hats and costumes.  Many of the world’s most notorious crime spots are countries where Catholic sentiment run rampant.

Secondly, touching a kid’s todger or stroking their bottom is far less offensive than allowing them to die of starvation, lack of sanitation and water. Globally, we tolerate the death of 20.000 kids every day which over a number of years amounts to significant holocaust and many die at the hands of weapons manufactured in  west. The US and UK are two of the world’s leading peddlers of kiddy death. Sensing some of the emotive guff written by those responding to pervy teachers, one might be led to belief we actually care about the welfare of kids. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. I call it ‘guff’ because the responses and their nature are largely orchestrated via the media and popular politically correct sentiment, a form of peer pressure.

Global perversion!

You want to castigate a child abuser, start with the ones who do it on a global scale and make mega bucks doing it. Arms dealers and manufacturers and their political lackeys are perverts of the highest magnitude and then there are the politicians and political systems which put profits before people – a perversion most people are happy to tolerate.

Perverts in arms - probably just leaving or entering a church

And changing the subject, how did Ernie manage to get his kids to undress? I can’t imagine for one moment my kids just stripping off if I told them to, let alone trying to undress them myself. Maybe he spoke fluent enough Korean to order them to do so but even then I would imagine you’d need to provide a motive and I’ve met few English teachers with such a capable command of Korean.

Ernie must have gone to school that day with both a prepaid passage to Japan and his letter of resignation and of course, knowing exactly what he was going to do.

I’ll frotage a few buttocks, stroke a couple of wieners, hand in my resignation, make a dash for Inchon and be in Tokyo in time for tea!

And he’s married with children? It’s probably true but fantastical enough to suspend any witch-hunt!

Being totally cool-headed and rational – it’s a pretty minor offense! If I had kids and I had to choose between one being squashed by  a bus, blasted to pieces by a landmine, starving to death or being touched by Ernie…….well, only a fucking idiot would choose anything but the latter. Ernie’s fingers are definitely offensive but a far greater catalogue of atrocities exist and are endured by thousands of children every day – and most warrants not the slightest concern and can be intellectualised away via political and economic theories or simply deemed naive.

Real perverts have the power to define perversion

Hype aside, what remains to call for chemical castration, execution and all sorts of inquisition-style punishments are vague.  The guy is possibly mad but in the small selection of emotive guff I’ve read, I’ve yet to see terms such as ‘mentally ill,’ or ‘crazy.’ Paedo crimes are currently of master label status and as such carry the verdict of guilty the moment even tainted by the label and  sadly, even if subsequently proved innocent the association will remain. Shouldn’t such a predicament, comparative with other historical events, raise alarm bells?

Victim of a cluster bomb - a product of perversion and a contributing cause of around a million Iraqi deaths

I didn’t enjoy writing this post, ranting comes very easily to me and has probably lost me a number of friends and on this site I have a policy of avoiding blatant rants. The world is a depressingly sick place and our apathy contributes towards it. Paedo-paranoia is part of the bread and circuses hype which detract attention away from the real axes of evil!

Labour Party Turned a Blind Eye to Iraqi Casualties (Guardian UK. July 2010)

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Sausages and Shit – Comparissons in Smut humour

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, No Pumpkin Category, podcasts, Westerners by 노강호 on April 30, 2010

podcast 15

Around a year ago, I wrote several mini plays for my younger students with the intention of encouraging stress and intonation and injecting some emotion into what was often flat and dull dialogue. Out of this came an idea to write something using those words which Koreans always mispronounce. I  trialed I’m Pine’ in a small class and quite scared the kids as I was the only one laughing, indeed I was hysterical and all red-faced and coughing. Meanwhile, the kids looked on without the slightest clue what I was laughing at. I abandoned the project when I realised that fnarr fnarr, innuendo and smut, work as effectively on Koreans as sarcasm. However, if you pronounce sarcasm more like ‘sharcasm’ or ‘sharcashi’ it will elicit a response as this has something to do with oral sex. If you use this word on Kindergarten kids you’ll need to explain it more graphically, perhaps by way of eating a banana or sausage.

I mean! Its a cock! Isnt it?

Have you noticed how you can have a roomful of Korean kids eating bananas or sausages and no one ever makes a joke or gesture about sucking a cock? In a class of British kids there will always be one who makes the connection public. My sister and I can never eat phallic food  without making jokes or obscene gestures and many a time one of us has deep throated a banana after using our teeth to quickly groove it a suitable helmet and meatus.  A banana might not strike one as a suitable replica of a cock, but one advantage is you can embellish it with far greater success than for example a sausage, which like cosmetic surgery, often  results in a simply ghastly mutilation. Bock-wurst sausages, the most realistic of phallic foods are particularly amusing  as like truly big cocks, no matter how hard you slurp, they remain bendy. Bratwurst too, can slip in and out of the throat provided not too hot or over grilled, when the skin splits and they can scratch your throat.  Westerners are much more apt to defile items resembling a cock in terms of texture or shape and pepperonis, lychees, strawberries, bananas, the entire gamut of sausages, marrows, courgettes, cucumbers,  etc, etc, are all the butt of our crude humour.

All the fun of a saveloy! (1982)

The herculean efforts required to suck away a stick of seaside rock provide an extension to, and memory of, holiday joys

Can we westerners eat a banana or saveloy in public without a fleeting association of it being a cock? Is it possible  for us to eat a banana without some awareness that we mustn’t lavish our lips too long on the tip or caress it fleetingly with a tongue.   We must certainly never suck it like a lolly, that’s a cardinal sin. And what about rock, the great British seaside tradition? Rock, and things like barley sticks can all be vigorously sucked without ever offending the sensibilities as can corn on the cob, the eating of which is never passive and certainly reminiscent of nuzzling along the girth of a bloated shaft.

Infinitely more gratifying, are the girth and grease of a sausage

In commercials, it is permissible to suggest oral gratification provided the object being ‘sucked,’ or more usually poked between pouted lips (of a sexy woman), is something lifeless and hence lollies and cream eggs are often subject to titillation. For the British juvenile commercial, fellatio is epitomised by the Cadbury’s chocolate flake  in which the references are all cock but the moment the tongue probes  that  helmet-less stump the thing either melts or flakes apart. There is an unspoken rule that sucking or licking something in public or  alluding to  the oral stimulation of a penis is acceptable provided the phallus in play is hard, unyielding, cold, fragile, brittle, and basically void of any life.  Once all the qualities of life are removed,  all potential threats nullified and nicified, you can lick it and suck it as much as you like. This is why it is okay to suck a lolly, the rigidity and cold reminiscent of a cock with rigor rather than one with vigour, but not a banana.  This is the reason you can never suck on a saveloy or nuzzle up the shaft of a succulent sausage, holding it in daintily between your fingers and it is why, in your favourite bistro, you never dip the head of your Cumberland  in the creamy mashed potato, lube it up with as smidgen of thick gravy,  and commence to lick it like a lolly.

All the characteristics of a beefy cock

A Walnut Whip

Such associations are lost on Koreans  and to me at least, with my filthy western mind, it seems as though such humour should be universal, I mean, a sausage, especially a long bendy one, it’s a cock, isn’t it? Six inches plus of warm meat, firm but not unyielding, broad enough to gnaw  like a sweetcorn, slightly oily and let’s not forget, juicy. They even have a skin! How could such characteristics not remind you of a cock? But give a Korean a turd, especially one whirled like an ice cream, and they’ll be highly amused. Seriously, one of the first words I learned  to recognise was ‘ddong,’ (똥). In those first few weeks  in Korea, I was quite intrigued by the appeal that many kids had for drawing ‘ice cream’ whirls on desks and walls. Why ice-cream, I thought? Are they hungry? There was a Baskin Robbins opposite my school but their ice-cream wasn’t whirled. And the whirls, expertly drawn, were literally everywhere: on desks on the wall and  even in notebooks.

Naturally, such visualizations are culturally informed. I shit quite differently back in the UK where my turds, and those left loitering in toilet bowls which I’ve had the misfortune to see, are rarely whirled; a whirled turd probably symptomatic of a bad stomach. No! Western poohs are more like yule  tide logs, bulky, loaded, substantive and sticky. If you’ve lived in Korea for any amount of time, and your diet is predominantly Korean food, you may have noticed how long a toilet roll lasts. I mean, two wadges are ample to clean your arse because you shit so fast  any residue left loitering  in your dirt track is dragged out by suction. If I had to calculate the time it takes to sit down, shit, and mop up, then on an average basis the process is far quicker on a Korean diet. Living in Korea actually adds time to your life because the moment you sit down, ‘hwang,’ and it’s out. Two little dabs with toilet paper, wash yours hands  and you’re done! You have to wash your hands if your from the UK as research by a British University discovered that 15-53% of British people  have  traces of shit on their hands.  Apparently, the further north you travel the shitier the hands. Since being made aware of this, as an act of both sanitation and disassociation,  I now use anti-bacterial hand-wash after every dump.

A national icon. Mr Whippy

A National icon. Mr Whippy!

Mr Pooh

Poohing Korean Style can take place in less than a minute. Korean faecal flurry can’t wait to get out, indeed your body blasts it into the loo in one atomic fart. But the moment you hit western food, the pastries, bread, burgers, potato, pizzas, and copious amounts of meat,  and every fibre of  your lower intestine is fighting to keep that clotted log contained in your gut and it’s so gargantuan in girth and solid in consistency that expelling it, like birthing, takes not just considerable will power but  a  highly rubberous ring piece. In its wake, a trail of muck, always sticky, pasty and clingy and which can only be removed by massaging it around your butt, sort of rubbing it off,  with half a roll of paper.  No wonder we need extra ply shit paper, and little lotioned wipes to prod our butts because an English diet, and this is the worst part, involves having to  manually dredge yourself. With all that poking,  and a paper draped digit, even double ply,  is never a reliable defense,  I’m not surprised many Brits have shit on their hands.  And I wonder how much psychological damage is done having to finger around the flesh of that dirty clam on a daily basis. How much of our national psyche is  shaped by those ‘turdy’ experiences. No  wonder we don’t like to touch each other and seldom shake hands, no wonder we are so unfriendly, no wonder pooh is taboo! Fingering shit first thing in the morning is a vile and shameful way to start the day and knowing that everyone else has been digging the dirt is hardly conducive to community spirit!

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I Saw a Snood

Alleged Korean mafia member

podcast 12

I was laying in the hot pool (열탕) this evening. I never hang around in there too long as this one is quite hot  and fifteen minutes is my maximum. As it was empty, I could wedge myself in my favourite corner and watch the television. Then this man with a large dragon tattooed on his thigh stepped into the pool. People often tell me that a tattoo is a sign of mafia membership but that might be prejudice. Last week I saw the first person I have ever seen in Korea with a tattoo on a part of the body not easily covered. It was a large cross which extended from the base of his neck right up until just under his ear. It wasn’t a good design and looked like he’d done it himself. A tattoo on the neck! That’s a bad sign and I heard myself mutter, ‘wanker,’ exactly as I do when I see those silly kids on hairdryer motorcycles zig-zaging from one side of the road to the other with an enormous speaker, masking-taped to the petrol tank and blaring at full volume over the whinnying strains of the engine. Yea, I know, those kids are probably harmless, but I had enough anti-social behaviour in the UK to last a life time.  A tattoo on the neck in Korea, will definitely impede life to the max!

The guy stands in front of me so his buttocks and are facing me, and for a few moments he stands watching the TV. I’ve seen plenty of guys with this sort of tattoo as well as the one cascading down the back and they’re never unfriendly or aggressive – not as you might expect a gang member to be. I’ve also noticed how many of them have the same stocky, slightly pot-bellied physiques. The water was starting to get uncomfortable but as I was going to change pools, the ‘ice room’ was calling me, Mafia Man turns about  and I get a glimpse of the first snood I’ve seen in several months.  Snoods are not common in bathhouses, but on non-western adults at least, they are  about as common as a foreskin.

Anyone who has ventured into a bathhouse will have noticed, especially if they come from Europe, that all Korean men are circumcised. Indeed Korea has the highest rate of non-religious circumcision in the world – thanks to the influence of the USA in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, N. Koreans remain intact. Finding data and statistics or indeed any information on the phenomenon of Korean circumcision is as difficult as finding information on frenulectomy / frenoplasty; the additional operation which the majority of American boys are subject to and which chops away even more of their dicks than their circumcision. When health ‘care’ secretly removes parts of the body and the victims don’t even know whats been removed, let alone their parents, it ceases to be ‘care.’

Korean circumcisions are usually performed shortly before the boy is about to go to middle school, the average age being around  13, though  for some it may be performed earlier and it is certainly not uncommon to see uncircumcised high school or even first year university students.  However, it is probably safe to assume 99.9% of males have been circumcised by the time they are conscripted into the forces. That this operation is not performed in infancy may be explained by the fact that until fairly recently, infant mortality rates were high  and circumcision placed an added risk  on a boy’s life. Unlike the USA, Korea has not exploited the clandestine removal of the frenulum.   Clinics for circumcising boys, most popular during the winter vacation, are as common as supermarkets and indeed, my local E-Mart has a clinic opposite so you can have your dick mutated and be sat in E-Mart McDonald’s in less time than a scale and polish. Operations taking about thirty minutes, are performed under local anesthetic and cost between 60.000 – 100.000 won (30-50 UK pounds).

And this is exactly what it looks like!

Back to the snood! When I first started going to bathhouses, I quite often saw a couple of guys with these very weird-looking things hanging from the underside of their dicks. At first, I thought they must have had botched circumcisions but I now know they were either Filipino or had been ‘circumcised,’ Filipino style, which is known as pagtutuli. The traditional Filipino version, which simply cleaves the foreskin in two, and then lets it hang off the underside like a chunk of fat,  hence the ‘snood,’ qualifies as a circumcision  about as much as rasping your face with the cheese grater qualifies as a face-lift. Meanwhile, if you want to know what happens to all those foreskins in the US – it’s a mega-buck industry with neonatal foreskins the most lucrative. Want to buy a batch? Apparently, they make very good anti-aging cream! Personally, I’ll stick with Nivea. http://ccr.coriell.org/Sections/BrowseCatalog/?SId=3

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

It’s all in the Touch – Skinship. (스킨십)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, No Pumpkin Category by 노강호 on April 10, 2010

This week, I was invited to the apartment of a student’s father who, after a soju session, happened to find me alone, eating dinner in a small restaurant. I’d been both training and to the bathhouse and at 10.10pm, after an intense day, I didn’t really want to party.  Unlike many in a similar state of being a little tipsy, he refrained from coaxing me into drinking and so, feeling in control, I agreed to accompany him to his apartment. Needles to say, my dinner was paid for. Outside, on the street, he led me by the hand and throughout the hour or so we sat on the floor in his apartment, surrounded by his family, he kept giving me ‘high fives’ after which he’d hold my hand, interlocking his fingers around mine or squeezing my palm with both his hands and every so often, in a slightly inebriated fashion, he’d say ‘Nick, I love you,’ or ‘Nick, you are my friend.’

A communal pillow

I can imagine how intensely invasive such situations can be for many western men. From the age  18 to 27, I lived in West Germany and in my free time I trained with friends  in a taekwondo school. Although most of the students were German, a fair few were Turkish and whenever they shook your hand, which as is the custom in Germany, was upon every meeting, they’d shake it and continue to hold it. It seemed they held it for minutes and as each second passed, I could feel my body tensing. Worse however, was when they began caressing it between their hands until with temperature rising, you could feel your palm becoming horribly clammy.  Today, such innocent intimacy doesn’t bother me and I can as easily initiate it as be the recipient; but, if I think back to my first experiences of such behaviour, I can relive the horror. Without any doubt, it was invasive, almost like going in your zipper, but of course, you couldn’t pull your hand away, that would have been quite rude. And despite the fact my friends and I were only 18 or 19, that we’d never been to university and were soldiers, we had enough experience to know the discomfort stemmed from a simple clash of cultures. It just had to be endured. By the time I returned to England some years later, I wasn’t shocked when a Kenyan friend held my hand in Richmond, London, on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Skinship

Within a Korean context, my new friend, Jae-seong'(재성), is behaving quiet naturally and his intimacy should not for one moment be construed as sexually motivated. In a male to male setting, Koreans are much quicker to initiate ‘skinship,’ than are British or North Americans and when initiated it is quickly upgraded to a level we would construe as ‘almost sexual,’  ‘certainly suggestive,’ and ‘definitely alarming.’ Men and boys sharing umbrellas, arms draped over each other shoulders, sometimes holding hands,  that’s the sort of stuff homos do! I googled ‘skinship’ prior to writing this entry and the fifth reference on the very first site, Urban Dictionary, began:  ‘disturbingly intimate skin-to-skin relationship between adolescent boys in Japan.’  This value judgment itself struck me as disturbing. However, more judgments were to follow:

(a new English teacher in Japan working in a junior high school) ”Man, I went into one of my classes today, and this one boy was sitting on the lap of another one right there and he had his one hand in his half-buttoned down shirt feeling up the other boys chest, and with the other hand he was playing with the other boys hair. Both of them seemed fine with it, and nobody else seemed to care at all. And I knew both of the kids have girlfriends because I talk to them after class. It was so weird…”

(a veteran English teacher) ”It’s called ‘skinship.’ I don’t know why, but they all love that shit over here.”

I am tempted to dismiss such comments as I know some people can be blind to travel, that travel doesn’t necessarily broaden the  mind.  I met a very pleasant fellow countryman a few weeks ago. We were roughly the same age, both ex army, having in fact served at the same time and in the same area, both professional school teachers and with a  lot  in common.  He had only been  in Korea a few weeks so I pass no judgment on him, but when I asked if he’d like to go to the movies, he rapidly declined assuming Koreans would think two men watching a film together,  gay! I have to ask myself whether I’m weird to find the intimacy of skinship endearing and should the hostility and masculine bravado I am accustomed with back home, be preferable? That girls can be intimate with each other without being labeled ‘lesbian’, while for boys the  only opportunity for physical contact is generally through a contact sport, in my opinion epitomizes the lives of insects, where every other  insect, even of ones own species, is a potential threat.

‘hierachical collectivism’

‘Skinship,’  is both a Japanese and Korean concept, derived originally from the relationship between mother and baby where physical contact is an important bonding process. The term is used to describe general intimate physical contact, as between parents and children, as well as more a more sexual expression involving petting, especially between teenagers. The Korean term, an example of Konglish, appears to differ in practice from Japanese ‘skinship’ as it is practiced between men, and especially teenage boys. It involves a range of common and not so common practices including:  draping arms over each other, sharing umbrellas, sitting in each other’s laps, massaging, stroking, toying with each other’s hair, holding hands, playing with fingers, resting head on another’s lap or thigh, playing with ears, etc, etc. It can also be used to describe bonding with someone through sports or games and which are often common practices among business men.

In the west, I have always found that even cursory physical contact between people, for example, touching of an arm or shoulder, signifies a deeper level of relationship. I can remember touching the arms of parents on parents evening in schools 10 years ago, parents whom I only met once, yet seemed to have an empathy with, which resulted in the fleeting touching of a hand or arm. And I have noted in the past, that a short cut to bonding is through physical touch but its initiation has to be mutual and stress free for it to be successful. Of course, physical contact and its  importance in bonding, form the basis of courses designed to promote workplace relationships – those courses where a partner has to fall backwards and you catch them or some such activity.

Normal behaviour

However, digressing momentarily, forced intimacy can occasionally have a negative effect. I recall, once going to a friend’s birthday party. She was English but practiced an Indian religion and along with twenty or so other friends, sat in a large and busy North London restaurant, and ‘forced’ to sit in designated seats next to people you didn’t know, we had to close our eyes, turn to the person next to us and then simultaneously, begin feeling the contours of each other’s face. The cringingly stressful procedure was  accompanied by new age whale music. Oh, my God! It was horrible! Not because of the intimacy but because you knew the rest of the restaurant were watching you in disbelief. Then we had to turn to the other partner and massage their shoulders. All I could think was, Karl Marx’s grave is just down the road and I’ve never seen it! There’s a time and  place for physical intimacy, for skinship but not in a busy restaurant on a Friday night  to the serenade of migrating humpbacks.

So, after a coffee, some strawberries, some holding of hands and intertwining of fingers, I actually feel closer to Kim Jae-seong than several hours earlier. Already, he’s inviting me to the beach at Pusan and even suggest a date. The chances are it will materialise. And then he progresses to  ask me if Id take his son to the UK  when I go on my next holiday. I agree and then to make light of it, as I know it’s probably the soju talking, I joke about how he’d fit in my bag.  And meanwhile  Ben, his son, is eagerly taking a photograph of me and muttering ‘ that his friends won’t believe his teacher has been to his house.’

I have probably taught more students back in the UK than in Korea but I have never sat in a parent’s house, I have never been invited into a parent’s house, I have never socialized with  a parent, I have never been invited on a trip with them, I have never had a student photograph me because they needed proof a teacher had been  in their house, I have never had a student hold my hand or do anymore than fleetingly touch me, and the same goes for a parent, and neither parent or student has really ever wanted to associate with me. And all in instance I feel both a yearning to be back home with my friends and family and a sense that this is home. Certainly, it is where I’m valued.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Ten Tips for Taking the Plunge

So you want to go to the bathhouse but have reservations.? Read on…

Once you’re naked and the same as everyone else, the apprehensions that originally plagued you gradually, though not completely, begin to lift.  I wore my military dog tags and a watch on my first occasion and, for the next few months, continued to do so on subsequent visits. These became invested with a new sense of worth as for some ridiculous reason, I didn’t feel totally naked wearing them.  As psychological props, there came a stage several months or maybe even weeks later, when they were no longer necessary and I clearly remember deciding to leave them in the changing room and finally go completely naked. Initially, I missed them because I used to fiddle with them or glance at my watch obsessively, when I  felt uncomfortable.

You might want to avoid that white bucket seat on your first visit!

Ironically, my first visit to a bathhouse was on Independence Day, March 1st 2001 (삼일). I traveled with my best friend, my boss, whom I now work for, to visit her family in Changwon (창원). The bathhouse visit had been unplanned and presented to me as a choice, the other being to stay at home and play games with the women. I decided, for the sake of my image, to accompany the 5 men,  all related and one of whom my friend’s husband. They were all sympathetic to my novice status and were especially thoughtful and empathetic. Despite my trepidations and the fact I had been wanting to have this experience, my diary comments, were positive and my only apparent fears were bending down to pick up the soap, a little unease at being the only adult who wasn’t circumcised and  sitting in that ‘undignified’ position on the little plastic stool. One of my friends even scrubbed my back which though strange was endearing and made me feel both part of our group and  bathhouse community. What surprised me most however, was the depth of intimacy between fathers and their sons, an intimacy which went far beyond scrubbing backs.  It seemed there were no taboos.

No gigantic towels to hide under

Under the shower next to me, a boy of  13 or 14, lay on the floor while his father vigorously scrubbed him. This included holding aside the boy’s genitals while he scrubbed his groin and, when the boy rolled over onto his stomach, he scrubbed his buttocks. When this was finished, they traded places and the  procedure was reversed. I have since seen this performed countless times, in many other bathhouses and in all possible variations. Though no longer surprised, I’m always aware of the cultural differences that  in the West deems this intimacy, not just sexual, but a perversion. Yet  in Korea, I find such ‘rituals’ bonding, even cute.  When leaving the bathhouse, one of my friends proudly informed me, I was now  ‘a new man.’ I don’t know whether he meant physically or mentally and while there was no doubt I felt impeccably clean, most notable was a sense that I had overcome a  deep-seated fear.

One trip to a bathhouse however, wasn’t enough to defeat my inhibitions or to satisfy my curiosity about this cultural phenomenon. A few weeks later, another friend took me sightseeing in the mountains which culminated in a visit to some form of bathhouse. Of course, I had no idea of this at the time and assumed that we were visiting a mountain foot clinic, as my friend, Hyo-son, was a foot doctor. I imagined I was going to have a foot massage and then perhaps a meal at the small restaurant  situated on one side of the building. After being introduced to the establishment’s hosts and a teenager, I was ushered to a changing room and then, via  a series of  isolated English words and hand gestures, instructed to undress.  So, I began stripping off, assuming my friend, Hyo-son, was going to join me. Instead, the three of them stood chatting and ignored me until I was naked. Then, like a lamb being led to the slaughter,  Hyo-son coaxed me by the hand into a shower room. More hand signals follow and I take a shower while they stand in the doorway and continue their conversation. Meanwhile, confused, I begin muttering to myself, a habit  which manifests when I am in intense, embarrassing situations. Next, I am led through a small bathhouse in which there are perhaps 5  men. In the far corner of the room is what I now know to be a mud sauna (황토방 ).   Looking like a gigantic wasps nest, this is basically  a small room built out of yellow mud which when dried, houses a dry sauna.  I was instructed to enter the sauna through a flap on the floor – a flap similar to the ones used to allow the passage of a cat into  and out of its house, and not much bigger. Any remaining pride was dispelled as I got onto all fours and proceeded, pig-like into the sauna.  Beyond humiliation, I lay on the sauna matting laughing aloud in total disbelief at events. Sometime later, the teenager was sent to summon me and I re-emerged, on all fours. I was directed for another shower and then, in the bathhouse section, and with my little entourage all present, I was instructed to lay in an enormous stone bath which was already being filled with what looked like dark green slime.  The bath was hot, but every time I tried to dangle my arms over the sides of the bath, or move myself  out of the water, the boy pushed me back. Then Hyo-son began massaging my body with an enormous tea bag which smeared a herbal smelling paste over me .  I was thankful when the water rose to a sufficient depth to cover me completely. Even to this day, I don’t know whether this was a mud or herb bath  or perhaps even both but several showers were required to remove the slimy residue from my body. After a period of relaxation in the small bathhouse, I was finally able to dress and join the group in the restaurant.

And permanently accompanied by a symphony of water

I can empathize with anyone facing apprehensions about taking the plunge into this strange world. Ironically, even after such experiences, I remain apprehensive about swimming pools and changing rooms in the UK where there is always a sense that either something sexual or aggressive is about to happen. What shades and informs such experiences is the culture from which it stems. Back home, the body is dominated by a sort of fascism, predominantly external but also internally generated, which classifies and critiques bodies according various categories. Sometimes I hear myself commenting on individuals and not necessarily in a negative manner but negative ones I don’t like  partially as one target of criticism is my own body. The most obvious category for western men of course, is dick size. On this subject, I don’t truly know what significance Koreans place on penal proportions,  but I would imagine that bathhouse culture renders any pretty unimportant. There may be some variations in dimensions but you quickly learn they’re all basically the same and it’s all pointless and unfair anyway as the winners are  invariably 13-year-old skinny boys whose accompanying bodies  are still 10 and in which any triumph, if there is any, is temporary. When the clothes are off and we are reduced to our  basic components,  everything is demystified.

As an ex-gay man, I have to add that bathhouses are fairly unsexy. I’m not saying nothing  ever appeals  to me, on the contrary, I am very aware of attractive looking males, but what is most bizarre is that even from my first visit to a bathhouse, the experience was non sexual. Ironically,  this is one of the most fascinating aspects of  my bathhouse experiences, as my  sense of liberation stems not just from shedding my clothes, but from shedding that most dominant and basic urge. Necessary as that urge is to the proliferation of humanity, in individual terms it is probably the most wasteful, driving us like lemmings in the selfish pursuit of satiating our own chemical impulses, consuming our time, diverting our attention and draining our energies in the process. I’m talking as a single man, in my fifties, of course, were I  in a romantic situatiom, I wouldn’t be so dismissive; but I don’t think I miss the mark accusing this urge of being the most greedy in its wants and least rewarding once they have been acquired. And Oh! Isn’t it a merry-go-round; once satiated it’s only a matter of time before it rears its head again and we’re compelled onto that journey to nowhere.  What an utter waste of human energy! Well, don’t ask me how, but in the Korean bathhouse those urges are extinguished. Rent apart is that conflation of nudity and sex, for me at least, so that I can enjoy nudity and the equality and liberation it brings without the sexual urge kicking in and can do so while appreciating the occasional beauty that passes my way.  Cocks are really only interesting when hidden and once they are flopping about all around you, other things become of more interest – the trickling of water on old man’s skin, the contours of someones hip, the interplay of someone’s muscles,  someone with a belly fatter than mine, a father bathing their baby, the sounds of water – it can be anything.

Cute!

Friends often ask me why there are no such establishments back home or what might  happen if  one were opened. I could write a substantial amount in response but basically, I wouldn’t enjoy bathing in a western context and certainly not in a British one.  A gay bathhouse would terrify me but then I was never very good at being gay!!  Besides, I’d hate being eyed up by someone like me and I quite pity all my victims back in the days when I was lecherous!  My home  town has a spa facility but the need to wear bathing costumes immediately seems restrictive and puerile. Several years ago, when it ran single sex naked sessions,  it attracted so many gay men seeking sex, it subsequently reintroduced costumes. Recently, I’ve considered nudism in the UK as I am tempted to believe attitudes among nudists might be healthier. This consideration has grown out of an awareness that while in Korea, attending a bathhouse imposes no social judgment, in Britain it would label me either ‘gay’ or  as some kind of  ‘swinging nudey.’ Unfortunately, while we conflate sex with nudity, bathhouses, spas, and places of semi nudity will  continue to encourage  all mannerisms of sexual  activity, passive and active.

Ready to take that plunge? No doubt, many will have no worries entering a bathhouse but if the experience is likely to stress you, here are some tips.

1. Keep a watch on. It’s really useful as a diversionary play thing should you feel uncomfortable.

2. Choose a quiet time for you first encounter. Early morning, eg. 5 am, though anytime before 7am on the weekend is good. Alternatively, if the establishment closes, a good time to attend is on a weekend a couple of hours before closing time.

3. Avoid public holidays,  unless you’re prepared for a full house and avoid both  ‘play Saturdays’ (놀토) when there are no schools, and school and university vacation periods.

4. Sometimes, fitness centers have adjacent bathhouses and jjimjilbang. If this is the case, you can use the sports facilities a few times in order to familiarise yourself with everything, before using the bathhouse.

5. On your first encounter you’ll probably head straight for the bathhouse complex blotting out everything on the way. Try to remember to pick up a towel and a wash cloth, usually located around the complex entrance. These can be used the same way as your watch, when you get stressed or ultimately, to bury your face in.

6. Remember, if you head straight for the showers which are situated at floor level, you will have to sit on a bucket sized seat. All bathhouses have regular, standing showers which provide a good vantage point to familiarise yourself with the bathhouse layout and practices and don’t necessitate sitting in an undignified position.

7. Soap, towels, toothpaste are all provided. If you drop the soap and find this embarrassing, park your arse in a corner before bending down, or  with your knees together, bend with the  knees and not from your waist. Alternatively, rapidly kick the soap into the drain and ignore it.

8. If you remember to take a towel in with you, you can use this to dry off, prior to leaving. On your first visit you will probably want to escape quickly and this will be prolonged if you are dripping wet. If there is an ice room, five minutes sat in this, especially in summer, will quickly dry  you but this procedure has a detrimental effect on males.

9. Male and worried about willy size? Instantly add an extra centimeter by trimming surrounding hair. I once read that every forty pounds lost, assuming you are that fat to begin with, increases the appearance of  the size, by one inch. One the other hand, if you’re as fat as I am, an extra few stone would supply enough lagging to provide an overhang sufficient enough to hide it completely.

10. Of course, there is nothing to prevent you wearing a swimming costume and I have known people do this. They were women so I never actually witnessed reactions. I’d imagine you would attract far more attention wearing something than going naked and besides, no matter how good-looking you are, you’d look a total twat.

Good luck. If you too have suggestions, please add them here. Thanks

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