Elwood 5566

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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©  林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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That Fiery Little Penis and Cocks of Greater Dimensions

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Korean children, Korean language, podcasts by 노강호 on April 27, 2010

고추산 Just opposite Penis Paradise in Palgongsan National Park. Daegu.

Last year the place was full of cocks, some of the biggest  I’ve seen in Korea and at one point a great number of them were loitering about outside an adjacent restaurant just waiting to be picked up. Some were even for sale and as I have little self-confidence, the thought had crossed my mind that, the only way I am going to get to chomp on Korean cock, is to pay for it.  Cocks in public! Not the sort of behaviour you expect in Korea! The choice was amazing, young ones, old ones, thin, fat, bent, tapering. Well, you can read about my ‘adventures’ in Saturday’s Post, Palgongsan National Park – Penis Paradise, where you will also find some photos of gigantic Korean cock!

Needles to say I was salivating, not from what you’d expect, but because next door the sizzling aroma of barbecuing duck wafted on the spring breeze.  Now, the other day, using my limited Korean, and despite all my studying, limited it is, I was telling a shop assistant that my hobby was food. I ‘d been walking around town with one of those bright yellow E-Mart bags from which sprung three enormous tendrils of burdock (우엉) . As it’s the first time I’ve bought whole burdock, I’m a bit surprised at the flexibility in those tendrils, having presupposed they were more rigid, and so they bounce about crazily. Korean passers-by give my tendrils a second glance because no foreigner buys those weird  roots. I’m quite proud of my bouncing burdock and am on the look out for one of those unfriendly westerners who constantly pass me by without ever saying hello or smiling. Smug wankers don’t talk because they like you to feel they’re totally at home in Korea even though they all eat in MacDonald’s and speak little Korean. Anyway, my burdock is a trump card, a sort of ‘fuck-you!’  However, there are no foreigners about and so I make a mental note to walk about town on a regular basis with burdock sprouting from my bag, like I’m taking out a pet.

Lee Hee-ho (이히호), my friend's youngest son

The shop assistant is bemused at my burdock and I tell her I’m making a side-dish with it. She’s even more impressed when I tell her I can make kimchi. She asks me if cooking is my hobby so I stroke my belly, ‘of course,’ I reply. ‘Can’t you tell?’ And as I laugh the burdock in my bag is wibbling, like it is laughing too. Well, my point is that food is probably my greatest hobby and I doubt many people prefer some culinary pleasure to sex but I do. I once wouldn’t answer my door to gratify the sexual urges of a very handsome boy because I was tucking into a curry. Of course, I could have let him in, we could have shared it but I don’t like threesomes. He banged on the door for a while then gave up and probably went and had a wank, or found someone else to do stuff with – of which there was never a shortage in the army. When you’re young you think that sex with an Adonis will always be available, that your pulling power will never be diminished. It’s only when you are older you regret letting such things slip past. If I could go back in time I’d have chucked the curry  in the bin and opened the door.  I stroke the burdock reminiscently and note their almost semi-rigid state. His name was Lance Elcock!

So, back at Penis Paradise, the barbecuing duck smells delicious and I am starving hungry.  I can catch up with the cocks later.  Now, I’m with my Korean friend David (이영선) and his family. I’ve known David for ten years and he’s one of my best friends. I’ve been taking a few photos of his sons, one aged 5 and the other is almost a year old in western reckoning. After feasting my eyes on those fat cocks around the corner, I find it a little amusing when his youngest son begins to chomp on a cock he’s picked up and so I grab my camera ready for some hot shots. He licks the end a few times, a little unsure what to expect, then removes it  from his mouth and looks down on it with apprehension. A strand of saliva slips onto it which my camera is too slow to capture. Then he begins sucking on the tip and I await the moment when I might capture his surprise. Oooo, here it comes!  He grimaces a few times but doesn’t stop sucking until the full force hits him, when suddenly, he starts wailing.

Mmm...not too sure!

Another nibble!

Whang! It's hot!

I feel quite bad because I’d sat, watched and photographed as the little boy munched on a very hot, small chili, the hot ones generally being the smallest. So now you know that in Korea, a ‘cock’ (고추)  refers to both the vegetable and a penis. Actually, Koreans have an idiom which I know intimately well as I repeat it  when feeling inadequate in a bathhouse: the  smallest chillies are the fiercest! (작은 고추가 맵다) Because I’d only just entered where we were eating, my friends busy poking and prodding the barbecue while I had been ‘around the corner’, I assumed they knew what he was doing. Maybe I wasn’t thinking… Eating a chili! Quite natural for a Korean, I thought.

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.

All or Nothing – on Mid Term Exams

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, podcasts by 노강호 on April 17, 2010

Being the time of mid-term exams, the school was quite strange today as some classes watched videos and generally relaxed, while for others, the pressure is still on. The majority of British kids don’t know what pressure is and would find student life in Korea very strange most especially as Korean kids identify with, and respond to, the term ‘student,’ (학생 – haksaeng).   Even this week, in the bathhouse, a boy was making too much noise and a man close by addressed him as ‘haksaeng!’ Trying to get an English kid’s attention by calling them ‘student,’ would be pretty redundant and a great many would simply tell you to ‘fuck off!’

The one and only!

I have great admiration for the Korean Education system, recently cited by Obama as a model the US should emulate, but one of its major downsides is the incredible pressure it puts on young people to perform. While it’s laudable that Korean students mostly want the best marks, it is somewhat sad that there is only one best mark, notably 100%.   Earlier this week I found some old photos of me taken almost 30 years ago and I was not only incredible fit, but very handsome;  in fact so handsome that I could actually fancy myself.  At the time however, and at every point of my life, I’ve been too fat, too unfit or too ugly and yet there I am in a fading photo with a waistline and looking very good. It’s bit of a knock when you realise that at one time you possessed something you’ve spent your life  looking for, and you never knew it! The same scenario is probably true for many people who struggle with their weight,  especially women, always feeling fat no matter how thin, and it’s similar for Korean educational achievement.


Asking kids yesterday, how they got on in their National English-speaking tests, even the ones who got 100% generally said, ‘okay,’ or ‘so,so;’ their modesty masking their intense happiness. And those who got scores of 99, 98, 97 etc, were equally as modest except the chances are they’ were bitterly disappointed.  There were several words that confused a number of my students, ‘sea animal’ and ‘sick animal’ was one, the other was ‘ hobby’ and habit.’ I could imagine a native  English speaker making an error but for those who answered incorrectly, this is no consolation and neither is the fact that many of their friends made the same mistake. A score in the 90’s is respectable and worth celebrating unless of course, you’re Korean.

So, as I left school yesterday, Ben who is 15, is sat on his own, forehead on the table,  and crying. I’ve never had a British boy of his age crying because they didn’t do well but here it is not uncommon.  And of course, you cannot console a Korean whose ‘kibun’ (기분) is in the gutter. As a western teacher there is something incredible about a student intensely upset  as it  reflects they care as much about their performance, as you do. When kids don’t care  or have slight regard, you can guarantee your job is  about child minding and behaviour control rather than teaching. However, it’s a travesty that the celebration of success is pivoted exclusively on 100%. Ben is a fantastic student: intelligent, witty, and in the Korean way, innocent, he’s a teacher’s dream, yet despite all his efforts and best intentions the loss of 2 marks effectively makes him a failure. Today was his first of a string of mid-term exams!

I have noticed that when students get their  exam results, school becomes a  refuge for those kids castigated and even physically punished by their parents. Last year, Ben lost one point in an exam and his father scolded him and I recall him being afraid to go home.  And so my boss will spend half her time plying them with tissues trying to console them and the other half explaining herself to agitated parents. Somewhere in the space between 90-99, maybe even 80-99, should be room for celebration and self-congratulation but as with weight-loss, in Korea it’s all or nothing and so a moment of self-appreciation, a pat on the back from a parent, is lost.

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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.


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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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Cleaning them Teeth

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Health care, podcasts by 노강호 on April 1, 2010
Three toothbrushes, photo taken in Sweden

Image via Wikipedia

For a long time, the obsessive way Koreans cleaned their teeth amused me. Several years ago I taught kids aged between 3-6 and after lunch they would line up, tooth brushes in hand, and proceed in a conga to the bathroom, to clean their teeth.  It is a common practice for Koreans to depart to the bathroom and administer themselves some oral hygiene after eating lunch. Of course historically, Britain is famous for its poor dental hygiene but with a predominance of privatised dentists, we can now boast services comparable to those in the USA and with fees to match. But most Brits, even those with good teeth, myself included, usually only brush them twice a day – once in the morning and once at night.  On the other hand, Koreans are quite fastidious about a thrice a day brushing and I have come to the conclusion this practice has more to do with nature of Korean food, than with keeping cavities at bay.

First, many Korean foods, kimchi being the most obvious, contain copious amounts of chili powder. This powder is nothing like the chili powder we buy in Europe. Korean chili powder, (고추 가루), isn’t really ‘powder’ at all and should be called ‘flaked chili’ or ‘coarse chili powder.’  With a tendency to adhere and an ability to resist being flushed with fluids,  chili speckled teeth have never been fashionable. Those flakes grip the surfaces of the smoothest enamel and easily embed themselves between the teeth.

Kim, (김), seasoned lava, though not as prehensile, certainly looks worse. Substantial, dark green patches on the teeth can be mistaken for  missing or severely rotted teeth or  an advanced fungal infection.

Sesame seeds have a predilection for embedding themselves in oral recess with such success that they are impervious to assault by pencil tips, pens, paper clip ends and any other object with the exception of a toothbrush or floss.

Perhaps the worst offenders, adept at seeking out any small gap between the teeth and attaching like limpets therein,  are seaweed and baby mooli tops ( 우거지). Unlike meat, which being protein based, decays rapidly in the mouth until it can eventually be sucked out, seaweed and mooli leaves offer more resistance.  Their thin slimy surfaces, braced with some fibrous support, have the propensity to remain wedged between teeth for hours. Their slimy texture and ability to mold to underlying contours makes them especially impervious to sucking and probing.

A noseful of someone’s garlic breath can be off-putting but I have learnt that the only time garlic is noticeable on someone’s breath, is in the interim between arriving at the airport, and eating kimchi. The best defence against garlic breath is to eat it yourself as this masks the smell emanating from other people. When Kimpo was Seoul’s only international airport and you walked into the tiny arrivals, nothing much more than a big lobby,  the stench of garlic almost knocked you over.  I have never noticed garlic hanging in the air at Inchon International but maybe this is because I eat kimchi even when back home.  Anyway, cleaning your teeth to remove the smell of garlic never seems to work, even when garlic is eaten in moderation. When it’s in everything and even eaten raw, brushing the teeth to dispel its odour is pointless.

A Korean diet has gradually raised my awareness of the location of various oral weak spots with more precision than disclosing tablets and when cleaning my teeth, I  now focus on the places which attract sesame seeds and are likely to ensnare slivers of seaweed and mooli leaf. If I eat  anything other than a sandwich for lunch, I usually clean my teeth.  All the prodding with tongue and sucking  of teeth is irksome and  a mouthful of ensnared seeds, chili and vegetation, especially when you’re British, isn’t a good advert.

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The Changing Face of Song So

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Daegu, podcasts, services and facilities by 노강호 on March 23, 2010

Ceramic store

When I first experienced Korea, in 2000, I remember a chemist shop on the corner where I lived which used to stack vitamin drinks outside the store, in front of the windows. The drinks were in boxes and used to remain there throughout the night. Anyone wishing to steal a box would have had little difficulty. Today, the store is a plush American styled bar which may even be called ‘Friends’ and the chances are that  next year it will be a restaurant or internet cafe. I remember the boxes of drinks well as I ways always tempted to steal one. I never did and don’t think I ever intended to but clearly, there is something in the western psyche that prompts one to steal anything which isn’t chained down. This observation I base on my own immoral character, as well as on the characters of fellow westerners, from New Zealand, Australia and the USA, who all admitted that if something isn’t secured it warrants being stolen.  I know electrical stores which stack new refrigerators outside the store, flush against the windows, and street vendors, some who are friends, will often leave microwaves, food, small televisions and many items in their little plastic tents over night. All easy pickings for anyone with a pair of scissors or penknife and a will to steal. Leaving property in situations where it could be stolen is clearly not a major concern in Korea and the practice of leaving things unattended or stepping out of premises temporarily, without locking up,  is widespread.

Several months ago I went shopping at 6.30 in the morning and apart from the food hall, on the ground floor, the other 3 floors were all void of staff and despite some display being draped with covers, the majority of goods, clothes, sports equipment etc, were visible. Once again that little urge to steal presented itself, but I resisted. I still find it amazing that a large department store leaves its isles open  and unguarded overnight. I’m sure cameras were present but I doubt stealing something would have been all that difficult.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that in Korea crime does not exist as it does and on one occasion, I was the victim; but I do feel one is less likely to be a victim in Korea than in the UK, my home country and beyond any doubt, one is much less likely experience physical violence.  Several years ago my neighbours in the UK moved house and their  old property remained vacant for almost a week prior to new occupants arriving. In their front garden they left two, large ceramic plant pots. Late one evening, just as I was going to bed, I heard a car stop adjacent to my house and looking out the window, I watched a silhouetted figure emerge from the car, dart across the front garden to steal the two pots. My neighbourhood in the UK has one of the lowest crime rates in the UK but it doesn’t stop plant pots or garden sheds from being stolen and rape and the occasional unprovoked, violent assault, all occur from time to time. My home town has a population of 35.000 compared to Daegu which has around 3 million.


Much of the crime suffered in the UK however, and a crime I feel especially absent in Korea, is the vandalisation and destruction of property for no apparent reasons. A significant element in our society has a bent for destroying, wrecking, maiming or ruining anything which belongs to someone else and there seems to be a correlation between the amount of affection put into what ever it was that was targeted, and the relish with which it is destroyed. Grave stones, bowling greens, and especially attractive gardens seem currently in vogue. If you can assault the victims emotions, committing the crime seems all the more pleasurable.

In 2000, when I first worked in Song So (성서), Daegu, the KFC next to my school had a life-size model of Colonel Saunders stood outside the store. As it was Christmas, he’d been jollied up in a Santa outfit and even had a walking stick hanging from his wrist. Neither the model nor the stick were secured and remained in situ until he was de-jollied sometime in the New Year. In my home town in the UK, a similar model has to be secured by a chain to prevent it being stolen and it is not left out at night. If vandals attempted to remove the UK model and found it chained their tempers would be inflamed and they would simply smash it  to pieces.  Back in Korea, Colonel Saunders remained outside  the store, unfettered, 24 hours a day. No one thought to carry him a mile or so down the road, for some silly prank; or to rip his arms off or kick his head off; and no one thought it necessary to steal his cane and subsequently use it to smash a shop window or terrorize a passer-by. But then the fast food restaurants in my high street have to employ bouncers and at one time, whilst a student at university, I worked as one for almost a year.

Kicking these about would feel great when pissed!

And in Korea, students as young as 7, usually with mobile phones dangling from their necks, bring their parents’ ATM cards to school to pay their monthly fees. Nonchalantly, they hand them over to staff and no one seems concerned or worried that the kids might lose them, use them or that the staff might make notes of their details or overcharge them. As for their mobile phones? Often expensive and the latest in the range, who would want to steal them? Every one simply trusts each other to do the right thing. I’m sounding like a Kimcheerleader but back home a little kid with an expensive mobile would assaulted and robbed.

Almost opposite my school is a garden center which sells a vast range of ceramic items all of which are stored outside the shop. This business is one of the longest surviving in my part of Song So and has been here since at least 1999. The road on which it stands is fairly quiet, especially  in the evening and at one time, prior to building projects, several vacant lots nestled besides its borders which occasionally hosted 24 hours soju tents. Even to this day, I am amazed that the place has never been vandalized or that drunks have never decided to kick over a few pots. I think the photos do the premises justice and as you can see, there are thousands of items all displayed in tiers and completely open to the public.  Though there seems to be  the supports for a fence fronting the premises and though I pass by here every day, I have never seen evidence of vandalism.

Open to the ‘elements’ 24/7

Wooden bokken and brooms

It is not unusual to see people, usually elderly, who will stop and pick up a piece of litter in the street  but perhaps the best example of  mutual respect and community spirit can be found on mountain trails where small gyms are customarily established, usually on or close to mountain peaks. I have used such gyms in both Cheonan and Daegu and in the mountains verging Song-So, Daegu, I have used two. The closest to my apartment, perhaps a 30 minute, I have used on and off over ten years.  Here you will find a number of exercise facilities provide by the local authorities but which have been augmented by items carried to the top by local people. A clock has been secured to a tree, numerous weights, exercise hoops and an exercise bench. None of these items are chained or secured in place. In Ch’eonan, someone had  provide stout bokken (wooden kendo sticks made of a durable wood) and on a sturdy tree stump fixed rubber tyres.  Frequently, I sat and watched individuals swing the bokken from one side to the other in order to strike the tyres with powerful blows. And nearby was a waste bin and numerous  brooms  for sweeping the little gym clean.  The clock on top of the Song-So mountain impresses me the most as this has been here for ten years though it may not be the same one. Irrespective, no one has thought to smash it or hurl the weights or dumbbells down the steep path which leads to the mountain summit.

A bokken striking post and exercise hoops

That you can set something delicate on the side of the road or in a small clearing on a secluded mountain summit and leave it in the knowledge it will neither be stolen nor vandalized, is a testament, a trophy, to the nature of the people living around you.

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Sanitised Santa

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, podcasts by 노강호 on December 20, 2009

A few years ago, I read an article about how one large city in Canada recruits and trains Father Christmas employees almost a year before they are employed. The Father Christmases are stringently vetted and then undergo training to make sure they are ‘politically correct’ in  behaviour and communication and have been upgraded to whatever latest jargon is on the PC agenda. You know what it’s like: one minute they’re fussing over how wicked it is to say ‘Afro-Caribbean’ instead of ‘African Caribbean,’ or reminding us how insulting it is to use the term ‘brainstorm,’  but all of them use the term ‘Chinese New Year‘ instead of ‘Lunar New Year.’ At least if you’re an African-Caribbean wickedly called an ‘Afro-Caribbean,’ half of this term is correct. At least you’ve been located in the correct continent but if you’re Japanese, Korean or  Thai, et al, ‘Chinese New Year’ totally ignores your culture. So, banned by the PC  police from asking small children what ‘mummy and daddy’ are going to buy them for Christmas, the potential Father Christmases have to ask what ‘mummy or daddy, or their guardian or carer ‘ are going to buy them. Next, they are trained not to make any form of physical contact with children and to make sure that when with children, they are in full view of other adults. I would imagine they are forbidden from putting hands in their pockets as they too probably have to be in constant full view of parents, carers, guardians and the hidden security camera installed to safeguard companies.  And the ride on Santa’s knee  or parked in his lap? Most definitely out!  Another aspect of childhood poisoned and perverted by the PC lobby!

Sanitised Santa

Such a process, vetting, training seminars etc, for several hundred Father Christmases is no doubt expensive but, I might have just the solution. I discovered this Santa on a cross-road outside a 24 hours store in Daegu. This automated Father Christmas is perfect for working with children. He can be stored away with his companions and brought out a week before needed; no vetting, no seminars and no law suits.

The Korean Santa will put all fears to rest. First, other than the ability to make a ridiculous chuckle, he is mute. Gone are the worries that a pervy Santa might upset a child by using un-politically correct terms or worse, mouth or mutter obscene suggestions. And the plastic, toothless mouth, apart from smelling pleasant is incapable of licking, kissing or pouting. Being mute, the Korean Santa can be employed from Baghdad to Boston with no worry about foreign languages. Fixed to the spot by a small plinth, he cannot run away and is permanently available for questioning, stoning or lynching, should the need arise.

Being thin, any potential caverns or hidey holes made possible by overhanging bellies and large tunics  are removed. The Korean Santa is incapable of hiding kiddies, or swiftly pulling  even the smallest of them under his tunic.  While The Korean Santa can move his hips and arms, albeit it in a rather jerky and amusing manner, almost as if  stricken by BSE (Mad Cow Disease), such movements are small and limited and minimise and prevent any possibility of hands slipping onto, or groping in, those places they shouldn’t. And the final and most significant advantage is that the standing posture not only makes the need for a  grotto redundant but avoids the possibility that some children might actually enjoy sitting on Santa’s lap.

And packet-less!

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Definetly 'Ji Ji' (지지)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, podcasts by 노강호 on December 12, 2009

For the last few weeks I’ve been paying attention to the contents of my dustpan after I have swept my studio floor and run the ‘magic mop’ over it. The ‘magic mop’ has a disposable cloth attached to the head to which dust and most other debris firmly sticks. I noticed a long time ago that you can’t flick anything on a Korean floor without it reappearing some days later, stuck to the sole of your naked foot or clinging to your sock. Grains of rice, once hardened are especially annoying.

In Europe at least, and especially in Britain, carpets are often the preferred choice for floors and in some aspects they are wonderful because they absorb most small debris. ‘Sweep it under the carpet,’ an idiom I am often asked to explain, really isn’t necessary with small things as you can deposit them on the floor and at most all you need do is  rub you foot over it a few times to permanently erase whatever was underfoot.  All bodily bits, small scraps of food, cigarette ash etc, are banished forever in the pile of your pretty carpet.

Ten years ago I moved into a new house in England and after a year decided to rip up the carpets that had lain on the front room floor for well over a decade. Even after months and months of hoovering the floor and liberally sprinkling it with various scented and odour eating carpet powders, I was never able to feel comfortable sprawling out in front of the TV.  The carpet was old but it never actually looked dirty and the unpleasantness I felt probably arose from the fact that I occasionally detected odours emanating from it, odours which weren’t unpleasant but weren’t mine. You wouldn’t want to wear a stranger’s unwashed clothes so why would you want to lay on their ancient carpets, carpets ’worn’ by several families. Even after meticulous cleaning, I regularly wrestled lengthy black hairs embedded within the pile. They were of Greek extraction because Greek students had lived in the house, some three years before I moved in.

When the carpet was eventually dragged out of the house, departing in a dusty cloud, the wooden floor on which it had lain was covered in a thin coat of what looked like sand except it was finer and softer and most likely organic in origin. The carpet had acted like a filtration system so that only the finest particles escaped through to the floor boards.  Once hoovered you could see the small spaces between the boards were caked with dirt that had been compressed into them over many years. This had to be gouged out with a knife before I could sand the boards. Once the front room and dining room were rid of carpeting and the floors washed, scrubbed, scrapped, sanded and treated with linseed oil, the need to dust became a monthly rather than weekly routine.

The decision to banish the muck absorbing carpet, and to subsequently ban outdoor shoes from inside the house, was finally made after I noticed a small brown thing on the floor. I smoked marijuana at the time and on two occasions I had discovered dope on the floor though one discovery turned out to be either dog shit or a clinka that had fallen out of my nephew’s nappies. This mistake only transpired when I inhaled the joint I had rolled from it. Needless to say anything brown and lumpy and laying on the floor I assumed to be dope before anything else.  Though I suspected what it was, it needed confirming.  I sniffed it and instantly retched – cat shit, the worst carnivore shit of all!

Ten years ago, the streets around my house were liberally ornamented with piles of dog shit. I know because I used to stick small cocktail flags in them to draw attention to them; it was a form of social protest. When walking to work I would count the passing turds and often, in just half the street, I would count as many as thirty. I had some intimate relationships with the turds in my street: one had been laid in the furthest corner of my lawn, just under the privet bush. I couldn’t fail but notice it as it was large and shaped more like a small cow pat than one of those curled and tapering whippy whirl turds that Korean kids are so expert at drawing.  In 2000, when I first arrived in Korea, I wondered why so many ice creams were drawn on tables especially as the Baskin Robbins opposite my haggwon, scooped ice cream out of large tubs rather than deposited it whirled. Only the smallest dog could have manoeuvred its arse into the required position under the privet bush to deposit the poop, a Korean size handbag dog for example, but this specimen’s owner had to be big.

I watched that turd for an entire summer and well into winter, witnessing its transition from a wet mess to one with a crusty top, rather like a pie that then turned white after an infection by some strain of turd eating mould. Eventually, internally atrophied and dehydrated by a hot summer, it collapsed into itself. Gradually absorbed into the ground around it, it disappeared but by that time it was late winter.  Back on the pavements, I even began to recognize individual dog’s shite and could sometimes trace their various daily messings down the street. One example, a particularly big deposit was almost orange  in colour. I imagined the owner, walking their dog in the anonymity provided by the early morning darkness, allowing it to shit in one spot and the next day dragging it a little further down the road so as to share the messes equally around the neighbourhood. As dogs like to do their business in the same place, I would imagine that the moment the dog started to squat on its hunches the owner had to drag it further before letting it spill its backside onto the pavement. I estimated the owner probably took a month to circumnavigate the crescent before the dog had to poop in approximately the same place and if even house numbers were the victims one month and odd house numbers the next, the cycle could have been extended over two months. Despite the copious piles dotted about the street you never saw an owner allowing their dog to foul the pavement so, never trust dog owners who walk their dog in the dark.

Some owners were equally as considerate and seemed to think it was acceptable for their dog to shit on the road. For several days, as I ate breakfast, I was treated to the view of another enormous turd, strange how they all seem to have been enormous, as it was squelched all over the tarmac  by passing cars. Neighbours who made their dogs pooh on the road probably perceived themselves as good citizens while those who used the pavements were anti-social. Eventually I put a rather hostile placard on my front lawn and several neighbours then did the same; instantly, the appearance of new turds ceased and those remaining were old and in various stages of atrophy, dehydration and decay. I kept counting the turds walking to work however, as the number of deposits beyond the borders of my placard’s influence had significantly increased.

I’m digressing: My point is Europeans and especially the British prefer to wear outdoor shoes inside their house which is a custom I find horribly disgusting and more so if you have carpets which act as toilet paper to the soles of your poohey shoes. There was so much shit on the streets around my house, and there still is, that natural decay and rain swirled it everywhere so that even if the ground looked clean, you could guarantee  it was coated in canine faecal matter. Wearing shoes indoors, when so many dogs foul the pavements is a disgusting habit.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog turd on a Korean street and even if there were it would only be a little thing as most Korean dogs are handbag dogs and incapable of passing anything more than a few pellet sized faeces. And yet Koreans never wear shoes inside their houses and often don’t wear them in workplaces.

When you live in a room which is barren of carpets your awareness of your own bodily debris grows. When you have a carpet you assume that the bit of nail you blow onto the carpet, or the bogey you roll and flick onto that beautiful Axeminster, simply vanishes. I can flick a toe nail across the room and know that in a day or two it will reappear in my dustpan along with a grain or two of rice, a few hairs and other bits of fluffy stuff. Occasionally I’ll spit out a nail to deliberately see when and where it will re-emerge.

I’ve noticed there are rarely any hairs on the central part of the floor because these are blown to the edges of the room by the draft from open windows and passing bodies and for some reason, the biggest trap of body hair are the sliding door groves. Every few weeks I need to clean these out. Pubic hair has the most amazing ability to float into places like your fridge or kitchen work-surface and though you might find this abhorrent and are thankful that your carpet seizes them before they become visible, I’d rather  see the occasional curly devil on a plate or in the fridge than lurking in the pile of some horrid carpet, rotting slowly among years of bodily refuse, embedded and matted with all sort of unthinkable crap, dead skin cells, bogeys, shoe dirt, dog and cat muck, grit, rain water etc, etc. And then, thinking we are being hygienic, we sprinkle the carpet with floor powders that temporarily scent the air. What happens to them once they have embedded themselves in the carpet? I doubt such powders disappear.

I live alone and so my observations are based on my own bodily sheddings but how greater the pollution if you live with other people or a family and have pets. Carpets are such filthy things and what we do with them is not much different to that other dirty British habit, thankfully disappearing, of blowing gunge out your nose and into a hanky which you then keep warm and moist in your pocket, the perfect environment for viruses and bacteria, before putting your face back into it and snorting out another load.  Having a carpet on your floor is a little like sleeping in the same bedding without ever washing it.

Cleaning a carpetless room is a joy because it’s effortless and now Samsung have even marketed a robotic floor cleaner that cleans your floor when you are out. Everything is exposed in a Korean room as there are few true hiding places. And if you want to wash the floor or give it an occasional scrub or douse it in bleach, well that too, is easy. Carpets can’t be washed and I’m sure all carpet shampoo does is drive the dirt deeper and enliven their parched innards. There is probably a surge in a carpet’s bacterial and fungal population following a shampoo.

In Korea, many westerners don’t remove shoes indoors preferring to stick to their own customs and there are others, myself included, who will occasionally wear shoes on their floor if for someone reason they have to return briefly indoors because they’ve forgotten something. This is a habit I am trying to break but when you’re in a rush it is difficult. You very, very rarely see Koreans walk on their living space floor wearing shoes, not even for a few seconds. I have noticed that on the odd occasion I have breached Korean custom, I have subsequently felt the deposited dirt left by my shoes, when barefooted. You can’t see it but it’s there despite the fact you only walked on the floor for a few seconds.

Korean students, especially younger ones, will sometimes cringe and tell me how dirty I am if I suck my pen. Often they will shout ‘ji ji’ (dirty) which is the word used to small kids and in the same category as English words like ‘pooh pooh’, ‘wee-wee’ and ‘tinkle’. If sucking a pen is a little ‘ji ji’ then having a carpet or rug is infinitely dirtier, indeed it is positively filthy! Next time you flick some item onto your Korean floor, just remember, it’ll be back!

지지 – dirty – (but a word used to small children), haggwon – 학원 – a private school like a homework club or after school study center.



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© Nick Elwood 2010. Creative Commons Licence.