Elwood 5566

Quality of Life

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Health care, services and facilities, video clips by 노강호 on November 7, 2010

고운 Skin Clinic, and to the right (hidden by tree) an animal hospital. Both less than 1 minutes walk from my one-room

One reason I find Korea a more enjoyable place to live is that they have not yet learnt to be as efficient money grabbers as some western countries. Yes, Korea is capitalist but it is certainly not as aggressively exploitative as the UK or indeed much of the western world.  Of course, bad things happen in Korea, like anywhere else, and without doubt political and corporate corruption exist here as much as  in Britain where a ‘forgiving’  population has effectively pardoned the  recent greedy excesses of politicians. The things I like in Korea are possibly destined to disappear in the greed which seems to epitomize aggressive capitalism but until then, here some of the benefits I enjoy.

'Best' ophthalmic clinic and 'Beauty' Dentist - 2 minutes walk from my one-room

a tinnitus clinic  less than 30 seconds from my one-room

specialist hospital some 4 minutes walk from my one-room

I love the idea of ‘service’ (서비스) that shops and restaurants offer to loyal customers. A few weeks ago I recorded and wrote about the ‘concessions’ I earned (see: Freebies)  in a seven-day period, and which amounted to 20.000 Won (£10). I had free onion rings, quite a number of free beers, garlic bread, small bottles of vitamin drink and was given 1000 Won (50 pence) discount for medicine, by my pharmacist. Being given a ‘service’ immediately puts you, the customer, in a ‘ special relationship’ with the business and though you can reject it and immediately ‘shop’ elsewhere, it is rewarding and re-energizes my belief that humans are not all money grabbers. There is much more a sense in Korea that a customer is important primarily because smaller businesses vastly outnumber the large ones where in terms of customer numbers, your individual allegiance is unimportant. In Home-Plus or Tesco’s UK, my own opinions and importance are marginal and quite often the response to my complaints summarized as: ‘your expectations and tastes are obviously higher than the average customer.’ With a multitude of small businesses in the form of shops, restaurants, markets and street vendors,  your importance as an individual customer in Korea, is of more significance. The practice of being able to negotiate a discount for large purchases is an added bonus.

I’m crap at wrapping gifts but in Korea this is a complimentary service and I’m sure the wrappers have had special training. In the UK gifts are usually only wrapped at Christmas and in the season of goodwill, the biggest hypocrisy of all given it’s the greediest period of the whole year, you can expect to be charged for the service. When I hand over £3-4 (6000-8000 Won)  for the wrapping of a gift which I have just paid £40 (80000 Won) I really feel ripped-off. You can shop your entire life at small businesses in the UK and in all but the rarest of  occasions can you  ever expect reward for your loyalty.

six assistants in one opticians store

On my last visit to the UK, almost a year ago, both my local supermarket, Tesco’s, which in Korea masquerades as ‘Home-Plus, and one of  the large,  do-it-your-self  stores, B and Q, were introducing automated checkouts. As I stood in a queue in B and Q, a number of assistants were on hand to help familiarise customers with the new machinery that would no doubt put some of them out of work. Shopping in either of these stores is unpleasant as the are both gargantuan warehouses where cameras outnumber staff 10-1 and seeking help requires several  laps of the premises only to find the teenage assistant has no idea where anything is.  The automated checkout  had been programmed to welcome customers and provide basic instructions and I was pleased to hear a number of people in the queue voice displeasure at yet another facet of  customer services being relegated to a brainless machine. Despite the fact the moaning will achieve nothing and  that by this time next year  the automated checkout will be fully accepted,  I too voiced my dissent. Of course, what separates me from other customers  is that not only are my ‘expectations higher than the average customer,’ but the lengths I am willing to go  in revolt verge on the lunatic. My Luddite tendencies would not think twice about squirting superglue  in the slot designed for a credit card and I can wage a solitary regime indefinitely. Gramsci once suggested that even shopping is a political activity and I can take mine to the extreme.

3 minutes walk from my one-room, directly opposite my academy - 'Joseph' neurosurgery

When I went shopping yesterday, in my local E-Mart, I counted 4 pairs of staff on duty at each point of entry onto a level of the supermarket. As customers entered a level they were greeted with synchronised bows and verbally welcomed. Apart from the checkout assistants in stores not yet fully automated in the UK, eight members of staff is probably about the number employed on the entire shop floor of a British supermarket. In Korea, customer support isn’t  a luxury but an expectation and there are always a couple of staff employed for every section of shelves and assistance is never more than a few meters away.  Parking your car, a subject a broached in Ear Piece Mania, can entail as many as 10 parking assistants all of whom are trained in the intricacies of the bizarre hand signals used within Korean car parks. In the UK and many other places, customer support and adequate staff to assist shoppers, are either relocated in somewhere like India or have been viciously culled in the drive to maximize profits.

The first of an army of car parking attendants encountered in parking your car in the supermarket car park

 Several years ago a faulty USB port on my computer damaged my camera and electronic dictionary but this was no worry. Most companies, especially ones such as Samsung, Iriver, and mobile phone manufacturers, have service centers in every major town. For eighteen months, one of the Daegu service centers for Samsung was next to my academy, until it moved a five-minute walk down the road. Regardless, there will be a number of other Samsung centers in the city. Iriver, the manufacturer of both my MP3 and my palm reader are twenty minutes down the metro-line and the service center for my Nurian electronic dictionary, is five minutes away by bus. So, whenever I have had some problem, customer support is on hand, easily accessed and the product repaired and back in my possession within days and possibly quicker. On two occasions, mobile phone problems were repaired while I waited. When I recently had my camera repaired in the new Samsung service center, it took three days and when I went to collect it, it was wheeled out from the an adjacent room on what I can only describe as a cake trolley. Much the same support is available for computer problems and a computer service shop is located less than two minutes from my one-room. Meanwhile, in order to keep frustrated customers at bay and continue operating a  second-rate service, a token service at best, UK service centers are located in the furthest corners of the country and require your  faulty  goods to be  ferried away by courier service. And to ensure they can operate a slow service that is cheap to run, all public interface is removed and the call center relocated to Bombay or Bangladesh.

directly behind my academy, 'Future' urology clinic above which is my doctor

Korean medical care is efficient and there are more doctors and medical facilities within a six-minute walking radius of my one room than there  are be in my entire home town. Indeed, 4 hospitals are within a five-minute walk, and in less time than it takes me to walk to work, three minutes, I can reach two ophthalmologists, 6 opticians, urology, cardiology, neurology and ENT clinics, and a women’s’  health center. In addition, there are probably 5 dentists, a number of skin clinics, and a dietitians and two veterinary clinics. Remember, Korea is much more up than out and one high-rise block can contain more facilities than an entire British street where commercial businesses traditionally  and almost exclusively, occupy the ground floor. A few weekends ago, the husband of one of my colleagues needed an MRI scan after though I’m told there are a limited number of such facilities in the city, he was able to get a scan on the day he needed one and at a cost of 111.000 Won (£56) after deducting the amount provided by insurance. My colleague actually moaned that this was too expensive. Visiting the doctor involves a wait of no more than an hour and I don’t need to make an appointment. Even without Korean medical insurance the cost of a visit is no more than 7000 Won (£3.50) while the cost with insurance, is an ‘extortionate’ £1.50. And the greatest advantage for anyone living in or near a Korean city or big town, is that most medical needs  do not interrupt your daily life. When I have needed anything other than minor medical assistance in the UK, I have usually had to travel a substantial distance and then sit in various queues for several hours. All clinics in Korea have tasteful waiting areas with televisions, complimentary tea and coffee etc, and very often a couple of computers with free internet access. Admittedly, I hear and have seen examples of doctors and nurses not following universal procedures, but back home despite our rigorous rituals hospitals  are still plagued with skin eating viruses and for every account of bad practice I experience or read about on the Korean peninsula, I can match them with corresponding ones from the UK. At least when I spot something unsavory  in the Korean system, I do so in comfortable surroundings, with a complimentary coffee while watching the television and all without sitting in long queues which have necessitated taking the day off work.

a sneaky shot of my local ophthalmic clinic

a wide variety of side dishes usually replenished at no cost

With eating is my main pleasure, the ample amounts side dishes that accompany a Korean  meal and which can usually be re-ordered at no extra cost, is enjoyable. The recent cabbage shortage (Ersatz Kimchi in a State of Emergency) saw prices rise to 10000 Won (£5) for a large cabbage and caused subsequent problems with kimchi production but rather than just hike the cost up, and  subsequently leave it high  even after production costs have fallen, as happened a few years ago with petrol prices  in the UK, most restaurants in my area decreased kimchi and salad amounts and to compensate increased the portions of meat. My local bo-sam restaurant (보쌈) doubled the slices of pork from 7 to 14 and has only recently reduced the number as the price  of vegetables, and most especially cabbage, has decreased. In restaurants, chilled water in summer, and warm water in winter are complimentary and a can of coke is usually the same price whether chilled or not. In recent years, especially in hot weather, it has become a trend in the UK to charge up to as much as 1000 Won (50p) extra for the privilege of a cold drink, especially in extremely hot weather.

A Samsung service center

In Britain, unless shoes are leather it is difficult getting them repaired and for items like trainers you don’t repair them at all. Over the years we have been encouraged to sling things out and replace them as soon as they are worn.  In Korea you can easily have the  worn collars of shirts reversed and repairing shoes with rubber soles, including trainers, is easy. I had my rubber shoes soled and heeled almost a year ago whereas in the UK I would have been compelled to throw them in the bin.

Need a pair of glasses? It would probably work out cheaper to fly to Korea and buy a few pairs than pay the excessive charges levied in the UK. There is no charge for the eye examination and the price of frames begin at about 15.000 Won (£7). I have three pairs of glasses and all have frames costing less than 20000 Won (£10). Koreans love colourful frames and the range available, extensive. Cleaning cloths and cases for glasses are all free and the cleaning clothes cute and decorated. A pair of varifocal glasses, with the glass graduated so they look like ordinary glasses, costs around 200.000 Won (£100) and outside one of the opticians within a minutes walk of my one-room stands a special electrical device which you can use to clean your glasses. It’s free to use! Since optical care was privatized in the UK, the British have been abused by high street companies ripping them of. You can easily pay in excess of £300 (600.000 Won) for a pair of varifocals but the monopoly held by such greedy companies is being seriously threatened with the emergence of online opticians.

There are many flaws in the Korean system and I probably turn a blind eye to many of them,  but with all the advantages I have outlined, plus a national tax of around 3.3%, (my monthly bills, including tax, all amount to a grand total less than that I would pay for  the lowest of my monthly utility bills in the UK), I do not feel I am being fleeced or financially raped. Unlike many western countries, quality of life doesn’t cost and arm and leg.

Further Links

The Great Spectacles Rip-Off

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Just… (그냥…) Doctor! Doctor!

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, Just - 그냥, services and facilities by 노강호 on September 16, 2010

Barbapapa

I’m fat. Whenever I visit my doctor he asks, ‘What do you think about your weight?’ I never know what to say. What the fuck are you supposed to say? I stifle a little laugh.

‘I love it. It’s great wobbling into a bathhouse looking like Grandpa Barbapapa.’

Once I replied, ‘not very sexy,’ but he didn’t get the joke.

I actually saw him in Samjeong Oasis bathhouse several weeks ago. I didn’t feel comfortable and left before he could see me. I should have talked to him. ‘Hey, Doc! What do you think of my weight?  How would you like my awesome man tits?’

Another time, 8 years ago, I met him on the way to E Mart. A Saturday morning in autumn as I was waiting to cross the intersection. I’d just returned from the UK after having a hernia repair.

At the intersection he’s excited to see me and do you know what he proceeds to do? Examine my stomach!  An on the street examination! Not many people can boast such a privilege.

Just as the lights turn green and a sea of pedestrians begin to cross the road, he pulls up my shirt, kneels on one knee, has a look at the scar and pokes around for a few moments. A little girls stood nearby, looking bewildered, stares.

It was hilarious! I didn’t even have to pay the extortionate 3000 Won (£1.50), usually charged for a consultation.

Back home in the shitty UK, your doctor doesn’t talk to you even when you’re in their surgery.  If I passed my UK doctor on deserted street he wouldn’t know who I was and getting to see  him in his surgery can involve waiting up to four days.

I like my Korean doc; he once gave me a tour of his new endoscopy machine but was a bit too enthusiastic as he waved about the part they stick down your gullet or poke up your backside. He was like a kid with a new toy.

Most UK local doctors don’t have such equipment and the most sophisticated toys my UK surgery have are stethoscopes and a weighing machine. Actually, two weighing machines because last time I visited them I was too heavy for one machine and had to stand on two. What surgeries in the west, ‘Lard Land,’ buy scales that only weigh up to 16 stone! Standing on two! That was embarrassing!

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Dream Sauna, Daegu, Yong San Dong (드림)

Dream Sauna (드림)

First visited in July 2010. Last visit 6th May 2011. Dream Sauna is a  smallish bathhouse in Yong San Dong (용산동), Daegu and is a five-minute bus ride from Song-So, Mega Town where the Lotte Cinema Complex is. Since my last visit there seems to have been a few changes and I found more to appreciate than on my first visit.

The bathing facilities are modern and clean with a large cold pool, large warm pool and smaller hot and ‘event’ pools. The saunas include a steam room, pine sauna and a yellow mud sauna (황토방) with a charcoal wall, interesting art work and a resident television. The salt room (소금방) is fantastic as the salt is ankle deep on the floor and at first you think you’re entering a room of snow. You can even lay in it though the room is not specifically designed for this. The salt ‘font’ and seats have all been decorated to look like they are encrusted in rock salt. Quite an enchanting room. The salt sauna houses the television which can also be viewed from two other sauna rooms.

The large cold  pool, beside a small jade, ondol sleeping area, has tiled artwork of dolphins above which three windows with colourful ocean scenes, are illuminated by sunlight. The smaller windows down the side of the bathhouse have floral designs. With bright tiling, the ambiance is light and roomy and a contrast to the black marble of  Hwang So.

Plan

Dream Sauna - Bathhouse design (male)

The bathhouse: has a large rectangular changing area with a small recess containing a television and sofas for relaxation. There are around twenty sit down shower units and a bout the same number stand up showers. Shoe shine and a barber are on site.

Cost: 4000 Won

Location: This is very easy to find as the sauna is right next to Tesco Home Plus in Yong San Dong. If you come out of Home Plus and turn left, you will find Dream Sauna less than 3 minutes walk on the left hand side. There is a large opening on the ground floor with a sign over it and the ticket booth is in the lobby. (Wikimapia Link)

Ambience – bright, very clean bathhouse.

Waygukin – none but only my second visit.

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Migwang Spolex (Jjimjilbang), Daegu, Song-So. (미광스포랙스)

Migwang Spolex (미광, 성서, 대구)

First visited February 2009. Last visited September 28th 2012. Migwang Spolex is my favourite local jjimjilbang, bathhouse sports complex. Migwang has five stories of amenities including squash courts, billiard rooms, and a very well equipped and friendly gymnasium. It is very clean and has well laundered towels which smell fresh. The bathhouse, a large one, is one to enjoy and relax in rather than to use  solely for washing and cleaning. Sunday afternoons and holidays can be very busy. The gym is very well equipped and spacious and home to many Muscle Marys, especially in the evenings. In summer, the ice rooms, of which there are two, one in the bathhouse and one in the jjimjilbang, are a refuge from the summer heat and humidity. I particularly like the  changing areas as there are very roomy and with small poofes on which to sit while putting on socks’ etc – I hate having to do that sat on the floor or while trying to balance on one leg. Friendly staff.

The ‘event’ and warm pool (male)

The warm and hot pools in the female complex

Women’s facility

Unlike many other businesses in Korea, many which simply border on existing, I think Migwang is doing very well, financially. I’m told it has over 1000 members with a monthly membership. More to the point, I notice Migwang regularly installs or renovates features during major holidays. A new ceiling and what looks like a new water feature is currently being built (October 2010). However, the water feature seems to have stopped  mid program.  In April 2011 new poofes appeared. Migwang is always impeccably clean and the staff very friendly – oh, apart from some grumpy old guy!

Migwang’s sit down shower units

This is what the British call a ‘poofe.’

The male ‘powder’ room

The warm pool with the pine, steam and ice room (L-R) in the background. A large TV sits above the central circular window

Plan

Migwang Spolex. Bathhouse Design (male)

The stand up showers (male)

The women’s cold pool

Location – five minutes walk from the Song-So (성서) industrial Complex subway station and just 2 minutes walk from E-Marte. Come out E-Marte, turn right, turn right again at the cross roads and walk to the crest of the hill where the road bears left. The complex sits on the turning on the left hand side. (Wiki Map link )

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang and bathhouse. Gym open from around 6 am Mon-Sat until around 11 pm. Sundays 8 am – 8 pm. Double check opening and closing times as they occasionally change.

Facilities – 2nd floor, reception,  women’s bathhouse, women’s hair dressers. 3rd floor jjimjilbang, 4th floor men’s bathhouse, 5th floor gymnasium. Also squash facilities, martial arts, aerobics classes etc.

Jjimjilbang – ice room, various saunas, sleeping rooms, children’s play area, refreshments and food, small pc room, televisions, etc.

Jjimjilbang area

Bathhouse (men) – around fifty stand up shower facilities and around the same number of sitting down shower units, event pool, (이벤트탕), hot pool (열탕), large warm pool with jacuzzi (온탕), large cold pool (냉탕), small tepid pool (안마탕),  ice room, steam room, 2 jade saunas, relaxation area, heated sleeping area. Large changing room with television and sofas. Televisions are also located in front of the e-bente-tang and hot pool, and in one sauna room but which can be viewed via from the other saunas.

Cost – bathhouse 5500 Won, jjimjilbang 7000 won. Monthly all-inclusive (including the gym) once a day usage, 100.000 Won (£50).

Others – hairdressers, massage and rub downs, parking, associated buffet restaurant opposite (Arden Hills), and Screen Golf Range. Various seasonal discounts. Very close to E-Marte and from there the Song-So Industrial Complex subway station, and surrounded by various restaurants and some excellent coffee shops Vincent Van Gogh, Hands Coffee, Sleepless in Seattle). The barbers now seems to offer massage, haircut and shave all being a euphemisms for a hand-job – cost 30.000Won. Barber’s is closed on Monday and residency of the barber’s now seems to shift between the actual barber and the ‘girls’

Ambiance – relaxing, mid-level lighting, subdued television, very clean, very comfortable, friendly.

Waygukin –  I’m gradually seeing more and more westerners here. For a year I didn’t see any, but in the last year I have seen a total of 5. Some just shower, while others use the pools, some are friendly, some clearly do not want to speak.

Address – Daegu, South Korea, 1250-14번 지 (behind E-mart)

Website – (Migwang Spolex Website Link)


Migwang Updates

Migwang on a Sunday Morning (August 1st 2010.)

Migwang Update August 2011

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Freebies

Posted in Comparative, services and facilities by 노강호 on June 25, 2010

When you frequent a business in Korea it is usually the case that at some point the staff will repay your loyalty with what is known in Konglish as, ‘service-a,’ (서비스).  In a restaurant or bar, ‘service’ may take the form of a free drink or side-dish and in other shops in mat be some small items. For example, in chemists it may be a bottle of vitamin drink and my butcher often throws in a pound or two of free flesh.

Link to Roketship

I would imagine the more Korea becomes westernised the more this custom will be whittled away until like London on a hot summer afternoon, your can of  coke or mountain dew has an extra 30 pence added if it has been chilled. When you’re in the city and parched you’re  hardly going to opt for a warm 7 Up because it’s cheaper than the cold one!  Only a total stingy blades would do that, which is what the shop owners are for increasing the prices on chilled drink in the first place.  A drink should be chilled in hot weather and charging extra is sheer exploitation no different from charging extra for a hot cup of tea or a cold ice cream. A few years ago I ate bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetables) at a small Korean restaurant near the British Museum in London. Bibimbap is hardly an exotic meal and I would imagine the only unusual vegetable in it was bracken fern (고사리), if indeed there were any. Regardless, the meal cost me £8 which is an extortionate price. To compound matters, I was charged £2 (W4000) for an extra portion, ie spoonful of kimchi. That’s actually more expensive than a bowl of bibimbap in my local Kimbap Nara. In the UK no shop owner would dream of handing you a bar of chocolate for free and if they did you probably think they were up to no good!

I like the idea of providing ‘service’  especially as in all but the big supermarkets ordinary staff, even the youngest and most junior, are able to ‘award prizes.’ In Mr Big, New York, New York, and Misoya, all chain companies with branches throughout Korea, the staff are able to dish out the goodies to customers they like. Even in friendly, fresh, fun land, GS25, the sexy student occasionally plies me with a bar of chocolate.

In the last six days my ‘service earnings’ have been substantial. I’ve eaten three times in Mr Big where I only ever eat the nasi-goreng and on each occasion I’ve had a free glass of beer (W7.500). In Misoya, there is a sexy lad who two months ago was on the street outside a new mobile phone shop, trying to hook customers. Now he is two doors along working as a chef  and twice this week he’s  served me a complimentary dish of two large tempura prawns (W4000 = W11.500). Next door to Misoya is the chemist where I buy nicotine gum. I stopped smoking five years ago but still chew the gum and here I get W1000 off every time I buy a packet (W13.500). Yesterday my butcher gave me some extra meat which astthe least would have cost W2000 (W15.500). In New York, New York, I am given a complimentary coffee after every meal knowing I like roast potatoes, a rarity in Korea, they always serve me two instead of one (coffee 2x – W2000 = W17.500) Finally, every time I have a green tea latte in my favourite coffee shop, I get a persimmon honey cookie (약과)  for free; they cost W800 each (W19.100).  So, in six days my ‘service earnings’ amount to approx £10 –  enough to feed me for 2 days.

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Friendly Fresh Fun

Posted in services and facilities by 노강호 on June 18, 2010

GS 25 is my local store and is a mere 60 paces from my front door.  It opened only a few months ago after replacing a small business which I passed for 18 months but cannot recall.  The GS 25, which I assume means ‘general store,’ opens 24 hours day though equally, it could be the abbreviation for, ‘Get Some.’ The ’25?’ That’s  the ’25’ the usual Korean ‘term’ for ’24/7. With its blue and white neon lighting, the GS 25 has brightened up a formerly dull corner which opens onto the main road.

Recently the store has made some new innovations: with summer here, chairs and tables have been placed on the pavement and yesterday I was given a loyalty card. The GS25 company however, truly like to service their customers and this evening when I pop in to buy my bedtime beverage, a cup of milky coffee, I notice the student working within, at 8.30 in the evening it’s always the same boy, has a GS25 jacket on the back of which is emblazoned, in large yellow letters, ‘Friendly, fresh and fun!’

Where?

There are a couple of places on my walk home in which I could buy a cup of  milky coffee but over the last few months what has attracted me to this small shop is the boy. He’s a university student, studying English at the local university and though I’ve spoken to him in English on one occasion, a sort of invite for him to try out his English on me, I always have to speak to him in my poor Korean. He probably 24 and at my age, 54, I don’t have the slightest anticipation of anything developing beyond a customer-employee relationship but after a day’s teaching checking out the front his jeans as he correspondingly checks my small change, provides a little light entertainment.

Tonight I’d had a few sojus and the world always looks better when you’re mildly tipsy.  The jacket, in particular, grabs my attention.  It’s not really a jacket, it’s more like a light vest made of some mesh material and today, he also has a new baseball cap.  The  three ‘F’s’ are going through my mind as I stare at the arsenal of coffee in the cool cabinet. I always buy the same one, ‘Mild Caffe  Latte,’ but not an evening goes buy when I don’t glare at the other 20 or so different types before making my regular selection. ‘Friendly,’ the jacket reminds me, so I smile as I hand  him my the money, always the same 1200 Won but tonight it’s in loose change.  He returns my smile but it’s nothing overtly friendly, more like averagely ‘friendly, the standard ‘friendly’ I’d could expect in E-Marte, or Paris Baguette.  Then I get a little fresh; ‘You’ve got a new hat?’ He raises  his eyes from the change in his hand, smiles and lifts  the cap off of his head. ‘Oh, and a new haircut! Very handsome!’ He thanks me but has no idea I’m being ‘fresh.’ He understands ‘fresh’ only within the context of sell-by dates. You can’t really get to the ‘fun’ level without a little more ‘freshness’  and as he almost finishes counting my change, I have a fleeting urge to have some ‘fun’ and fondle  the front of his jeans. I don’t bother, it’s the soju effect and besides, ‘fondle,’ despite the alliteration, isn’t on his jacket.

The staff, though friendly and fresh fall short on providing some fun

Disappointed? Of course I am!  Whats the point in advertising to customers that you are ‘friendly fresh and fun’ when you are no more of any of them than any other store. And to be honest, I expect ‘friendly’ service wherever I spend my money as well as fresh items. As for fun? How can shopping for a bar of chocolate, a packet of batteries or a smoked boiled egg be ‘fun?’ If it’s ‘fun’ shopping in a pokey little convenience store with a small range of products it must be ecstatic shopping in a place like E-Marte or Tesco’s Home Plus – which of course it never is. And to make matters worse, next morning, when I pop in to buy breakfast, another member of staff is wearing the same jacket. However, when he turns around he’s a granddad who apart from being very friendly, is neither ‘fresh’ nor ‘fun’ and personally, spots are preferable to crinkles any day!

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Bathhouse Basics 1 – What is a bathhouse? (목욕탕)

Aquatic Symphony

Bathhouse (목욕탕) – exactly as the name suggests. Simply a place to wash. However, while some establishments are not much more than a place to administer yourself a thorough scrub down, others offer the chance to wallow in luxurious ambiance. The range is broad and bathhouses often have their own distinct atmosphere shaded by the time you visit. What you will find common to all  are: nudity,  segregation by sex,  places to shower, both standing and sitting and a number of pools. This is the most basic I have experienced. Others will have a number of adjoining ‘rooms’ containing various saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms (어름방), salt saunas, yellow mud sauna (황토방) sleeping rooms, and a place to be scrubbed down by an attendant. Once again, the variation is extensive. Pools vary in size and number and like the various ‘rooms’ often utilise specific minerals which are believed to promote good health. The most common are probably hot pools (열탕 – yeol-tang), warm pools (온탕 – on-tang),  cold pools (냉탕 – naeng tang) but I have also bathed in pools of gold and saunaed in silver. Baths may contain herbs, or green tea or be built with health inducing minerals. In addition, some bathhouses have heated areas around the pools where it is possible to take a nap and these may be heated by ondol (온돌) heating (underground heating) or by infra-red lights.

Changing rooms

Chilling

In the bathing area, bathhouses often have:

conveniently located televisions

various types of massage

soap, towel, body clothes, toothpaste

a large stone on which to eradicate hard skin

In the changing area:

sofas, television

a room in which to dry and preen yourself

toothbrushes, shampoo, Italy towels, hair conditioner

socks, underwear, ties

soft drinks, some snacks, especially smoked eggs

In the steam room of the Kayasan Hotel Bathhouse

A typical seated shower area

Grouped around the bathhouse (목욕탕):

barber, hairdresser

shoe shine facility

shoe repair facility

a sports complex or some exercise facilities

a jjimjilbang (찜질방)

In the pools

Some may have outside areas or indeed, be located in outdoor settings. Finally, some establishments have limited opening hours while others are open twenty-four hours.

Variations are extensive and endless!

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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.

Ceramics

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.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

A Touch of Heaven

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Entertainment, services and facilities by 노강호 on March 17, 2010

If this were back home, this restaurant would be in my back garden!

I recently went home to the UK for a Christmas break. I live in a rather attractive village on the south coast with a reputable university and a medium-sized town 3 miles away. I’m not the type of character to bore easily as I always have things to do which is just as well as I find British culture exceedingly boring. Unless you live in one of the major cities there is often little to do in the UK and pubs and restaurants are fairly expensive. For 2 pints of beer you can expect to pay around 12.000W and a fairly average meal will coast you 40.000W, minimum. In the last year in which I lived in the UK, I probably went out in an evening on only a few occasions. In the UK, high prices, poor transport networks, expensive taxis, violence and lack of amenities, are all barriers to stepping outside your front door.  I have lived in places in Korea where isolation and boredom were a problem and my sole point is simply that my present location in Daegu,  provides a very comfortable lifestyle.

My next door neighbour - a bar

So,,in  the particular area  of Daegu in which I live, I am totally spoilt. The parameters of my world extend approximately 600 paces in 3 directions and approx 1000 in another. Everything I need is contained within this space. I can comfortably walk 100 paces in a minute.  Before any blog-bullies assault my calculations as inaccurate, they are only estimations.  If I leave my apartment on my trip to my favourite sports complex, I pass the following facilities:

47  paces, 25 seconds – Kimchi jjim restaurant

65 paces, 35 seconds –  a bar

75 paces, 40 seconds – a barbecue restaurant

106 paces, 1 minutes 5 secs – a 24 hour store

146 paces,  1 minutes 25 secs –  chemist

247 – paces, 2 minutes 25 secs – a tailor and dry cleaner

250 paces, 2 minutes 30 secs – a bakery

324 paces, 3 minutes 25 secs  –  a 24 hour kimbap restaurant

348 paces, 3 minutes 30 secs – a dentist

390 paces, 3 minutes 55 secs – my school

433 paces, 4 minutes 20 secs – 24 hour restaurant

450 paces, 4 mins 30 secs – my doctors

520 paces, 5 mins 12 secs – E-mart supermarket

601 paces, 6 minutes – my sports complex, containing a bathhouse and jjimjilbang. In the interim I have passed 4 different and luxurious coffee houses, a small hospital, numerous doctors, singing rooms, bars, internet cafes and dentists as well as around 15 different private academies.

6 minutes walk: gym, squash courts, martial arts classes and 24 hours bathhouse and jjimjilbang

On a Monday:

150 paces, 1 min 30 secs takes me to an extensive street market.

In another direction:

60 paces, 30 secs – a barbecue restaurant.

72 paces, 31 secs  – a fish restaurant.

110 paces, 1 minute 6 secs – a computer repair shop

302 paces, 3 minutes (plus the lift) – a 24 hour jjimjilbang and gym.

330 paces – 3 minutes 20 secs – my bank

380 paces, 3 minutes 40 secs ( plus the lift) – a multi complex cinema, seafood buffet restaurant and a large pizza restaurant.

890 paces, 8 mins 55 secs – underground railway system.

And approx 1000 paces, 10 minutes, in the opposite direction takes me to the local swimming pool besides which lays the tranquility of the mountains.

Many of the amenities I am pampered with here I would not experience even in the major cities of the UK. If 24 hour restaurants or food delivery services exist they are very rare and I have never seen a MacDonald’s 24 hour home delivery service. Apart from the odd spa amenity, difficult to access, expensive and basic by comparison,  jjimjilbangs and bathhouses are all unheard of in the UK. Likewise, singing rooms, where families, friends and children can go, do not exist and neither do decent internet cafes. Britain’s main pastime is premised around boozing and watching TV which is ironic considering British people, as most westerners, have significantly more free time than do Koreans.

However, I still miss a good indian curry, a decent pizza and Cantonese style Chinese food and roast potatoes make me drool excessively.

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