Elwood 5566

Land of the Rapidly Swelling Belly

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative, Food and Drink by 노강호 on September 21, 2015

I suppose, after almost ten years living in Korea that you begin to take things for-granted. With the arrival of summer and many teenagers wearing skin-tight, knee-length shorts, I’d forgotten just how skinny so many boys are. And to compound matters, I’ve just returned from the UK where every other teenager is a lard-arse. Statistically the average Korean, weighing around 124 pounds, is one of the lightest in comparative world statistics. The current average weight in the UK is 152 pounds. Despite this, Koreans are gaining weight quicker than most other nations and I’m not surprised because western style junk-food has invaded Korea at every level. It is fairly common knowledge that once a food store opens in a neighborhood, that over time the average weight of people in the immediate area increases. Well, in the last year the block on which I live, which previously had one MacDonald’s and one Dominoes Pizza, now has four more western style junk-food outlets. Yes, you read correctly! Four! In less than a four-minute walk I can pass two MacDonald’s, a KFC, Lotteria and a Dominoes Pizza. And unlike the UK, every one of them delivers to your door. The newest MacDonald’s, actually directly in front of my one-room, is open 24/7. And with the block itself and the blocks immediately around it housing around 10 private academies, you can imagine that everywhere I look I see Korean kids stuffing burgers in their faces.

‘Minute-food’ in a Korean market

The trend for western style food is just as voracious in supermarkets. My local E-mart, four minutes walk from my one room and also housing a MacDonald’s, now has cooler cabinets filled with microwaveable pre-made meals. Food I cooked 8 years ago, such as numerous fish stews where you bought a pack with all the fresh ingredients, squid, octopus, live shellfish, tofu, vegetables and a packet of spice paste, (and this is only one example) have disappeared and now the same cabinet contains a wide range of ready-made stews and soups in plastic packets. And there are totally new additions: curries with nan bread, racks of ribs, packs of Peking duck. Even one of Korea’s most cherished soups, and one of the easiest to make, samkaetang (ginseng chicken), has been conveniently packeted.

Meanwhile, in small convenience shops I can buy chocolate that wasn’t in Korea ten years ago. Some 8 years ago in the UK several chocolate manufactures were being criticized for producing the most enormous bars of chocolate. Bars which in my childhood were 3-4 inches long are now 5-6. Mar’s and ‘Snickers’ were examples of the sizing-up of confectionery. I don’t know what happened about the debate but I do know that not only do you only ever see the super-size bars in the UK, but Snickers is now available in most Korean ‘corner’ shops.

Then there’s the size of meals – now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a glutton, I love eating and I can eat lots but when I now return to the UK I’m staggered by portion sizes. I do once remember shocking some Koreans buy buying the entire family of five a pot of ice cream each in Baskin Robbins, something they considered outrageous. It wasn’t even a big pot but the smallest dinky one, probably containing one scoop. I’m used to eating between 5-7 scoops on my own and I don’t consider this particularly gluttonous. Koreans will share a five scoop pot between as many people able to sit around the table. In the UK, a normal size portion of cod and chips would feed a Korean family. The cod, always a foot long, hangs over the edges of the plate and the mountain of chips, piled on top cascade onto the table.  Indeed, there are  usually so many chips they tumble off the plate and if you add a roll, mushy peas and curry sauce, not only can you enter calorie-overload but need another plate. Actually, it would be easier to eat British size fish and chips from a bucket!

Over the years I’ve often written about the absence of fatties in bathhouses! Well, they have definitely arrived and I usually there are people proportionately fatter than me and often they are kids. While many kids, especially boys are super skinny, a growing number are pudgy, soft and in the bathhouses and naked usually look like pillows.

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Red bean paste filled bungoppang. In this case, and uniquely, its crab rather than the traditional fish shape. Far less calories than a mega-Snickers and with some roughage.

Meanwhile in the UK the weight-debate is almost exclusively perceived as a problem concerning individuals who are always deemed lazy, lacking will-power, emotionally weak while the solutions presented are mostly more of the same guff, new diets, exercise, changes in lifestyle, etc. Watching the fattening up of Korea it becomes very clear the process is deeply rooted at a social level and is about the food fads we buy into via advertising. Gary Linneker for example, a famous UK footballer, spent years advertising Walker’s crisps (potato chips) to youngsters and many high-profile celebrities, often sporting icons, advertise beer and soft drinks. And of course, both MacDonalds and Coca-cola advertise through major sporting events such as the Olympics. Then we have to consider the effective of Hollywood and the constant barrage countries like Korea face when American (western) cultural values are constantly pedaled  It was only 10 years ago in the UK that the government sanctioned candy companies producing coupons on bars of chocolate that could be used by schools to buy sporting equipment. Oh, and then there was that insidious chemical refreshment Sunny D, that swept through the UK the coupons of which supplied school basketballs.

I often find the morons who perceive weight gain at a predominantly individual level, and who constantly harp on about personal choice and discipline, a little like those who blame the rise of breathing-problems on the fact individuals choose to breath rather than on the increase of pollutants in the atmosphere.

Of course, Korea has its own fast-food, known as minute-food (boon-shik) but much of this isn’t actually that unhealthy. I wouldn’t put bibimbap and kimpap in the same league as pizza and hamburger and much street food, minute food, is sold in small portions and are snacks rather than meals. In the Korean street where one is never far from a street vendor selling the likes of odeng, and bungoppang, the cost of food is much less than that of western-style fast food places.  Despite this, the big fast-food franchises are never empty. Unfortunately, as Korea becomes increasingly westernized we have to acccept ever increasing waist-lines.

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Killing Kimchi and Murdering Makgeolli!

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Food and Drink, rice wine (beer), vodcast by 노강호 on March 10, 2012

I’ve recently posted my new video on how to make makgeolli, but before that…

One of my Korean friends recently questioned the point of making makgeolli when it is so much easier to buy! Where do you begin? I love randomness! I hate straight cucumbers, regimented onions and all vegetables that have been forced to conform. Back in Europe, the big supermarkets, citadels of conformity, reject fruit and vegetables that aren’t a specific size and shape and I can remember a few years ago when it was a common sight to see piles of onions on the edge of a field that farmers couldn’t sell and to which you could help yourself. If I recall, it was a kind protest by farmers against the big buyers. One of the vegetables I hate buying in Korea is the courgette-like vegetable which you only seem able to buy encased in a plastic straight-jacket. Trapped inside its constraint, every vegetable grows to exactly the same dimensions and no more. What ‘ fascist farmers’ forum’ decide on the specific dimensions of a courgette?

bent and wonky – banned by the big supermarkets

Market forces have already started killing kimchi and makgeolli. Fermentation processes, in which the development of something continues post the point of production, hinder the standardization that supermarkets encourage. It might seem an irrelevant point now, but I know several Korean women who can’t make kimchi and instead rely on their mothers for a regular supply. As for Korean men, most just about have the culinary skills to add water to  a pot of ramyon (noodles) or make a cup of coffee – with mix. Sorry guys! . When the older generation of kimchi makers have died out, I would imagine a lot of women will turn to supermarkets for their fix of kimchi and from that point the gradually numbing of taste buds will lead to shit, factory made kimchi becoming the bench mark.

MacDonald’s have done exactly the same with the noble burger. If you’ve ever had a real American burger, ‘loaded,’ you’ll know how superior they are. In the USA, I’d say most people have no idea what real chocolate tastes like after years of rape by crap like Hershey’s. British people aren’t more discerning. I once gave a class of 17-year-old British kids decent chocolate (Lindt 70% milk, Excellence) and the most common and mediocre of British chocolate (Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, around 26% chocolate), which is substantially better quality the Hershey’s ersatz chocolate. They didn’t know which was which but they mostly voted the inferior chocolate the best.  And British people are beginning to forget what real pork and bacon is like after years of abuse by pork that is pumped full of water and bacon that is similarly sodden with water and then ‘smoked’ by chemicals. Most British pork and bacon you can no longer fry as it ends up swimming in so much water they are effectively braised. Impregnation with water is what is probably going to happen with pork in Korea, which will rain torrents on samy-kyeop-sal (Korean pork barbecue) and kimchi and mekgeolli, in the hands of factory processes and supermarkets, will probably end up being similarly adulterated.

Take kimchi for example, the taste changes over anything up to several years and ‘maturation’ is greatly affected by temperature. Fermentation introduces random elements into food production that factory systems don’t like and it is safer for the image of brands to have products that are always mediocre, and hence reliable in their mediocrity, than ones where random elements occasionally deal both superb and inferior products. Most of our factory food, whether it be fast food burgers to almost anything in a supermarket, has been reduced to mediocrity. I remember when Indian restaurants in Britain all differed from each other. Not only was chicken served ‘on’ or ‘off the bone,’ choices you are never given today, but every restaurant cooked differently because the companies that were to supply all the ‘cook in sauces,’ standardise them and dominant the industry, had not yet been developed. Restaurants depended on the skills and creative talents of their chefs and eating out in an Indian was a culinary experience. I’ve even eaten curry garnished with melted silver leaf (varq) but again, you no longer see this creative addition. Standardization has killed the curry to the point crap factory products become the bench mark and preferred taste and in the process the chef is deskilled and becomes a ‘cook.’  Now, you can eat a korma in Newcastle or Cornwall and it will taste and look exactly the same – usually sickly yellow, sweet, and populated by uniform cubes of tasteless chicken.  Yes, it’s cooked in a restaurant but the components are produced by mass factory processes. Even the pickles are now mass-produced.

It was the variation and randomness of British Indian restaurants that made them so exciting and  it is currently the same variation that enlivens the experience of kimchi and makgeolli. Like most of the makgeolli type drinks you can now buy, and most of the packaged kimchi, the fermentation process has been terminated. Ten years ago, all makgeolli bottles had a hole on the top to allow the fermentation process to continue and so was packeted kimchi. Today, they are treated to kill the  micro-organisms which so miraculously collaborate to transform a pile of boring cabbage into kimchi and rice into makgeolli. You don’t really appreciate the explosive potential of makgeolli until you’ve brewed it and believe me, it can pack a punch far more powerful than champagne.

The allure of making your own makgeolli and kimchi, lies in the fascinating interplay, a kaleidoscope  of activity, that is produced when enzymes and environment collide and every production is a little different – and the difference continues to develop. And they are so very much alive; both kimchi and real makgeolli have a ‘zing’ that is absent when bottled or packeted. No matter how good a commercial makgeolli or kimchi is there is something they lack and quite simply, it is life. Homemade kimchi and makgeolli are full of ‘zeng’ (ie – ‘saeng,’ 생 -生), which is the Hanja (Character) for ‘life’ or ‘living.’ The moment you taste real kimchi or real makgeolli you taste life, it has a quality that with clinically dead food is only ever an approximation. Bottled makgeolli, boiled to death, is artificially resuscitated and put on a carbonated life support but despite the bubbles and facade of life, it is a zombie in comparison to makgeolli that has been allowed to retain its miraculous micro-organic population.

If you want kimchi that is always ever just, ‘just’ (그냥), well, the Chinese are making it in abundance. In my local Chinese store in the UK you can buy Kimchi made in the PRC that has not only been killed prior to packaging, but suitably embalmed in liquid chemical environment hostile to any micro-organic activity and then entombed in a can! And believe me, it tastes as bad as it sounds.

Kimchi and makgeolli are incredibly easy to make and doing so is fun. Homemade kimchi is much cheaper than the packet, supermarket variety and you can make around 8 liters of makgeolli from about 1.3 kilograms of rice (costing about 6000W – £6) which compared with shop bought makgeolli, is about half price. But more to the point, it is more about preserving taste and culture, than cost!

For more information on making makgeolli, visit Mister Makgeolli , and for information on making kimchi, visit: Kimchi Gone Fusion.

 Bathhouse Ballads chronicles many aspects of my life in South Korea. Kimchi Gone Fusion focuses on ‘the way of the pickled cabbage’ while Mister Makgeolli is dedicated to Korean rice wine.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Club Korea

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative, Westerners by 노강호 on February 28, 2012

I have a love hate relationship with Korean discrimination! Hating discrimination is obvious, but ‘loving’ it! Why? I hear you ask; because we’ve done such a good job fucking our own societies that the more opposition to the west, in any form, the better. I know, it’s puerile, Even though I’m a ‘wayguk,’ I can tolerate being an outsider if it is a barrier to the acceptance of some of the western values which are currently rotting places like the US and the UK.

Personally, I place quality of life above all else and as a foreigner in Korea, I have a far better quality of life than I would back home. Now, I don’t mean solely in economic terms, though even with significantly higher pay in the UK, I was never able to save half my earnings as I can in Korea, but in terms of things like access to health care, gyms, things to do after work, eating out, etc, etc. With many of the transactions I make in the UK, often ones accompanied with running and maintaining a house or traveling, there is an accompanying sense of having been suckered. The same sensation is evoked whenever I travel to countries where you have no idea of the relative values of things, perhaps because you are supposed to barter but in the process you know that the item you are buying is extortionately overpriced but there is nothing you can do about it because the next guy will rip you off just as badly – if not worse. I suppose  the feeling is akin to being divested of your dignity, a bit like you might feel if your house were burgled and it’s especially intense when you know the other guy thinks you’re a total fool for paying whatever you did. Transactions of whatever kind are always more tolerable, even rewarding, if you feel the deal was mutually beneficial and fair but unfortunately, in the UK, you’re usually exploited and there’s nothing you can do about it!

My sister recently wanted her son to see a dermatologist and was faced with a six week wait. Can you imagine waiting six weeks to see a doctor in Korea? I caught ‘red eye’ last year and went straight from seeing my own doctor to an ophthalmologist in the space of half an hour and both practices were less than 3 minutes from my front door and probably one minutes walk from where I work. Then there was the cost; both visits totaled less than £5 (10.000W). Meanwhile, to secure quicker treatment for her son, my sister had to pay £170 (340.000W). I gather in the US this would be significantly higher.

Then there’s my gym. I pay £50 (100.000W) a month for access to bathhouse, gym and jjimjilbang. I know there are cheaper places but it is my favourite bathhouse and is impeccably clean. Back home, even exclusive gyms pale into mediocrity compared to those on offer in Korea while all others are basic, usually just a gym and claustrophobic changing room. And of course, you couldn’t have a bathhouse in the UK without it being usurped for sexual purposes because in the west nudity and sex are conflated. Then there are the restaurants, singing rooms, jjimjilbang, pc rooms, twenty-four hour services, coffee shops and taxis to take you wherever you want at prices a fraction of the cost they are in the west.

However, these aren’t the main reasons I find Korean culture preferable to that of my home country. Unfortunately, it’s the British aggression, violence and apathy of British students that exiles me to foreign shores. I have much experience with aggression and violence and due to my military background and training in taekwon-do, I worked in several different places as a bouncer while I was a student. One such place was in a MacDonalds in a fairly mediocre town. I doubt there is one MacDonalds on the entire Korean peninsula that requires a bouncer – except perhaps when they are in the vicinity of US military bases.

Now, to give you some idea of the kind culture I experience in the UK, in a fairly average British town, let me share a piece I wrote around 8 years ago. The extract is taken from my blog, Scumland UK.

Outside the local newsagent, which is only a few minutes’ walk from my front door, I am treated to the headlines of the newspapers, all utterly depressing. Of course, I know I shouldn’t read them but I can’t help it. I’m the inquisitive type of person, the type who if I think I’ve stepped in dog shit will poke it with my finger and then sniff. Newspaper headlines have the same magnetic allure and very often cause the same repugnant reaction. ‘Boy knifed in a school playground,’ reads the headline in the national press. This story has some local significance as only a few weeks earlier a teacher colleague told me about a 12-year-old girl who had been arrested on the school premises for producing a carving knife with which she intended to kill her ex-boyfriend. The police were called to the school and took her away in handcuffs. Come to think of it, that was only a few weeks after a local teacher was beaten senseless by a gang of nine boys after he tried to break up a fight. Another school has recently installed a metal detector at its points of entrance in order to detect those arriving for lessons carrying knives. Meanwhile, the local newspaper contains a massive headline about increased disorder and yobs terrorising the drivers of local bus companies.

I’ve been standing at the bus stop for over half an hour despite the fact that buses are supposed to service this stop every twenty minutes. As I am wondering whether yob behaviour on buses is the result of them arriving late, a girl of about 13 passes on a bicycle, all her stomach is exposed and as she passes I notice that her buttock crack is totally visible. Am I supposed to find that alluring? I’m not talking about just a centimetre or two of crack but almost half her backside. I wonder if her parents allow her to expose so much of her body in public and I conclude that her Daddy and his mates probably find it very erotic. However, I’m not too shocked as recently I saw a girl at the same bus, stop and of a similar age, wearing a black T-shirt on which was emblazoned, in lovely gold letters, ‘Fuck Me.’ I can’t remember if the words were mitigated by the addition of an exclamation mark, on a young girl it doesn’t really matter.

Once on the bus the assault continues; a young mother is sat with a baby in a pram. I can’t help but begin assessing her character and remind myself not to assume too much on the basis of stereotypes. While you don’t solely judge a book by its cover, you can certainly use it to make a formative assessment. I know for example, that if I pick up a book and Jane Goody or that Jordan person whose surname I don’t know, is on the front cover, I can assume its going to be superficial crap with smatterings of smut.  The young mother has enormous hooped earrings and a cheap, blue tattoo has been branded onto her hand by a tattooist who was clearly pissed. The tattoo intrigues me as I cannot discern whether it is a rose or a red cabbage. The difference is important in my assessment of her; a representation of cabbage would constitute some kind of statement, be it artistic or intellectual and I would be tempted to ask her what the cabbage symbolized. A rose however, would simply constitute a brand and might easily be substituted by a number.

Now I’m on the bus my mood has improved and I tell myself not to be such a negative, nasty person and at just that moment, just as I am about to reconcile myself with society, she goes and spoils it all; her mobile phone rings, not a discreet ring but some cacophonous jangle that stuns everyone within earshot. Next she begins shouting into the phone in that horrid Estuary English twang which political correctness demands we respect. ‘What the fark do you wan now? I already told ya, I’m on the farkin bus! What d’ya fink I’m farkin doin? I’m dropin’ the baby at me mum’s and I’ll met ya in town. Like I farkin said already.” Her baby stairs at me, its big eyes full of wonder. I want to smile at it but its grotesque mother will probably get aggressive and assume I’m some pervert. Hundreds of thousands of babies have been born to such hideous parents and yet no rhetoric or public debate seems to exist which calls into question their parents’ ability to rear children. Having a mother like this freak is child abuse but questioning parenting is a social taboo.

It’s a hot afternoon, probably the hottest day of the year and as I get off the bus I’m thrust into the middle of a small crowd of teenage lads, all aged 16 upwards, stripped to the waist and drinking from cans of beer. You can see the aggression and sense it in an aura which engulfs them like a plague. Aggression snarls their baby faces; it pervades the gait of their walk, a sort of strut which involves little steps; like they have pokers or shards of peanut debris up their arses. Their tight arsed strut is accompanied by an exaggerated shoulder swagger and arms swing at a forty-five degree angle to their bodies. Their beer cans, their gait, their little gang, their aggressive faces warn all on-comers not just to step aside, but to ‘fuckin’ get out-of-the-way!’

Friday afternoon is never a good afternoon to travel into town as even in the late afternoon the assault to your sense and sensibilities can be particularly fierce. The experience is intensified if it’s a school holiday. In front of me a boy lurches from side to side, clearly drunk. As with most of the other trash I’ve encountered in the space of 45 minutes, traveling from my house in a small village, into the town center, he’s a teenager. For the benefit of some approaching girls he opens the front of his jeans, sticks his hand down the front of his black boxers and contorting his face in a lustful manner, asks: D’ya wanna suck me fuckin’ knob, gals?’ The girls giggle, clearly honoured by the attention of this slob. I try to ignore him but he steps into my path, flies still open, hand still in boxers. ‘Hey mate, give us a pound!’ It’s more of an order than a request. I’m tempted to ask if he is touting for business given that his hand is still rooting in his boxers and his jeans are fully open at the front, but somehow I don’t think he would comprehend my humour. I ignore him. ‘Fuckin wanker,’ he calls after me.

Eventually, I arrive at my destination but worse is yet to come; I have to escape from this hell hole on the ten o’clock bus and the High Street, like so many other British towns, is no place to be at that time of night on a Friday evening, or indeed any evening! I only have to walk about a third of a mile to my bus stop but it is like walking through a zoo where the animals have been freed from their cages. The streets are crawling with loud, brash, aggressive, drunken youngsters. A lad is vomiting in a doorway; he sees me looking and gargles inarticulately, something with the word ‘fucking’ in his sentence. In the recess to the opening of one of the town’s most prestigious department stores, a girl is squatting; her stupefied eyes struggle to focus on my passing blur. Supported by the store doors against which she has collapsed, piss streams out from between her legs onto the marble floor which only a year ago the Queen herself walked on. However, she manages to retain some dignity by not pulling down her jeans and underwear. In another alleyway’, one that formed part of the original grid system when the Romans occupied the town some 2000 years ago, I notice a young teenage girl laying face down on the floor, her hand clutches a cheap handbag. She is scantily dressed with the obligatory exposed stomach and cheap, tight t-shirt that hugs her pubescent contours. Her friend, or should I say ‘mate,’ shouts at some passing men: ‘Don’t just fuckin’ look! Help her!’ The girl on the floor lifts her head and with a strangulated moan gargles vomit onto the payment. Like a marionette with severed strings, her head collapses back towards the dirty pavement, her hair and gargantuan hooped earrings cascade over her alcoholic sick. The passing men ignore her and walk by. This is someone’s daughter lying comatose on a grotty pavement, someone’s child and I wonder what sort of upbringing, what kind of society has led her to have so little self-respect than she is now lying drunk and dangerously vulnerable. If I was her parent I would be very concerned but then if I was her parent she wouldn’t be in this situation.

Outside the main night club a line of teen punters, mostly male, are being searched by burly bouncers before being allowed entry. Again there is that aura of aggression, the same nasty, scowling faces that warn you violence is about to erupt at any moment. You know you can’t make eye contact with them as to do so would invite hostility. They shout vulgar comments at passing females, adopt macho postures and grunt at each other and every other word is ‘fuck,’ ‘fucking’ or ‘fucked.’

Most of my friends back home hate the tone of Scumland UK and I can understand why; when you have terminal cancer you don’t like to be reminded, if you’re living in shitty conditions or your house stinks, you’d prefer not to have the fact rubbed in your face. And of course, people have different perceptions. Many British people have been completely desensitized to the nature of the society around them while others have never lived abroad and only experienced other countries as holiday destinations. Others, often the middle classes with managerial jobs and houses in the leafy suburbs, especially ones who earn a living out of the degeneration and decay around them, simply deny there is a problem.

Meanwhile, back in Korea, I lead a life in which I have never faced a threat on the streets or been insulted or assaulted as a teacher – all of which I’ve experienced in the UK. Hence, I’m in favour of any barrier to the spawning of western values in Korea which might change this. I’m what you might call a ‘wayguk’ separatist and in a sense would be quite happy if Korea expelled all foreigners and closed its borders. Yes, Korea has a multitude of problems and things that need improving but where in the world are young people so mild-mannered, innocent, the streets so safe, and pregnancy, drug and pox not a scourge on the young; where in the world is it possible to do a multitude of things on an evening at a price that doesn’t rob you of your dignity or put you in danger of getting your face kicked in!

On the peninsula,  you can speak fluent Korean and marry into clan-Korea but you’re never really Korean. You’re always on the edge. So many aspects of Korean culture conspire to highlight the fact you are a ‘wayguk.’ Even the language conspires to expose your barbarian genes. I forget the amount of times I’ve been talking to a Korean and wanted to mention, ‘my mother,’ ‘my sister ‘or ‘my university’ and stopped short because for Koreans such words are ‘prefixed’ with ‘our,’ indeed it would be improper to say ‘my mother.’ And in that instance in which I fumble for the correct pronoun, I am reminded of my foreignness. My mother is from a country thousands of miles away and clearly not part of clan-Korea, not part of the all-embracing ‘our’ sentiment and mentioning her or indeed a member of my family exposes my alien status.

Every time I go into a restaurant or shop with a Korean friend, and even if I do the talking, staff will confirm my ‘request’ with them, instantly marginalizing me.  They don’t mean to be rude, they’re just being helpful but it’s the irritating assumption that any wayguk trying to speak Korean has probably got it wrong and maybe wanted hot chocolate rather than coffee!   And how many times have you walked past people handing out leaflets on the street and they ignore you? Even this weekend I was walking into E-Mart and woman handing out leaflets simply let me walk past. Sometimes they turn their back or look away but she just looked and was probably thinking, ‘wayguk,’ he can’t read Korean, pointless wasting one on him.’ Imagine doing that in London! Apart from the fact that so many Londoners are clearly not… and there I run into a problem…clearly not what? Native? White? British? you wouldn’t dream of thinking,  ‘foreigner, they can’t read English.’ In Britain, it’s sort of taboo to identify anyone as a ‘foreigner,’ unless they’re clearly on vacation, and that’s one reason, even though they have contributed greatly to British culture, that the UK is in a mess and British culture currently seen as offensive, imperialist and something to apologize about. The UK has promoted every other culture, religion and ethnicity but its own and British culture is currently a dirty word which can be slagged off with impunity.

There are times when Koreans can be quite callous in their treatment of dedicated, professional foreign workers. Last weekend, one of my friends left his high school after five years service. Of course, it was never really ‘his’ high school and certainly not ‘ours.’ Many, though not all, foreign workers in Korea, are treated much like a rice cooker. The rice cooker has no ownership, semantic or otherwise over the school. The rice cooker belongs to the school and is a tool of the school and when it breaks or has a problem – you chuck it out. In five years he’d taken 6 days six leave, four after suffering a heart attack. Of course, this was partly because they would have chucked him out should he have been absent longer. Even when a parent knocked him down in their car, while on a mobile phone and on school premises, he only took two days off. As an aside, he received no financial compensation for the accident and the school did all in its power to make sure the parent wasn’t made to fork any more than hospital and doctors bills. You can trust good old ‘club-Korea’ to kick-in when threatened or protecting their own and it operates much like an enormous ‘old boy’ network.

In the same school, a Korean teacher with one years service, moved schools and in his last week was taken out for dinner and given the usually wadge of money in an envelope. In reality, he was only moving into the adjacent girls’ high school but as a member of ‘club-Korea’  he deserved the highest accolade. Meanwhile, my friend departed for the airport without even a handshake or a word of thanks from the principal! And even the school’s foreign, non-esl teachers with Ivy League / Red Brick qualifications, high salaries (in the region of 4 million won per month) and with apartments rather than one-rooms to house their families, all of which are flown to Korea by the school, receive the same rice cooker treatment. Yes, not all schools are like this but don’t get too complacent because you are rarely part of the school or the business – you will not rise through the ranks of management though, as is the case in some franchise hakgwons, they might pay you a little extra and give you some authority over other waygukin, never other Koreans, so that you can at least feel part of the program.  For most foreigners working in Korea, your status as a metic exiles you to loiter on the periphery.

Then there are the drug tests, medical tests and police checks – only for foreign E2 visa holders. But can you blame Koreans for this?  We don’t trust fully trained and qualified teachers, doctors, nurses in our own countries and even after intense screening, they remain suspect, so why should we expect Korea to open the crèche doors for those whose only qualifications are BA’s or MA’s?

Such treatment is appalling but I find it bearable because it helps keep foreign values at bay or at least slows the process of their possible assimilation. I can imagine some of the policies ‘wet’ western teachers would employ could they gain influential positions within Korean schools – especially ones with no practical experience of the problems faced by teachers in their own county. In two separate nationwide polls, around fifty percent of British teachers and parents were in favour of reinstating corporal punishment. Let westerners into the policy implementation process and it wouldn’t be too long before they’d be banning corporal punishment, banning any form of physical contact between student and teacher, empowering kids with all sorts of rights, teaching kids that every adult is a potential pervert and then allowing them to interview prospective teachers. Then, when the rot had set in, compelling teachers to take courses in class control, behaviour and riot management and then dumbing down the curriculum to make it entertaining for the kids who have little or no interest in study. The one thing I dislike about many westerners, is the overriding assumption, even in the face of extensive research on the tide of apathy, pox, violence, drugs and teenage pregnancy infecting their own countries, that their culture is somehow superior, that it knows best and is something to which Korea should aim. Indeed, many westerners assume that the westernization of Korea is both inevitable and desirable.

Don’t get me wrong however, because I’d hate to be Korean. Korean society is too restrictive, pre-determined, too work orientated and too homogenous. It’s a bizarre irony because the liberalism of the west that’s made me who I am and given me a strong sense of individual identity, is the same liberalism I don’t want to see polluting Korea. That’s a totally selfish stand point! I agree! As much as I love Korea, it’s as a foreigner who at one and same time is both an exotic source of fascination and an outsider.  And you can’t have it both ways; you can’t be ‘Korean’ without being enslaved to work or study and all those western idiosyncrasies which Koreans love about our personalities, and which would be deemed flaws in Korean society, would have to be drastically subdued.

But the process goes both ways! As much as Koreans blatantly use us either as metics, as foreign workers with limited rights, or as a tool to learn English, there are times when your foreign physog is an advantage and gains you concessions and privileges. I can nearly always walk into my local E-Mart without being asked to put my bag in a locker at the entrance. The poor English skills of staff always encourage them to look the other way when I stroll past. And over a year a foreigner probably gets more ‘service’ from shops and restaurants than the average Korean. My doctor once examined my stomach as I was stood waiting to cross the road, another time he gave me a tour of his surgery and I once had breakfast with his mother – do Koreans get such privileged treatment? Try sitting on first class of KTX with an economy seat ticket and there’s a very good chance the stewards will allow you to remain in the seat without asking you to move or insisting you pay more. And of course, whenever you want to avoid some question, some request, whatever, you can simply play dumb and say you don’t understand!

Yep! Living in a country which is both fascinated with your exoticness and does its utmost to remind you of your foreignness, chucks you a mixed bag. Personally, I feel life is much better stuck somewhere in the middle of this muddle, perhaps even out on the edge, than being given equality and running the risk the same problems will emerge that I have managed to escape by leaving my home country.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

Further Information

Scumland UK

Forget About Fat People. What about Fat Supermarkets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the equivalent to around 8 kimbaps

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

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

Further references

BBC. What is Obesity.

BBC. News: Health

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EPIK Helped Kill the Korean Experience

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Education, podcasts, Westerners by 노강호 on April 29, 2011

Podcast 80

Here’s the problem! You’ve lived in Korea three months and you think you know all about it! Now that you’ve got used to being stared at, know the difference between makalli and soju, think you have an understanding of the Korean psyche and culture and have possibly been initiated by the annual waygukin pilgrimage to the Boring  Boroyeong (mud festival), Korea has suddenly become mundane, ordinary and predictable.

has Korea becoming boring?

I know the feeling. There are numerous things which can possibly terminate ones Korean experience or at least quickly lead to the honeymoon being over: these include, the internet, a mobile phone, English speaking westerners and ones ability to read and speak Korean.

If you want to preserve that feeling of amazement you experienced during your initial weeks in Korea you have to avoid taking any interest in learning to speak, read or write Korean and while you can use computers to play games and download music, you must shun search engines and any blog related to Korea. Avoiding foreigners, or at least limiting how many you know, is crucial but relatively easy as most are too busy pretending  they’ve been in Korea for the last twenty years and are adept at blanking you even if you’re sat under their very noses.

Yeah, but nothing like we used to be…(courtesy of Roketship.com

The famous Chicago School sociologist, Robert Park used to advise his students to ‘go out and get the seats of your pants dirty’ and not too long ago that was the only way you could learn anything about Korea. You wanted to learn about Korea, and then you had to go to Korea. You wanted to learn Korean, you had to go out and find someone to talk to; you wanted to learn how to make kimchi or do taekwondo, you had to go out and find Koreans willing to help you. Today, you can do it all from the comfort of your ‘one-room.’ The online oracle provides extensive resources on every facet of Korean culture so much so that you can learn more today about Korea from a computer in backwater Britain or a rural American retreat than you could gleam living here for a year before the invasion of the internet. And for every foreigner arriving on Korean soil a corresponding blog is birthed to swell the already bloated Klogosphere.

Learning Korean is the quickest way to sully your relationship with Korea. I’m not really happy living anywhere in the world where I don’t have to make an effort to learn what is going on around me because it is easier to get the information I upload.  Back in Britain, I live in a constant state of depression and on a daily basis am subject to a plethora of information that I really don’t want to process and which by its very nature is unhealthy. You don’t have to seek information out, it finds you and worse the bulk of it is rubbish.  If it’s broadcast in daylight hours or is front page ‘news’ it’s very often shit and I have no interest in the intrigues concerning the latest plastic protégés from Pop Idol, the dumb ass contestants selected for Big Brother, the Royal Spongers, Football or the plots of stupid soaps.

 

interesting…

It’s fantastic when I go back home as I have no idea who new celebrities are and besides, many will have disappeared by the end of the year. I lived in Germany between 1976-1986 and was telly-less and beside gaining black-belt in taekwon-do, when I came home to headlines announcing, ’Who Shot JR,’ had to ask who he was.  A great wadge of what constitutes ‘news’ is newsless shite which cascades into your brain like spam. If people treated that organ the complexity of which potentially separates us from lower primates as they do their computers, with upgrades, antivirus and spam devices, society would be much nicer. Do you lower your firewall, terminate you anti-virus facilities and start downloading everything on-line? Of course not! But that’s what many of us do with our brains and much of it can’t be avoided.

Living in a country where you do not speak the language fluently is one step away from living in a mountain temple. It’s shocking I had to be told there had been a tsunami in Japan and an earthquake in New Zealand and natural disasters don’t depress me like manmade ones; but on the other hand my brain hasn’t been polluted with rubbish about royal weddings or the obnoxious habits of celebrities.

And you can certainly give vent to your creative juices. For the last few years I’ve had to construct an understanding of the world beyond my little nirvana from fragmented ‘evidence.’ Like an historian of ancient history, I piece together a narrative constructed from isolated words I’ve understood or images I’ve seen. When I originally saw a clip of what I now know was the Japanese tsunami  (the TV was in a restaurant and there was no audio),  I thought it was a graphic from the 24 hour Starcraft channel. I could certainly go online and access information but choose not to as once you open yourself to external content it quickly overwhelms you. Ignorance really is enjoyable and I am infinitely calmer in my little bubble than I would be by allowing the worlds ‘dirty realities to rape my noggin.

EPIK killed the experience

Not only would fluency in Korean make it possible to be spammed and hacked, but it would take all the fun out of life’s little excursions. I remember the time when most restaurants lacked English translations and often had no pictures.  Ordering meals by pointing was fun; bus terminals with no English! That was a challenge. By all means, learn Korean to order a pizza or tell the taxi driver where to take you but much more than this will quickly curdle your Korean sojourn. Okay! I do speak a fair amount of Korean and put much effort into learning it but you either have to be very gifted at languages or have been here for a long time to actually be able to speak fluently. So, unable to understand anything but bits and bobs from the fast paced gabble of Korean TV and conversations overheard, living in Korea equips you with one enormous firewall. Not one mega byte of unwanted information enters my brain’s processing center uninvited or unprocessed.

Obviously then, the internet has to be shunned though it’s useful in emergencies and for smoothing out potential problems. However, using it to research where you should go, how to get there, what to expect and equipping you with opinions before you’ve even decided where to go is a little like substituting reading the back page of a book for actually reading the book itself.  And the problem with computer technology is that it permits you to lead almost identically the same life as you would have had back home. Yes, even now I am doing exactly the same as I would be doing back in the UK, basically sitting at a computer screen and most of the entertainment it provides in the form of music and film is identical. So vast are the tomes of information on Korea that very little remains mysterious, bizarre or strange. Information technology has helped demystify the Korean experience and severely shortens its potential to engage or entertain us.

Mobile phones are just as bad and owning one simply means that every waygukin you meet gets added to your address book and as they do your social life begins to develop which disproportionately involves fellow westerners. Most westerners, though there will be exceptions, only need a mobile so they can chat with their western mates and book trips to ESL tourist destinations.

As for the waygukin effect, blame it on EPIK! The sharp increase in the number of English speaking foreigners now living in Korea has helped destroy the intense interest Koreans once held in us. I knew more westerners in the area in which I live, ten years ago when they were a handful, than I do now, despite their comprising a small army. At one time, seeing a westerner was so rare you stopped and talked. Today, there are not only more westerners but more westerners married to Koreans or with a Korean boyfriend or girlfriend. There are even western children in some of my local Korean middle schools. And I know it’s mean, but whenever I meet an EPIK teacher I silently curse because it is predominantly their invasion which has turned us from objects of fascination and intrigue into ones boring, mundane and general. We were special until EPIK arrived and now one has been stationed in every school, coffee shop and burger bar; there isn’t s single student who has never met a foreigner.

 

The Costa del Sol? No! Korea. Boroyeong, waygooked to boredom

Knowing a couple of fellow countrymen, or women, is good for your mental health but getting pally with hordes of them is a bad idea. When ever foreigners hook up in droves you can guarantee the conversation will become anti-Korean and gravitate towards how crappy it is working in Korea, which for many it is but those of us with good bosses or plastic professorships don’t want reminding. Technology and the EPIK invasion now means Korea attracts ESL tourists seeking the Korean package experience. Many waygukin now come here not to experience Korea and its culture, but to basically do exactly the same sort of things that can be done on the Costa del Sol. With a pack of mates in your mobile address book, all waygukin, it won’t be too long before you’re either returning home or looking for another location to provide you that ‘unique’ experience.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Being Gay in Korea

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea by 노강호 on April 16, 2011

I never heard the word ‘gay’ uttered by Korean students ten years ago, now ‘gay,’ ‘ fuck.’ ‘mother fucker,’ and as of yesterday ‘lezzie,’ are all entering the Korean 13 year old’s lexicon. Not too far down the line and it will be tarty thongs for 10 year old’s and dose of chlamydia or gonorrhea to raise teen kudos. Gay liberation coming to Korea is a great thing, but much of the rest of the western cultural baggage  and western values will eventually result in Korea, like many others places simply becoming a suburb of which ever country is culturally dominant – currently this is USA but China is an up and coming contender.

Is it posed? No idea. But its cute!

In the duration, if you’re wanting to check out the Korean gay scene you might want to try the following resources:

Utopia Asia

Between Friends (chingu-sai)

For a brief insight the history of homosexuality in Korea and some academic sources: see the abstract: Homosexuality in Ancient and Modern Korea

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

The Sad Implications of an Hilarious Photo

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative by 노강호 on April 6, 2011

ha ha! Excellent, if not ironic

This is too funny to be true!  Should I even find it funny?  Before I suppress the urge to rant about cultural contamination, I have to consider it either posed or possibly taken anywhere in the world where a few Asian kids have gathered. Sadly, it looks like it could actually be a Korean elementary school. The more au-fait the former ‘Hermit Kingdom’  becomes with the West, the more I am exposed to language such as ‘puc’ or ”puc you,’ all uttered with the typical Korean kiddy innocence. I am waiting for the first time I hear the most offensive of all four letter words, which as yet I doubt have ever been uttered on Korean soil.

 

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

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

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

podcast 77

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperial Tesco – the One Stop

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

the ultimate in ersatz, Hershy’s chocolateless chocolate

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

I have to admit, this is clever

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

Welcome to Korea!

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

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In the Days When Google was Gobble-dee-gook

You naively expected this

Podcast 72

I often mention that ten only a few years ago there was little information available on most aspects of Korean culture. Looking back just a few years the changes that have taken place are truly incredible. For those of us who are older, it is easy to forget that access to a whole range of information, all at your fingertips, is a luxury that at one time did not exist and that ‘one time’ was only a couple of years ago; for those who are younger, it is worth pondering the Korean experience before the incredible growth in access to, and compilation of, information – a process still in development.

and found this

When I decided to come to Korea in 2000, it certainly wasn’t for a job and the only factor influencing my decision to step on the plane was to discover a country which at the time ranked with exotic and mysterious destinations such as Mongolia and Tibet.  Just ten years ago anyone coming to Korea, perhaps more so from Europe than the USA, which has had both a closer relationship with Korea and attracted a substantial number of Korean immigrants, did so blind. Other than the information supplied by your recruiter and the odd book in libraries, access to information or first hand accounts was scant. Those who decide to come to Korea today are able to furnish themselves from the abundance of information available in a range of formats and I suspect many are now lured here not because of  the mysterious, but in search of employment. I in no way mean to demean or underplay the reasons people currently come to Korea and it certainly provides a culture shock. But I envy  those who arrived here in the early 1990’s or 1980’s at a time when Korea was not the place it was in 2000.

when your PC looked like this (Macintosh PC circa 1999)

I kept a diary from my first day and reading through its pages it is clear how the internet has become a fundamental resource in both deliberating whether to undertake the experience and in influencing and developing your understanding of Korea. It may even influence the experiences you engage in while on the peninsula. Change has been so rapid, and the resources we now access  have become so integral, it is easy not just to take fore-granted its impact,  but to even doubt that it was really that difficult to access information in the first place.

and your mobile phone, if you had one, looked like this (2000)

Writing in hangul was a major obstacle and you simply couldn’t go into your PC, make a few tweaks and then be able to write in Korean or hanja and besides, in 2000, few teachers had air-conditioning let alone a personal computer with an internet connection. Before laptops and net-books, most of the waygukin you met were in PC bangs where you spent a substantial part of your week. And If you bought a PC  you were privileged but still required Microsoft Proofing Tools to enable you to write in Korean or hanja and which cost c£70 a package.

Korean dictionaries, certainly in the UK, were small and difficult to buy. On the eve of my first trip, I went to London’s largest bookshop, Foyles, and discovered the entire range of books on the Korean language amounted to two introductory books, a useless dictionary and the small copy of the NTC Compact Korean English Dictionary. I bought all four depleting them of their entire Korean language collection. The dictionaries used transliterated Korean rather than hangul script. Meanwhile, books devoted to Japanese occupied an entire book case.

and this was what you needed to write Hangul (and it was expensive)

I’ve known a number of westerners who arrived in Korea in the late 80’s  and whose Korean, many years later, is still rudimentary. It’s easy to criticise such apparent laziness until you remember there was no internet to support your learning or provide lessons, few decent language courses or dictionaries and unless you were in Seoul or one of the big cities, few language classes. After a few years enduring such conditions it becomes a case of, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ As for hanja, I’ve met westerners proficient in Korean who didn’t even know what hanja was. While access to information on the internet existed, certainly around 2000, there was very little compiled on Korea or Korean culture and the ability to write in hanja characters was difficult, costly and dependent on Korean based language packages. Today, though limited for the non Korean speaker, information on hanja is available and if you aren’t interested in trying to learning it, you can very easily research what it comprises.

a time when you really did have to 'teach yourself'

Once again, in the UK, other than on the Korean war, there were few books on Korean history and finding information on topics such as the Hwa-Rang-Do or one of the Korean dynasties, was difficult. And when you did find such books, usually in academic libraries rather than public ones, they were specialist and somewhat boring for the reader who wanted general information. It has only been in very recent years, by which I mean the last 6 or 7  that such information has appeared and I can remember trawling Google in 2002 or 2003 and finding very little other than specialist academic references to major, Korean historical periods. Exactly the same conditions applied to Korean culture, prominent figures, cooking or geography.  Back in the UK I have a small collection of books on Korean culture, history, cooking, hanja and language etc, but all of them were printed and bought in Korea, and ferried back to the UK. So, on returning to Britain in 2002 and 2004, I felt I had to take a part of Korea home with me because there was no way to access ‘Korea’ in the UK. In 1997, when TOPIK, the Korean language proficiency test was introduced for non-Korean speakers, it attracted 2274 people; in 2009, 180.000 people took the exam and test centers now exist globally.

TOPIK exam hall

Korean related information on the internet was in its infancy; Google, for example, became a registered domain name in 1997  and certainly before 2000 most lay-people researched information from software such as Encarta. In 2000, I was originally going to teach in Illsan, I can remember using the internet to find information on this location and found very little. I have just this moment keyed ‘Illsan’ into Google search and in 14 seconds have access to 1.800.000 written resources and 1200 images. Learning Korean and hanja meant you compiled your own dictionary because the words or characters your learnt weren’t in dictionaries and there were no translation tools such as Babblefish or Google to provide support. Even with hangul, I still keep my own dictionary because western ones, even on the internet, don’t explain words uniquely Korean. As for idioms? Try searching Korea idioms on the internet or the availability of electronic dictionaries which are designed for the English native speaker learning Korean. All resources still being developed.

Resources in their infancy 10 years ago, blogging, vlogging, podcast, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter etc, have since become a fundamental means of sharing experiences and providing first hand information not just about all aspects of Korean culture, but on more specific topics such as life for the foreigner and whether you are vegetarian, teacher or gay, information is readily available. Blogging now provides an immense wealth of information but it is worth remembering that the term ‘blog’ was only coined by Peter Merholz, in 1999. Major blogging software which has helped give rise to the blogging phenomena are recent developments: Blogger emerged in 1999 and WordPress in only in 2003.

Song So, Daegu, November 2000

Even today, unless you live in London, obtaining Korean foodstuff is still almost an impossibility and online order of Korean foodstuffs is undeveloped. None of this is very surprising given there were very few Korean living in the UK until recently. Between 1998-1992, at a university with one of the most diverse students populations in the UK, there was a total absence of Koreans and Russians. Indeed, I was to meet Mongolian students before I met any from Korea. And, I can recall the very first five Korean I met; the first, a taekwondo instructor in London, in 1979, the second, a taekwondo instructor in Paderborn, Germany, in 1986, the third, a student in a school near New Maldon,  London, in 1998, and finally, two Koreans in a hotel in the Philippines, in 1998. I had a fleeting ‘meeting’ with Rhee Ki-ha (now  9th Degree Black Belt, taekwon-do), in 1988 but as a grading taekwon-do student, I was forbidden to talk to him.

Daegu 2001. When westerners were still a little unique

Korean Culture – the Korean Wave, Korean football players playing for British football teams, LG, Nong Shim, I-River etc, all arrived on British shores in the years following my first visit and indeed, this Christmas, I was treated to the first Korean cookery program I have see on British television. However, I suspect its genuineness as the recipes included beetroot and English pear (you can easily buy Asian pear in the UK). And neither chopsticks or kimchi featured!

and before the advent of the Korean wave

Up until a few years ago, if you arrived in Korea from Britain, you probably knew nothing about Korean society and possibly expected ‘second world’ conditions. Much of what you learnt about Korea occurred through accidentally stumbling across something and you certainly couldn’t learn from a computer screen. Indeed, access to a computer was probably detrimental to your Korean experience, removing you from, rather than immersing you in, Korean culture. Today, a computer can certainly enhance your experience and if you need to know how to: use your Korean washing machine, plan a trip, find a doctor during a holiday or translate a sentence from Korean into Blackfoot, it’s at your fingertips. Day to day life in Korea has been ‘made simple’ by the tomes of information we can now access  and only last week I used the internet to help me adjust my ondol heating control. With hundreds of accounts on topics such as soju, the Boryeonng Mud Festival  and kimchi, done to death, a blogger is forced to use a range of media formats (vlogging, photographs, podcasts, even cartoons), and  driven to be more creative and original in their perspective  especially if posting on what are now common, if not mundane subjects.

Link to TOPIK Guide.

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Korea 'Made Simple'

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Westerners by 노강호 on December 20, 2010

(This post refers to Chris Backe’s blog and uses the term ”made simple’ which bears a similarity to the title of Chris’ recent book on learning Korean, Korean Made Easy). My references to ‘Korea made simple’ have nothing to do with his excellent  book )

 

waygookin - foreigner

I had a drink this weekend in a bar around the corner from where I live. Everything was going well until the place was invaded by fifteen foreigners who were all drunk and noisy. As they entered, only one acknowledged the presence of either myself, or the two westerners I was with. When we decided to leave, just a few minutes later, the same woman that had said hello, apologised for not having been friendlier, meanwhile, the rest of the crowd she was with, continued to blank us.

 

 

Scene from a Typicaly British high street

It seems that expat-sub-culture slang, recently highlighted by Chris Backe (Chris in Korea), describes our experience as that of, ‘being waygooked.’ Chris lists a number Korean words adopted by westerners to use as slang and  all comprise the first and only words many westerners learn during their short stay in Korea. I am pleased to report I wasn’t aware of any other meanings than those of the original Korean.

A sub-culture lingo lurks in any foreign place with a substantial numbers of foreigners but without doubt, the increased numbers of foreigners now living in Korea, coupled with the internet and the high number of ESL teachers  help to consolidate and disseminate its lexicon. Whilst some of the examples Chris cites are harmless and amusing, a ‘chunner’ for a thousand Won, ‘manner’ for 10.000 Won, for example, others are not just unpleasant, but suggest many come to Korea with cultural attitudes cast in stone and from which they judge everything Korean – generally in a negative light.

 

 

a 'manner' - 10000 Won

To use expat, sub-culture slang self reflectively, Korea has been well and truly ‘waygooked’ though it might be more appropriate to stick to English and simply use the word ‘invaded!’ As each one of us arrives on the peninsula the reception for subsequent ‘visitors’ is made less unique and more mundane. Anyone who was here just ten years ago, will testify how much Korea has  changed. To allow westerners to interface with Korean culture, and in order to look progressive, Korea has been ‘made simple.’  Gone are the days when you were compelled to either try to learn Korean or enjoy taking a gamble as everything from menus to bus arrival and departure boards, are now bilingual.  About the only item still to be ‘made simple’  is the train ticket. Western food is now available everywhere and it is now possible to eat in different restaurants everyday without being required to sit on the floor or use chopsticks. And a wealth of information relative to Korea grows at a rapid rate. Language packages, blogs, cultural information, official websites, cooking websites, all proliferate. The Daegu, Kyobo book store’s section on the Korea Language for foreigners now occupies ten times the space it did ten years ago and one of the most elusive aspects of Korean culture, notably hanja, now has a number of books designed specifically for English speakers. Learning about Korea has never been easier but in the process, acquiring that information has never been more boring and unchallenging. The diary I kept on a daily basis during my first visit to Korea, before the days of blogging, vlogging and podcasts was was written with a view to publication back in the UK and the audience were clearly western. Today, a high percentage of the audience who access this blog live on the peninsula and are themselves bloggers.

 

 

Boryeong, thogoughly 'waygooked'

Not too long ago, Korea needed to be discovered, it was elusive and mysterious and attracted a kind of foreigner with some spirit of adventure. I’m not saying that such individuals no longer come here, they do, but if you’re looking to ‘discover’ and ‘uncover’ things unique, as well as discover something about your own character, Korea is rapidly becoming a very safe option and  ‘waygookinized’ almost, but not quite, to the same extent Thailand was ‘DeCaprionized.’ Soon the entire peninsula will posses as much potential to offer a unique experience as the Boring Boryeong Mud Festival. Not only can you research a wealth of information before you even buy passage, but you can communicate in various formats with those already here and discover just how safe it all is. And when you arrive you can pal-up, online and in reality, with a community predominantly doing the same thing you are – probably teaching. If I was setting out to Korea anew, it would be to somewhere like backwater Kangwondo or Ulundo and certainly not to any of the major cities which have now been saturated.

Yes, I am making a mountain out of a mole hill! I shouldn’t take it too seriously! But if anything is likely to make me leave Korea it is when it reaches a point where the experience of being here is not that different to being back-home. I came to Korea to experience its uniqueness and the more waygookins that come here, and I too am part of the problem, the more we connect and form a sub-culture, the more we  adapt Korean to express our own predjudices (especially when so few of us can actually speak Korean), and assert a cultural superiority, the more unease I feel.

‘Ganging up’ with other foreigners to invade places, to ‘waygook’ them, is last thing I want to participant in and I certainly don’t want to be  its victim. Many foreigners share such feelings and come to Korea to escape aspects of their own culture and to immerse themselves in a  new one; ‘waygooking’ an environment is counterproductive to such objectives.   And while I can chuckle at terms such as ‘chunner’ and ‘manner,’ and may  well use them, other terms verge on either the culturally elite, or are racist. Korean ‘ajjumas’ can dress ‘loudly’ and those dollies that participate in high energy aerobic classes, decked out in glitzy leggings and multi-coloured, sequined apparel, are a constant source of interest rather than mockery.  Back in the UK the dress code for a great number of younger women can be summarized as ‘vulgar and skimpy.’ For many Brits, fashion, which of course we think the ultimate, is on much the same level as that of  some former soviet bloc nations. And yes, ‘ajjumas’ push and shove but this is a cultural difference and the way to diffuse your annoyance is to embrace it and simply shove back.

Yes, ajjumas can be somewhat exotic in the mish-mash of colours, but how much nicer and civilised that of a man-like female, covered in tattoos and with a mouth like a sewer. Where I live in the UK some of the females are  very unpleasant. And Koreans can push  and shove but I’ve never had one treat me with the anything like the level of aggression I would face on many a street in the UK.  Meanwhile, here are some Korean words which can be adapted to describe some foreigners or indeed broader idiosyncrasies of western, or more specifically, British culture.

Sir-e-ki  sa-ram – ‘dirty people’ who don’t wash properly especially as a report last year highlighted how as many as 40% of Brits don’t wash their hands after having a shit. ‘That businessman looks like a sir-e-ki saram‘ (he looks dirty or unclean).

Tre-shi ot – ‘trash clothes’ / ‘trash bag’ – the term used to describe the clothes worn by British people. ”The whole family wear tre-shi ot’ (the whole family dress like shit). This could aptly describe those teachers in Korea who go to work in cargo shorts and flip-flops.

Ch’ang n’yeo hak – ‘Prostitute girls’ – to describe the promiscuous manner in which many teenagers dress. (That crotchless thong makes your nine year old daughter look like a ch’ang n’yeo hak. (Basically, you little kid looks like a slapper!)

 

ch'ang n'yeo hak (prostitute student)

ch'ang n'yeo hak (prostitute student)

 

Bok pal-ip – ‘mouth explosion’ – to describe notoriously bad British teeth. ‘Look at the bok pal ip on him. (Look at his shit teeth)

 

 

 

too gross to enlarge

Ddong mul pa-i-peu – ‘sewer pipe’ – a term used to describe both the physical and mental degeneracy of many British people – basically clean on the outside and filthy within. ‘Their kids are as wholesome as a ddong mul pa-i-peu.’ (The underwear might be clean but their contents house numerous infectious diseases).

ch’a-pi – chav – ‘most of the nation are ch’a-pi’ (most of the nation are chav).

 

di-pi-di – ‘dirty, violent , depressing” – DVD.

But I don’t mean to be offensive…

 

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