Elwood 5566

Anniversary of the Murder of the ‘Frog Boys’

Posted in History, News by 노강호 on March 26, 2012

a sad and gruesome mystery

Monday 26th, today, marked the anniversary of the infamous ‘Frog Boys’ who left their homes on the morning of March 26th, 1991 and didn’t return. Indeed, it wasn’t until eleven years later that their bodies were discovered, 2km from home, in a gully on Warayong Mountain, Song-so, Daegu.

For more information on this tragic event, the circumstances of which are still a mystery, see, Five Boys Meet Death Where the Dragon Dwells (Bathhouse Ballads, May 2011).

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.

Learning to Love the ‘One Room’

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative by 노강호 on November 19, 2010

Song-so, Daegu

 

For a long time, I hated referring to my Korean accommodation as a ‘one-room’ and other terms I used to substitute it were either misunderstood or didn’t seem quite right. Koreans use the word ‘apartment’  in relation to the high-rise accommodation in which most  live and it is rare to hear the word ‘house’ as so few of them exist. The houses you do find, often in the country or sandwiched between  taller, city buildings are usually traditional or luxury versions.  Apartments are associated with high-rises and though they can be pokey and small, especially in parts of Seoul where space is the most expensive, they are often extremely spacious. I clearly do not live in an ‘apartment.’ For awhile I used the term ‘studio-room’ or ‘studio-flat’  and though a few of my English-speaking Korean friends understood this, many others didn’t and personally, it didn’t seem appropriate. I have this notion that studio flats are grand, exclusive and the preferred accommodation of artists and opera singers.

 

My barred one-room, Daegu 2003

 

Finding a suitable term to describe my accommodation, without using ‘one-room’, was difficult. ‘One-room’ seems such a pathetic term to use especially when you are anything over forty and invokes the same resonance in Korea as,  ‘unmarried,’ ‘living-alone’ or being ‘childless,’ and in the UK, as the word bed sit. What a ghastly word! What shame it invokes! ‘Bedsits’ are the domains of the unemployed, of single people, those on low wages or youngsters just starting out in life. They are always gloomy, lit by yellowey lights and with stairs that creak, and then there’s the gas meter and dingy bedding of blankets, sheets, and quilt because the ‘bedsit’ is a relic term from the days before the popularity of continental quilts (duvets). But the ‘bedsit’ wasn’t just a manky dwelling; to many it represented a lifestyle as epitomised by Soft Cell’s, Bedsitter.

Sunday morning going slow
I’m talking to the radio
Clothes and records on the floor
The memories of the night before
Out in club land having fun
And now I’m hiding from the sun
Waiting for a visitor
Though no-one knows I’m here for sure

Dancing laughing
Drinking loving
And now I’m all alone
In bed sit land
My only home

The solution, is obvious! Don’t call your accommodation a ‘bedsit.’ Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it has to be grotty any more than it implies you have to lead a pointless hedonistic life.

‘One rooms’ come in all shapes and sizes and some are pretty shitty. Usually they are contained in buildings of two, three of four floors. I lived in a one room in Ch’eonan that was truly a one room. The toilet doesn’t seem to count and probably neither the kitchen but this example, clean and not altogether unpleasant, was simply one room. From the edge of my bed I could lean across to the sink and pull out a sliding table and from their I could prepare a meal, stand up and cook it without take more than half a pace, and then sit back down on the edge of my bed and eat it. Washing up simply involved standing up. My Ch’eonan ‘one-room’ was the ideal accommodation for an invalided person and if I so wished I could have pissed in the sink while stood in my bed. Indeed it was so small that if I’d piddled 360 degrees I could have hit ever wall. Prior to Ch’eonan I had a ‘one-room’ in Daegu and once again it was simply one room, bedroom and kitchen combined, with a separate toilet and shower. It lacked air-conditioning, something I now wouldn’t live without and though it wasn’t unpleasant, the fact I cooked a lot of mackerel at the time made it smell.

But there are perhaps worse types of accommodation. If you’re a waygukin a ‘two-room’ is perhaps worse as it involves sharing facilities with a co-worker. I spent a winter with a great chap from Ghana who happened to have the controls for the ondol heating in his room and he liked the temperature set at maximum. I slept on the floor at the time and the effectiveness of ondol heating is non the more obvious than when you can’t escape its intensity. Under a duvet, all heat is trapped and often there are no cool spots, such as you have with western style radiator heating, from which to escape  the onslaught. I’d sneak the temperature down when he was out, he’d come home, put on two sets of thermal clothing, rack the temperature back up and climb under his duvet. He’d lived in Korea twelve years and like most Koreans, he hated the cold and anything under 25 degrees was classified an atomic winter.

How you might rate as ‘0.50 room,’ that is a one-room shared by two people, would depend on the extent you feel compensated by the luxury of regular sex and I’ve known couples share the tiniest of one-rooms. I like my space and space means a double bed.  A shag is great but I’ve been too long as a sad-singly to want to sleep in the same bed as another human and besides, I snore!

 

past and present

 

Eventually, you come to realise that Koreans don’t actually see anything significantly negative in a ‘one-room.’ As far as such rooms go I feel I am probably luckier than most. My present abode accounts for the combined area of 2.5 of my previous one-rooms and my kitchen is separate from my bedroom/study.  It has also taught me the benefits of minimalism and heightened my awareness of the way we amass shit you don’t really need and of course,  the more space you have the more you feel compelled to fill it. Back in the UK I have a house packed with junk and a substantial set of books shelves which host books and music I have had for years and never accessed. In Korea, a digital orientated life and two terabyte external hard drives have allowed me to acquire and  store enough music and literature for the rest of my life and reduced the storage capacity a thousand fold.  Yes, the future is getting smaller and upgrading to the latest formats is much more enjoyable especially when it involves denying greedy multi-billionaires even more money.

The worst thing about ‘one-rooms’ is they rarely have any view other than the concrete walls of the next building. If you’re on the ground floor the advantage you might have in being able to see the world beyond is ruined by the bars that turn such rooms into a prison cell. In ‘one-room’ land a computer is a necessity because your monitor can provide an appropriate background scene to offset the lack of any real view but one adapts very quickly and if you can imagine you’re in a spaceship or ship, claustrophobia can be minimized.

Links

Soft Cell: Bedsitter (link to youtube)

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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.