Elwood 5566

Cultural Contradictions and Anomalies

Posted in Education, Korean language by 노강호 on January 4, 2011

Korean culture is rich in a number of contradictions mammoth enough in their magnitude to be classed Orwellian and in some cases subsequently rendered as oxymorons.


Perhaps the most famous oxymorons


With two types of school systems in operation, the state school (hakkyo) and the academy (hakkwon)’, the term ‘school holiday’ is a fine example. Kids yearn for the start of school holidays but unfortunately a holiday they are not as academies, private schools offering every subject from art to English, not only continue operating but increase the hours which they are open.  Any free hours remaining can be easily plugged by enrolling  in the sports academies which provide taekwondo, happkido, comdo (kendo), ballet  and dancing, etc, and which also adjust their hours to take advantage of closure of state schools.

Oxymoron – School holidays are academy days


Whoppee...a Korean holiday and business as usual in the academies


Holidays are nothing like they are in the west and the idea of someone taking two or three weeks off work in which to laze about or go abroad, are rare. For Koreans a vacation usually amounts to couple of days at the most usually taken at the same time as the rest of the nation. As a result, travelling is extremely stressful and vacation locations packed and busy. And of course, vacations are curtailed by the fact all the academies are open and as such all kids should be studying.

Contradiction – ‘holidays/vacations’  – infrequent, short and usually very stressful


an annual mass vacation day (courtesy of Life)


‘What do you do when you play?’ I once asked a student.

‘I play the violin.’

‘No, what do you do when you play?’

‘I play the computer.’

‘No!  What do you do in your free time?’

‘I play the piano.’

Well, maybe they misunderstood the word ‘play’ but you probably get the idea. Korean kids often have no experience of ‘playing’ as English children  might and a playground packed with children enjoying a range of games such as tag, football, acting out wrestling moves or doing dance routines,  etc,  is something I’ve seldom seen in Korean schools. Some students will even tell you that studying is their hobby! However, I’ve seen plenty of students sleeping at their desk in the five or ten minute intervals in which British kids would be playing.

Oxymoron – ‘play’ is extracurricular study


a ‘vacation’ speciality – the bootcamp


And then there are exams! Korean students are always taking exams and shortly before they finish you will hear some reference to their ‘last exam.’ The irony is of course, that this is never their final exam but simply an exam which concludes the current batch.

Oxymoron – final exams are a prelude to the next exam


mild compared to a vindaloo


Koreans are usually always concerned that their food is either ‘too hot’ or ‘too spicy’ for westerners. Most often they conlfate ‘spicy’ and ‘hot’ both of which it is  not. Although one meaning of ‘spicy’ is ‘pungent’ or ‘hot,’ in terms of range of spices, Korean food is limited with chilli, garlic and ginger, being the dominant ingredients. Cinnamon makes an occasional appearance, usually as a sweet drink but undoubtedly Korean food lacks the range of spices used by Indian, Thai or even Chinese cuisines. Neither is Korean food particularly hot when compared with some Caribbean, Mexican and Indian recipes. The Korean chili is substantially milder than the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet and I have not yet eaten a Korean meal which burns ‘at both ends.’ Several years ago I gave a bottle of habanero based sauce to some Korean friends  introducing them to the point that there exist foods  far hotter than kimchi. However, a raw, hot Korean chili still has the capacity to burn the mouth but it won’t incinerate it as some hotter chillies will.

True – Korean food is spicy – as in pungent

False/True – Korean food is spicy in as much as it uses a three main spices

False/True – Korean food is ‘hot’ – well it’s all relative and depends on personal preference but other national  cuisines are typically hotter.


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Interlude (3) – The Hottest Chili – 청량고추

Posted in Interlude (Theme), Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on November 11, 2010

Ch’eong-ryang go-ch’wu (청량고추) is the hottest of Korean chillies and is small and dark green in colour. I approach any smaller chili with caution just in case it’s this variety. It is common throughout the year but specially so in Autumn  (Link to post on chillies and the Scoville Heat Scale).

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And Koreans Think They're Hot!

Posted in Comparative by 노강호 on October 23, 2010


the hottest Korean chillies, the ch'eong-ryang chilli (청량고추)

I’ve always been a chilli-head and enjoyed trying the different chillies that have come my way. I often find it amusing that Koreans assume a westerner will find Korean food too hot where if anything, personally, I find it too mild. In Great Britain, an acquaintance with very hot food is something many of us have experienced, thanks to Indian and Thai restaurants.



Take the famous vindaloo, a curry from Goa, India, which uses malt vinegar, potato and is probably the hottest, widely available curry in the UK. A ‘tindaloo‘ is occasionally on Indian restaurant menus but this is probably either a vindaloo spiced-up with Scots bonnet, habanero or naga chillies, all among the hottest of all chillies available or an equally, very hot curry from Bangladesh. The hottest curry likely to be found in a curry house, is a ‘phall‘ though this does not appear on menus as regularly as a vindaloo. A decent vindaloo will start your nose running and produces an after burn which when you next go to the toilet, can be quite painful.

Scots Bonnets in various stages of ripeness and potency

Scots bonnets and habaneros, which are related and similar in appearance, share a score on the Scoville Scale of between 100.000-350.000. Until recently, these chillies were often cited as the world’s hottest but several other chillies, cross breeds, now hold this honour. The Guinness Book of Records recorded the Naga Jolokia, (or Bhut Jolokia) chilli, from Bangladesh and Assam, as the hottest ever recorded, in 2007, reaching 1,041,427 on the Scoville Scale. However, the Jolokia is about to be knocked off its perch by the recent appearance of the ‘Infinity chilli,’  bred in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, by Nick Wood.


Jolokia, over a million on the Scoville Heat Scale

Nick Woods, breeder of the 'Infinity Chilli'

So, let’s put this in context; a bell pepper rates 0. SHU (Scoville Heat Units), while a Jalapeno scores between 2.500-8.000 SHU. Most people rate the Jalapeno as the first of the ‘hot’ chillies and it used as a bench mark against which to rate other varieties. For example, Tabasco Original Hot Sauce, is 50% the heat of a Jalapeno, making it very mild, and scoring 2.500 SHU. The habanero scores 100.00-350.000 and is around 70 times hotter than the jalapeno. I’ve seen a friend weep in agony after he chopped a habanero and then rubbed  his eyes. With a Scoville Heat Unit of 1,041,427, the Bhut/Naga Jokolia is 208.29 times hotter than the jalapeno and 400 times hotter than Tabasco Original Hot Sauce – which by now, is as mild as milk.

Scoville scores over  one million takes us into the realms of atomic chillies and while their  raw culinary use begins to wane, their potential in sauces and as paint stripper, increases. The ‘Infinity chilli’ scores 1,176,182 SHU putting it around 100.000 units beyond the Jokolia. Anything hotter can no only be bought as a sauce  or more likely as a food additive or pure capsaicin crystals. The heat however, is still on the rise!

Scott Roberts, a Missouri based chilihead has compiled an extensive list of sauces and chillies listing their Scoville ratings and comparisons with the jalapeno.  He lists many ‘sauces’ exceeding a million Scoville units  and includes, purely for interest, police pepper spray which scores between 3 and 5 million SHU, 1000 times hotter than a jalapeno. And just to give you a taste of  how hot, ‘hot’ can get:  at  6 million, Crazy Uncle Jester’s The Jester Sauce,  1200 times hotter than a Jalapeno and about the same as the British made, Dragon’s Blood sauce, made from the Naga Jolokia.


6.4 million SHU

Many of the highest rated ‘sauces,’ increasingly pure capsaicin suspended in oil or, in unadulterated crystal form, are collectors items, numbered and signed and in limited editions. The products are potentially dangerous and need careful handling.  ‘Blair,’ a New Jersey based company, is probably one of the most rated for its line of connoisseur, high SHU scoring sauces many of which are collector’s items.


Founded by Blair Lazar

Blair’s 2007 Halloween Reserve, at 13.5 million SHU and 2700 stronger than a jalapeno, sold out within six hours of going on the company’s website. The 2009 Reserve was selling at $300 a bottle and apart from the fiery content, the bottle was a hand blown pumpkin.


2700 times hotter than a jalapeno and at $300 a bottle.

At the top of the list, Blair’s 16 Million Reserve; pure capsaicin at 16 million SHU and 3200 times hotter than a jalapeno. On the, Scott Roberts website, Scott quotes:

“Blair’s 16 Million Reserve is the latest in the line of reserves from Blair. This reserve bottle contains 1ml of pure capsaicin crystals. 16 Million Reserve is not to be consumed or even opened without using extreme caution. Only 999 of Blair’s 16 Million will be produced, so get yours quick!”

And where do Korean chillies rate, I hear you ask? Well, despite copious searching, I can find no Scoville scores for the chillies you would usually buy in Korea. Certainly, the ‘cucumber chilli’ (오이고추) would rate only marginally above a bell pepper, at around 100-1000 SHU. The standard green chilli used in Korea probably rates between a Serrano (10.000-23.000 SHU and about 4.6 times hotter than a jalapeno) and the Thai pepper (50000-100.000 SHU). The hottest Korean chilli is the ch’eong-ryang chilli (청량고추), which I would estimate to be approximately between that of a hot Thai pepper and the bird’s-eye chilli (100.00-225.000 SHU and around 45 times hotter than a jalapeno). Certainly, Korean chillies fall substantially lower in heat than the habanero type chilli.

Some Chilli Facts

In Mexico chilli juice was used to wean a baby off the nipple.

If your mouth is on fire, water or beer will only temporarily cool your mouth. The best aid is milk as even a minimal amount of oil is enough to coast the lining of the mouth and reduce the burning sensation.

If you like the taste of chillies rather than the heat, oily or creamy based food will reduce the heat of chilli and allow the flavour to come through. Carbonara with chilli is fairly common in Korea and you can easily jack-up the chilli content to levels that would scorch your mouth in other, less oily or creamy, Korean foods.

Removing seeds from chillies will reduce their heat.

And finally,  to finish with:


Lindt; a superior brand of chocolate. The chilli really works!

Chilli Related Sites

Blair’s (USA)

Scorchio (UK)

The Hot Zone (USA) Excellent chilli related blog.

UK Chile Farm  (UK) suppliers of Wet Fart Chilli Sauce and Ass in the Tub Chilli Sauce.


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A Hot Little 'Story'

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes by 노강호 on July 18, 2010

Chillies growing near my house

My neighbour, an elderly man in his seventies is annoyed. He lives in a house next to my one-room ‘villa’ and loves to garden. Wild sesame grows around the front of his house  and often, as I am leaving my building,  their scent is wafting on the breeze. Along the sides of his house are an abundance of chillies.

My neighbours sesame plants

While Koreans often surprise me with their ignorance of nature, most patches of spare land, especially between buildings in residential areas have been toiled in order to grow sesame, mooli or chilli. If not eked out of vacant soil, plant life is sustained in ceramic or plastic pots of sizes ranging from tiny to big enough to bathe in.  I have even seen patches of cultivated land laboriously dug out of small patches on the mountain side.

My neighbour is angry because someone has pulled up a couple of his  chilli plants; a clear transgression because to do so involves putting ones hand through the fence into what is clearly his property. My other neighbour, who owns the restaurant directly in-front of my one-room, finds the incident somewhat amusing as she claims his chillies only have a couple of fruits on each plant and yet the solitary chilli which sits, day and night in a pot beside the restaurant front door, has seven fat fruits on it and no one has seen fit to steal it.

I’m perturbed; such theft is too close to the type of theft rampant in the UK except the chilli garden wasn’t vandalised or the stolen plants strewn across the pavement and subsequently stamped into the tarmac in that obvious expression of joy at destroying another person’s labours. The theft, though minor, unsettles me because it undermines the pedestal on which I put Korea but this is only temporary; I am pondering the issue outside the GS25 store and it’s Saturday evening at 11.00 and young kids, some as young as 10 or 11, are still walking about unaccompanied by adults. I remind myself my analysis may be a little over enthusiastic but in the UK  no child of 10, or even 14 is safe on a city street one hour before midnight and if they are out and about, individual or in groups, they are up to no good!

Unusual photo of Korean police

The ‘story’  has an amusing twist because the old man was so outraged by the theft of three plants that he telephoned the police – and guess what? They turned up to investigate – within the hour! Of course, there was nothing they could do but nonetheless it is incredible that such a matter should be both reported to the police and responded to, by them. I can imagine phoning the police in my hometown and telling them ‘someone had stolen three of my prized chilli plants.’ First they would either consider it either a joke or the complaint of an idiot because everyone knows the theft of a plant, other than a marijuana plant, is insignificant. And of course, the police probably wouldn’t respond. You can  guarantee ‘crime  investigation’ to occur if you are a big business but for most plebs who are victims of crime, you will have to be content with watching it  on television.  I had a motorbike stolen in London and it took them several days to turn up to gather the information  part of which would be used to identify criminal patterns and the other to provide statistics designed to foster faith in the system and appease concerns over public spending. Most statutory professions in the UK are now predominantly concerned with bureaucratic  and data collecting procedures designed  to justify their own existence, after-which  they deliver some secondary service to the public. ‘Statutory services’ should be renamed ‘secondary services’ as their current remit, basking in the shady, inconsistent world of statistics, clearly has a  political agenda.

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Feeling a little Dicky

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Food and Drink, vegetables by 노강호 on July 12, 2010

작은 고추가 맵다! Big things come in small packages

I haven’t been to the bathhouse lately as I’ve been feeling a bit dicky after a mild touch of food poisoning and I’ve been giving some thought to the topic of dicks. It’s the fault of the GS 25 convenience store near my one room which has a tendency to hire attractive students who lure me into their domain partly because of the motto worn on the back of their jackets, fresh, friendly, fun, but also because I usually fancy something hot before bed. The latest boy also wears a pink badge which says, ‘I love you.’ They should pay him extra money to wear the jacket and badge. Those kids are crappily paid, something like 4000 Won (£2) an hour, and I’m aware I could probably lure them with some extra won, if I was in some seedy dump like Tangier or Tijuana,  but no one has any free time here and besides, vibrant economies tend to put a damper on the extremes driven to by financial  desperation.

Small and hot

Clacton on Sea in Essex, UK! Now there’s a place as seedy as dirt holes like Tangier or Tijuana. You don’t have to travel with a passport to find economic, intellectual and cultural poverty if you’re British, Clacton provides it all. I’ve taught in most of the senior schools in ‘Clacky,’ an experience enough to terminate any interest in teaching as a career. Here’s a snippet from a diary entry for February 2000.

I don’t enjoy my contract day as I feel responsible for the classes. It’s much more fun when I just do cover. It was an okay day but the lads in my last class, Year 10, bottom set business studies (my pet hate) spent most of the time messing around. There were only four of them and I’m sure a couple of them are prostitutes – Clacton is that sort of place and I believe that the Macdonalds in the town center is where you pick them up. The boys sit with their knees wide apart, one keeps tugging at his dick and their conversation is usually about sex.

‘Do you fancy ‘him,’ Paul?’ asked one boy hitching his head to indicate me.

‘If he’s got the money.’ Later, Paul asked me to sign his report. ‘Go on, Sir, give me a good one. Just a few good comments to keep my parents off my back.  I’ll do anything you want.’ I looked at him and raised my eyebrows. ‘Even that,’ he replied. A few weeks ago I over heard this boy say he’d like to be a male prostitute. His friend asked if he’d do it with men. He told him he’d do it with anybody as long as he got paid.

I could probably pick up a local faecalapod in Clacky with as much ease as you could in Tangier,  except I’m not into dirt or STI’s and the hottest thing I’m going to pick up in GS25  in Song-So is a cup of hot chocolate. The new boy is skinny and he reminds me of a former student. Because of centuries of genetic isolation, Koreans tend to look much more like each other than we mongrel wayukins. Even beyond the black hair and dark eyes, I tend to note similarities in a passing stranger with the features of old friends or former students.  I don’t know if there been any research done on the subject but sometimes I think there must be less than 15 basic appearances from which most Koreans slightly deviate.


The skinny lad won’t last long, the students in the store tend to change about every three months. It must be a frigging bore of a job working through the night and I’ve no idea what’s on their pads ‘n’ pods but some of them seem to spend the whole evening on them and will instantly discard them as they jump to attention, when you walk into the store. Some read books but even then there is usually a pad or pod in sight.

'Peter Peppers' or 'Chilli Willies' - though they may be look-a-likes (Yonhap News)

And of course, it’s chilli season. Talking of willies, phallic shaped chillies are probably a freak of nature in Korea but in Louisiana and Texas, USA, a type of chilli, the ‘Peter Pepper’ or ‘Chilly Willy,’ is renowned for producing  consistently cheeky chillies. The website ‘Chilli Willy®‘ markets the appropriate seeds, provides growing tips and hosts a regular photo competition. Do they have the same kick? I’ve no idea but in Korea it’s a well-known idiom that the smallest chillies are the fiercest (작은 고추가 맵다).  Globally however, Korean chillies are far from the hottest or smallest. For a wealth of information on the world of the hottest chillies visit: http://www.scottrobertsweb.com/scoville-scale.php

A genuine 'Chilli Willi®'

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