Elwood 5566

All Camp in Korea

Posted in Comparative, customs, Gender by 노강호 on February 11, 2012

In your face

I’m always amused at the way some of my friends in the UK assume that because a country doesn’t ram gay issues down your throat and a significant number of the population constantly proclaim themselves out, that it must therefore be rabidly homophobic to the point of executing or imprisoning transgressors. When in Britain, it suddenly became possible, within certain settings, to pronounce your sexuality with pride, we did so with embarrassing drama. As a student teacher, I remember numerous people introducing themselves to working groups and seminars with their name and then, in the same breadth, declaring their sexuality. Usually, it was a simple one liner such as, ‘and I’m gay’ but in the early 90’s, with the growth of ‘queer politics,’ it was more usual to throw down the gauntlet and declare, ‘and I’m a queer.’  Then they’d glare around the room daring anyone to object. It was the spirit of the times but it now seems so ‘old hat’ and I cannot help but stifle a cringe at such honesty.

Back in the UK, being gay has become boring! There was a time when ‘coming out’ was an act with as much destructive capability as an atomic detonation and wielding that potential gave one an immense sense of power. I’ve known people drop to their haunches and seen jaws drop in disbelief. Coming out had the capacity to traumatize friends who often needed a period of acclimatization which in some cases meant not talking to you for several weeks. The whole process made you feel very special which at least went some way to compensating your lack of relationships and access to  physical intimacy. Now, ‘coming out’ rarely creates a stir and those that do have a problem with it are compelled to silence by the dictates of political correctness but in the current climate, where half the population of young people declare themselves bisexual, the prospects of intimacy and relationships are probably greatly enhanced. Today, the atomic bomb you detonate is more likely to fizzle into oblivion as the person being confided in calmly tells you, ‘why, I’ve known all along.’

Yes, it’s still evolving and nothing like London Pride. Susan Morgan describes it as a ‘parade of shame’ rather than pride, but it’s evolving.

However, even with advances in civil rights and changes in legislation, gays in the armed forces, gay marriage, LGBT rights etc, I still feel that while you are guaranteed to keep your job, you are more likely to get your face kicked in. While Korean gays do suffer physical abuse, I think their greatest problem come from employers and family. In the UK, there are still those with rabid homophobic views and who in the right environment will verbally abuse and gay bash. I have a fleeting suspicion that in the street, in my home town, there are a significant number of ‘homophobic sleepers,’ individuals forced to silence their opinions in the current political climate but a potential source of hate should things change. While I’ve met Koreans who are not particularly supportive of gay rights, they are never as outspoken, particularly hateful or  vehemently opposed to such rights as those I’ve met in ‘liberal’ Britain (but this is only my experience). While a number of outed celebrities have committed suicide, I also remember Harisu (이경업), Korea’s first transgender entertainer who in 2001 was a pin-up to many of my male students.

Violence in the UK

Part of this ‘ingrained’ hatred stems from the fact that in Britain (and in the West in general), there are more codes governing what it is to be male and which inform and consolidate practices concerning male emotion, male physicality, body language, interests and other facets of masculinity.  That women aren’t usually the object of gay bashing possibly stems from the fact that lesbianism is quite appealing to many heterosexual men and has not had the same history of legislation levied against it. However, though British women aren’t subject to such rigid gender codes as men, they are still required to behave within certain parameters. Meanwhile, in Korea, I perceive less difference between male and females gender roles.

Shameful – and most perpetrators will be men

I’ve never met a butch Korean male and neither have I met a Korean man who in any way made me feel threatened or intimidated. Does Korea even have any macho, aggressive type men, the type who will shove a glass in your face if you so much as look at their girlfriend or knock into them in a bar?  And when I have seen them fighting it has been quite hilarious. I saw a fight a few months ago and stopped to watch. There were three men, all in their fifties, all drunk and shouting while intermittently smacking each other with their umbrellas. The fight was wonderfully cute, like it was being performed by ducks or rabbits or some other animals incapable of actually causing real damage. And despite their anger they wielded their umbrellas in a manner that might be described as totally pussy. An umbrella can be a particularly nasty weapon especially if the spike is jammed into your eyeball or mouth, or the hooked handle swung upwards into your testicles or used to cause damage to the windpipe. I can think of an entire arsenal of umbrella techniques all the result of  earning a taekwon-do black belt in Europe, which took  a minimum of  four years study with the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) as opposed to the taekwondo taught in Korea (WTF), where black-belts and dan grades are handed out like candy, often in less than a year.

S Korean politicians pussying about

Yes, no butch men in Korea, thankfully! And neither are you likely to find examples of the rough and aggressive type of female that seems particularly common in the UK. Maybe they exist on the Mainland of Europe or the USA,  though I don’t remember their type in Germany, but we have women in the UK, and don’t think they are necessarily lesbian, who are more masculine than a significant number of British men and certainly more masculine than the majority of Koreans.  I suppose they are a product of our class society because they are always found in poor areas or on sprawling estates and are typified by their hardened faces, aggressive sneers, tattoos and propensity to physical and verbal violence.

In the UK, the number of social transgressions which would predispose you to being labelled ‘gay’ are far larger than in Korea. In the UK, no matter which way your sexuality swings, you’re a homo and less of a man if you play any musical instrument, like art or classical music and enjoy drama. One reason which can be attributed to why Britain is so dumbed-down is that the dominant ideology concerning male masculinity is largely one determined by the dregs of society. In Britain, all classical music, literature, ballet, art, poetry, drama, books and even the ability to read, or subjects or institutions related to learning and the intellect, are deemed arty-farty, poncy, nancy, boffin, elitist,  or gay – and you will note I use the lexicon of this dominant ideology, a lexicon that is immediately understood by any British person regardless of their status. The movie Billy Elliot is a prime example of the view held by some British people, but understood by all, that arty-farty is poofda!

From the Korean movie, ‘Between Friends'(친구사이). I once saw a complete squad of riot police holding hands in Daegu. as they marched in a double file to a demonstration

Yesterday, I attended a middle school graduation ceremony during which year books were handed out to the graduating students. I had to suppress a smile at the photos of the boys’ classes. In every photos of 6 classes of boys, there are not only boys draped over each other, sometimes sitting in each others laps but a significant number were in ‘girly’ poses and while not ‘girly’ to the point of being knock-kneed, pouting and with their bottoms sticking out, were still ‘girly’ enough within a British context, to question their masculinity and label them ‘gay.’  Don’t forget, in the UK you can be 100% heterosexual but still be homosexual.  And amidst the boys hugging and draping their arms over each other and the significant number of ‘girly’ poses with hand-like paws held on either side of their cheeks, are the boys cuddling little white fluffy dolls.  ‘Affectionately cuddling’ is perhaps a more precise description, sometimes against their chest and at others nestled against their faces and with their heads tilted to one side in a manner which if girls, would be slightly flirtatious, slightly titillating.  As far as I know, the Korean language has no word for ‘camp’, but campness permeates so much of Korea to the point that camp behaviour is quite acceptable and normal without it being any slur on your gender. Most of the boys I teach play musical instruments, I’ve had boys who do ballroom dancing and those girls who have not the least interest in make-up or enjoy playing Sudden Attack, are not deemed less of a girl.

first year high school students with the hanja character for “innocence’ (순소한) emblazoned on the t-shirts

While we have more freedoms and rights in relation to sexuality in the UK, we are crippled and damaged by both anti-intellectual and hyper-masculine ideologies which have help spawn a very unpleasant breed of men and women who are quite uniquely British. While Korea might not be the best place to live if you are gay, it is not the worst place to live as a ‘human’ and I always feel more ‘human’ in Korea as a foreigner than I do in the UK as a citizen with the rights of a gay person and the potential to label myself as I choose. It’s all a matter of how much importance and significance you attribute to different parts of your identity. I might feel very different if I was younger but at 56 years of age my happiness as a ‘person’ is of more importance than one of sexual identity.

For those who think Korea tortures gays and imprisons them for their sins, I provide and interesting and rather cute, short gay movie, Boy Meets Boy (소년 소년을 만나다) which I recently discovered while researching information on the actor Kim Hye-Seong ( 김헤성).

I am no authority on LGBT issues within a Korean context and these are my views based on my limited experiences. For a ‘wart and all’ expose of the gay side of Seoul see Susan Morgan’s blog post, The Evolution of Homosexuality in South Korea. I believe there are several gay clubs in Daegu one of particularly long-standing.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.
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Outed by the Makgeolli

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, bathhouse Basics, Comparative, Diary notes, podcasts by 노강호 on April 14, 2011

podcast 79

I’ve had some interesting experiences coming out which isn’t too surprising given I was in the British Army at a time when anything but normal was illegal and stepping out the closet risqué. Despite twice being implicated and subsequently made the subject of inquiry by that branch of British military affairs that investigates crime, notably the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), I was never charged even though I naively admitted my inclinations. In retrospect, this was probably because in my military band of some 25 musicians, quite a few had ‘meddled’  and  the ‘brass’ were always afraid of exposing too much as investigations tended to encourage soldiers to seek a discharge. Then there was the risk of scandal! With a history of 300 years and all the tradition to boot, such noted members as Baden Powell and Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, a famous cavalry regiment didn’t want egg on its face.  My autobiography, All the Queen’s Men, narrating many of the anecdotes of an ‘out’ soldier at a time of repression, was published by GMP in 1999. I think it’s now out of print.

Koreans seem to forget the fact British regiments fought in the Korean War

After the army, I spent 10 years teaching and certainly, for the first five years, had to be careful about providing students or staff too many personal details. I was an out in two schools when most were trembling in the closet and in both schools attitudes were challenged and changed by my presence.  One principal lambasted me for outing myself, claiming I should never have mixed private with professional, meanwhile his wife’s photo is on his desk and that morning he had mentioned his family in assembly. He is still the school’s principal and I often wonder if his attitudes have genuinely changed.

In Korea, for obvious reasons, I am quiet about my past and though civil rights are on their way, along with more insidious western influences, I am defensive when Korean attitudes are criticised. Korea is homophobic in a Korean way but much of that homophobia was instilled by western influences as well as the Choson upper classes.  Korea, like Japan and China, tolerated and even romanticised same sex relationships’ and primary sources from the Silla and Koryo dynasties survive to attest this. In particular, the Hwa Rang provides the best examples of homosexuality in ancient Korea. Naturally, the subject is more complex and convoluted than I make it appear.  Christianity in particular swept the evidence from the history books and turned the subject into a taboo with as much success as is evident in British schools when ancient Greek history is taught senza anything sexual. Christianity’s arcane moral legacy is still influential.

 

the legacy of the Hwa-rang lives on

Coming out in the UK has become boring! It not only used to shock people, which was always amusing, but provided a useful means of measuring a potential friends attitudes and the extent of their conservatism. Today, all the former bigots have been suppressed and though they all claim to be okay with your sexuality, you know they often find it objectionable.  I spent a few years working for an LGBT organisation and regularly attended forums organised by the police which focused on ‘hate crime.’ Not wanting to be left in the cold, the forums were a bizarre mish-mash comprising the most conservative elements of society. The worst, as would be expected, were the religious groups; bastions of institutionalized and established bigotry, against a broad range of people, seeking to protect their bigotry by promoting the idea that any criticism of their practice constitutes a persecution. In particular, Muslims have been quick to advance their agenda by virtue of democratic process they would most likely deny others if they had political power.  Of course such obvious contradictions and machinations can never be voiced and instead have to be shaded behind that sickeningly friendly facade for fear of transgressing the dictates of political correctness. The Jews at such meetings didn’t like the Muslims, the Muslims didn’t like the Jews, and they all hated the gays.  I can only invite your speculation as to how they viewed those present who were transsexual or transgendered.  We are living in volatile times when a change in regime, and a change in ideology could so very quickly reverse attitudes. It will take many years before most people are fundamentally accepting and currently, the apparent acceptance is for many a veneer.

I’ve never felt Koreans have hatred towards ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they just don’t seem to understand them and as a practice is doesn’t fit their family obsessed social order.  I wouldn’t fear being gay bashed here anymore than I’d fear being mugged and I certainly don’t detect the same rabid hatred for gay people as I still witness back home. British school children in particular, are extremely homophobic. Nonetheless, I would imagine being different on the peninsula, totally sucks.

I’ve only ever outed myself to a couple of Korean friends and despite being Christian, they were fine about it. Many foreigners assume Koreans are homophobic and many will be, but ten years ago I randomly met two Korean at random, who became good friends and to whom I subsequently came out. I think it says much about Korean attitudes when one is now my boss and the other would happily employ me in his school.  My boss never initiates a discussion about the issue while  while the  other can do so happily and on occasion makes friendly jokes about the clandestine side of my personality. Nor do I suspect they have gossiped to others though I am not sure this is because of shame or out of loyalty – ironically  ‘faith’ (신) between friends is both one of the five Hwa Rang commandments and one of the five laws of Confucianism. The fear of losing the friendship of other Koreans prevented me broadening my circle of confidants.  Ji-won is one such friend. I hadn’t planned to come out to him but his professed hatred for gays, though he didn’t seem genuinely ‘ hateful,’ as he was narrating a story to me, prompted me to expose my true nature.

Ji-won

So, in a bar on a Saturday evening,  surrounded by a growing battery of empty makgeolli bottles, he is telling me about his travel in Australia. On a visit to Sydney, some guy had run up to him and declaring undying love, kissed him on the cheek and as quickly as appearing, disappeared. Knowing Ji-won’s luck he’d probably arrived in Sydney during the Mardi Gras and in that typical Korean innocence, one of the world’s great gay events would have been perceived as anything but gay.  I can understand his confusion; with all the same-sex, hand-holding, shoulder clasping and general skinship-fondling coupled with the fashions of skinny camp pretty boys, it is easy to see the similarity between every day experiences on the streets of Korea and a gay Mardi Gras. On my fist day in Korea I thought I was in gay heaven until I discovered they were all straight, from then it was all downhill.

Though I tried to pacify him and help him perceive the experience from a different perspective, because I certainly wasn’t planning to come out, he remained adamant.  Ji-won is almost on a rant, which demanding passion is unique for a Korean. ‘But he kissed me! I wanted to punch him!’ He threw what looked like a punch to add emphasis but it wasn’t very nasty. He is one of the gentlest men I know and his punch wouldn’t have knocked the wind out of a school girl.

‘Do you love me!’ he asked but quickly pre-empting my response added, do you want to sex me?’ Of course not, I told him but meanwhile I was thinking how I’d love to if it weren’t for the disappointing fact he’s straight and I’m 25 years his senior – actually, I’m the same age as his dad. Poor Ji-won claims he’s never met any gay men so I tell him that one of my friends whom he’d met ten years ago, and with whom we’d gone to a bathhouse, was gay. ‘Really!?’ he inquires. ‘And do you remember Nick who you met in 2004?’ And with whom we also went to a bathhouse. ‘He was too!’  For any westerner, the coin would have dropped but Ji-won’s Korean psyche prevents him reaching the conclusion my revelation is supposed to prompt.

The makgeollii, and we’d drunk five bottles between us, was taking effect but so was the nature of the conversation and I could feel myself trembling.  ‘What if I was?’ I asked. ‘Would you want to hit me?’  Ji-won tells me this is a stupid idea because he knows me so well and besides, it’s just not true. ‘After all,’ he continues. ‘You once told me you weren’t married because you preferred being single.’ I laughed heartily. ‘Yes, and you believed me! But what if I was? Would you hate me, too?’

Ji-won and I: the usual Saturday evening English lesson. 2001

I’ve known Ji-won for over 10 years and taught him every Saturday for a year during his final year of high school. Both he and his father, Jun-hee refer to me as their ‘dick friend’ (고추 친구) and I’ve often heard them on their mobiles telling friends they’re with their ‘English go-chu chin-gu.’ Back in 2000 Jun-hee ran a large restaurant and every Saturday evening my evening meal was on the house. His wife, Sun-hee made the most delicious mandu, great big fat ones stuffed with minced meat and there was always a vat of home brewed dong-dong-ju sitting in the fridge. Leaving Korea in 2001 was a nightmare and my last visit to their restaurant, like a funeral. Ji-won had bought a new suit  in which to say goodbye and we were all crying. He gave me a present of his high school name badge and it remains one of my most treasured possessions and Hyun-chun, his younger sister gave me a beautiful little picture frame.  Meanwhile, Jun-hee and Sun-hee gave me a large box of kimchi in which lies another story!

Saying goodbye in late summer of 2001

One the eve of my departure back to England, late summer 2001

I’d always regretted the fact they didn’t know the real me especially as I’d already come out to two other  Koreans. My friendship with Jun-hee and his family was always more important than my sexuality and the rewards my silence provided outweighed the potential risks of  revealing it. I always wanted to let Jun-hee and Ji-won into my little secret as much as I’ve wanted to tell them that the box of kimchi they’d given me ten years ago, had to be thrown in the bin at Daegu railway station; it was simply too big and cumbersome to carry back to England and it would never have passed as hand baggage. Putting it into a bin was as heart wrenching as saying goodbye to them.

Jun-hee, Sun-hee, Hyun-chon, Ji-won in 2001

Our session continues, this time with a bottle of schizandra berry makgeollii (oh-mi-ja – 오미자) which as a ‘well being’ makgeolli, can be guzzled without guilt. Ji-won is still insisting I couldn’t be gay and suddenly I hear myself announcing…‘I am.’ I had every intention of retracting my confession but when I try to I suddenly realise I’d left it too late and that to do so would just leave him with a niggling suspicion. Ji-won is stunned and for a few moments is silent. ‘You are?’ Then, after realizing the truth, thirty seconds of utterly bewildered head shaking; the typical Korean type of dumbfounded head-shaking accompanied by one hand rubbing the head. All he can mutter is, ‘Oh my God!’

More makgeolli and several hours later and we pick up a few cans of beer in the local GS 25. I’m concerned that after the buzz of alcohol has worn off he might not talk to me again but the fact he wants to come back to my one room is consoling. That he wants a few sausages for a snack would have added to the consolation in a British context but for Koreans the point at which a cock and a sausage mentally exist before they collide into fnarr-fnarr humour, is infinitely greater. Maybe it was the makkalli or the fact we’d discussed gay stuff all evening, but on this occasion they collide. ‘Do you want your sausages hot or cold?’ he asks. ‘Why, hot of course! Don’t you like your sausages hot?’ I hold one before his mouth like a microphone; it’s sheathed in plastic and a stick has been viciously rammed into its center so you don’t have to get your hands messy. With a laugh he adds, ”I like hot sausage for eating, but not sexing.’  Yea! Me too! A voice inside my head regretfully sighs.

The following week I give him a call and we meet up. Our friendship has not changed and if anything, is probably deeper. Sat in a coffee shop he apologised for not having any secrets he can tell me but claims to know lots of local gossip. And meanwhile, he intends testing out his father’s reactions so I can eventually come out to him. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait another ten years.

 

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Kumi – April 13-29th, 2001 (Korean Accounts Part 1)

Posted in Diary notes, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children by 노강호 on April 13, 2001

On Friday, just as I was leaving Di Dim Dol School, Young-seop stopped me and told me that starting next week, I was due to teach in another school and would have to travel one and a half hours to get there, this would mean leaving  Song So at 8.30am. At the time, I was just going downstairs to meet Lisa in KFC. Naturally, I went nuts! I’ve told Joe over and over that I like to be consulted and given advanced warning. However, Joe always uses Young-seop as his lacky. The problem has been caused because Lisa has a weeks holiday which she planned well in advance. She and Nana have been giving pronunciation and phonetics classes to Korean, English teachers at various schools and have been paid extra money for doing this. It turns out, Lisa had asked those organising the courses, how long the courses were likely to last and she was told they were a block, six-week stint, ending on April 13th. Well, for whatever reasons, the courses don’t seem likely to finish before April 20th and Lisa’s husband is coming out to visit and of course, he has flights booked. About a week ago, Mr Joe started moaning to me about Lisa and how awkward she was and that he was going to tell Young-seop to tell her she couldn’t have any time off. Meanwhile, Nana told me he clearly heard the course organisers say the course was due to end of April 13th. Of course, this confusion is typically Korean – Koreans have no concept of free time or of holidays.

Matt at Woo Bang Park, now E-World (2001)

Well, I moaned to Young-seop and gave him an earful as he provided each excuse. First of all, he said they had waited until now to tell me in the hope Lisa would cancel her husband’s flight. Like she is really going to lose a million Won (£500) after a fuck-up on Mr Joe’s part! Then he said they had hoped Lisa would change her mind and decide to work.

‘But her husband is coming out to visit, what do you expect him to do; stay a home all day?’

The Korean attitude towards your free time and your work is one of the main things that pisses me off about Korea. Firstly, you have no free time – at least Korean workers don’t. Any time you might not be working is clearly seen as a privilege that can be taken away whenever your boss needs you. All the hagkwons in Song So are at the moment teaching for seven days a week and are open until past 11.pm. Parents pay no extra money for the extra classes as it is expected for hagkwons to give extra tuition prior to exam periods. As there are so many hagkwons in tight competition they all conform to similar teaching schedules. Of course, teachers aren’t paid any extra money for working seven days a week. I have almost stopped using the phrase, ‘have a nice weekend,’ as the concept doesn’t really exist here. The phrase’ ‘thanks God it’s Friday,’ needs to be modified to, ‘thank God it’s the second Friday in the month’ (ie, 놀토 – ‘play Saturday)

In Korea, everything is seconded to work and any shifts in routine are expected to be accommodated wholeheartedly. I can remember when I first arrived in Daegu, when Tony picked me up from the airport; I asked him what Mr Joe was like and he replied that he didn’t like him as he was always issuing orders and expecting everyone to drop everything on his command. Now I understand what he meant. Even Nana has become accustomed to it and well, if a King can learn to take orders, what chance do I have. Later in the week, when I moaned to Nana about the situation, he told me to calm down, to accept it. He kept saying this was ‘an emergency’ and that ‘we all needed to help out.’ ‘An emergency,’ I told him, was simply a threat to Joe’s bank balance.

The other thing that annoys me about Koreans is that they adhere to the Confucian ideals which stress the importance of the family. Well, this ideal only seems to operate if you are Korean. I get quite infuriated at the way people like Joe and Young-seop do not for one moment consider that western teachers are around 5000 miles from home, have no family with them, are living in a strange culture and have few friends. When I first arrived in Daegu I was left alone in my flat for a whole weekend; no one came to take me out or show me where to go for provisions. Nobody had been delegated to look after the interests of foreign teachers. No one showed me where to bank my pay or how to use a bus. All any of us were told on our arrival was where and when we were to start work. Even though our contracts stipulate we receive health insurance none of us have it – few English teachers do. When I asked about this, Joe managed to make up a load of excuses one of which was that if we wanted health insurance we would have to pay about £200 for it to be backdated until the date we arrived. It is quite pathetic the lengths to which Joe will go to save a pittance.

I moaned and moaned at Young-seop about Joe decision to send me to teach in another town and asked him when Joe was likely to confirm it – if indeed, he intended to confirm it! Nana is going to Andong (안동) in the morning and Lisa is about to go on holiday and naturally, any planning I need to do will be expected to be done in my time; none of it was be built into my working day even to compensate for the inconvenience of short notice. However, I knew I would end up having to do it. Worse, I had this fleeting sense that it didn’t mater what the work involved, I’d be able to bullshit my way through it.

I went to meet Lisa down in the KFC restaurant and told her what had happened, stressing that none of it was her fault. She really is a stupid cow! She insists he classes call her, ‘Miss Lisa,’ and I suspect that she thinks that by replacing her surname with her first name, and prefixing it with, ‘Miss,’ she is ‘cool.’ She’s a stupid cow because she has the disgusting colonial streak in her. She never has a good word to say about Korea or Koreans and more than once her language has belayed the fact she is a racist!

‘What time does your bus pick you up after classes?’ I asked her.

‘Whenever they bloody want. Sometimes they are there waiting and toot the horn at me. At other times I have to wait forty minutes! I mean, me,’she almost screamed, eyes bulging. ‘Me! Having to wait forty minutes for a fucking Korean!’

Earlier this week I caught a boy writing on the blackboard in one of my classes. He was writing in Korean and though I couldn’t understand the meaning, I could read the letters. He had written, Di Dim Dol donun Kil lim dol (디딤덜 도는 길임덜) Di Dim Dol is the name of the school and has something to do with a stepping stone; ‘Donun’ means ‘or’ and this I could understand. When I asked the boy what it meant he put his pencil on the floor and demonstrated that it meant something to do with tripping or falling over. How appropriate.

On Saturday afternoon I went shopping to E-Mart with Matt. I bought some smoked salmon and was quite excited as I haven’t seen this in Korean shops before. The pack cost 9000W which is around £5 but there was probably 500 grams in the pack, if not more. I had planned to eat it  on my own as Matt doesn’t particularly like seafood but in the end I decided to take it to Ji-won’s as it would be an interesting experience to share it with them.

Ji-won’s family had never eaten smoked salmon and were eager to try it. Sun-hee, Ji-won’s  mother, brought out a pile of assorted leaves, some wassabi, chilli and garlic. Then the salmon was placed in the centre of the table and we all tucked into it with chopsticks. I wasn’t going to ruin the delicate taste of that lovely salmon with wassabi. The salmon was very lean and very smooth and creamy in taste.

Koreans are notoriously bad at advertising things in English. You’d think that when they write English on shop facades, posters or leaflets that they’d consult native English speakers but they don’t and consequently you see many funny examples. The blurb on the packet of salmon claimed it was from the ‘fresh, clear blue waters of the North Atlantic’ but somewhere else it said it was from the Pacific Ocean. Anyway, there was a little write-up on the packets which read:

Around June to September, in a something sun, 3-5 year old well-grown salmon that have brilliant gesture and swim through sea and river along the blue and dear coast of the Pacific Ocean have very good quality of flesh and taste so good and have got praised as food of low-calorie. More than one century salmon has got praise of epicures all over the world. Salmon taste from soft to strong with many nutrients and special pink colour flesh create fantastic mood and taste.

A few more examples of Konglish (Korean-English) I have recently seen include: ‘Hair Deciener Shop’ (a hair salon), then there is ‘Twin Twon Coffee Shop which I can only presume is meant to read ‘Twin Town.’ Even better is ‘Shitty Pizza,’ obviously meant to read ‘City Pizza.’ There is also a boy in one of my classes who wears a t-shirt on which there is a large ‘20’ under which is written, ‘Sporty, Young and Milky.’

I wasn’t looking forward to this week as I am having to travel to Kumi to give lessons to Korean, English teachers. I wrote a quick lesson plan at the kitchen table, shortly after getting up. There are a few things I am unsure about and I really need to consult Nana or Lisa but if there is one thing you learn very quickly here, it is the art of bullshit. Young-seop and Mr Chey picked me up from outside my house at 8.30 am and we headed off to Kumi. It was great to get out of Daegu, especially on a working day. With spring well underway, the countryside is changing from day-to-day. In the rice fields you can see the bright green shoots of this year’s crop emerging. I wasn’t in the least bit nervous at having to give a lecture on phonetics to a group of thirty teachers. I have learnt that simply being a native English speaker gives you an immense authority and besides, most Koreans are not very good at spoken English and this includes Korean English teachers. When I explained where I had come from in the UK, ‘near Oxford’ was the best description, there was a murmur of awe which surprised me a little. They would never have heard of Aylesbury or Colchester. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the session and I performed really well. After the lecture, if that’s what you could call it, Young-seop and Mr Chey took me for lunch in a rather posh restaurant; Young-seop said he was paying. We had bulgogi and there were plenty of side dishes including mong gae, or a sea squirt. This is a sea thing that looked rather like an orange-pinky, bloated heart. There were small nodular bits all over it which looked like tiny lips from which I suppose it squirted water. When cut open the flesh resembled that of a ripe mango. I tried it but didn’t really like it. The initial taste was that of detergent. Mr Chey clearly relished them as he sat sucking the flesh off the noddly skin, the juice running down his chin in a manner that would have been perfect for a Klingon. I arrived back in Song So with half an hour before I had to start teaching my regular classes at Di Dim Dol.

I managed to go training that evening but gave up on Tuesday as I was just too tired. On Tuesday, after the class, we drove to another restaurant and had bulgogi. When Young-seop went to the toilet, I told Mr Chey I was going to pay for the meal. Mr Chey told me Mr Joe was paying for our meals after the classes – so much for Young-seop making out he was paying! My new culinary experience today was hepari – jellyfish. It had a texture and taste of cold vermicelli noodles and was fairly inoffensive.

The internet cafe (PC 방) I have used ever since I arrived here has suddenly closed. I am a little annoyed at this as the woman who ran it used to keep pestering me for English lessons and there were many people I only ever saw in the cafe. I met her on the pedestrian crossing the day before Arbour Day and she told me the cafe would be shut for the day. Well, that was a month ago and later Matt and I noticed it had been completely gutted. Businesses seem to come and go in Korea and a business you can use one day can be gone the next. It would have been polite to tell us the PC room was permanently closing given the hours we spent in there. (I was to meet this woman in 2008, near my one room. I wouldn’t have recognised her but she recognised me. In the interim, she went to Canada for a few years and on return opened a hagkwon near MacDonalds – Wales English School – it is still there as of 2012.)

On Wednesday evening, after Taekwondo, I was going home when I met David (이영선) who is one of Nana’s adult students and who had several weeks ago led me home under his umbrella. He wanted to take me for a drink so we went to Mr Seven which is next to my house. David is very attractive, is 24 years old and a bloody Christian! Finding that out put a dampener on our meeting. However, like other Korean Christians, he doesn’t ram it down your throat. He seemed very interested in why I wasn’t married – more so than other Koreans and he phrased his questions quite differently to the way I am normally interrogated. At one point he asked me if I preferred men and later asked that if I could marry either a man or a woman, which gender I would choose. I came out to him making him the first Korean to know my sexuality and he wasn’t in the least perturbed. Indeed, he continued to ask me many more questions. He kept telling me ‘humans aren’t perfect.’

On Thursday the Letter and Sound School took the kids to Daegu Art and Culture Centre. Ot was a beautiful day and the centre is situated in the shadow of Mount Apsan. There were loads of middle school kids who gawped at me in awe and who muttered ‘waaaa’ which is the Korean equivalent of ‘wow’ as I walked past them. Many were fascinated by my size and several boys eagerly shook my hand or bowed deeply. At one point a crowd of children gathered around me with several lining up to shake my hand while others pointed and stroked the hairs on my arm. Other patted my stomach – Korean people, and especially children, are a lot more apt to be physical than are westerners. Such behaviour, I have become totally used to.

Taking our kids around the centre was a nightmare as there were a number of pottery exhibitions and on one occasion I watched in terror as a ceramic vase tottered precariously. On the whole and as would be expected, the kids behaved well.

At lunchtime we drove out to Woobang Tower park to have a picnic. We found a spot under a large tree as the temperature today was in the eighties and by far the hottest day we have had so far. Koreans love picnics and all have picnic knick-knacks. I was fascinated with their little picnic mats, all highly coloured and designed either for adults or children. Then there were the picnic hampers and little coloured boxes with chopsticks in them. Of course none of us westerners had prepared a picnic as no one had been bothered to tell us we were going to have one! However, Koreans always share their food so none of us went hungry.

‘My Little Man’ – Jeong-Hoon

Jeong-hoon (중훈), a little boy in my class has become very attached to me. He is a skinny little boy who is always hot as he simply cannot sit still and is always having to climb over things or is running around. Like a lot of the boys here he is already learning Taekwondo and is incredibly flexible. When he is standing you can lift out sideways (side kick position)  until his heel is facing the ceiling. I call Jeong-hoon, ‘my little man’ as he is always willing to do little jobs for me. In the mornings, if someone is missing, he will go and find them and he is always willing to go and fill the water jug or do other little jobs. He loves speaking English and knows all of the songs on the tapes we have. Anyway, at the picnic Jeong-hoon clears a space for me to sit next to him on his little mat. The very first thing he does when he opens his Mickey Mouse picnic hamper is to pass me some of his food. Most of the kids had kimbap which is pretty boring and which is a food you’d never pig-out on. Jeong-hoon’s hamper however, had KFC chicken nuggets in it! Lovely oily, western food! Mmm, as Homer Simpson would say. Typically, Jeong-hoon wasn’t into it – how conveniently Korean! He ate one, or rather he nibbled at it and the others he passed to me or the other kids sat nearby. No wonder he is so skinny!

I have spent a considerable amount of time watching Korean kids eat food and they approach it in quite a different manner to westerners. Boys in particular eat very different to western boys or men where their eating habits would be considered effeminate. Korean boys nibble food and they do not focus on it in the ravenous way we do. The Di Dim Dol school has started selling cakes during the break times as the middle school kids are currently in school for about 15 hours a day and have little to eat. I bought a small sort of Swiss roll a few days ago which a rapidly unwrapped and savagely devoured in the manner western men often eat.  The whole roll, which wasn’t very big, would have disappeared in about three mouthfuls and it was probably as I was sinking my teeth into the second mouthful, when my eyes were rolling like a shark’s when its jaw is locked around its prey, that I noticed this girl stood watching me in totally shock – her jaw had actually dropped. I don’t think she had ever seen anyone eating in such a frenzied manner. In fact, it was just another example of what filthy, dirty scum us westerners are. The next day I tried to eat my Swiss roll like a Korean – not looking at it, not rolling my eyes, and by taking little nibbles and eating them  in a passive manner as if drinking water when not in the least but thirsty.

All the Korean kids passed their food around at the picnic and when we had finished eating they all tidied up with little need of spurning from the adults.

Lee Chi-wu – an incredibly intelligent boy

Matt and I have been having fun with little Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) on the bus. Of late we have been playing games with him which are sure going to increase our chances of going to hell. We take it in turn to whisper some obscenity into his ear and he then gets three attempts at repeating it correctly. We’ll say something like ‘cunt’ or some other offensive obscenity and if Amy, the young Korean teacher who is actually dating Young-seop turns around, attracted by our hoots of laughter, we immediately start saying Chinese numbers to him and pretend our game is innocent. Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) is able to say words like ‘clitoris’ and even simple phrases like ‘anal intrusion’ with amazing precision. He has also mastered, ‘filthy, dirty, western scum’ which is the phrase we use to refer to ourselves. Even after a visit to the mokyuktang I feel dirty in comparison to Koreans. Matt and I both believe you cannot wash or scrub away the grime associated with being western. It is a grime that transcends our physical being and exists at levels genetic, cultural, psychological and historical. We make jokes to Lee Chi-Woo about Doctor Jelly Finger, jokes which in the west would earn us a lynching. Doctor Jelly Finger has metamorphosed into Monsieur Jelle Fangre which we pronounce with a French accent after which we briefly suck our index fingers. Matt is convinced we are going to hell! If you say “Monsieur Jelle Fangre” to Lee Chi-Woo he will innocently respond by sucking his index finger like a lollypop. Matt and I find this perversely amusing. We have also taught him to say “Jelle Fangre, Chwuseyo” – “Please give me a jelly finger!” The next cruel game we play, which Matt claims I instigated, but which I know was his sick invention, is to tell Lee Chi-Woo he cannot leave the bus when it arrives at the school. Matt told him this every morning for a week. Just as we arrived at the school he would turn to Lee Chi-Woo and with a sad expression on his face, and a sombre voice, say:

“Chi-Woo. Chi-Woo. You not come! Only we go. You stay here. You not go school today.” Lee Chi-Woo then starts to get upset and begins to clamber over the seats of the bus. The following week he stopped sitting with us and I think we have traumatized him so we have both stopped teasing him.  However, a week later and Matt started teasing him again and this time Lee Chi-Woo started crying. After this we modified the game so he knows when we are teasing. When Matt now tells him he can’t leave the bus, Lee Chi-Woo calls him a ‘bad man’ (나쁜 사람).

On Friday I had my final session at Kumi; it went really well and the class told me they had enjoyed the sessions immensely. I had to rush back to Song So in time for my kindergarten classes at one of the apartment schools. It only took us twenty minutes to reach Daegu and I spent most of it cowering in the back seat as we were travelling at 120-140kms per hour. Once the kindergarten class was over I was faced with a four-hour stint at and arrived back home at 8pm, quite wrecked.

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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.