Elwood 5566

Rubbish on the Streets but no Tweeny Slags

Posted in Comparative, Korean children by 노강호 on May 29, 2012

Friday evening, 8 pm, and I’m walking home from work. Adjacent to me are two school boys aged around 15. They’re eating either ddokpoki or fried chicken gizzards from a cups, each boy armed with a wooden skewer on which to spear whatever it is they are eating. Finished, they simply drop the cups and skewers on the pavement; there’s no guilt or scanning the street for potentially disapproving citizens because in Korea discarding your litter on the pavement is acceptable. A few moments later, one of the boys glances over his shoulder and notices I am a foreigner, our eyes connect and I mutter something to the effect of ‘bad students!.’ I love the way Korean kids respond to being addressed as a  ‘student’ and the way that it takes precedent over any other labels such as ‘teenager’ or ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’ I find ‘teenager’ such as vacuous label and one largely commercial in origin and the equivalent to being labelled a ‘consumer.’

I’m waiting for some form of verbal challenge and am about to add how Korean streets are dirty but the boy totally disarms me. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says in English as he waves with one of those camp Korean waves that emanate solely from the wrist. As one of the boys turns back to reclaim their rubbish, I turn a corner. With some cars between us, the boys are unsure where I’ve gone. I watch carefully because I’m expecting them to simply chuck the rubbish back on the pavement once they think I’ve disappeared – that’s been my experience of similar confrontations in the UK. However, dutifully, the boy finds a rubbish bag on the side of the pavement and discards it therein.

I continue walking until I’m back in their line of view upon which both boys wave at me, smile and reiterate their apologies. God! I lover Korea! It’s this kind of behaviour that makes it difficult for me to return home.

start of a short rant…

I’m sorry, but back in the UK a high percentage of scum, anti-social kids simply couldn’t be called to order by a caring citizen without hurling back some form of abuse, or even violence. Indeed, a great many parents, all scum, would berate the adult telling their vile brat what they shouldn’t do. Poor old Britain is broke and despite the street parties and revelry currently being dutifully performed in order to celebrate our archaic Teutonic monarchy, it’s a dirty, violent, backward and boring nation. If you mention how rotten Britain is to many Brits they get upset or go into denial. I can understand this stance because if you live in shit you don’t want your face rubbed in it. Thank God Britain is class riddled because at least there are some enclaves where decency pervades. It’s a known fact that hoodlum kids don’t loiter where Mozart is played. But you can’t mention this either as Brits don’t like reminding how divided and unequal their society is and PC-ism with all its guff about how we are all equal is the ruling mantra. Ahhh! I’m ranting. Oh, and in Korea, there’s not a tweeny slag in sight and certainly no shop selling the Devil’s Panties (ie, thongs), or pole Dancing kits to pre-pubescent girls. More examples of British degeneracy!

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.


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.

Images of Innocence (6) Annie

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, vodcast by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Annie, one of my students, is about to go to high school. She often finishes her evening studies at a study room (돗서실), at 1 or 2 am after which she walks home. Feeling unsafe, she has recently bought a whistle. I wouldn’t want to underplay the fears of Korean kids walking home late at night but the streets are far safer than in even the smallest UK towns. I wouldn’t let an unaccompanied girl, or boy,  into town on any evening of the week back in the UK and only an idiot parent would allow someone her age to be in town past 10 pm. You can read about my experiences of British streets in Scumland UK. Needless to say, even I feel unsafe on a British street at anything past 7 pm after which they rapidly degenerate.

It’s difficult explaining to those who have never experienced Korean life, how crucial and central education is in the Korean mindset. Streets are buzzing with students going from one place of study to another on everyday of the week, from the early hours until past midnight. Several years ago, the government made it illegal for private academies to teach students past 10 pm but it has changed little. Many schools still seem to operate and parents can always employ a tutor who can visit the home or have the student come to them. Wherever you are in Korea, ‘education’ in one form or another, is always apparent.

A Korean study room

A multitude of schools exists teaching every subject: maths, social studies, English,  Chinese, hanja, art; there are schools of music, taekwondo, kendo, hapkido, ballroom dancing, ballet; study rooms and places that offer student support. And all the time brightly coloured mini buses are ferrying kids between their homes and schools. Yes, there are flaws with the Korean system; kids sleep at their desk, they often look drained, they suffer stress and constantly face a barrage of exams by which they are ranked. There are many things I would change about the Korean system but, for all its flaws it is more effective than British education where around 50% of students don’t even achieve 5 A-C grades in core subjects. And I would argue that while British education largely provides kids a holiday in comparison with their Korean peers, it is British teachers who are stressed and abused. Korean teachers have their problems, but having to constantly battle bad students and worse, anti-intellectual attitudes, which are ingrained in British society, isn’t one of them.

Unlike Britain and the USA, there is a consensus in Korea about the importance of education and whether you are the lowest paid worker or a company CEO, the goals and expectations for your children, in terms of learning, are the same; good grades and entry to a good university. I have one friend in the UK who came from one of the worst housing estates in the country. When he gained a place at university in the 1970’s, his family disowned him. Education in the UK, and attitudes towards it are still influenced and articulated by class.

Yes, I know all about the flaws of Korean education, but I’ve also taught main stream in the UK for over ten years and it was a hideous experience. Every class in the UK is polluted by a couple of scum students, bred and conditioned by scum parents and their effect on the learning process has been catastrophic. (see, Scenes From the Battleground) Unless you are lucky enough to be in a top set or selective school, most British classrooms and schools have geared themselves to accommodate the scum and it is the decent kids, the majority, who suffer. Anyway, was I ranting???

Over to Annie…

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Five Boys Meet Death Where the Dragon Dwells

Posted in Daegu, History by 노강호 on May 16, 2011

the view of Song-so from the back of Song-San High School (성산고교) (Photo from 부부산행 http://blog.daum.net/skycom7861/8434235)

March 26th, 1991 and spring was in the air. As it was a local election day with people off work and schools closed, children took advantage to play which 20 years ago entailed going to parks or the mountains; today it would be PC rooms or on computers in the home. Like most Korean towns, Daegu is surrounded by mountains and in the far west of the city, the area of Song-so nestles against Waryong Mountain (와룡산). The mountain isn’t as high or rugged as Ap-san or the impressive Pal-gong Mountain and it is supposed to resemble a supine dragon, from which it takes its name. However, if you take a wrong turning, which basically means going off track, it’s easy to get temporarily lost and the thick, mostly pine forest and undergrowth mask the steepness of the mountainside. I once discovered this myself when I attempted to access the mountain from what I thought was a small footpath but which turned out to be a water gully.  And, as the Song-so side of the mountain faces east, ancestral graves, with their solemn mounds and occasional stone markers, are common especially, where terrain is level.

Song-San High School behind which lies Waryong

On that March morning in the city, I imagine the blossom would have been on the trees. They wouldn’t have opened, but with the warming weather, their delicate unfurling was only a few weeks away. But the trees would certainly have had a fuzz of fresh green against which lay the diffuse flush of  blossom. And as the sun strode above Apsan Mountain in the east, its rays warming the face of Waryong, five boys, aged between 9 and 13, set off, the sun at their backs, on a trip to collect salamander eggs.  There is a photo from the recent movie ‘Children‘  (아이들), portraying the five boys setting off and even though you can’t see their faces, their boyish glee is captured; the slight billowing of the red cape, the jar ready to contain eggs and in the gait of one boy there is almost a skip. Most of us can recall those childhood moments when we set off with our friends on what felt like a major expedition, the entire day, and lengthy it seemed, to ourselves.  The boys left their edge of the town, but only by a couple of kilometers, took a path up behind Song-san High School, which meanders gently up into the mountain and from there never returned (Wikimapia)

a terminal adventure

Somehow, the ‘Salamander Boys’ (도룡뇽 소년) didn’t work, it doesn’t in English and so they eventually became known as the ‘Frog Boys’ (개구리 소년).  Their story, and the mystery which surrounds them is tragic and depressing and certainly in Song-so, where some of my students attend the same school (Song-so Elementary) which the five boys attended 20 years ago, they have not been forgotten.

The 'Frog Boys' (개구리 소년 - ke-gu-ri so-nyeon)

area of the murders (link to wikimapia)

The efforts to find the Frog Boys, Kim Yung-wu (11) Kim Jong-sik (9), Pak Chan-in (10), Wu Chul-won (13) and Jo Ho-yun (12), galvanized the nation: over 300.000 police and troops searched the mountain, rivers and reservoirs and bus and railway stations were searched nationwide. Companies, groups and individuals donated 42 million won (about $35.000 dollars at the time) as a reward to those finding the boys. Local school children organized a ‘Find the Frog Children Campaign’ and milk cartons carried photographs of the boys. Devastated, many of the parents left their jobs to scour the country in the hope of finding them.

Song-so Elementary School's 'Frog Boys,' Come Home,' campaign

the 1992 film 'Frog Boys', released when there was still optimism

In 1992 a film was released called ‘Frog Boys‘. A year after their disappearance and no evidence of foul play, optimism lingered and many thought the boys had simply run away for an adventure. The film was intended to urge them to come home. And though a special police investigation unit operated until 2001, there were neither leads nor clues. Speculation was intense with theories about kidnappings by North Korea, alien abductions, kidnapping by South Korean ‘authorities’ for medical science and even accusations levied at the parents claiming they must have killed and buried their sons.

their disappearance, simply an adventure

Song-So Elementary School students 'campaigning' in 1991

On September 26th 2002, a man picking acorns on the mountainside discovered pieces of clothing and bones and after eleven years the bodies of the boys were discovered. I remember these events well as I was living in Song-so at the time and for a few weeks developments were prime time news. The boys, their bodies entwined, seemed to have been huddled together and the police suggested they must have died from cold. However, they were only two kilometers from their homes and would have been able to see lights and hear traffic. The police claimed it wasn’t homicide despite the fact the boys’ skulls all had holes in them. Eventually, when ‘proper investigations’ had been conducted, though many argued the police and investigation team had been severely mismanaged and evidence damaged in the process, it appears homicide was almost a certainty. Shell casings had been found nearby, the boys had been tied and they appear to have been struck on their heads with some kind of implement which has not been properly identified. Moss growing inside the skulls suggested the boys had been hastily buried but as they lay in a gully, water eventually exposed their remains.

September 2002, their bodies discovered

an horrific crime uncovered

In 2002, rumours were rife about the boys having been accidentally shot by hunters, or that stray bullets had struck one of them from a nearby military shooting area, now defunct, and subsequently had been murdered to hide what may have originally been an accident. It was suggested the weapon may have been a screw driver, but more disturbingly, because there are more than single marks on the skulls with a consistency of pattern, it has been suggested a tool for slaughtering animals in an abattoir may have been used.


I remember one parent being interviewed on television; her son’s bedroom had not been disturbed since the day he disappeared.  When a brace was found among the bones and bits of clothing, which would have belonged to twelve year old Jo Ho-yun, his mother said she couldn’t even recall if he wore a brace. I’m sure she could, but the memory probably too painful to envisage. Sometimes it’s easier to forget!

As 2002 drew to a close, the police were speculating the murder was carried about by a mentally ill person or possibly by bullies from boys’ school. How you bury a body on terrain that even in wet weather is rock hard, suggests murder was planned or the perpetrator had time to go back down the mountain for the necessary tools. And the only rumour I’ve never encountered, and which would probably be the first to circulate in the west, was that they’d been sexually assaulted. Despite the police promising to solve the case,  now, almost another eleven years has passed and by Korean law, it would not be possible to try suspects. The case is now officially closed, and least in bureaucratic terms.

decayed clothing

funeral rites where the boys were murdered

on the mountain

Traditional rites

Shortly after their bodies were discovered, funeral services were held and rites conducted at the location where they were murdered. However, the boys’ skulls were donated to the forensic research laboratory of a university probably because the type of  implement with which they were killed remains unknown. The boys’ school, Song-so Elementary (성서국민하교) continues to mark the anniversary of their murder with a solemn ceremony. In February 2011, the film Children (아이들), was released recounting the events surrounding the Frog Boys, who would now be around 30 years of age. It is probably likely to remain one of this years most successful movies despite some criticism regarding its accuracy.

'Children' (아이들), released in early 2011

a box office hit

Occasionally, when I look up at Waryong or walk through its forest, I think of the horrific secrets that lie hidden under the canopy of sturdy pines and knotted and gnarled oaks and in those moments the beauty of the mountain is disturbed by something dark, dreadful and ominous. I am fortunate, like most people Waryong is primarily a mountain and I can  find beauty where a horrific crime was committed,  but for those parents still living in Song-so, I would imagine Waryong, rising up like an enormous burial mound, casts a permanent shadow on their lives and has done for over 20 years.  If there is any conciliation, it is that their sons finally, after 11 years, came down from the mountain and away from that ghastly gully where they murdered.



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.


Further References

Children (아이들) 2011. (Nanoomi.net)

Joong Ang Daily November 13th 2002

Joong Ang Daily Septmber 2002

Ersatz Kimchi in a State of Emergency

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Diary notes, vegetables by 노강호 on October 3, 2010


I’m tempted to do some stealing! With an almost total absence of any police on the street I doubt I’d get caught. The only thing that puts me off is that being a waygukin, I stand out. It would only take one Korean to see me humping ‘the goods’ to my one room, for my visa to be relinquished.

Rooftop shopping? Either would fit in a carrier bag

Rooftop shopping? These require a trolley

I haven’t eaten cabbage kimchi in several days and I’ve noticed either a stark absence, or drastic reduction of any in restaurants. Korea without kimchi, unbelievable! You have to live here to understand the cultural and culinary significance caused by a cabbage shortage. You might find it amusing that a lack of cabbage can fuck a nation, especially when you come from  a country like Britain where once upon a time, when families practiced that barbaric ritual of eating meals together, children had to be forced to ‘eat their greens.’  While Kimchi is the national food of Korea and has almost iconic status, its deficiency is not the equivalent of Germany without bratwurst, or Britain without fish and chips, it deeply more devastating.  I would go for months without a bratty when I lived on Mainland Europe  and sauerkraut was something you ate occasionally.  Koreans eat kimchi with every meal and in some cases it is a core component of specific meals.  To understand the significance of a kimchi-less Korea, you have to envisage Britain without any form of cooking oil, or potatoes, the USA without hamburgers, or perhaps even a nation without petrol or alcohol! Whatever item you choose in an attempt to elicit empathy, it has to be something fundamental enough to strike at the very heart of a country.

Napa Cabbages October 2008

And of course, it isn’t just the Chinese (or Napa) cabbage that’s suffered a devastating season, cucumbers, lettuce and mooli (무), all of which are used in other forms of kimchi or in accompanying barbecues, are also in short supply. Two weeks ago, I bought a rather small cabbage for 5000 Won (£2.50) which is a massive increase on the hearty one I bought in January, costing 1000 Won (50 pence). Yesterday, in E-Mart, there were no cabbages at all  and the vegetable section looked somewhat deserted. And all at a time when cabbages should be one of the most prolific items being sold by street vendors.

President, Lee Myung-Bak’s, recent declaration that he will only eat kimchi made from the European type of cabbage (양배추), until the shortage abates, suggests the problem is a national emergency. However, before we join the rebellion or start lynching farmers, it is worth remembering there was a  temporary shortage last year and in 2007, when chili and cabbage suffered bad harvests, it cost me a small fortune to make a batch of kimchi.

My January batch of kimchi

Meanwhile, restaurants that rely on kimchi and other forms of lettuce and cabbage have had to reduce their portions and in some cases, rather than raise prices, are compensating customers by providing larger amounts of meat. As a meat guzzling waygukin, I’d much rather have less rabbit food and a larger platter of barbecued pork, especially as kimchi made from European cabbage is totally ersatz.

Cabbages being salted. October-November 2008

I’m out of fresh kimchi and intended making my winter batch this month and while I have kimchi in my ceramic pot, made in January, it is the ‘stagnant’ type best used in cooking.  So, do Koreans ever steal each others kimchi ? There are a number of pots on my roof top and indeed pots stand on most rooftops as well as in recesses and corners of buildings. I’m very tempted to pinch a pot, not because I need kimchi but because nicking kimchi is both outrageous and comical. A waygukin stealing a pot of someone’s homemade kimchi during a cabbage shortage smacks of pro-Korean-ism and a love powerful enough of driving you to theft could be construed as a crime of passion.

There might not be any kimchi in the supermarkets, but there's a feast of it on every rooftop.

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Warayong Mountain, Song-So, Daegu

Posted in Comparative, Daegu, Diary notes by 노강호 on September 18, 2010

I decided to go for a  little mountain walk this morning as I’ve got an eye infection and can’t use a bathhouse, so the gym was out of the question.

Warayong Mountain from Song-So Rose Park

It was going to be touch and go whether I actually left my one-room and decided that if I took a bottle of dong-dong-ju (동동주), which is unrefined rice wine, to drink at the summit, my departure might be guaranteed. However, once in my local GS25 store, I decided not to bother with the alcohol and told myself, if I really wanted some I could probably find a few old guys on the mountain top who’d give me a glass.

A 'watering-hole' on the way up Warayong Mountain

Mountainside graves

Mountainside graves

Up Warayong San, (Wikipedia start of trail) in Song-So, even at 8 in the morning, there is an army of pensioners trundling up the mountain. I was expecting the climb to be easy. I’ve been working out at Migwang on a treadmill, 3-4 times a week and walk at a brisk pace for 30-50 minutes. I never run, when you’re fat and over fifty running is totally undignified and besides, I’d probably break the walking machine. Before I’d even reached the mountain, I was sweating and once I’d climbed the first 60 steps on the mountain itself,  I was ready for a coronary.

The climb to the peak closest to E-Mart, Song-So, is a baby of a mountain and much smaller than Ap-san and Pal-gong-San but the walk involves several steep climbs by steps. At the top, I was exhausted and my legs had turned to jelly.

The communal mirror at the Warayong Peak where you can fix your make-up before the decent.

A clock has been located here for over ten years. The men in the background were my source of rice wine.

I’ve written Warayong peak before, (Safe and Sound), and was pleased the clock is still on a tree where the exercise facilities are plus a mirror, which some one had affixed to a tree. Korean kids are kept too busy to turn their interests to vandalising and wrecking the efforts of others, that they so often do in Scumland UK. Sat on benches were three men who offered me rice wine. It was chilled and the drink filled with shards of ice. Then I moved down a side path to where I knew there was another exercise area, seating and usually a small refreshment area. Here I was offered red wine. The refreshment stall is a simple, large umbrella under which coffee and soft drinks  are sold. When not in use the items are stored under tarpaulin. Often there are vendors selling socks, mountain wear, or baseball caps at this location and dotted around the edge of exercise areas were their tarpaulin stores.

A mountain side refreshment vendor

Mountain vendors' storage facilities


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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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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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Have Stick Will User It

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, Korean children by 노강호 on May 30, 2010

Discipline Korean style

Has anyone teaching in high schools noticed that if a student is rude or disrespectful, they are generally the ones who have had a sojourn studying in the west – usually in the USA and much less frequently the UK? Now, before I get started, I am not saying that all Korean students who have studied outside Korea are tainted or that Koreans who have never studied abroad are never rude or disrespectful. With considerable experience teaching in the UK as well as experience in Korea, I am making comparisons based on my own experiences in addition to an awareness of the general standards of behaviour both in the UK and Korea.

First of all, I have never been fouled mouthed or insulted by Korean students. No Korean student has ever sworn or shouted at me and the only time I can recall when I was shown disrespect was on an isolated incident when a student addressed me in intimate level speech (반말). As my Korean is rudimentary, students may have been taking the piss and insulting all along but I have never been led to believe they were and even if this were the case it pales into insignificance in comparison to my experiences in the UK.

Before getting defensive about Britain or the USA, there are numerous blogs, and indeed books written by teachers appalled at the conditions under which they have to teach. I too have an extensive blog dedicated to teaching in the UK. There is a small but significant number of professional teachers working in Korea, all who have abandoned teaching in their home countries because of poor discipline, low standards, anti-intellectualism, dumbing down, violence and so forth.  So, while there might be bad apples in Korea, they are not likely to attack you or call you a ‘fucking wanker,’ or indeed a ‘cunt.’ These are my experiences but I know many other teachers have had similar experiences and worse. No Korean student has never attempted to hit or spit at me. Indeed, when I was spat at in the UK, the headteacher didn’t even bother asking to see the boy and simply asked to see my planner.  That was in Southborough Boys School, in Hook, Surbiton, where I quickly deduced that it was acceptable for a student to spit at a teacher if the lesson wasn’t deemed enjoyable.  If I had been a more seasoned teacher at the time, I would have used the attack to claim psychological or physical injury and earned myself several months paid sick leave. Clacton County High School (CCHS) is another school where I’ve had students call me a ‘cunt’  or ‘a ”wanker’ and they were never reprimanded by management. Given the abysmal examples of leadership and staff support, I am not surprised standards are so low in the UK. Outing shit schools and shit practice is something all citizens should do especially when management in those establishments prefer to pretend nothing is amiss.

Korean teacher with stick

In Korea, I carry a stick, affectionately called ‘Billy.’ And occasionally, perhaps once a week, I will use it. I have never hurt a student with it though if I wanted to, this would be acceptable. My boss actually encourages me to hit students and I’m sure she sees it as a weakness on my part that I don’t do so more often. When students are being naughty, I’ll call for the stick. ‘Billy? Billy? Where are you?’ Then, I’ll poke around in my draw. Within seconds there is silence. ‘Billy, come on out! Someone’s arse needs a clout!’ Then, like  un-sheathing Excalibur, I draw Billy from his lair and brandish him. Even with older students, this pantomime elicits a sigh of awe as if I really have drawn a sword or sparked-up a light saber.

Billy is pretty pathetic! Thirteen inches of stick not much thicker than a pencil and not very springy. Being six-foot six and large, I find him the perfect companion and actually traded him for  real stick designed for pointing and striking which I’d bought for 5000 Won (£2.50). We have now been together for two years and at Christmas I took him back to the UK in order to treat him to a lick of linseed oil that I keep in my garage, for use on my front room floor. Ironically, I traded my real stick, which resembled the narrower end of a snooker cue, and which many high school teachers posses, with that of the smallest female teacher in a boys high school. Both of us preferred each others tool. Despite a recent oiling, Billy’s arthritic state spares the kids a real whacking as I am conscious of not snapping him in two.

By now,  whatever the problem was has vanished or, if it is an issue of homework, the  offender will be awaiting punishment. I always make lack of homework punishments quick and will strike without any prior warning. Sometimes, the offender actually thinks they’ve been spared. I usually hit them on the head. Yes, I know I shouldn’t, but for the PC brigade, anywhere is liable to cause injury and the safest place, on the bum or  back of legs demand a sort of procedure,  like bending over, which almost serves to ritualise  the punishment and which I personally find a little pervy. And of course, Billy is too much of a light weight to have much effect  in that area without the risk of being broken. So, the head it is!  One short snap, never very hard and certainly much less damaging than the game Korean boys play where they do ‘rock, scissor, paper’ and the winner gets to ‘flick’ a finger on his opponents forehead.

A Gurkha kukri, supposedly never sheathed without drawing blood

I usually treat Billy like a kukri,  the Gurkha  traditional knife, supposedly, never sheathed without first drawing blood. Last year, I threw a crazy with a class, probably the one and only crazy I’ve thrown  in Korea. For a minute or so I shouted and screamed and smacked Billy on the desk. Two children started crying and the rest were terrified. That was a year ago, but one the odd occasion I need to call for Billy’s help, those students still in the class, and who remember that day, put their head in their hands in trepidation.

I actually find it difficult to hit a student and after striking them feel very bad if they start crying . As in the UK, if you are not careful kids make excuses for lack of homework on a weekly basis but Billy cures this problem instantly; no lectures, no debates, no pleading,  no detentions or phoning parents, not wasting valuable time, just a thwack of Billy on the head and you can guarantee the issue will be resolved and a homework subsequently forth coming.  Western teachers, fooled by the PC claptrap that corporeal punishment is barbaric, are misguided. If I make a joke and strike my stick on the head of a kid they will laugh but should I use the same force when angry, and the child’s ‘kibun’ is damaged, they will often have tears in their eyes. This should tell you how minuscule my punishment is! It is not the force of my stick hitting them that castigates and punishes them, but the loss of face within the class. Joking aside however, I witnessed some brutal punishments in my former High School.

In a Korean class, there is absolutely no mistaking who is the boss and this difference creates a chasm in standards between British and Korean schools. In Korea, the teacher is always boss and ultimately students know this. Korean kids will push their chances and intimidate you in their own Korean way but they know that they can be physically punished. British kids however, are equally aware that teachers can do nothing about bad behaviour. In many British schools, it is children who rule the class room and permit or hinder a lesson as they see fit. Bad management structures, of which students are unwittingly aware and will use to their advantage, have created schools where classroom teachers are powerless while managers can saunter into lesson and demand compliance because students know they have direct access to contacting their parents – a power usually denied non managers.

My stick, 'Billy.'

Ah, Korea. A different world where for most cases, even the most horrible student is an angel by comparison. And instead of being shunned like a leper when out shopping, Korean students want to introduce their parents to you or simply say hello.  Today, a student’s mum bought me a large cake, last week I received a bag of six homemade soaps, and so forth. Anyone who has taught in Korea will have been presented gifts such as these. In the UK, I didn’t even get a fucking apple from the class creep!   So, when I have been confronted by ‘disrespect’ from Korean students who have studied abroad, it’s  more like ‘indifference’ and familiarity than lack of respect. I have frequently had to interview high school students and a substantial number of those who have studied abroad will slouch in front of you, talk to you in a familiar way and are the quickest to tut or talk back. On a few rare occasions, I’ve even heard them mutter expletives under their breath.

Experience of the west must have a profound effect on them as it exposes them to a range of experiences, not all of which are bad, which are denied them in Korea. Most will have been exposed to drugs, anti-intellectual attitudes, educational mores that encourage and  prompt them to be sexually active, homosexuality, trans-gender, a society that empowers students well in advance of them being able to yield that power responsibly, and a system that often polarizes teachers and students and charges that relationship with antagonism and distrust most pertinent the notion that every adult is a potential perv. In the UK, Billy would have been assassinated!  There is no doubt  students would have sought him out when not in my company and snapped him in half. More disturbing, they would have done so with glee.

The Times Newspaper (UK), conducted a survey in 2008 which revealed a fifth of all teachers support the use of corporeal punishment. This week in New Zealand (May 15 2020), it was revealed half the population support the return of the cane especially in the light of figures highlighting the corresponding rise in crimes within school that has occurred since corporeal punishments was banned.

Ministry of Justice statistics for pre-teen violence released just last month also showed a disturbing trend. From 1998-2008, the number of police apprehensions for grievous/serious assaults by 10-13 year olds increased by more than 70%. For each of the most recent two years, there has been almost 1,000 apprehensions for 10-13 year olds for all violent offences, which include aggravated robbery, sexual violation, indecent assault, and serious assaults – an increase of a third since 1998. (link to NZNEWSUK)

High School discipline: harsh but less severe than two years compulsory military service!

If you care for the development of children, the occasional smack is absolutely necessary. If my son or daughter were caught sticking their fingers in the electric socket, I would administer them a good clout as failure to instill in them the danger of doing this, puts their lives at risk. It is widely believed in Korea, that corporeal punishment reflects caring for youngsters’ development  and the stick is often referred to as the ‘stick of love’. Personally, reflecting on some of the hideous  scum I have had the misfortune to teach in the UK,  it is clear we neither respect  them, ourselves or other members of society – most notably other students. Of course British teachers can’t say they ‘love kids,’ not without having to spout a diatribe to explain themselves, which is just as well as judging by the scum we have allowed to pollute wider society, we clearly don’t. You will hear the phrase ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ far more in Korea than you do in Britain. The politically correct lobby has compelled us to obsess about the rights of bad children and generally bad people in a plethora of contexts, has helped facilitate a society where all of us, including children, in one way or another, are now victims of, or held ransom by, the very scum we molly-coddled and subsequently empowered.


This is true, a few weeks ago my boss gave her class a vocabulary test. One of the words requiring translation into English was, ‘몽둥이.’ (stick). Two students answered, ‘Billy.’

I don’t know how long this link will remain on Daum, but here is a brief recording of a very disturbing, and brutal corporeal punishment.


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.


Much of the crime suffered in the UK however, and a crime I feel especially absent in Korea, is the vandalisation and destruction of property for no apparent reasons. A significant element in our society has a bent for destroying, wrecking, maiming or ruining anything which belongs to someone else and there seems to be a correlation between the amount of affection put into what ever it was that was targeted, and the relish with which it is destroyed. Grave stones, bowling greens, and especially attractive gardens seem currently in vogue. If you can assault the victims emotions, committing the crime seems all the more pleasurable.

In 2000, when I first worked in Song So (성서), Daegu, the KFC next to my school had a life-size model of Colonel Saunders stood outside the store. As it was Christmas, he’d been jollied up in a Santa outfit and even had a walking stick hanging from his wrist. Neither the model nor the stick were secured and remained in situ until he was de-jollied sometime in the New Year. In my home town in the UK, a similar model has to be secured by a chain to prevent it being stolen and it is not left out at night. If vandals attempted to remove the UK model and found it chained their tempers would be inflamed and they would simply smash it  to pieces.  Back in Korea, Colonel Saunders remained outside  the store, unfettered, 24 hours a day. No one thought to carry him a mile or so down the road, for some silly prank; or to rip his arms off or kick his head off; and no one thought it necessary to steal his cane and subsequently use it to smash a shop window or terrorize a passer-by. But then the fast food restaurants in my high street have to employ bouncers and at one time, whilst a student at university, I worked as one for almost a year.

Kicking these about would feel great when pissed!

And in Korea, students as young as 7, usually with mobile phones dangling from their necks, bring their parents’ ATM cards to school to pay their monthly fees. Nonchalantly, they hand them over to staff and no one seems concerned or worried that the kids might lose them, use them or that the staff might make notes of their details or overcharge them. As for their mobile phones? Often expensive and the latest in the range, who would want to steal them? Every one simply trusts each other to do the right thing. I’m sounding like a Kimcheerleader but back home a little kid with an expensive mobile would assaulted and robbed.

Almost opposite my school is a garden center which sells a vast range of ceramic items all of which are stored outside the shop. This business is one of the longest surviving in my part of Song So and has been here since at least 1999. The road on which it stands is fairly quiet, especially  in the evening and at one time, prior to building projects, several vacant lots nestled besides its borders which occasionally hosted 24 hours soju tents. Even to this day, I am amazed that the place has never been vandalized or that drunks have never decided to kick over a few pots. I think the photos do the premises justice and as you can see, there are thousands of items all displayed in tiers and completely open to the public.  Though there seems to be  the supports for a fence fronting the premises and though I pass by here every day, I have never seen evidence of vandalism.

Open to the ‘elements’ 24/7

Wooden bokken and brooms

It is not unusual to see people, usually elderly, who will stop and pick up a piece of litter in the street  but perhaps the best example of  mutual respect and community spirit can be found on mountain trails where small gyms are customarily established, usually on or close to mountain peaks. I have used such gyms in both Cheonan and Daegu and in the mountains verging Song-So, Daegu, I have used two. The closest to my apartment, perhaps a 30 minute, I have used on and off over ten years.  Here you will find a number of exercise facilities provide by the local authorities but which have been augmented by items carried to the top by local people. A clock has been secured to a tree, numerous weights, exercise hoops and an exercise bench. None of these items are chained or secured in place. In Ch’eonan, someone had  provide stout bokken (wooden kendo sticks made of a durable wood) and on a sturdy tree stump fixed rubber tyres.  Frequently, I sat and watched individuals swing the bokken from one side to the other in order to strike the tyres with powerful blows. And nearby was a waste bin and numerous  brooms  for sweeping the little gym clean.  The clock on top of the Song-So mountain impresses me the most as this has been here for ten years though it may not be the same one. Irrespective, no one has thought to smash it or hurl the weights or dumbbells down the steep path which leads to the mountain summit.

A bokken striking post and exercise hoops

That you can set something delicate on the side of the road or in a small clearing on a secluded mountain summit and leave it in the knowledge it will neither be stolen nor vandalized, is a testament, a trophy, to the nature of the people living around you.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

A Peaceful City, Feb 28th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Comparative, Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on February 28, 2001

Once a week at the taekwondo school we practice tae kuk kkwon (태국권). During one class Pak Dong-soo performed a set which took several minutes to perform. It was really quite beautiful as he moved slowly from one position to another without and wobbling and with absolute grace. The next day we did a weapons training session. Increasingly, I am beginning to see martial arts training in Korea as the training ground for boys prior to their national service. The lessons on fairly relaxed and there is a lot of banter between students and instructors which of course, I don’t understand. There are a number of girls who train in the school and they don’t take any crap from the boys. Sometimes I seem to detect more aggression between the girls and boys than between the boys themselves.

two fourth dan boys in my local taekwondo school (2012)

One aspect I really like about being in Korea, and something other foreign teachers also mention, is being able to go out in Korea without being on your guard. Although I have lived in Wivenhoe for two years, I have only ever been into Colchester in the evening on two occasions. The atmosphere on the High Street, in the evening is threatening and aggressive, crowds of marauding youths, with slaggy, cheap girls who regardless of weather wear flimsy clothes. Then there are the aggressive men and youths who strut around swearing, usually drunk and looking primarily for sex and if that can’t be found the frustration will be vented by a punch-up.  You daren’t make eye contact with these men or lads as to do so is to challenge their pathetic sexuality. God! So many straight men are disgusting and even many of my straight friends are quick to disassociate themselves from them. We British like to believe we are an educated society but by and large this is a myth. The masses are just as stupid and ignorant as they have been in the past and it is for political reasons they have been kept this way. I am not claiming Koreans are superior, most of the world is full of stupid people but it is wonderful to walk the streets of a busy city without fear of being assaulted or abused by football yobs, drunken louts, lads looking for trouble. Despite the fact I live above two bars, neither of which close until well after midnight, I haven’t witnessed a brawl or argument or even heard drunken revelry.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
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