Elwood 5566

Anniversary of the Murder of the ‘Frog Boys’

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

a sad and gruesome mystery

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

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

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

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
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Ancient Korea – 2000 AD

Posted in Daegu, Westerners by 노강호 on September 11, 2011

My relationship with Korea began 11 years ago this September when I arrived for my first one year English teaching contract. I subsequently returned in 2003, 2005 and have remained here since 2007. In the UK a stretch of ten years doesn’t seem that noticeable. I recently returned to the town where I spent my childhood and even after ten years absence the changes weren’t that remarkable. In Korea however, changes are so rapid and widespread that the point at which the past becomes another country can be measured in a couple of years, not generations.

The Korea of 2000 was indeed another country and my memories, like old photos found in an antic, are faded and yellow. Apart from one year, when I lived in Ch’eon-an, I have lived in the same block on and off over 11 years. I spent my first year teaching in what was the largest and most successful haggwon in Song-so, Daegu and must have taught several hundred students and yet I’ve only met one former student  since the end of 2001.  Not only have buildings and businesses changed and disappeared, but so too have the people. In the entire area with which I am intimately acquainted there are only a handful of business that were trading in 2000 and high rise commercial blocks now stand in plots that were once deserted and home to nomadic soju tents.

in the foreground are the three one rooms I have occupied between 2000 and today

When I arrived in 2000, I flew into Kimpo International Airport. It was old, small and dingy and you could walk from one end of the main building to the other in less than two minutes. At the time, Korean Air flew from Britain’s Stansted Airport which outside London surmised Korea’s global insignificance. Today, Air Korea operates out of both Gatwick and Heathrow and a host of other airlines run daily services to the peninsula most of which fly into the amazing, and massive, Inch’eon International.  In 2000, with the KTX, high speed rail network still several years from completion, there were two flights an hour from Kimpo to Daegu or you could opt for the lengthier rail or bus journeys.

Kimpo International Airport around 1994 (courtesy of, Rants in your Pants)

Being stared at was an intense and continuous experience, especially outside Seoul or away from US military bases. EPIK had yet to provide most schools with foreign English teachers and many students had never met a foreigner. I remember one boy, Duk-hyeon, who was so terrified of me that he would sit out my lessons in the main office. Whenever Korean teachers tried to integrate him into my class he would start shaking and then breakdown in a flood of tears. Despite months of friendly smiles, funny faces or kind acts, he could not be pacified. On the streets, fellow foreigners were few and unlike today, where many shroud themselves with a sense of being the only foreigner in Korea and subsequently blank you, most were only too eager to talk. In my area of Song-so there were a handful of foreigners and we all knew each other. Life in Korea was so alien, so different and was so much further from home than it is today, that most westerners had a need to talk to each other. Today, fellow foreigners seem to regard each other as a threat and blatantly shun each other perhaps because other foreigners are a reminder how un-unique and tame your experience really is.

Inch’eon International – voted 5 consecutive times the world’s leading airport

The navigation of daily life, and especially traveling, was both challenging and exciting because so little was written in English. I remember a trip to Pohang in December 2000, where the bus terminal only provided information in Korean and hanja and the tickets for trains and buses weren’t bilingual. Ordering food was just as challenging and other than large western style fast food restaurants which provided accompanying photos or English translations,  everything was in Korean. Ordering food was usually a culinary mystery tour.

Pohang. Christmas Eve 2000

Fermenting foods, such as kimchi and makkeoli required a small hole in the packet or bottle to release the build-up of gas. On my first trip back to the UK, I put a small packet of kimchi that had been served with the in-flight meal, into my top pocket. When I woke an hour later, to a strong and unpleasant smell, I discovered it had leaked down the front of  my shirt. Today, the fermentation process is curtailed and packaging subsequently sealed.

‘Video Bangs’ were prolific and probably as common today as are mobile telephone stores. In the absence of digital photography, there were numerous photo stores which very often had a large photograph of a naked baby boy in their window. On this topic, there was also  a shop in downtown Daegu which amongst other things, had plaster casts of little lads dicks. I vaguely remember seeing one or two houses with chillies hanging from the front door, which was the traditional way to advertise the birth of a boy and imagine the prestige of having a son could be immortalized by making a cast of his dick, spraying it gold or silver, and mounting it in a small frame.  How widespread this custom was I don’t know but I know several students and Korean men who have a photograph of themselves as a toddler, on the wall of their living room or hallway in which they are naked.

On the streets, at pedestrian crossings, the red man ruled with absolute sovereignty and on deserted roads pedestrians patiently waited until the green man, who was often turquoise, appeared. Today, I am often the only person left standing and even elderly citizens will jay walk. And teenagers holding hands with the opposite sex and being affectionate was an absolute social taboo.

In the classroom, western obscenities and terms such as ‘gay,’ ‘homo’ or ‘fuck’ were either unheard off or simply never uttered. I have yet to hear the four letter ‘c’ word but like fat Koreans and other social problems, its arrival is inevitable And ten or eleven years ago,  Harisu (하리수), Korea’s first trans-gendered celebrity, was a popular enough to have ‘pin-up statue among teenage boys.

between 2000 and 2003, Harisu was popular with many teenage boys

In the days before Tesco’s Home Plus, even the largest supermarkets lacked anything but a few solitary bottles of wine and western beer. The only cheese one could buy was plastic play cheese or the likes of ’Einstein’ cheese slices which were believed to increase the cognitive abilities of children. Decent butter was unobtainable and coffee beans were not just expensive but difficult to buy. Around 2001, the Song-so, E-Mart, had a working coffee ‘peculator’ on display which used to attract a small crowd of intrigued customers.

English teaching contracts did not include air-conditioning as part of the package and split shifts were a regular teaching condition.  However, I used to make up to a weeks haggwon salary in a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon teaching small groups of students in my free time. Everyone wanted to learn English and as the haggwon industry hadn’t exploded, there were plenty of students and parents looking for English teachers. I’ve been offered jobs in KFC, MacDonalds, in the bathhouse and on street corners but in the last four years I’ve not once been offered a paid teaching  job by a stranger.

But the greatest difference between the sepia tinted Korea of 2000 and today, was the absence on the internet, certainly in English, of anything pertaining to Korean culture or life. Google Earth, Youtube, Wikipedia, WordPress and Blogger etc, were either in their infancy or hadn’t been released. There were no online language resources and indeed to write in Hangeul on a computer in the UK, even until around 2004, demanded the purchase of Microsoft Proofing Tools. Until fairly recently, if you wanted any information on Korean food, making kimchi, the Korean language, Hanja, taekwondo, etc, you had to buy books and even then there were topics that weren’t translated into English. The Korea of 2000, even 2005, had to be physically explored but today there is little about Korea that is secret or shrouded. A million blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and a myriad of sites provide the most comprehensive coverage of Korean life.  The internet has very much tamed and demystified Korea making it accessible and user friendly. Today, you can explore every facet of Korean culture without even leaving your home country.

from the days when you needed a package to write in Korean and Hanja

How I wish I’d arrived in the 1990’s or 1980’s. Our Korean experiences, serialized in the posts of our blogs and video-casts are increasingly trivial, familiar and often mundane but to have experienced the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ before it met EPIK, before it was so rudely exposed by the internet, before it was ‘made simple’ and subsequently accessible to an army of people who would have otherwise stayed away… now that’s the stuff of travel books, autobiographies and the content for real adventures.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Eat Like a Dinosaur in Daegu

Posted in Comparative, Food and Drink by 노강호 on July 21, 2011

Dinosaur Buffet - a meat eaters heaven

Sometimes, I just want to indulge in some ‘western style eating’ – a euphemism for eating unhealthily. Korea has plenty of unhealthy western-style junk foods, most commonly fried chicken and pizza, but it’s never quite right and has been Korianised to make it more appealing to the home market. While the fried chicken often comes very close to satisfying my British taste-buds, I have never really taken to the way the bird is chopped up. That leaves the nastiest junk food of all, indeed the King of Junk, the Burger! Let’s face it, a real burger is vastly superior to corporate anatomical slurry patties containing up to one thousand different cows per burger, a claim made in the documentary movie, Food Inc.  And while corporate burgers can be ‘okay,’ they’re not that great unless of course, you’ve had your taste buds seriously dumbed down.

And the thing I miss most about western eating is a good plateful of meat. Most Korean meals contain much smaller portions of than we would eat back in the UK and I reckon that with a meaty breakfast and evening meal, I can consume more meat in one day, than I do in a week in Korea.  However, I recently discovered the ideal place to eat as much meat as you want; a carnivore’s paradise; Dinosaur Grill Meat Buffet. Here, salad, rice, and side dishes are minimal but the meat comes by the carcass. For 15.000 Won (£7) per person, you can just help yourself to the meat at the ‘in-house’ butcher’s counter and barbecue it at your table. There are burgers, real ones and not the pallid, dry one found in Mac D’s, great, spicy sausages, various cuts of sam-kyeop, pork steaks, and even cuts of beef.

a wide choice of meat

A few Koreans I recommended this establishment to ask me about the quality. I have to remind them I’m from Britain where the majority of pork has been bloated with water so that the moment you start cooking, it pisses all over the charcoal. Most British pork or bacon can no longer be fried because by the time the pan has heated, the meat is floating in a puddle of additional water, thereafter it simply boils. And then there is the pork from Poland, wadges of fat with the occasional slither of meat.  In Britain, meat has been adulterated forcing you to pay extra for what it should have been in the first place. Naturally, I find Korean meat of superior quality and after a bottle of makgeolli, it tastes even better.

Last week, the buffet bill for 3 adults plus 4 beers and 2 bottles of makgeoli amounted to a little over 60.000 Won (£30). The restaurant has both traditional floor seating and tables.

5 minutes walk from Wonderful Spa Land Bathhouse

Dinosaur Grill Buffet is very close to Wonderful Spa Land and indeed you can walk between them in around 5 minutes. For the Wikimapia link click here. Both Jincheon and Wolbae subway stations are nearby.

Jincheon and Wolbae subway stations lie this side of the restaurant

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Typhoon Meari Echoes in Daegu

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Photo diary, seasons by 노강호 on June 28, 2011

Daegu got the back-end of Typhoon Meari, typical in the monsoon season (Chang-ma 장마), which caused havoc and took nine lives in Jeju and Pusan. Saturday morning saw torrential rain and gusts of wind which didn’t abate until Sunday evening. The photos and video, taken from the 14th floor of my friend’s apartment, provide a great view across the Song-so area of Daegu, towards the distant mountains. As for the typhoon, luckily,  by the time it was inland, it was really only a big storm. All photos link to Wikimapia.

[

looking across Song-so with Hwa-won in the distance and Bi-sul-mountain (비슬산) in the background

gathering storm

in the direction of Song-so Rose Park

looking towards the edge of the university campus

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

The Chang Ma Arrives in Daegu

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on June 22, 2011

watching the chang-ma under the cheong-cha

I always find it strange how Koreans know almost every adjective to describe the weather apart from what I consider one of the most important and certainly one of the most impressionable. And as I write, I can already recall as song I taught years ago entitled: ‘How’s the Weather? It’s Sunny…’ etc, etc. There are probably numerous versions of this but the one my inner ear is currently playing has a particularly memorable tune. Apart from not rhyming very well, ‘humid’ would have fitted but when it comes to learning the weather in Korea, this manifestation is usually ignored. And come to think of it, the weather that produces this condition is also absent from the average Korean lexicon.

Chang Ma in Daegu

I can tolerate the heat but once the Chang Ma (장마 – monsoon) arrives, as it has this afternoon in Daegu, and Korean weather becomes horribly humid and particularly uncomfortable. Arriving in Korea in August, ‘humidity’ (습기) was one of the first words I learnt and being British and noted for their obsession with the weather, it is one of my most frequently used words through the sticky, muggy months.

cherry blossom festival - Korean blossom is more predicable than its British counterpart

When it comes to the change of seasons in the UK, they have a mind of their own and winter, for example, might arrive in November one year and January the next. British seasons tend to be technical and the season it is supposed to be is not necessarily representative of the weather you are experiencing. Several years ago, I attended a Korean spring festival in a school I had previously taught in and it has been scheduled for the weekend when the cherry blossom was supposed to be at it’s most spectacular, on this occasion, April 13th. I arrived to find the blossom so prolific, when the breeze blew it fell from the trees like snow. That same year I had been in Britain in January and a cherry blossom and magnolia spasmed into bloom in the street in which I live. Days later, a frost viciously wreaked decimation.

for a Brit, warm rain is quite strange

Back to the Chang Ma; several people told me it would arrive on Wednesday, and that is exactly what happened and as I write, the rain is beating down outside. Though the Chang Ma has been hanging in the air for around a week, it now seems to be fully here and so,  from which ever date you take as its arrival in Daegu, they fit within an 8 day window of  2010 (June 17th) and 2009’s (June 15th)  Chang Ma. That’s a fairly consistent pattern!

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

The Rainy Season Arrives (June 2010) Bathhouse Ballads

Greenvill Sauna – Banwoldang, Jung-gu, Daegu

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on May 31, 2011

First visited on Thursday 19th of May 2011. Greenvill is very easy to find given its location to the main road downtown and the nearby Banwoldang subway. Though situated in the Samjung Greencore Apartments (삼정 그린코어) complex, it is only a five minute walk from the subway itself. At the bottom of this post you will find comprehensive instructions on locating the premises.

Greenvill Jjimjilbang in Banwoldang

The changing facilities are large and spacious and the staff friendly. I was visiting on a lunchtime and there were only a few customers but I would suspect it might be busier in the evenings. The bathhouse itself is not large but it bright and fresh with numerous murals on the walls and interesting features, for example, a large dolphin stands in the corner of one pool, as if rising out of the water. The bathhouse (male)  itself is approximately an ‘L’ shape with the main pools in three corners. There are probably around twenty stand up showers, giving some guide to the more experienced bathhouse user, as to the size of the premises, and close to these the hot (열), warm (온) and event (이벤트) pools. I often joke about the event pools being uneventful but this one was more exciting and a large ‘poster’ on a nearby pillar forecast the weekly aroma schedule: I was there on a Wednesday so the aroma was ‘grape’ and beside looking like a gigantic glass of wine, there was a pleasant hint of grape juice. Other aromas, changed on a daily basis, include menthol, lemon, chrysanthemum,  mugwort, ginseng and pine.

In the far corner is a small massage pool (안마탕) with six massage stations. Beside this are stairs leading up to an open planned, infra-red lit, sleeping room. In another corner was a large and very cold, cold pool (냉탕) with attractive blue tiling and a large mural backdrop. There are two saunas: a steam sauna  and a spacious pine sauna with various levels of decking and room to sleep.

In all, a very new, clean and relaxing bathhouse though perhaps not providing the most extensive facilities, it is certainly well worth a visit especially  if you are in the vicinity or need a place to stop  overnight.

Location – The Wikimapia site already had a marker for Greenvill but it was not in the right place. Locating it exactly is difficult as it is within the apartment complex so I took the liberty to update the map. However, the complex is easy to find and I have given some extra pointers. I used a taxi to Banwoldang and my directions are from the subway on the side of the road where traffic is heading downtown and the massive Donga building is directly in front of you.

stand in directly in front of Donga with the subway exit on your right. This photo is slightly around the corner from Donga

Behind you you should see a flower shop with a small road leading up to an apartment complex. At the foot of the apartments on the hill you should see the Buddhist symbol as there is a temple here.

The subway on your right and Donga directly in front, the flower shop is behind you. Start up this road…

The Buddhist temple is on the top of the hill at the foot of the apartments

Go up to the temple and turn right in front of it. You will then see the turning on your right taking you into the Samjung Greencore Apartments (삼정 그린코어) complex. A small square sits in the middle at the opposite side of which you will see a flight of stairs. Go down these. You are now going past the sauna, it is actually on your right and when you reach the foot of the stairs you will find the entrance.

one of several entrances – the other is via the apartment car park

If you come out the exit and take a right and a right, or a left and a left, you will easily find you way back to the Donga building area. Coming out and taking a left and left will take you past a string of Buddhist shops. (Wikimapia link )

Times – 24 hour

Facilities – barber, shoe shine, large changing room with TV.

Jjimjilbang – includes an ice room, DVD room and various other facilities.

Bathhouse (men) – around twenty stand up and perhaps 30 sit down ones.

Cost – 4.500 Won for the bathhouse

Others – Basement car parking. Right next to Banwoldang subway line and on the main bus route (405). An interesting area with many shops and department stores.

one of the numerous Buddhist shops in the area

Ambiance – bright, airy with a subdued infra-red sleeping area.

Waygukin – first visit – none

Address – 대구 중구 남산2동 665번지, Daegu, Jung-gu, Namsan-2-dong 665. Tel:053-427-6665.

Website

 

Updates

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

There is a very useful review of Greenvill at Jjimjilbang and Saunas in Korea (October 2010)

Bathhouse Basics (13) – The Ice Room (어름방)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics, Daegu by 노강호 on March 11, 2011

chill!

I don’t use the ice room (어름방 or 어름굴) much during the winter but in summer it is a heavenly sanctuary. An  ice room, which can appear in both a jjimjilbang (찜질방) or in a bathhouse (목욕탕), is a bit of a specialty and many do not have them. However, the chances are that one exists in your area. In the Song-So area of Daegu, Migwang (미광) has ice rooms in both the jjimjilbang and bathhouse (mogyoktang).

In the summer months ice rooms are usually iced up and scrapping off the ‘snow’ and rubbing it over your face is an exhilarating experience more so when you appreciate that outside the temperature is that of a muggy sauna.

a large jjimjilbang ice room

chilly

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Interlude (8) Pojangmacha (포장마차)

Posted in Interlude (Theme) by 노강호 on January 12, 2011

a typical snack-type pojangmacha

 

Like most of Korea, the area which I first visited 11 years ago has changed significantly and in Song-so, Daegu, where there now stands Mega Town with the Lotte Cinema Complex, the 24 hours jjimjilbang and a host of restaurants, I remember an enormous vacant lot, uneven and with patches of grass and bushes springing randomly across its expanse. Especially in winter, this was home to numerous large pojangmacha (포장마차).

 

huddling around the steam on a cold evening

 

Now, pojangmacha are basically tents which a range of guises from small to large,  basic to elaborate, some selling snacks, other alcohol and which can stand on their own or be ‘tethered’ to a small van. I particularly remember the tents in the  Song-so lot because they were large, heated and open all night and were what many refer to as a ‘soju tents.’  I remember quite a few evenings where we sat until the early hours wrapped  in thick coats, even though the interior was warm, drinking soju or rice wine while enjoying a bowl of spicy  cod roe soup. Maybe it’s just my imagination, because pojangmacha are around all year, but their bright lights and cozy interiors seem to associate them with winter. Even the more open versions which sell spicy cabbage and rice cake (ddeokkboki) and around which people huddle bathing in the steam wafting off the hot food, warm your spirits on a cold evening.

 

pojangmacha (포장마차)

 

If you walked from Song-so to the main gate of  Keimyung University, 11 years ago, there were a number of vacant lots between  high-rise buildings and often  large pojangmacha would occupy them. Today, they are gone, the lots occupied by new buildings to such an extent that in the entire stretch of road there are no longer any soju tents.

 

snack time

 

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Goong-Cheon Lavender Jjimjilbang – Daegu 공전 라벤더

Goong-Jeon Lavender

Only the Bats were Missing

First visited September 10th 2010. You might very well walk past without giving it a second glance; save for the fact a Lotteria is nestled in one corner. From the somewhat clumsy building amidst a sprawling melee of hotchpotch architecture, reminiscent of pre-1988 Korea, you might not expect to be impressed.  However, Goong-Jeon Lavender Jjimjilbang, close to Dong Daegu railway station, is not only one of the largest bathhouse I have visited but one of the richest in character and interest.

Goong-Cheon Lavender

When leaving the elevator and entering the changing rooms, Goong-Cheon Lavender certainly spoils the visitor with space and the reception area, with a snack bar fronted by cute, if not  bizarre pink, white and gold baroque imitation tables and chairs, occupies an area the equivalent to that of many other changing rooms. An atmosphere of spaciousness and intrigue is imparted before one has even collected their locker key.

Large and spacious changing facilities

Access between the bathhouse and changing area is via large ramps and on entering the bathing complex you are confronted with a very large showering facility with stand-up showers organised in a multitude of partitions around the periphery, and an army of seated showers relegated to the centre. I usually count shower units but on this occasion there were simply too many and besides, the blue glow emanating from pools beyond the shower area, were demanding my exploration.

the impressive 'cave'

In the distance, at the far end of the complex, I was attracted to the large ‘cave bath’ (동굴), the water of which was shimmering on the cave roof.  On the partitions between the sit-down showers, between which you walk to reach the pools, large crystalline ‘stones,’ appear to be lit from beneath, added to the subterranean atmosphere.  Three pools occupy the area before the ‘cave feature’ with various smaller pools on one side and four saunas on the other. The largest pool is a round warm-water pool but my favourite, located almost in one corner and portioned by glass, is a Dead Sea salt bath (사해소금방). The water is dark blue and the high salt content certainly made my body more buoyant.

one of Lavender's Sauna

Among the four saunas were, a steam sauna, and a salt sauna all constructed from either jade or some other ‘well-being’ material. There is also an ice room. However, the central feature of Goong-Cheon Lavender, are the two pools at the head of the pool complex which are designed like caves. Small windows provided enough light for real ivy to grow from the ‘rock formation’ walls and from the ceiling hang impressive, realistic stalactites. Both pools are cold, more suited for hot weather and one has a number of power showers useful for massaging an aching back.

a jewelry room

the ice sauna

the unique Dead Sea bath

Non-invasive lighting, various scents from the saunas such as rose, pine and mugwort plus beautifully soft and fresh smelling towels all enhance the atmosphere and though there is a television in one sauna, which is piped into other rooms, levels of noise are low.  Numerous pools also use silver ionised water which is subsequently microbe-free.

well worth a visit

Goong-Cheon Lavender also boasts sporting facilities, including general fitness, weight training, yoga and golf as well as a jjimjilbang equipped with various ‘jewellery’ rooms. Similar to the bathhouse saunas, these are rooms constructed out of stone or metal with ‘well-being’ qualities. A roof garden is also accessible from the jjimjilbang.  This is an impeccably clean and exciting complex to which I was welcomed in English. There is much to explore and the size, atmosphere and unique bathing experiences make this a great venue to relax. My only criticism… there were no bats!

Plan

Goong Jeon Lavender bathhouse design (male)

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang (찜질방) and bathhouse.

Facilities – women’s ‘bathhouse, jjimjilbang, men’s bathhouse, coffee shop, shoe shine, barbers, sports complex, belly dancing, aerobics, screen golf, massage, children’s play room, pc room, roof garden, yoga, etc

Jjimjilbang – (pending)

Bathhouse (men) – an extremely large stand-up and sit-down shower area. Cold pool cave, Dead Sea salt bath, Black Sea bath, silver ionised water, steam room, salt room, and various ‘jewelery rooms.’

Cost – bathhouse 5000 Won.

Others – hairdressers, massage and rub downs, parking, cafe..

Ambiance – very relaxing and friendly.

Waygukin –  None.

Address – Goong-Cheon is located a very short taxi ride from Dong Daegu Station (KTX). (Wikimap)

Goong-Cheon Lavender Homepage

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Learning to Love the ‘One Room’

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

Song-so, Daegu

 

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

 

My barred one-room, Daegu 2003

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

past and present

 

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

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

Links

Soft Cell: Bedsitter (link to youtube)

 

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