Elwood 5566

October 2002. (Korean Accounts 2)

Posted in Diary notes, Korean Accounts 2, Teaching by 노강호 on October 22, 2002

I had tonsillitis which kept me in bed for three days. I’ve never had tonsillitis before and it was pretty unpleasant. On the first evening I thought I was going to die – I was just freezing cold and couldn’t stop shivering. The next day I managed to go to the doctors – a friend of Mr Joe, who is an ear, nose and throat specialist. I went to him knowing he would contact Joe and tell him I was ill. I’ve taught the doctor’s son and daughter on many occasions. I love the Korean medical system as which doctor you go to depends on your ailment. There are cardiologists, neurologists, urologists etc all over the town. There must be fifty doctors within easy walking distance of my house. Anyway, Dr Um () had all the equipment for examining your throat and it more resembled a dentists than a doctors. He poked things onto my tonsils and sprayed stuff on them and I got a penicillin injection straight away. I then went back the next day for another one and within a few days the infection had cleared up.

On the Saturday I went with U Chun, Ga-in and U-no to a big clothes market in the city centre. It was massive as Daegu is a major textiles centre. There was everything and at quite good prices and quality. We ate lunch in a pulgogi restaurant and then I went back home to teach some private classes.  

I only have an hour of kindergarten a day but I absolutely hate them. I have five children aged 4 – Buddy, Betty, Anna, David and Jenny. Anna is a real macho little girl and I really like her and David is quite cute but the other girls are shut down and psychologically damaged – like so many Korean girls. Da Hae is still at the school, is still dribbling and still can’t really speak any English. I just go into the class, sit in my chair and call the kids to me, I have no interest or enthusiasm, I am not enthusiastic and I’m sure Sunny, the Korean teacher, thinks I’m a frigging moron. Sometimes the work for them is way too difficult. Today I had to read them a story and Buddy got really confused because the word ‘jet’ was used instead of airplane. I asked the Korean teacher to explain the confusion to him but she said we can’t speak Korean to them. If she hadn’t been there I would have explained in Korean but they really hate you talking any English in a class even if the kids don’t understand or are totally confused.  

I have been doing Taekwondo but have to train in the mornings at 7 0’clock. The place is always busy. I have found a relatively quiet place and this morning I saw a praying mantis up close. Ji-won’s final exams are looming and he is stressed out. Whoever heard of a stressed out 18 year old but he actually has a bad stomach due to it. David told me that twice a year Korean school kids are given envelopes to shit in and they have to take a sample of their crap to school so it can be tested. This week we had to celebrate Halloween which was funny as I moaned constantly about it being an example of American Imperialism. It seems all the kindergartens in Song-So were doing the same thing.  

I’ve eaten in a pogo restaurant several times. Pogo (복어) is puffer which can be poisonous and for which the chefs have to have a special licence.

POST-SCRIPT TO KOREAN ACCOUNTS PART 2

No further entries were made whilst in Korea. My timetable became so hectic that I had time for little else. The stress was quite crushing and I am surprised the journey to Korea did not make me ill. My bout of tonsillitis strained relationships between Mr Joe and I. During my five day illness, he never bothered to see how I was and nobody was sent to check on me. Indeed, he made several phone calls to my landlord to ask when I was coming to work. When I eventually went back to Di Dim Dol, he ‘ordered’ me back to work. ‘Ordered,’ was the actual word he used. I ended up having the most enormous row with him at the end of which I resigned.

My resignation didn’t really affect my trip and I resigned from the school in late December but remained on until Matt visited me in January. I actually returned to the UK the same day as Matt. If I remember rightly, Matt stayed with me in my apartment for 10 days. I seem to remember we left Korea on Sol () which is New Year’s Day. No further diary entries were made until 2006.

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

Written Nov 2002

Return to Korea (Korean Accounts 2. 2002-2003)

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Bathhouse, Diary notes, Korean Accounts 2 by 노강호 on September 29, 2002

I arrived back in Korea, in September 2002, after agreeing with Mr Joe that I would do a six month contract. After my former mistrust of Joe, it might surprise you I returned to work for him but I suppose my feelings towards him mellowed and in addition, I really wanted to return for an extended spell. In the year since I was last in Korea, much has changed. Now there are many more westerners than there were two years ago. The evidence of westernization is striking and there are even more Macdonald’s burger bars, Baskin Robbins ice cream parlours, Pizza Huts and Burger Kings. On the main road through Song So, that leads to Kemyoung University, in addition to the MacDonalds and KFC, there is now a Baskins Robbins parlour, a second one is presently being built, and a Pizza Hut. All these facilities are within a 10 minute walk of my front door. I am also sure that I am seeing more fat Korean kids than I did before.

I am living just around the corner from my old apartment and in fact I could have looked out my former bedroom window onto the side of the building I am now living in. This time I am in a one bedroom apartment which is next to a Chinese Medicine establishment and looking directly onto a barbecue restaurant and restaurant which is being built and as yet has not opened.

Pak Jun-hee and his family left the old restaurant where I spent every Saturday evening teaching Ji-won. I don’t think the restaurant, which was behind the Shin-woo (신우) supermarket on the main road leading directly down to the university, was bringing in custom.  They have moved to a restaurant just around the corner from where I live which is just a few doors down from the bakers and the Hapkido School. The restaurant is very small and sells pork (삼겹살) or beef barbecue. Even though the restaurant can be very busy, I think the returns are less than adequate and the family is struggling a little.

I have been up Warayong Mountain several times with Pak Jun-hee and though it is a struggle to get to the top it was well worth it. Warayoung is the mountain which lies directly behind Song So.  Last weekend was the Korean festival of Chu-sok and so we had Friday off. The weekend was a bit boring as all my Korean friends headed off to their family tombs. However on Sunday, after our mountain climb, Pak Jun-hee, took me to his house. It is in an apartment on the 10th floor of an apartment overlooking the street his restaurant is on. It was a special occasion as I have never been here before. The house was smallish but comfortable and as usual very open planned. There was a cabinet with a lot of liquor miniatures in them as Sun-hee collects these and then quite a few large jars, like parfait jars, with various fruits in them pickled in alcohol – these are Pak Jun-hee’s. Ji-won was really excited to see me and showed me his room – simply a bed on the floor, his work desk and books.  Apart from some teddy bears, his sister’s room was much the same – a complete lack of pop posters, fashionable clothes, music systems, computers and all the consumerist crap that western teenagers have to have. What was more interesting was that rather than their rooms being dens in which to hide themselves away and pretend to be individual – their rooms were completely open to the house. I don’t think privacy is such an important issue here. Sun-hee returned from town and cooked us some food and then I watched a Tarzan movie with Ji-won and his sister. This week Pak Jun-hee started a new job. In the mornings he goes to work on a construction site. He leaves home at 6am, returns home at 6pm (all for around 30 pounds a day), and then in the evening works in his restaurant which Sun-hee closes at around 4 am. They are saving money for Ji-won to go to university. What a life! And I moan at having to work anymore than 6 hours a day.

The exam period for middle school kids (13-15 years old) is here and it so noticeable; the streets are teeming with kids going to and from the Hakwons. They study in these until 11 or 12 pm and in Di Dim Dol, my school; they can buy cakes and noodles because they do not have time to eat a meal at home. I have had several private classes cancelled though I still get paid for the lesson. This week in the elementary schools (7-12 year olds) sports day and as always everything in Korea happens at the same time. The kids sit in classes with stamps on their arm telling you whether they came 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the various competitions – running, jumping, dancing etc.

At the moment my routine is really good; in the morning I study Korean, then I go for lunch, then to the mokyuktang (Han Song), and then work. I finish work at 8 pm, go straight to Pak Jun-hee’s to eat and at 10 pm I do some private lessons. My Korean and Hanja are really improving. I sat in the green tea bath at the mokyuktang on Friday talking, to an old man and managed to learn that he was 68, weighed 65 kilos, was 1 meter 60 tall, had three sons, one which lived in the USA, that he was a grandfather and had been the Los Angeles. We got talking as he said he recognised me from another mokyuktang bath house and the whole interaction excited me as he spoke no English at all.

Several times a week U-chun and I meet up and spend time chatting in a restaurant. We have been visiting this place which sells oysters – nothing but oysters and for around £10 pounds you can have a big meal for two – usually something like oyster tempura, smoked oysters and oyster soup served with a variety of salads, kimchees and ray fish in spicy sauce. (This restaurant was originally a North Korean restaurant that we visited on our first get together, back in 2000. I re-visited for oysters, several times in 2009 but it has since closed.)

Yesterday David and I went down to the part of Song-so near Kemiyoung University. I wanted to buy a CD as I have been listening to the same music for almost six weeks. Then we went to this excellent restaurant down near the university. It was supposed to be a Spanish style place but there was nothing Spanish about it at all. The place was really weird – just a sort of cocktail bar and restaurant with nothing but sofas and tables. A rather large room just filled with big comfy sofas. David (이영선) said Korean’s think this place is western and he was surprised at my expression when we entered because it isn’t western at all. We ate squid and octopus fried rice and Japanese style pork cutlet.

I do get a bit pissed off at the way Koreans laugh whenever I try to speak Korean. Even U-chun will sometimes have a little giggle. In a private class the other day, I mentioned my arm was sore and the two boys burst into a fit of giggling. One of the boys, Kim Young-jun (김영준) is a bit slow at telling the time and I told U-chun (유천) that he’s a bit slow. She teaches him maths privately. ‘Oh! He’s stupid.” she said. ‘I regularly have to hit him or make him stand in the corner of my front room with his arms above his head.’

Like I said, everything was going well but in Korean things can always change. On Monday, I discovered that the Tasmanian teachers in Di Dim Dol, Matt and Debbie, had done a bunk and left the country over the week-end. Well, now I have been told that tomorrow and until further notice, I must work the hours 10-12am, 1-2pm, 3-8pm! I wasn’t too pleased. When I got home I went to Pak Jun-hee’s and he could tell I was angry but he calmed me down. Later I decided to write a letter and outline my concerns. In the morning I didn’t go to work and handed the letter to Keith as he went to the kindergarten. I then met U-chun and we spent the morning at Baskin and Robbins. A bit of ice cream cheered me up. I had told the school I wouldn’t be going to work until 3pm and that I would work their hours for 2 weeks and then decide what I was going to do. When I went to school, Nell the kindy head, called me into her office to discuss things. The turnout was that I have a slightly longer break in the afternoon but to be honest the quality of my life is shit. Now I work 10-12am, 1-2, 3.50pm or 4.35-8pm. I don’t really have time to do anything substantial and there is no time to train as by the time I get home there is really only enough time to eat, socialise or study for an hour and then go to bed. The problem is Joe is running two schools with one set of teachers and things will get worse in October and November when Nana and Wendy leave.

There has been a lot of stuff on the TV here about five boys who disappeared 11 years ago. Anyway, the boys are known as the ‘frog boys’ (개구리 소년) because on the day they disappeared, they were going to collect frogs. They lived right behind where I live and went into the Warayoung Mountain where they disappeared. There have been loads of police around and several thousand soldiers were drafted in as the boys bodies have been discovered buried and with what might potentially be bullet holes in their skulls. For the last few weeks they have been gradually piecing together each boy’s skeleton. One boy’s coat was tidied at the cuffs. It’s on the TV every evening and has gripped the nation as it has been a mystery here what happened to them and of course the boys’ parents have been on TV. It has been very sad.

When I ask Koreans about this incident they approach it in quite a strange way. I think events like this are so rare that they don’t really have a rationale for them. When I ask Koreans what they think happened I get responses like, ‘they were murdered’, or even stranger, ‘perhaps they were murdered.’ Really!?’ To suggest the boys might have been sexually abused isn’t the first or even second conclusion Koreans come to. The police seem to have had a history of naivety in the investigation. A few weeks ago they suggested the boys had frozen on the mountain despite it being March when they disappeared and them being not too far from home. (The fact they were buried didn’t seem to make any difference.) The boys were found in an area that at one time was close to an army training camp and they now think that a boy may have been accidentally shot by a soldier and then the other boys shot to cover up the incident up.

I went for 4 sessions of acupuncture on my arm as I have had a slight pulled muscle in it for several months. In total the treatment cost me £30 pounds this being exactly 4 times cheaper than getting treatment in Wivenhoe plus several sessions lasted over 2 hours. Now I know why Korean doctors have empty offices as all the problems which clog up the western surgery, the back problems, pulled muscles, etc all go to traditional centres in search of relief. Let’s face it; western doctors are crap at dealing with such problems. Anyway, the treatment seems to have worked but what was most interesting was that I had had another strain in my back which has niggled me for nearly two years. I had treatment earlier in the year back in the UK and after two sessions with there was no improvement. I didn’t notice popping when they manipulated my spine. The Korean doctor, using exactly the same technique, popped my entire spine and the problem disappeared.

I haven’t seen too much of Ji-won as in less than four weeks he has his exams and the whole of Korea is counting down until the day they begin. These exams are known as the ‘goa sam su neung’  (고삼수능) and are the final year exams of high school students.  For very many young Koreans this will be one of the most important days of their lives. We went to the PC rooms (PC 방) last week and they had to ask me if I gave Ji-won permission to be there as it is illegal for under 19 years old’s to be in them after 10pm. I have also found out that in some schools, boys are not allowed to have hair more than 3cm long and it is not to be dyed. They are also not allowed to wear trousers any narrower than 7cm at the ankle. Ji-won told me one of his friends was beaten for having highlights in his hair when it was in fact grey streaks -yes – some Korean kids have natural grey streaks in their hair and there is a Korean term for this. One of my private students, Hyun-min (현민), arrived at my apartment barely able to walk. His hair had been more than three centimetres long and so he, and a few other boys, had to strip down to their boxers and run around the sports five times and then do fifty squats. Hyun-min (현민) is 18!

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

Written Sept 2002

Blue Belt Grading – May 1-16th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Bathhouse, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on May 1, 2001

On Saturday, I met U-chun. During the period of the middle school exams she is working seven days a week and this situation will continue in all hagkwons until May 12th when the exams finish. She works from 2pm until midnight on six days a week and on Sundays works from 9am until 3pm. I am writing this diary On May 1st which is a public holiday for Buddha’s birthday but as you can expect, the hagkwon teachers are working today, as are many of their pupils. None of them will get a day’s holiday in lieu which is so typically Korean.

We wandered around E-Mart for a while so I could question her on what is what. It was my turn to buy lunch today and I chose a restaurant near MacDonalds, one I had passed many times before and one where you sat at tables and not on the floor. I never find sitting on the floor comfortable as I can’t get my long legs under the low tables. We ordered a seafood meal which was cooked at our table in large frying pans built into the table. The meal looked fairly Klingon but tasted very good. First the chef put water in the pan and then a massive stack of seafood consisting of crab, prawn, squid, squid roe, shellfish and octopus. This was topped with vegetables and red pepper paste. There was easily enough for four people and when the pan was half empty some noodles were added to it. The meal took us over an hour to eat and as U-chun had to go back to school, we left quite a bit. It was a pricey meal costing 24000W (£15) but we really enjoyed it.

The video player in our house, which is a pile of shit and has been playing up ever since I have been here, eventually died after I bashed it with my fist. A cassette was left in it and to get it out we had to dismantle it rather forcefully. However, Mr Joe replaced it without any questions; but of course, the replacement video isn’t new and is the size and weight of a computer hard drive. It must be at least ten years old. Matt is pleased as his sole entertainment is lying in bed, (even when it’s hot), with a packet of cigarettes, a bottle of coke, some Pringles and a couple of videos.

every day as my mini-bus passed an apartment, this little boy would bow

I went to Pak Ji-won’s this evening. He was really excited as he is off on his school picnic this week. He is spending four days at Mount Sorak in the north east of the peninsula, not too far from the 38th parallel. It is the third highest mountain in Korea. Although Ji-won’s is almost 18 (17 UK age), he was like a little boy looking forward to Christmas. I happened to bump into him and his class mates as they were shopping at E-Mart, on Sunday. They had two trolleys full of apples, oranges, Korean crisps and coke. I did my shopping and as I was leaving the supermarket I noticed them waiting outside the store entrance. Ji-won’s wasn’t with them and I sat opposite and observed them for a little. I tried hard to imagine what it must be like to be a Korean teenager going on your one big school trip. Korean and western cultures are so different that it is impossible for a westerner to become Korean. Ten years living in France, Germany or the USA would be enough to make you a native, provided you immersed yourself in that culture but too many differences exist between Korean and the west. Many of these differences are born out of childhood socialization. The boys were all excited in a way only Korean kids can be. Affectionately, they draped themselves over each other. I wondered how much this excitement was scripted knowing that once schooling is finished life becomes even more prescriptive, regimented and seconded to work. As much as I respect and admire and have fallen in love with the Korean psyche, I find their lives horribly myopic: the nightmare of schooling, which for Ji-won’s is some seventy hours of study a week, the brief reprise of university followed by army service for the boys, followed by the bondage of marriage. I really think that in Korea, education, like football in the west, has become one of the main forms of social control.

I am still going to the mokyuktang several times a week and still enjoy it. I have discovered the various types of pools and the properties they are supposed to have. Both mokyuktang I use have green tea baths which are believed to be good for the skin. There is usually also a herb bath as well as a bubbly Jacuzzi. I am now completely relaxed preening myself in the drying area where I put on hair gel, clean my ears with cotton buds and help myself to the various skin creams and skin bracers. All this is performed naked and in a roomful of other preening men. I even dry my balls with the hair dryer, something I have learnt from observation though I haven’t directed it up my arse which is something I have seen several men do. I am able to stay in the sauna much longer than when I first started – even when it is over 100 degrees. One mokyuktang provides a huge pot of salt in the steam room which you rub all over your body. In another steam room I often sit on the floor cross legged or do stretching exercises as the heat is conducive to stretching. Stretching exercise is regularly practised by young and old alike in the steam room.

I had only had my purple belt about twelve days when I was told I would be grading for my blue belt. In fact, I have only worn my purple belt three times and had washed it over the weekend to take the stiffness out of it. I was training during the week when there was a pre-grading class and everyone was asked to run through their patterns. Though I knew my pattern well, (대국), there were some errors that needed ironing out. Master Bae, the head instructor, took me through it and pointed out a few minor errors and told me I would be performing the pattern the following evening. He then told me I would be taking my black belt exam in August or perhaps a little earlier.

Now I have got to say that some of the kids in Di Dim Dol treat me strangely. I think some of them find it odd having a coloured belt training beside them who is old enough to be their father. If you do come across adults in the dojang are either instructors or black belts. In one of my classes in Di Dim Dol school there is a boy called Jake who was in a few of my first Taekwondo classes. I suppose he is about 13 and naturally, he is a black belt. In an English class it emerged I did Taekwondo at the Songham School and I could deduce from the conversation he was having that he peers were asking him what belt I wore. Well, he quite took the piss out of me and mimicked to them I was stiff and couldn’t kick well. It hurt me a little and I was annoyed as some of the kids were laughing. As he was leaving the class I pulled him to one side and thrust the Songham oath in his face. I made him repeat some of the lines which referred to mutual respect, team spirit and working together. He was embarrassed, put his head down and apologised. Then there is another boy called Jordan who I have taught several times and is another black belt. Even though we have trained in the same Taekwondo class he refuses to say hello to me. Whenever he sees me he looks at me as if I am mad. I ran through my patterns thirty times on the day of the grading and as I am one of the lowest belts in the class, I was called up fairly early in the grading. Well, I was really on form and I performed a really powerful pattern with a massive ‘kia’ at the conclusion which quite made the youngsters sat close to me jump. My ‘kia’ had been pretty Pathetic until fairly recently. Anyway, Master Bae said something after I had finished and the whole class applauded me. Afterwards, the little Fat kid who can’t do sit-ups came up, held his thumb up and said, ‘poomse choayo.’ (‘good pattern’). Then Jordan, the boy who had never spoken to make, came up to me and bowed. Ever since this, whenever he arrives or leaves my lessons at Di Dim Dol School, the waves and smiles at me.

I am now fitter than I have ever been since I took my black-belt in 1982. In some ways I am fitter. I cannot believe how terribly unfit I was when I arrived in Korea as a big fat blob. My experience here is quietly unfolding and it is an experience that I have people interested in Martial arts dream of. It was a pure fluke I came to Korea at all and I could have ended up in any number of countries. I don’t think it’s pretentious that and I give myself a lot of credit and respect for the way in which I walked into a Korean Taekwondo school looking like a lump of lard, surrounded by kiddies and teenagers and set about undertaking a training regime which humiliated me. My only response to this was to grin stupidly and try harder.

On Friday evening Ryo Hyu-sun took me to Woobang Tower Park. First we went to McDonald’s and had a burger and then we walked around the park for several hours. There were loads of young people skateboarding and roller blading. Just as you’d expect here, they were peaceful, un-offensive and friendly. We had a coffee at one of the park cafes and I saw a couple of men who were most certainly gay. It certainly made me realize how miss gay company as I haven’t met or spoken to a gay person since I’ve been here. One couple walked past me. One of the men, perhaps in his late twenties or thirties was dressed like John Travolta and wore a white suit. He had a hairdo and a very camp, practiced lip pout. He walked with an incredibly pouncy wiggle and I would have excused his effeminacy had he not been carrying this tiny little handbag dog. Handbag dogs are very fashionable here and even Dong-soo (박동수), my Taekwondo instructor, wants one. However, the fact that the dog had fluffy ears that were dyed pink aroused my suspicions.  Right now, I’d love to have some gay company, even those horribly superficial gays that I usually detest back home.

In Yong San Dong I had the morning of cleaning up piss, which I must say, is something rare here. First of all, Dong-seop wet himself. He performed his usual stint of pissing into his trousers at the urinal; then I got back to my classroom to discover little Song-joon looking flustered and gripping his dick. Then I notice he is sat in a puddle of piss so I have to take him to the toilet, wash him and get him to change his pants and trousers. He has the most amazingly tiny pecker but I shouldn’t mention this as it is lynching material in the west. But hey! This is Korea and the day’s not over. Next, I have to get a bucket and cloth and mop up the piss on and around his seat. I have to stress, piss problems are very rare in Korea kindergarten classes and only ever seem to be experienced by boys. Just as I finish this is Matt and Amy, (a Korean teacher), come into my class and ask me to look at a boys balls. He had just been kicked between the legs, was holding himself and crying.

‘ Why can’t you do it?’ I ask. Matt begs me to do it goading me with the fact I know something about balls and first aid. We pull the boys pants down and I make a private joke to Matt about the antics of Monsieur Jelle Fangre as I’m checking the lad still has two balls. One of them has disappeared so we bounce him up and down on his heels until it reappears. After that he is fine and within minutes he is running around. When I wrote these diary notes up, back in the UK and some years later, I was tempted to edit this experience simply as we have a total obsession with anything to do with the bodies of little kids. If an English toddler suffered the same experience nobody would help them for fear of accusations – even if there were a crowd of adults present. Personally, I do not think this an attitude reflects a caring society. On several occasions I know Becky, my niece, has been left to sit nursing a painful splinter as no member of staff are allowed to touch her. Kids are left suffering until a parent arrives.

On Saturday U-chun and I found a really nice Japanese restaurant which specializes in pork fillet served with pickles, sauce and udong noodles. The restaurant is new and typically Japanese with contrasting black and white colours and minimalist use of furniture. A group of boys came in and had a birthday party during which they sang the Korean version of ‘Happy Birthday’ which is sung to the same tune we use in the west.

In the evening I met Pak Ji-won who told me all about his picnic in Mount Sorak. Jun-hee had put two bottles of soju in his bag and this behaviour seems pretty standard as a right of passage. Ji-won was very animated as he told me how he and his friends got a little drunk and how he fell over a friend’s bed and almost got caught by his teachers. He told me one of his friend’s was sick on another friend as they slept in bed. He told me how Korean students will remember the High School picnic for the rest of their lives – ‘until the day they die,’ were his exact words, spoken in English. He said this without any severity or weight and  in a way only the young can talk about death. Jun-hee, his father, meets up with his old school friends every six months and there have been occasions when I have since met his childhood friends. This practice is standard among Korean males at least who refer to their closest childhood friends as ‘gochu chingoo’ (고추친구). ‘Gochu’ (고추) is the Korean word for a ‘chilli pepper’ but it is also a simile for a penis. I believe it is still a tradition in Korea, though not necessarily widely practiced nowadays, to hand a bunch of chillies on the front door of a house when a boy is born.  ‘Chingoo’ (친구) is the Korean for ‘friend’ or ‘circle’ and so the phrase can be translated as ‘penis friends.’  Jun-hee told me all his old friends know what each other’s dick is like. I am sort of detecting that nakedness in Korea is seen to promote a deeper level of friendship between two people naturally as a result of the sharing of intimate experiences. Jun-hee and Ji-won keep asking me to accompany them to the mokyuktang. I certainly sense I have a different level of friendship with U-no and Lee Seong-gyu, both with whom I have bathed with. Even men who I don’t know but recognise from the mokyuktang all say hello to me in the street; one man even squeezed my arm as he last saw me. Nudity is certainly a wonderful social leveler.

I had a long chat with Pak Dong-soo during his weekly English lesson, this time about his experiences in the army. It sounded ghastly! Six weeks of basic training in winter and all living in one tent next to a river in which they drank and bathed. A week of exercise, a week of intensive Taekwondo training, a week of making bobby-traps and a week of shooting fire arms. Every day included strenuous runs. Interestingly alcohol, in the Korean army, is illegal!

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

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