Elwood 5566

Ben – Korean Teenagers (2) and other stuff…

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, Gender, Korean children by 노강호 on June 9, 2010

Japanese youth icons: 'Camp' is not a universal recognition

I’m always intrigued by the campness and expressions of skinship displayed by Korean men and boys. In a class today, Mark, one of my 16-year-old students was leaning across his desk to write his name on a sheet of paper. Meanwhile, two boys behind him start stroking his arse and putting their fingers in the waistband of his boxers, his shirt having ridden up to expose them. Mark doesn’t even twitch even as one of the lads put his hand right under his crotch. Earlier in the lesson, and this has happened on more than one occasion, I noticed Mark’s arm behaving in a very suspicious manner in the proximity of the boy’s lap sat next to him. Of course, any suspicions are solely in my own dirty western imagination as Korean teenagers always appear to be totally innocent  in terms of sexual behaviour.

I remember when I taught a class of 13-14 years olds in a British Boys’ school and was constantly noticing lads with erections. So prolific were these manifestations I nicknamed the class, ‘erection city.’ And boys wanking in class?  One of my colleagues, a female teacher, walked around the side of a boy’s desk only to see him, grinning in a manner that suggested he anticipated some erotic development, with his erection exposed and being toyed in his hand. There were even occasions when I  caught boys with their hands on the front of each others  trousers. There was an obsession with penises and sex throughout the school and even the head teacher, a seedy character, used to shower with Year 9 boys when the weather was hot, or interrogate them in lessons about issues such as masturbation and puberty. Penises were everywhere, drawn on desks, scrawled on walls, in books and constantly referred to.  Some went beyond scrawling  and  meticulous in detail, were clearly the result of  much study, observation and affection.

I used to teach religious education and the class text books we used had penises graffitied in appropriate places wherever possible. When they couldn’t be inserted naturally they were simply drawn sprouting from foreheads.  And distance was no barrier for these fantastical phalli;  even when bodies were at the extremes of opposing pages, immense penises connected them. I kept a copy of the most graffitied text-book as the creativity and imagination of the boys was staggering.  In parts I was reminded of Hieronymus Bosch’s, Garden of Earthly Delights, which in the boys’ hormone-fired imagination, was exactly the landscape they were trying to express.

Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights

One of the photos depicted a priest offering a kneeling woman Holy Communion. What idiot designs a school book with such a photo! If boys hadn’t already graffitied the page, I would have to have done it on their behalf. So, a great monster of a penis miraculously sprouted from the front of his cassock, meandered into a suitable position to be held in his hand, obliterating the communal wafer and finally, was plugged into the woman’s face. More in line with the Catholic Clergies clandestine predilection for young lads, a more topical candidate might have been a kneeling boy. Meanwhile, the flanking attendants and congregation were suitably adorned with penises sprouting from under cassocks and from their foreheads. And in the air, a small chorus of  body-less penises, hovering like wingless angels,  jettisoned copious ejaculate wherever faces were visible and gagged and subsequently force-fed any open mouth. Manna from heaven! Graffitied cocks are seldom seen in Korea and personally, I’ve only seen three.

'Obscene' Korean graffiti - a rarity

In the UK, Ben, one of my students and an adorable boy, would be bullied for being a little faggot. Earlier in the year he dropped 2 marks from his English paper, scoring 98%. In the west, and rightly so, that’s an achievement worth celebrating but in Korea, if it’s not 100% it’s basically a fail. Even in essay competitions students who don’t win first, second, or third, will tell you they failed. Despite being the cream of their school and competing at province level, anything other than gold, silver or bronze is a failure. Distraught and ashamed, Ben spent an entire evening sitting alone, crying. Apprehensive about facing his parents, my boss had to comfort him and then drive him home. On this occasion, his ‘kibun’ was so damaged he couldn’t talk to me for several days.


More recently, he’s been quite excited. His dad has promised to buy him a puppy if he does well in the end of semester exams. Ben is ecstatic and is bouncing around the school like an amphetamine doped gazelle. ‘A puppy, a puppy,’ his constant cry. I’m thinking: a fucking puppy!  The boy’s sixteen and he’s totally thrilled by the prospect. In the UK, his mind would be polluted with plans to simultaneously get pissed and loose his virginity.

Faggoty is fashionable!

My school, like my last high school is full of faggoty boys. One is a local champion in ballroom dancing. He’s 14  and always  turns up at school meticulously dressed. He often wears a pair of trainers with laces the colour of his top. He obviously has a stash of  coloured laces at home and I’ve noted his array include green, red, yellow and blue. Like many Korean students who don’t use a back pack, he uses a bag which is fairly common, and nothing short of a big handbag.  Usually, he’ll mince into school with an arm extended like a tea-pot and from the crux of his elbow dangles his bag appropriately emblazoned with the logo,  ‘Kamp.’ Last week he had a new pair of silver trainers and a matching black and silver baggy top with large lapels. I didn’t particularly like the top’s design as it reminded me of 80’s fashions and the clothes Wham used to parade in when singing  shit  like, Wake Me up Before you Go-Go. Besides ballroom dancing, he has a third degree taekwondo black-belt!


Have you noticed the mincy little walk many Korean men have? The first time I saw a teenage boy mince, I was quite amused. I’ve since realised that mincing, basically walking with little steps while swinging the hips a little, is the product of wearing open back sandals. In my last high school boys had to wear sandals in school and there really is no better tool  adept at  emasculating males. If you want to feminise or at least androgynise men or teenage boys, simply force them to wear sandals, the type that have no back to them. You can’t run in them without taking small steps and as a result you shuffle along like a Geisha. Running up or down stairs is positively dangerous. In the same way you dispose a girl to femininity  by making her wear a skirt and subsequently deterring her from the rough and tumble of boys pursuits,  you emasculate boys with a pair of sandals. As a result, many Korean men mince  even when wearing shoes.

Jason is another student I have taught for almost two years. He’s a quiet boy aged about 15 and who talks in a whisper. A few weeks ago he was asked to write an essay on what he would do if he could do anything he wanted, for one evening. His response eventually concluded with spending the night in a luxury hotel, and ordering room service to deliver him steak and lobster. My western brain clicked into action: 15-year-old boy in a hotel? on his own? lots of money? – naughty, naughty!  Risky Business and all that stuff! But Jason avoided the alcohol, call girls and his luxury evening ended by watching TV, and having a double bed. ‘Double bed!’ I repeated suggestively. ‘Why do you want a double bed?’ I asked. His response was typically Korean; ‘to sleep in!’ ‘I laughed and was going to explain why, which of course is futile. Prostitutes, shagging, throwing parties when mummy and daddy are away, getting pissed – are all phenomena which exist at the furthest corner of Jacob’s universe. That’s where they belong until he is 19! The Garden of Earthly Delights, for a Korean student isn’t dependent  on sex, alcohol  or defying parents and all that is required to pave the way to paradise is no school and no homework! Meanwhile faggoty is fashionable, and mincy and kamp are cool and civilised.

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Bathhouse Basics 3: The Italy Towel

The Italy Towel. (이타리 타월)

Other than water, the Italy towel is probably the most universal item in a bathhouse and in some quarters, “Korea Design Heritage 2008,” has been ranked as number 5 among items over the last 50 years, which have defined Korea.  Apparently, Gil Pil-gon who ran a textile factory in Pusan, discovered the cloths’ ex-foliating properties in a piece of  fabric imported from Italy. The rest, as they say, is history.

Defining icons, food delivery boxes, Nong-Shin ramyon and the Italy Towel.

Though available in a range of colours, the predominant colour is ‘silver,’ which is actually the green one.  In addition, they all seem to be made by the same company, BC Choi and hence, the towels, manufactured in Korea, are 100% Korean! Like sandpaper, Italy Towels come in different gradients and these are denoted by the colour. ‘Pink is the least abrasive, followed by ‘silver’ (green) with the most abrasive and capable of removing the deepest ingrained grime, being yellow.

Other colours are manufactured, including red. The green one is actually described as 'silver.'

Italy towels are not to be confused with the larger version cloth which is also supplied in a bathhouse and which is usually red.

The larger, and milder, ex-foliating cloth

What typifies the Italy Towel is its size. My hand barely fits into it. The cloth is used to scrub the skin, usually in one direction, top to bottom and in straight lines and if used effectively a line of gray, dead skin is produced. The towel is fairly abrasive and needs to be used with caution on the face. Minimal soap is used in order to maximise the towel’s abrasive quality. Koreans will scrub their entire body with this cloth in a process which can last well over an hour.

If anyone accompanies you to the bathhouse, a friend or relative, it is natural for you to scrub each-other’s back. Usually you sit behind the person whose back you a rubbing,  though people sometimes stand. For men, that your ‘partners’ dick is dangling in you face is no  more of an issue than any other part of their body. Between men, one of the defining features of a ‘go-ch’u-ch’ingu’ (고추 친구),  literally translated as a  ‘penis friend,’ basically a close friend, is that penises are ‘acknowledged’ rather than  shunned with fear. It is this tacit, sometimes even verbalised  ‘acknowledgment’ which helps define a close, male relationship.  In the western male, heterosexual psyche, a penis is threatening and  ‘acknowledging’ your male friend has ‘one,’ seeing ‘it,’ talking about ‘it,’ and even being too close ‘it,’   have  the potential to terrify.  It is not at all uncommon to see a row of school boys or students all sat in a chain as they have their backs scrubbed while scrubbing the back of the person in front. Between family members the towel is used  much more intimately and again, it is  very common to see parents and children mutually scrubbing each other’s entire body. This is not restricted to small children.  Mutual cleaning and the intimacy involved are an expression of the concept of ‘skinship.’

How often one should use the Italy Towel is a personal preference. If used frequently, the process can rub-away body hair – though I wouldn’t recommend this as a method of waxing. Some Koreans use it every few days, others once a week. Perhaps the best guide is simply whether or not you have a layer of skin which needs removing. I use a pumice stone on my feet regularly and if no skin is being removed I stop the process – this is perhaps the best guide to using the Italy Towel.

I have noticed that you can scrub yourself meticulously and regularly with the larger, less abrasive towel, the one usually provided free in all bathhouses, and that this does not remove dead skin with the effect of the Italy Towel. I was very surprised when after a period of not using an Italy Towel, a friend scrubbed my back and arms and then made a joke about how dirty I was. It is surprising what that little towel removes.

Unlike the larger cloth and towels for drying, the Italy Towel has to be purchased, costing about 1000 Won. I usually keep one for months at a time and have even seen the odd person use ones discarded in the used towel bin.

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I Touch Kiddies and I'm Proud of it! (Eulogy for Children's Day)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Korean children by 노강호 on May 5, 2010

podcast 16

In the Ebente-tang (이벤트탕) the aroma of the day is jasmine. I now play this game where I try to guess the scent before looking at the  information board. I got it wrong today but then I have a slight cold. For the second time in 2 weeks I saw an older guy with a snood. Anyway, I was thinking…

Not suitable for pumpkin people! (click)

Betty and Becky are two small kids I teach three times a week. Betty is the most adorable little girl you could ever meet. She is always impeccably dressed, usually in her little school uniform of matching gray skirt, jumper and blue blazer and her hair is  usually decorated with some form of hair clip, a sequined butterfly or a flower. Around her neck hangs the customary mobile phone, stark pink with a little teddy bear suspended from it, as is the fashion. She is always laughing and skipping and incredibly happy.

Recently she has been playing the ‘ddong chip game’ (‘똥  injection’) which a few weeks ago I thought must have gone out of fashion until I noticed a couple of boys playing it. This ‘game,’ more of a gesture than a game,  consists of clasping the hands together and extending the index fingers. The custom is to adopt a sort of James Bond stance, holding the clasped hands like a gun, and then poke your index fingers up your victim’s arse. It’s common for kids to do this to teachers. This week however, Betty has struck me twice in the testicles.  The problem is, she has a habit of jumping out from a doorway so that she is under my belly and I can’t see her, at which point she strikes and runs away, giggling. Obsessed with  my hairiness, she constantly strokes my arms, or feels the stubble on my chin and today after a hair cut, she wanted to stroke my head. Sometimes she sits on my knee or hugs my leg, her face almost in my crotch… Beginning to think I’m a paedophile?  If so, that’s actually quite a sad indictment of our society.

As a westerner configured and attuned to sickening sexual predilections, as all westerners are, at this point I feel compelled to offer some defence. You know the kind of crap: ‘I’m not a perv but…..’.  In Britain you can  no longer make ‘statements’ such as: ‘I love children….’ ‘I touch children…’  I like the affection of children…’ without having to subsequently proffer some heavy mitigation to  annihilate any suspicions.  It’s a crazy situation which has been allowed to develop because  electorates are poorly educated in subjects that matter to civilization and easily coaxed and coached to hysteric proportions.  As with all the witch-hunts of the past, professionals have done little or nothing to challenge  proceedings  until a point is reached where  a profession actually emerges to ensure the paranoia remains; a sort of official ‘Witch-Finder General Body’, which will poke and inflame fears and very successfully accuse, or suggest all opposition, especially professional opposition, as a manifestation of the problem itself. Hence, to defend a witch is to be a witch, and to critique paedo-paranoia suggests one is themselves a paedophile. ‘I love animals…,’ ‘ I love the affection of animals…,’ ‘I touch animals…’ needs no mitigation!  Paedo-paranoia, as an ideology and profession which seeks perversion in everything, is as offensive, anti-social and unnatural as the abuse it seeks to prevent.

Betty’s behaviour is totally normal and no Korean would see anything amiss in her physical intimacy with adults. Earlier this week, in a class with two older boys, probably about 10 and 11, I had to lift up my shirt to let them scrutinize the scar across my navel where I had an umbilical hernia repair. Neither did they wait for me to consent before starting to tug my shirt out of my trousers.  On another occasion an older boy who had an allergic reaction to something, pulled off his shirt and asked me to scratch his back and a few weeks later, the same boy asked me to put drops in his sore eye. Patting your stomach, stroking your arms, and playing with your fingers or hand are all regular, natural occurrences which should, in a predominantly healthy society, be associated with our being  human and mammalian. Older kids will give you massages and play with you in a manner I have never witnessed in a British school and which would certainly lead to an interview with management. As for my Korean boss, I’ve seen her on the floor wrestling both girls and boys and I’ve seen a boy give her husband a massage on his thigh, very close to his groin,  after he pulled a muscle. All totally natural ! Those whose minds have been poisoned with all that western crap, and from which I am not excluded, supposedly premised on love but in practice totally the opposite and in which everyone,  especially men, are  potential molesters, are likely to see such behaviour as suspect. Of course , child abuse goes on in Korea,  probably more than we  are aware off.  But thankfully, during my life time, social relationships in Korea will not be perversified and terrorized to an extent where every adult is a demon and every touch between adult and child  a  potential case of abuse, to the same obsessive level it currently enjoys back home. I like contact with kids and see it as a part of natural, human relationships. If  indeed the sexual abuse of kids is so high in the west, it is perhaps time we reevaluated either western human sexuality or human sexuality itself.  Let’s face it, compared to Korean society, many facets  of western life are fucking messed!  Teenage pregnancy, sex diseases,  anti-intellectualism, gross male machoism,  rampant crime and violence.

In the UK in August 2007, a company launched Kevlar  padded school uniforms to protect children from knife attacks.  Perhaps our sexualities are fucked, too? The way we dress our daughters would suggest paedophilia is a prevalent predilection much closer to home rather than an offbeat obsession of strangers.  What Daddy wants to see their daughter dressed like a tart? Clearly, many! Currently, in the  UK, much debate is raging about Primark’s marketing of a padded bra / bikini for 8 year old’s! This joins similar promiscuous products of tweeny-hood such as thongs for six-year old’s emblazoned with two cherries and the caption ‘Eat Me!‘ (Argos)  Marks and Spencer’s, ‘Angel ‘ range of thongs for 7 year old’s  and the pole dancing kit for kiddies.

Of course, when you try to explain to Koreans about the sicker side of western society, the crime, teenage pregnancy, anti-intellectualism, the high rates of teenage infection by sexually transmitted diseases, the promiscuity, our obsession with sex etc, etc, it is rarely really comprehended. Several years ago I was in a bathhouse with my Korean friend, David. It was a hot and sticky afternoon in August and we’d gone to a mogyotang (목요탕) to cool off in the cold pool. As it was the  summer vacation there were a number of children present including a 12-year-old American boy who was on his own. A 12-year-old boy naked and alone in a public place! In the UK, paedo-paranoia is so great kids can’t even go to school alone let loiter in a bathhouse unaccompanied and nude. For a  while we played with a couple of small boys, flipping them into the air with clasped hands in which they put a foot. The American boy, whom we’d chatted with for a little, sat on the edge of the activity and at one point, David tried to encourage him to join in. When David touched the boy’s shoulder I noticed him tense up and I had to explain that for westerners, such physical intimacy is uncomfortable. It was a miracle the boy was in a bathhouse in the first place.

Childrens Day

Physical intimacy for westerners is now predominantly perceived as a sexual act which means that innocent intimacy, especially  between adult and child, is branded suspect and a potential grooming process which could lead to sexual abuse. And if professionals such as social workers, teachers, the police, etc, aren’t enforcing paedo-paranoia,  they are mute in any criticism of it.  Indeed many teachers and other professionals will encourage paedo-paranoia.

Occasionally, though perhaps more so in the past, grandparents or relatives tweaked small kids between the legs, more so boys than girls, sometimes as a game and other times if checking the gender of a baby, and when this was witnessed by a foreign teacher in a school in which I taught several years ago, I found her crying hysterically in an adjoining office. She was adamant this was sexual abuse and wanted to know where she could report the incident. That this was a foreign country with different values and that  it was not a sexual act, fell on deaf ears.  One only has to talk to a professional involved in ‘child protection’ to sense their sickened mind-set, that everyone is suspect, that every intimate gesture must be scrutinized and that it is a perversion which is rife throughout society. In such discussions one always feels judged, that you too must be ‘one’ and hence the intense need to mitigate yourself. Krystalnacht, the Salem Witch Trials, the persecution of women in the middle ages, the Spanish Inquisition, McCarthyism,  all were spurned and inspired by the babble, conflation and hyperbole of ‘professional’ witch-finders.

Physical intimacy with students or Koreans doesn’t phase me and if you think it’s just kids that are so lax about bodies, body proxemics and touching, it’s not. Several years ago a friend of mine who is totally heterosexual, asked to see my dick.  There was a reason, non sexual, which I will save for a later post, but I had to take it out for him to inspect. He had just delivered my lunch  and the steaming mandu were on the table between the two of us as I unzipped.    Then, almost as if returning a favour, he nonchalantly showed me his vasectomy. Tackle zipped away, we sat down and tucked into the mandu which, made by his wife, happen to be the best I have eaten.

So, ‘I touch kiddies’ and I don’t mind when they ‘touch me!’ Indeed I’m proud to say, ‘I touch kiddies.’ And if you think this is perverse you can throw me in water and if I float, I’m guilty. Matthew Hopkins, Witch-Finder General, a medieval ‘professional babbler,’  was paid a pound for every witch he discovered and the  water test was one of his prime methods of exposing them. Needless to say, with a livelihood premised on the existence of witches, and so, so many of them,  he found them everywhere.  Until that was, so legend says, it was discovered he too floated and he was promptly executed.

We have foisted a range of fears onto children and youngsters that lead them to perceive potential danger in innocent interactions, have taught them to distrust intimacy, to seek perversion in others and most perverse of all, taught them that intimacy is solely sexual. It is future generations  that will have to endure the anti-social, anti-human damage wrought by those perverted ‘professional babblers’ and a society who kept silent!

But that is back in the perverted West. Meanwhile, here in Korea it is Children’s Day and my school is taking some students to the park. We’re going to play!

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Links to the ‘padded bra for 8 year old’s debate in the UK:




It’s all in the Touch – Skinship. (스킨십)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, No Pumpkin Category by 노강호 on April 10, 2010

This week, I was invited to the apartment of a student’s father who, after a soju session, happened to find me alone, eating dinner in a small restaurant. I’d been both training and to the bathhouse and at 10.10pm, after an intense day, I didn’t really want to party.  Unlike many in a similar state of being a little tipsy, he refrained from coaxing me into drinking and so, feeling in control, I agreed to accompany him to his apartment. Needles to say, my dinner was paid for. Outside, on the street, he led me by the hand and throughout the hour or so we sat on the floor in his apartment, surrounded by his family, he kept giving me ‘high fives’ after which he’d hold my hand, interlocking his fingers around mine or squeezing my palm with both his hands and every so often, in a slightly inebriated fashion, he’d say ‘Nick, I love you,’ or ‘Nick, you are my friend.’

A communal pillow

I can imagine how intensely invasive such situations can be for many western men. From the age  18 to 27, I lived in West Germany and in my free time I trained with friends  in a taekwondo school. Although most of the students were German, a fair few were Turkish and whenever they shook your hand, which as is the custom in Germany, was upon every meeting, they’d shake it and continue to hold it. It seemed they held it for minutes and as each second passed, I could feel my body tensing. Worse however, was when they began caressing it between their hands until with temperature rising, you could feel your palm becoming horribly clammy.  Today, such innocent intimacy doesn’t bother me and I can as easily initiate it as be the recipient; but, if I think back to my first experiences of such behaviour, I can relive the horror. Without any doubt, it was invasive, almost like going in your zipper, but of course, you couldn’t pull your hand away, that would have been quite rude. And despite the fact my friends and I were only 18 or 19, that we’d never been to university and were soldiers, we had enough experience to know the discomfort stemmed from a simple clash of cultures. It just had to be endured. By the time I returned to England some years later, I wasn’t shocked when a Kenyan friend held my hand in Richmond, London, on a busy Saturday afternoon.


Within a Korean context, my new friend, Jae-seong'(재성), is behaving quiet naturally and his intimacy should not for one moment be construed as sexually motivated. In a male to male setting, Koreans are much quicker to initiate ‘skinship,’ than are British or North Americans and when initiated it is quickly upgraded to a level we would construe as ‘almost sexual,’  ‘certainly suggestive,’ and ‘definitely alarming.’ Men and boys sharing umbrellas, arms draped over each other shoulders, sometimes holding hands,  that’s the sort of stuff homos do! I googled ‘skinship’ prior to writing this entry and the fifth reference on the very first site, Urban Dictionary, began:  ‘disturbingly intimate skin-to-skin relationship between adolescent boys in Japan.’  This value judgment itself struck me as disturbing. However, more judgments were to follow:

(a new English teacher in Japan working in a junior high school) ”Man, I went into one of my classes today, and this one boy was sitting on the lap of another one right there and he had his one hand in his half-buttoned down shirt feeling up the other boys chest, and with the other hand he was playing with the other boys hair. Both of them seemed fine with it, and nobody else seemed to care at all. And I knew both of the kids have girlfriends because I talk to them after class. It was so weird…”

(a veteran English teacher) ”It’s called ‘skinship.’ I don’t know why, but they all love that shit over here.”

I am tempted to dismiss such comments as I know some people can be blind to travel, that travel doesn’t necessarily broaden the  mind.  I met a very pleasant fellow countryman a few weeks ago. We were roughly the same age, both ex army, having in fact served at the same time and in the same area, both professional school teachers and with a  lot  in common.  He had only been  in Korea a few weeks so I pass no judgment on him, but when I asked if he’d like to go to the movies, he rapidly declined assuming Koreans would think two men watching a film together,  gay! I have to ask myself whether I’m weird to find the intimacy of skinship endearing and should the hostility and masculine bravado I am accustomed with back home, be preferable? That girls can be intimate with each other without being labeled ‘lesbian’, while for boys the  only opportunity for physical contact is generally through a contact sport, in my opinion epitomizes the lives of insects, where every other  insect, even of ones own species, is a potential threat.

‘hierachical collectivism’

‘Skinship,’  is both a Japanese and Korean concept, derived originally from the relationship between mother and baby where physical contact is an important bonding process. The term is used to describe general intimate physical contact, as between parents and children, as well as more a more sexual expression involving petting, especially between teenagers. The Korean term, an example of Konglish, appears to differ in practice from Japanese ‘skinship’ as it is practiced between men, and especially teenage boys. It involves a range of common and not so common practices including:  draping arms over each other, sharing umbrellas, sitting in each other’s laps, massaging, stroking, toying with each other’s hair, holding hands, playing with fingers, resting head on another’s lap or thigh, playing with ears, etc, etc. It can also be used to describe bonding with someone through sports or games and which are often common practices among business men.

In the west, I have always found that even cursory physical contact between people, for example, touching of an arm or shoulder, signifies a deeper level of relationship. I can remember touching the arms of parents on parents evening in schools 10 years ago, parents whom I only met once, yet seemed to have an empathy with, which resulted in the fleeting touching of a hand or arm. And I have noted in the past, that a short cut to bonding is through physical touch but its initiation has to be mutual and stress free for it to be successful. Of course, physical contact and its  importance in bonding, form the basis of courses designed to promote workplace relationships – those courses where a partner has to fall backwards and you catch them or some such activity.

Normal behaviour

However, digressing momentarily, forced intimacy can occasionally have a negative effect. I recall, once going to a friend’s birthday party. She was English but practiced an Indian religion and along with twenty or so other friends, sat in a large and busy North London restaurant, and ‘forced’ to sit in designated seats next to people you didn’t know, we had to close our eyes, turn to the person next to us and then simultaneously, begin feeling the contours of each other’s face. The cringingly stressful procedure was  accompanied by new age whale music. Oh, my God! It was horrible! Not because of the intimacy but because you knew the rest of the restaurant were watching you in disbelief. Then we had to turn to the other partner and massage their shoulders. All I could think was, Karl Marx’s grave is just down the road and I’ve never seen it! There’s a time and  place for physical intimacy, for skinship but not in a busy restaurant on a Friday night  to the serenade of migrating humpbacks.

So, after a coffee, some strawberries, some holding of hands and intertwining of fingers, I actually feel closer to Kim Jae-seong than several hours earlier. Already, he’s inviting me to the beach at Pusan and even suggest a date. The chances are it will materialise. And then he progresses to  ask me if Id take his son to the UK  when I go on my next holiday. I agree and then to make light of it, as I know it’s probably the soju talking, I joke about how he’d fit in my bag.  And meanwhile  Ben, his son, is eagerly taking a photograph of me and muttering ‘ that his friends won’t believe his teacher has been to his house.’

I have probably taught more students back in the UK than in Korea but I have never sat in a parent’s house, I have never been invited into a parent’s house, I have never socialized with  a parent, I have never been invited on a trip with them, I have never had a student photograph me because they needed proof a teacher had been  in their house, I have never had a student hold my hand or do anymore than fleetingly touch me, and the same goes for a parent, and neither parent or student has really ever wanted to associate with me. And all in instance I feel both a yearning to be back home with my friends and family and a sense that this is home. Certainly, it is where I’m valued.

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A Little 'Outing'

Posted in Comparative, Gender by 노강호 on April 9, 2010

Not suitable for Pumpkin people

I don’t want to turn this blog into a critique and rant about that shitty country from which I come, namely the UK. I have already expended considerable resources writing the backbone of two books focusing on my experiences of both British education and British culture. When faced with new experiences, especially ones culturally orientated, it is difficult, if not impossible,  not to relate them to the culture with which you are most familiar.  I’m not particularly bothered about accusations of being a ‘kimcheerleader,’ I have lived long enough and had enough experiences to have confidence in my opinions though I’m may not always be right. I am unashamedly a Koreaphile and reaching this acknowledgment has grown out of my relationship with Korea. Unlike a patriotic stance, which is conferred simply by being born in a country, my allegiance may change and won’t remain static and nonjudgmental. There is nothing particularly wrong with patriotism until it suggests that those who are not  are inferior, mistaken, or traitorous.  I prefer to give my loyalty to that I find most rewarding, especially in terms of quality of life. Why else would I elect to work thousands of miles from home for a salary inferior to that I could earn in Britain as a high school teacher.  Despite all the flaws with Korean society, and there are many, I have much greater respect and admiration for this small country than I do for washed out Britain. We might have a monarchy and an intriguing past, but Britain is a dirty, insular country whose once proud, if not questionable history and culture, is currently being swept aside in a politically correct invasion that condemns anything British while humbling before everything alien. The country for which I served fourteen years in the military forces, is now ruled by the values of the lowest strata of society and if you take any pride in something British or English you are a racist. Celebrate Christmas and you are suspect but come Hanukkah or Diwali and you can  light your candles with pride and everyone has to be reverent. Every cultural import into Britain has been canonised while the native culture is systematically demonized.

Recently, I was reading a post on Chris Backe’s AKA, Chris in Korea, in which readers were asked to respond to a photograph. ‘Are you racist?’ Chris asks. The post was interesting and sparked some lively commentary but what amused  me most was that before I had even read the article, I had judged the photo, ‘typically British!’   Indeed, by British standards, and talking as an ex-squaddie,  the photo was somewhat tame; nice pair of shoes, looks like his pants (not jeans), are pressed and a clean white shirt! The chances, are if I met this guy when sober, assuming of course, he is pissed, he’d probably be a decent chap. Hang around Daegu even at past midnight and kids from school,  in uniform, are still to be seen going home from the hagwons, study rooms and even high schools.  In my home town, Crappy Colchester, many adults avoid the town and that’s early evening! Pissed up people in the gutter, predominantly the same age as Korean high school students, puking and fighting on the streets,  are now a common site in most British towns and a point of  social and political concern. The ‘pissed up’  includes, pissing in public, fighting , vandalism and general anti-social behaviour all of which are menacing. Most unpleasant is a tension which pervades town centers and many other places, throughout most of the day, though specifically at night and which is the result of uniquely British form of  aggression.


Is Korea making you racist? (from AKA Chris in Korea)

My point? There is an ugly side to Britain, especially in terms of gender where men, especially working class men, and despite all attempts to render a facade of equality, Britain is still class divided, have to appear  masculine, ie: aggressive, sexually rampant, staunchly heterosexual and prolific boozers. And now, many women behave in the same Brutish way. It is difficult not to compare my Korean experiences with those internalized through my socialization in, and experience of,  British culture. No doubt there are plenty of horrid Korean men but I have experienced far more nasty Brits as a bouncer in a McDonald’s, in a town of 155.000 people, than on the streets of Daegu with a population somewhere around 3 million. Even on holiday in a quaint little German ‘dorf,’ my spaghetti ice cream was interrupted by the lurching appearance of a distant Brit ‘lad’  and two accompanying trollopes, arms wrapped about their breasts, flimsily dressed and tottering on high heels. Even before they were close enough to aurally confirm our suspicions,  their gait and their body language unequivocally  announced, Brits were in town!

I regularly find Korean men endearing and compared to many British men, they are both camp and effeminate. I do not intend this as a slur but as a compliment as I wish British men could temper their particular obnoxious form of masculinity. Personally, I find something uniquely British in photographs of individuals such as Wayne Rooney, and Vinny Jones who, even when not snarling an expletive, look like they just staggered out of prehistory. One reason I can’t abide watching movies starring Vinny Jones is his nastiness is too accurate, too realistic a facet more likely to do with his character than his acting ability. Yes, there are countless exceptions and Beckham  is much nicer but the problem football is having with homophobia, and the fact there are so few, if any, famous ‘out’ football players is a reflection of the games dominating masculine attitudes. Of course, I realise  Korea is far from accepting of homosexuality,  but at least Korean men aren’t so obsessively homophobic as  to aspire to a model of masculinity the purpose of which, as in the west, is to both to deflect any  suggestions of homosexuality in the ‘owner’ and to suggest it by contrast, in others. This might not be the intention but it is certainly how it operates.  In general, Koreans might have a dislike for homosexuality but that’s where it ends and their dislike isn’t  turned into an obsession which subsequently becomes a mandate and ubiquitous template for male behaviour.

definitely Brit


A common expression of Brit masculinity

When you work in a British high school it is highly apparent that British boys are under enormous pressure to appear both masculine and anti-intellectual. I have taught many British boys who are vile humans and who you could tell were vile before you even attempted  teaching them.  Yet, I have still to meet a Korean teenager who I can predict is going to be a violent criminal. And when it comes to girls, Brits seem  experts at producing promiscuous trollopes obsessed only with make up, tarty fashions and sex. Our rates of  teen alcohol consumption, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy, all some of the highest in Europe, are testament to my vitriolic comments. Snarled at, threatened, abused, assaulted or jeered at , I have no experience of in Korea, but ask British teachers about their experiences, especially non-managers in non-selective schools, and it quickly becomes apparent such behaviour is general rather than exceptional.

And that's just the women!

Having thus painted a fairly lengthy account of the Britain with which I am acquainted,  I naturally find Korean ‘masculinity’  intensely refreshing and in many respects something to both celebrate and take hope in.

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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Ten Tips for Taking the Plunge

So you want to go to the bathhouse but have reservations.? Read on…

Once you’re naked and the same as everyone else, the apprehensions that originally plagued you gradually, though not completely, begin to lift.  I wore my military dog tags and a watch on my first occasion and, for the next few months, continued to do so on subsequent visits. These became invested with a new sense of worth as for some ridiculous reason, I didn’t feel totally naked wearing them.  As psychological props, there came a stage several months or maybe even weeks later, when they were no longer necessary and I clearly remember deciding to leave them in the changing room and finally go completely naked. Initially, I missed them because I used to fiddle with them or glance at my watch obsessively, when I  felt uncomfortable.

You might want to avoid that white bucket seat on your first visit!

Ironically, my first visit to a bathhouse was on Independence Day, March 1st 2001 (삼일). I traveled with my best friend, my boss, whom I now work for, to visit her family in Changwon (창원). The bathhouse visit had been unplanned and presented to me as a choice, the other being to stay at home and play games with the women. I decided, for the sake of my image, to accompany the 5 men,  all related and one of whom my friend’s husband. They were all sympathetic to my novice status and were especially thoughtful and empathetic. Despite my trepidations and the fact I had been wanting to have this experience, my diary comments, were positive and my only apparent fears were bending down to pick up the soap, a little unease at being the only adult who wasn’t circumcised and  sitting in that ‘undignified’ position on the little plastic stool. One of my friends even scrubbed my back which though strange was endearing and made me feel both part of our group and  bathhouse community. What surprised me most however, was the depth of intimacy between fathers and their sons, an intimacy which went far beyond scrubbing backs.  It seemed there were no taboos.

No gigantic towels to hide under

Under the shower next to me, a boy of  13 or 14, lay on the floor while his father vigorously scrubbed him. This included holding aside the boy’s genitals while he scrubbed his groin and, when the boy rolled over onto his stomach, he scrubbed his buttocks. When this was finished, they traded places and the  procedure was reversed. I have since seen this performed countless times, in many other bathhouses and in all possible variations. Though no longer surprised, I’m always aware of the cultural differences that  in the West deems this intimacy, not just sexual, but a perversion. Yet  in Korea, I find such ‘rituals’ bonding, even cute.  When leaving the bathhouse, one of my friends proudly informed me, I was now  ‘a new man.’ I don’t know whether he meant physically or mentally and while there was no doubt I felt impeccably clean, most notable was a sense that I had overcome a  deep-seated fear.

One trip to a bathhouse however, wasn’t enough to defeat my inhibitions or to satisfy my curiosity about this cultural phenomenon. A few weeks later, another friend took me sightseeing in the mountains which culminated in a visit to some form of bathhouse. Of course, I had no idea of this at the time and assumed that we were visiting a mountain foot clinic, as my friend, Hyo-son, was a foot doctor. I imagined I was going to have a foot massage and then perhaps a meal at the small restaurant  situated on one side of the building. After being introduced to the establishment’s hosts and a teenager, I was ushered to a changing room and then, via  a series of  isolated English words and hand gestures, instructed to undress.  So, I began stripping off, assuming my friend, Hyo-son, was going to join me. Instead, the three of them stood chatting and ignored me until I was naked. Then, like a lamb being led to the slaughter,  Hyo-son coaxed me by the hand into a shower room. More hand signals follow and I take a shower while they stand in the doorway and continue their conversation. Meanwhile, confused, I begin muttering to myself, a habit  which manifests when I am in intense, embarrassing situations. Next, I am led through a small bathhouse in which there are perhaps 5  men. In the far corner of the room is what I now know to be a mud sauna (황토방 ).   Looking like a gigantic wasps nest, this is basically  a small room built out of yellow mud which when dried, houses a dry sauna.  I was instructed to enter the sauna through a flap on the floor – a flap similar to the ones used to allow the passage of a cat into  and out of its house, and not much bigger. Any remaining pride was dispelled as I got onto all fours and proceeded, pig-like into the sauna.  Beyond humiliation, I lay on the sauna matting laughing aloud in total disbelief at events. Sometime later, the teenager was sent to summon me and I re-emerged, on all fours. I was directed for another shower and then, in the bathhouse section, and with my little entourage all present, I was instructed to lay in an enormous stone bath which was already being filled with what looked like dark green slime.  The bath was hot, but every time I tried to dangle my arms over the sides of the bath, or move myself  out of the water, the boy pushed me back. Then Hyo-son began massaging my body with an enormous tea bag which smeared a herbal smelling paste over me .  I was thankful when the water rose to a sufficient depth to cover me completely. Even to this day, I don’t know whether this was a mud or herb bath  or perhaps even both but several showers were required to remove the slimy residue from my body. After a period of relaxation in the small bathhouse, I was finally able to dress and join the group in the restaurant.

And permanently accompanied by a symphony of water

I can empathize with anyone facing apprehensions about taking the plunge into this strange world. Ironically, even after such experiences, I remain apprehensive about swimming pools and changing rooms in the UK where there is always a sense that either something sexual or aggressive is about to happen. What shades and informs such experiences is the culture from which it stems. Back home, the body is dominated by a sort of fascism, predominantly external but also internally generated, which classifies and critiques bodies according various categories. Sometimes I hear myself commenting on individuals and not necessarily in a negative manner but negative ones I don’t like  partially as one target of criticism is my own body. The most obvious category for western men of course, is dick size. On this subject, I don’t truly know what significance Koreans place on penal proportions,  but I would imagine that bathhouse culture renders any pretty unimportant. There may be some variations in dimensions but you quickly learn they’re all basically the same and it’s all pointless and unfair anyway as the winners are  invariably 13-year-old skinny boys whose accompanying bodies  are still 10 and in which any triumph, if there is any, is temporary. When the clothes are off and we are reduced to our  basic components,  everything is demystified.

As an ex-gay man, I have to add that bathhouses are fairly unsexy. I’m not saying nothing  ever appeals  to me, on the contrary, I am very aware of attractive looking males, but what is most bizarre is that even from my first visit to a bathhouse, the experience was non sexual. Ironically,  this is one of the most fascinating aspects of  my bathhouse experiences, as my  sense of liberation stems not just from shedding my clothes, but from shedding that most dominant and basic urge. Necessary as that urge is to the proliferation of humanity, in individual terms it is probably the most wasteful, driving us like lemmings in the selfish pursuit of satiating our own chemical impulses, consuming our time, diverting our attention and draining our energies in the process. I’m talking as a single man, in my fifties, of course, were I  in a romantic situatiom, I wouldn’t be so dismissive; but I don’t think I miss the mark accusing this urge of being the most greedy in its wants and least rewarding once they have been acquired. And Oh! Isn’t it a merry-go-round; once satiated it’s only a matter of time before it rears its head again and we’re compelled onto that journey to nowhere.  What an utter waste of human energy! Well, don’t ask me how, but in the Korean bathhouse those urges are extinguished. Rent apart is that conflation of nudity and sex, for me at least, so that I can enjoy nudity and the equality and liberation it brings without the sexual urge kicking in and can do so while appreciating the occasional beauty that passes my way.  Cocks are really only interesting when hidden and once they are flopping about all around you, other things become of more interest – the trickling of water on old man’s skin, the contours of someones hip, the interplay of someone’s muscles,  someone with a belly fatter than mine, a father bathing their baby, the sounds of water – it can be anything.


Friends often ask me why there are no such establishments back home or what might  happen if  one were opened. I could write a substantial amount in response but basically, I wouldn’t enjoy bathing in a western context and certainly not in a British one.  A gay bathhouse would terrify me but then I was never very good at being gay!!  Besides, I’d hate being eyed up by someone like me and I quite pity all my victims back in the days when I was lecherous!  My home  town has a spa facility but the need to wear bathing costumes immediately seems restrictive and puerile. Several years ago, when it ran single sex naked sessions,  it attracted so many gay men seeking sex, it subsequently reintroduced costumes. Recently, I’ve considered nudism in the UK as I am tempted to believe attitudes among nudists might be healthier. This consideration has grown out of an awareness that while in Korea, attending a bathhouse imposes no social judgment, in Britain it would label me either ‘gay’ or  as some kind of  ‘swinging nudey.’ Unfortunately, while we conflate sex with nudity, bathhouses, spas, and places of semi nudity will  continue to encourage  all mannerisms of sexual  activity, passive and active.

Ready to take that plunge? No doubt, many will have no worries entering a bathhouse but if the experience is likely to stress you, here are some tips.

1. Keep a watch on. It’s really useful as a diversionary play thing should you feel uncomfortable.

2. Choose a quiet time for you first encounter. Early morning, eg. 5 am, though anytime before 7am on the weekend is good. Alternatively, if the establishment closes, a good time to attend is on a weekend a couple of hours before closing time.

3. Avoid public holidays,  unless you’re prepared for a full house and avoid both  ‘play Saturdays’ (놀토) when there are no schools, and school and university vacation periods.

4. Sometimes, fitness centers have adjacent bathhouses and jjimjilbang. If this is the case, you can use the sports facilities a few times in order to familiarise yourself with everything, before using the bathhouse.

5. On your first encounter you’ll probably head straight for the bathhouse complex blotting out everything on the way. Try to remember to pick up a towel and a wash cloth, usually located around the complex entrance. These can be used the same way as your watch, when you get stressed or ultimately, to bury your face in.

6. Remember, if you head straight for the showers which are situated at floor level, you will have to sit on a bucket sized seat. All bathhouses have regular, standing showers which provide a good vantage point to familiarise yourself with the bathhouse layout and practices and don’t necessitate sitting in an undignified position.

7. Soap, towels, toothpaste are all provided. If you drop the soap and find this embarrassing, park your arse in a corner before bending down, or  with your knees together, bend with the  knees and not from your waist. Alternatively, rapidly kick the soap into the drain and ignore it.

8. If you remember to take a towel in with you, you can use this to dry off, prior to leaving. On your first visit you will probably want to escape quickly and this will be prolonged if you are dripping wet. If there is an ice room, five minutes sat in this, especially in summer, will quickly dry  you but this procedure has a detrimental effect on males.

9. Male and worried about willy size? Instantly add an extra centimeter by trimming surrounding hair. I once read that every forty pounds lost, assuming you are that fat to begin with, increases the appearance of  the size, by one inch. One the other hand, if you’re as fat as I am, an extra few stone would supply enough lagging to provide an overhang sufficient enough to hide it completely.

10. Of course, there is nothing to prevent you wearing a swimming costume and I have known people do this. They were women so I never actually witnessed reactions. I’d imagine you would attract far more attention wearing something than going naked and besides, no matter how good-looking you are, you’d look a total twat.

Good luck. If you too have suggestions, please add them here. Thanks

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.