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.

Ben

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!

What...um.......yes!

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Advertisements

All or Nothing – on Mid Term Exams

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, podcasts by 노강호 on April 17, 2010

Being the time of mid-term exams, the school was quite strange today as some classes watched videos and generally relaxed, while for others, the pressure is still on. The majority of British kids don’t know what pressure is and would find student life in Korea very strange most especially as Korean kids identify with, and respond to, the term ‘student,’ (학생 – haksaeng).   Even this week, in the bathhouse, a boy was making too much noise and a man close by addressed him as ‘haksaeng!’ Trying to get an English kid’s attention by calling them ‘student,’ would be pretty redundant and a great many would simply tell you to ‘fuck off!’

The one and only!

I have great admiration for the Korean Education system, recently cited by Obama as a model the US should emulate, but one of its major downsides is the incredible pressure it puts on young people to perform. While it’s laudable that Korean students mostly want the best marks, it is somewhat sad that there is only one best mark, notably 100%.   Earlier this week I found some old photos of me taken almost 30 years ago and I was not only incredible fit, but very handsome;  in fact so handsome that I could actually fancy myself.  At the time however, and at every point of my life, I’ve been too fat, too unfit or too ugly and yet there I am in a fading photo with a waistline and looking very good. It’s bit of a knock when you realise that at one time you possessed something you’ve spent your life  looking for, and you never knew it! The same scenario is probably true for many people who struggle with their weight,  especially women, always feeling fat no matter how thin, and it’s similar for Korean educational achievement.

Ben

Asking kids yesterday, how they got on in their National English-speaking tests, even the ones who got 100% generally said, ‘okay,’ or ‘so,so;’ their modesty masking their intense happiness. And those who got scores of 99, 98, 97 etc, were equally as modest except the chances are they’ were bitterly disappointed.  There were several words that confused a number of my students, ‘sea animal’ and ‘sick animal’ was one, the other was ‘ hobby’ and habit.’ I could imagine a native  English speaker making an error but for those who answered incorrectly, this is no consolation and neither is the fact that many of their friends made the same mistake. A score in the 90’s is respectable and worth celebrating unless of course, you’re Korean.

So, as I left school yesterday, Ben who is 15, is sat on his own, forehead on the table,  and crying. I’ve never had a British boy of his age crying because they didn’t do well but here it is not uncommon.  And of course, you cannot console a Korean whose ‘kibun’ (기분) is in the gutter. As a western teacher there is something incredible about a student intensely upset  as it  reflects they care as much about their performance, as you do. When kids don’t care  or have slight regard, you can guarantee your job is  about child minding and behaviour control rather than teaching. However, it’s a travesty that the celebration of success is pivoted exclusively on 100%. Ben is a fantastic student: intelligent, witty, and in the Korean way, innocent, he’s a teacher’s dream, yet despite all his efforts and best intentions the loss of 2 marks effectively makes him a failure. Today was his first of a string of mid-term exams!

I have noticed that when students get their  exam results, school becomes a  refuge for those kids castigated and even physically punished by their parents. Last year, Ben lost one point in an exam and his father scolded him and I recall him being afraid to go home.  And so my boss will spend half her time plying them with tissues trying to console them and the other half explaining herself to agitated parents. Somewhere in the space between 90-99, maybe even 80-99, should be room for celebration and self-congratulation but as with weight-loss, in Korea it’s all or nothing and so a moment of self-appreciation, a pat on the back from a parent, is lost.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.