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Laura -Korean Teenagers (3) Magical Moments

Posted in Gender, Korean children by 노강호 on October 24, 2010

Korean school girls

Laura is perhaps one of the most pleasant girls in my school and I have now been teaching her for over 2 years. Her grades in her State school aren’t the best, which for Koreans is always 100%, but she excelled this year when she twice gained 100% in her English exams. As usual, she still comes to the academy wearing an assortment of scents and will thrust her wrist under my nose and ask my opinion. In the last few months however, she has learnt to use them with discretion and they no longer overpower the entire academy. Eye-liner is a recent addition but is only minimally applied and she doesn’t wear it in school;  it isn’t allowed. Contact lenses, it seems, are tolerated and I have noticed a number of girls have started wearing them. I’m told a pair cost around 10.000 Won (£5). Although I’ve seen two girls in supermarkets with blue contact lenses, which actually looked attractive, the colours most girls seem to wear are either dark brown or more usually, black.

The Hanja character for 'innocence.'

In class one week, Laura and her friends told me the procedure for attracting a boy’s attention and then going on a date with them. The first part of the process is to offer the boy small gifts such as chocolate or candies. One of the most significant moments, and one a few girls seem to cherish, is when a boy they are interested in makes substantial eye contact. Once an interest has been established, photos might be exchanged by way of their mobile-phones. The aim of preliminary overtures is to secure going out with the boy, either on a trip to town or more significantly, a trip to the cinema. Such events give their friendship the status of ‘going out’ and it is from this date that teenagers start  referring to their ‘sweetheart’ as a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ and counting the days until their relationship reaches its hundredth day, a date which is usually celebrated (백일 – ‘100th day,’ is also celebrated a 100 days after a baby’s birth).


'Boy hunting'

The most significant part of going to a cinema is that soft drinks and popcorn are shared and Laura and her friends are quite excited when they talk about the ‘skinship’ involved in putting their hands in the large container of popcorn at the same time  as their ‘boyfriend’ or  their heads knocking or touching when drinking from straws  in the same cup of drink.


...as long as there's room for two hands

Most of the girls in my academy, even ones older than Laura, who is 14 in western years, (Koreans are one year old the moment they are born), neither date boys nor express much interest in them. Indeed, despite its innocence and cuteness, many parents do not allow dating . Unlike the west, cinemas are not the venue for groping or fondling and such sexual intimacy does not seem to be anticipated or envisaged by anything other than university aged students. Boys the corresponding age of Laura profess much less interest in dating ‘rituals’ though some have crushes and I have only met a couple of boys who seemed interested in dating girls. Of course, this is only my limited observation.

Around the town young ‘sweethearts,’ probably Laura’s age and older are occasionally seen holding hands or having a meal together in a restaurant which is one of the ways in which a hundredth day celebration is marked.

Such ‘rituals’ seem trivial and naturally, they are played out in western culture, however, in Korea they are vastly more significant because more intimate physical affection between the sexes, even between adults, is frowned upon. No doubt this may be changing but other than holding hands, petting and kissing in public is a non-event. That Korean teenagers are not likely to engage in sex before adulthood, a phenomenon backed up by Korea possessing among the world’s lowest figures for teenage pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases, places more significance on events such as eye contact and non-sexual intimacy. The very most the average teenager can expect in terms of any intimacy before adulthood, is probably a kiss on the cheek. Korean teenagers, unlike their western counterparts are under no pressure to either be, or appear to be, sexually active. Further, it seems Korean teenagers are quite scathing of the character of teenagers, boys or girls, who do engage in sexually activity while still school children.


height is crucial, looks secondary

And what are the criteria for a suitable ‘boyfriend?’ As with older girls I have talked to, height is  crucial and ideally the boy needs to be 10 cm taller than the girl. I have been told this is  because the boy needs to be taller than the girl should she wear high heels. Boys need to be attractive, kind, considerate towards the girl, funny and smart. Not all the girls think alike and a few said they would consider a boy shorter than themselves or one academically weak.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.



Laura – Korean Teenagers (2)

Posted in Diary notes, Korean children by 노강호 on June 29, 2010

It’s the exam season and the atmosphere in school and even on the street is down. I don’t particularly like this time of year as it disrupts classes and makes planning an impossibility. In classes some students are so tired that effective teaching isn’t possible and you really notice the mood of students, some ride it fairly well and others are up and down and unpredictable. And all the kids are tested, from the youngest right through to high school students.

I haven’t seen too much of Laura lately but unlike Ben, she is usually fairly consistent in her temperament and always has a smile. This week, after asking me to comment on her latest perfume (which is actually her mother’s), she coyly tells me she has a boyfriend, and…. that he has kissed her!  That it was only on her cheek doesn’t dampen her happiness. She takes out her mobile phone and proudly shows me the album she has created featuring him. In one photo, she excitedly explains he’d just had a shower and his hair, still wet, was sticking up. She is so excited at the captured image, which she describes as ‘cute,’ that she blushes and her eyes actually flutter.

Saturday was a ‘play Saturday’ (놀토) which of course, at this time of year, it’s not as any free time is used for studying. I met Laura on the street on Friday evening, as I was going home. She was going to a ‘reading room’  which are  ‘libraries’ solely for study and which, like the PC rooms, are constantly open. When I asked what time she would go home she told me 2 am. Most perverse of all is she’s smiling as she tells me. ‘And what will you do tomorrow?’ I ask. ‘Study,’ she replies laughing. Korean innocence!

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Laura (1) Korean Teenagers

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Gender, Korean children, Korean Clothes by 노강호 on May 27, 2010

Not suitable for pumpkin people

If there’s one thing I love about Korean teenage girls, it’s that you rarely meet one who is a slag.  No doubt slags exist in Korea and no doubt there are examples of Korean 15-year-old girls who trowel on make-up, wear Satan’s panties and are promiscuous, but I haven’t met any. In the UK, unless you teach in a top girls school, and I was fortunate enough to have taught stints in two of the top schools, notably Colchester Royal Grammar School (a boys school) and Colchester Girls’ High School, a large percentage of the girls are strumpets.  Many of them were good students and decent kids but they still dressed and behaved in a way I didn’t think appropriate: obsessed with their bodies, with looking sexy, obsessed with sex, with behaving in a sexual manner and in flaunting their undeveloped bodies all of which comprised to denude them of personality.  From childhood recollections to my more recent experiences as a teacher, being a slapper, in the UK at least, drastically improves a girls popularity among both other girls, and naturally, among the boys. My sister is convinced that had she been in those elite ranks, she’d have had a more interesting life. Amusing though this comment is, I’m glad she wasn’t.


High school students in the 2nd grade. ( aged around 16-17) Absolutely no make-up at all was permitted in this particular school.

Laura, one of my Korean students, is 15 and totally adorable and like many Korean teenagers, a country with the lowest rate of teen pregnancy in the world, she is, in the cute Korean way, ‘innocent.’ Laura definitely has an interest in boys and one of our regular conversation topics centers on which boy band she is currently into and which boys she finds attractive. Recently, she has started using perfume which I would imagine she applies  after leaving her school and before she comes to the haggwon in which I teach. The ‘safest’ place for her to do this is probably on the elevator up to the third floor, where the school is located. Her perfume predilection started about 2  months ago and in the initial stages of pioneering application, I think she doused herself in it.  The smell was ‘in your face’ and strong enough to remain in class and around the school, long after she had left.

To compliment the perfume, she has also started wearing the faintest traces of make-up, basically lipstick and some mascara. The make up isn’t applied in the manner many English strumpet’s apply it, which is by slapping it on in the manner a plasterer might plaster a wall. I’ve seen plenty of young teenage girls with such thick mascara it looks more like cladding and usually little pebbles of it will be stuck to their eyelashes or  face and will occasionally flake off like little pieces of a crusty, albino scab. The art of teenage make-up,  like their interest in sex, is uniquely British, which is to say, is an overstatement and hence pots of mascara and eyeliner and all the other accouterments of teen tartery are used with as much subtlety as that of a circus clown. For the most part, Korean teenage girls, certainly under the age of 18, are discouraged and often forbidden from make-up and so when a little is used, forced into subtlety of application,  it often enhances their features. You probably wouldn’t notice Laura’s make-up  if it weren’t for the fact that when applied, she’s incredibly sheepish and self-conscious. As for her lipstick, it is so faint I imagine it’s simply lip balm with the slightest trace of added colour.


One particularly common style of British teen make-up

Discerning how much make up Korean girls do wear, is difficult as girls, like children everywhere, will ‘push the limits’ and hence I hear stories of girls wearing ‘short’ skirts to school or who wear make up but in Korea a ‘lot’ of make-up is actually very little and a ‘short’ skirt doesn’t mean you can see their knickers.

In British schools, I often saw tell-tale signs that girls were wearing a pair of Satan’s panties and it wasn’t unusual to see that flimsy bit of ‘string’ riding above a girl’s waistband. This is a sight  I’ve never seen in Korea and Korean adults are often mortified to know that western girls, often not yet teenagers, are permitted to wear, or even want to wear, such sexualised clothing.  Indeed, in Korea, I’ve never caught glimpse of a girls knickers.  While it is solely an opinion based on my observations, and which doesn’t include routing through the children’s underwear section in my local E-Marte, I would imagine that Laura’s  knickers, like those of her friends, are void of the translucent panels, little bows and lacy frill edges  that are used to sexualise the bodies of little kids. Her knickers probably reach to her navel and  are styled like the baggy blue things, British girls were compelled to wear for PE in the 60’s and 70’s.

I mention knickers, panties and thongs, not for any perverse reason but to highlight the divergence of social values between Korean and western societies.  How children ‘choose’ to adorn their bodies, the extent to which this adornment is encouraged or tolerated, how it is subsequently received by societies both at home and abroad, expresses and exposes important attitudes and values. In Britain at least, there is a difference between ‘knickers’ and ‘panties;’ ‘knickers’ are functional  whereas the purpose of ‘panties’  is two-fold, to induce arousal in the observer and a sense of sexiness in the wearer. Satin’s panties take this to a totally different level. In Britain, many girls, will tart up their twat with ‘sexy’ panties or a thong while still children and often before using make up.  In Korea, while a little experimentation with make-up might occur whilst still at school, the transition from knickers to panties, from innocence to awareness, probably occurs at about the same time a girl becomes an adult.

Over the duration of a week or so, Laura’s perfume gradually mellowed until it was actually quite pleasant and on a few occasions, when it hung faintly in the air, I was reminded of my mother who always wore floral type perfume. It has become a regular habit of hers to hold her wrist under my nose and ask for my opinion on her latest scent. I then discovered, from her brother, that the  various perfumes  she  parades,  are her mother’s and are sneaked on when no one is at  home.