I’ve spent 8 years looking at Korea through an understanding of British culture and now I’m living in the UK, my observations are shaded by my interaction with Korean society.
In the summer, just before I left Korea, my gumdo master suggested we take our students to a spa for an outing. A ‘spa’ in Korea is a water park. My first question was, ‘what do you wear in a spa?’ Of course, I knew the answer, a bathing costume; it just needed confirming. A little wave of nausea washed over me. I’ve become so used to nude bathing that the idea of wearing anything other than nothing is ‘pyontae’ – which in Korea means ‘perverted’ though a closer, not so stringent translation is probably ‘sick’ or ‘gross.’
Now, this revelation, a complete turnaround to how I originally envisaged a bathhouse experience, is strange partly because that despite being gay, I don’t find the bathhouse in the least an erotic encounter. This fact quite confuses some people whom obsess that a bathhouse has got to be an erotic experience for a gay man. Perhaps this obsession reveals more about them than it does me. Indeed, I’ve never really found the experience erotically engaging. Naturally, I’m aware of handsome or attractive bathers but that’s where it stops. Conversely, I find clothed bathing far more sexually intriguing because it leaves something to the imagination. Nudity is noble and levelling while bathing in a costume is simply sad and repressive. In the end, we didn’t take the kids to a spa and I was pleased because I would have felt more awkward, more body conscious strolling around in bathing shorts.
One of the most notable revelations on returning to the UK is that any mention of nude bathing and the fact you find it superior to clothed bathing, even in a segregated environment, instantly labels you a ‘nudist’ or ‘naturist’ both of which for many British people carry overtones of ‘kinkiness.’ In summer, I meet up with a friend who spent 4 years in Daegu. I think I may have introduced him to bathhouse culture and over the years we explored numerous bathhouses and jjimjilbang in and around Daegu. When he visited, we travelled part of the east coast and arrived at St Osyths Beach, near Clacton.
St Osyths Beach is one of those seaside towns that epitomise the ghastly side of British culture. Really, its nothing other than a sprawling caravan park with a row of glitzy amusement arcades, a few restaurants and a bar. The restaurants serve decently priced food in good proportions but the quality is lacking. You can buy a foot long sausage and chips for a couple of pounds but I don’t think the sausage contains any meat and if it does it’s mechanically rescued and engorged with some form of edible padding; bread perhaps.
Part of the beach is quite pleasant but if you walk only a hundreds towards the ‘nudist beach’ it rapidly deteriorates into a bomb zone. Clearly, some structures or an esplanade originally stood on this stretch which had subsequently been bombed flat or smashed by an enormous tsunami. The rubble has never been removed and large chunks of concrete lay embedded in the sand decorated by patches of paving and the odd rusty, iron girder. The beach was strewn with rubbish, beer cans, broken glass and the likes and ornamented by a great swampy expanse which smelt like an enormous drain and sat between the footpath and the beach.
We spent several hours in the nude beach trying to recapture the luxury of Korean bathhouse bathing. Having walked some twenty minutes from the caravan park area, the beach becomes sandy and clean with dunes stretching far along the isolated coastline. Bathing in the sea wasn’t that pleasant; the water is murky and the floor a constantly shifting bed of shingle that at times was sharp.
It was high summer, holiday season, but the beach wasn’t too busy and here and there sat or bathed real naturists. You could distinguish real naturists from those with other motives because they made eye contact and occasionally communicated with us, perhaps smiling or commenting on the hot weather. What marred the occasion were the number of perverts frequenting the beach – all men! They fell into two categories, those tolling the beach-line who simply paraded up and down and those hiding between the dunes eager to eye up whatever it was that attracted them.
One character, wore a complete body stocking which covered all but his hands, feet and head and he minced along the path between the beach and the dunes sporting a lttle hand-bag. Another, paraded up and down fully aroused and every twenty or so paces would keep himself ‘pumped’ with a vigorous fondling. Yet another, trolled the water’s edge wearing a mid-riff T-shirt from which was attached a piece of cord subsequently tied to his nether regions. This ‘reign’ was somewhat tight and as he walked his T-shirt pulled on the reign and his penis reared upwards as if a dinky sized My Little Pony was nestled in his crotch. Meanwhile, in the dunes, heads constantly popped up and peered about like pink periscopes before submerging.
Despite my years of Korean bathhouse bathing, in an all male environment, I felt uncomfortable with the kind of behaviour paraded on this beach. I doubt there were any punters under 25, apart maybe from a few women in pairs and you certainly wouldn’t want to bring children here. The whole experience was tainted by the parading perverts and hidden colony of leering meer cats.