Elwood 5566

A Squirt of Fusion

Posted in Comparative by 노강호 on September 22, 2010

So scrumptious.....roast pork and roast potatoes

Every now and then I like a little blow out, partly as I love food and secondly, because I miss food associated with British culture. Unfortunately, few Korean foods fulfill the requirements necessary to satisfy the cultural preferences of my British palate. Flour, potato, oil, butter, bread, milk and cheese,  plus copious quantities  of meat, are  missing from most Korean meals.  Though I love Korean food, most can be described as ‘just…’ (그냥), meaning  okay, satisfying, but not scrumptious. Of course, this is just my personal opinion and some waygukin may actually think a few bean sprouts chucked in boiling water compares to  delights of Thai, Tom Yum or New England Clam Chowder.

bean sprout soup (콩나물 국)

I have attended a number of ‘feasts’ in Korea and find the word as much an exaggeration as  is the description ‘delicious.’  All too often Koreans will describe something as ‘delicious,’ but the moment your hypothetically offer them a choice between what ever the topic is and a Big Mac, and the Big Mac usually wins. Ironically, the Big Mac isn’t even a delicious example of a hamburger. Yesterday, one of my students told me he ‘loved’ bean sprout ‘soup’ (콩나물 국) and that it is ‘delicious’, but considering the boy is a little chubby, I suspect if it were a choice between bean sprout ‘soup’ or fried chicken, he’d choose the chicken. The Korean ‘feasts’ I have experienced could only be deemed such if you were on the brink of starvation, which is their possible origins, and comprised of the typical ‘just’ category foods such as: seaweed soup, five grain rice, and various kimchi. Sorry, but when you’re told your going to a ‘feast’ and your fed boring ban-chan (side dishes), it’s a bit of an anti-climax.

For most of my life in Korean, my cultural urges lay dormant and I find great satisfaction and pleasure in Korean cuisine but every so often I feel compelled to satiate deeper cravings and will seek out possible alternatives.

Pizza, unless it’s from Pizza Hut, Dominoes or Vince is usually disappointing; the cheese is that stretchy crap with no flavour. I once ordered a pizza with the cheese piped in the crust but when it arrived saw it was a ‘well being’ version. I order pizza so infrequently that when I do want one I don’t want ‘well being.’ Worse, the cheese had been made healthy by adulterating it with sweet potato. When Koreans make a pizza, the final touch always seems to involve squirting it with an assortment of gunk and sweet mustard and jam like sauces are all in vogue. And the final insult to any pizza, a perversion, are fruit toppings. Vince Pizza, which actually makes a fairly okay pizza, makes one topped with fruit. In Korea, with toppings such as bulgogi and sweet potato, often subsequently squirted in sweet gunk, the pizza is the epitome of fusion food.

cheese-less cheese

A pizza squirted in sweet gunk

Occasionally I like a sandwich though mayonnaise is always a requirement as this replaces the lack of butter. However, I have to keep  a close eye out as my local GS25 occasionally adds jam to a ham, ‘cheese’ and salad sandwich.

Corn Dog, isn’t too bad until it’s dunked in sugar and squirted with tomato sauce.

Pork Cutlet, don-gasse (돈까스) is one food that often quells my urges. This food originates from Japan where it is  called tonkatsu but considering the German influence on Japanese 19th century society,  I wonder if its origins are Germanic. Tonkatsu first appeared in Japan in the late 19th century and is similar to jagerchnitzel and Wiener schnitzel. It has been further fusionised by the addition, in the center,  of that stretchy cheese-less cheese, and often, on the edge of the plate. an adornment of tinned, diced fruit.

Don-gasse (Tonkatsu - 돈까스) Recipe link via photo (in Korea)

Korean style - 돈까스

Ironically, if I’m absent from Korean food for too long, I begin to suffer a  pon farr like yearning for kimchi, and more unusual Korean Fayre.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Sam-Kyop Trofalot- the Fattest Korean

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes by 노강호 on September 17, 2010

On Sunday I walked down to the east gate of Keimyung University to wait for a friend who was an hour late. As I’m sitting, watching life, I hear the familiar sound of one of those mopeds that usually dominate the pavements. This one has a whinier sound than usual, in fact the engine, basically a hairdryer, was screaming. It’s also unusual because the moped is on the road and not  terrorising the pavement. When I look up I understand why, it reminded me of one of those Cold War, Soviet destroyers which always seemed top heavy.

Soviet Kashin Class Destroyer (1984)

Sat on the moped, dwarfing it, was the fattest Korean I have ever seen. Without any exaggeration, he was proportionately as fat as the infamous Mr Creosote from Monty Phython’s, The Meaning of Life. If he’d ridden on the pavement he would have bowled everyone over. Then I noticed he was riding a pizza delivery moped on the back of which, and almost hidden by his gargantuan arse, was the ‘hay box’ and company logo.

Yes, along with all the junk food and a little help from sam-kyop-sal (barbecued belly pork), fat has arrived in Korea and it’s not pretty! Too late to whip out my camera, the moped screamed past at all of 15 kph, hugging the gutter as traffic sped by. I would imagine any delivery to more than a couple of kilometers away, plus the lengthy lug up any stairs, and the pizza would have arrived cold. If of course,  the delivery man hadn’t truffled the hay box contents first!

Mr Creosote and Link to Youtube (click photo)

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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Wanted: A Plastic Professorship

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, esl, Westerners by 노강호 on May 13, 2010

Have you noticed its predominantly university teachers who hand you business cards? Fingering  the little stash I’ve collected over the years, not one is from  a Haggwon teacher.  I’ve never owned business cards, but then as I’ve never sent a text message and only used an ATM machine once in the UK. I’m slightly odd.

I pine, you pine, he pine, she pine!

I wouldn’t mind handing  out a name card from a university, even a crap one but like most teachers, I would probably feel a little ashamed handing out something from an institution one notch up from a kindergarten or the kids’ party entertainer at Mac Donald’s. Even though haggwon and university pay are now fairly similar, in status there’s a world of difference between Coco the Clown’s English Academy and a University.

No matter how hard a haggwon tries to give itself credibility, names like ‘academy’ or ‘colleges’ don’t hide what most really are, factories (공장). ‘TOSS English‘ reads the bright neon strip over a college near where I live.  Despite the amusing name, it must  be successful as it has a fleet of mini buses and has been in situ for at least  8 years. However, back in the UK, ”Toss’ is slang for ‘shit’ or ‘masturbation.’ And then there’s ‘Kolon English Academy;’ Colon is the destination of the doctor’s digit when you have an extremely bad gut.  Then there are the logos, the cap and mortar board, the pillars of some classical order column. Sometimes they use letters of the Greek alphabet which in the UK would be unrecognized to all but the students of British grammar schools.

In Britain, any awareness of the roots of western civilization is relegated to 5 or 6 year-olds and hence denuded of its significance as the cradle of western civilization. The invasion of ‘ ‘Greece” by Darius in 490BC and Xerxes, 480BC, had they succeeded, would have radically altered the face of western history possibly resulting in an Islamic Europe. Mention Thermopylae to most British people and it is now associated predominantly with a comic or a partly animated, fantastical movie.  Many Korean kids can recite or narrate the Battle of Thermopylae or Marathon and some have even ‘explained to me how Socrates came to commit suicide.  As  a history teacher in the UK, I can put my hand on my heart and tell you I have never seen or heard any mention of Thermopylae , Marathon or Socrates in a British school.  For various reasons,  the most significant aspects of our history, often due to political imperatives, are demnatio memoriae.  Koreans students certainly have more awareness of classical history than do their western peers and so the column, pediments, alpha and omega,  and other little symbols of academia and learning are common but  ironically, the ‘colleges’ they represent are as genuine as the Phrontesterion in Aristophanes’ The Clouds; the silly little ‘Thinkery’ where students bend over, bum holes gazing intently at the heavens in the quest for knowledge.

Much as I love Korea, their method of teaching English needs a total overhaul and the dependence on memorizing phrases, a number of which are clumsy and strange, needs scraping.  Koreans have a similar attitude to teaching  English as they do cooking bean paste soup. I’ve told several friends I add a dash of black pepper powder to my dwaen-jang.  They were shocked and repeated ‘pepper’ several times as though I’d said I piss in it.  Then they told me that black pepper wasn’t part of ‘the recipe,’ as if there is only one recipe, only one way to do it. Korean education is very successful, but their standard of English, despite the haggwons and schools, is dire. Perhaps if they treated English education more like  ‘pushion pood (fusion food), squirting jam over pizzas, replacing mozarella with that stretchy, play cheese, or sweet potato and dipping bistro hotdogs in a concoction of syrup, mustard and red pepper paste, standards might improve. ”I’m  pine,’ ‘Have a nice day,’ ‘pleased to meet you,’ ‘ drive you to suicide. And then there’s the constant American twang but that can wait until a future post!

Currently, I’m waiting for my business cards to arrive and they will probably carry my school’s logo, a cartoony character but I’m not particularly bothered. I’ve worked in enough language factories and a high school,  to know that my boss has genuine intentions and besides, my loyalty is won because my conditions are probably superior to those of most university teachers whose pay is no longer way in advance of a haggwon teacher and whose holidays, at one time a guaranteed four months have been whittled down and interpolated with various obligations. My boss and her family have been close friends of mine for over ten years and have even vacationed with me in England. Though I would  love  to become a professor, albeit a plastic one, working in a university, for me at least, would be a step down.

A teacher from the Coco the Clown Phrontesterion of English. (I'm Pine and You)

Of course, most university teachers, instructors, give you a name card not because they teach in a university, but to impress on you the fact they are ‘professors.’ Professors are the officer class of Korean teachers with haggwon teachers relegated to ‘rank and file.’ Yes, I would probably do exactly the same but it is non the less amusing in its snobbery.  Name cards of the highest status carry ‘professor’ in both Korean (교수)  and hanja (敎授) in order to separate them from ones simply in English. I’d probably have mine embossed in gold. In reality however, it’s the knowledge and skills of a ‘professor’ I would like and not merely a hollow title. By English standards, I’m not too clear how it works in the USA, a ‘professorship’ is a position, ‘a chair,’ awarded to top academics and not a title conferred merely by teaching in a university.  Despite the demise of standards in the UK and the ascendancy of ape values, you still read or hear of academics being ‘invited’ to a professorship.

What, by gad! No dickie?

Last year I spent several days adjudicating a speaking competition with three professors all of whom gave me name cards. Two wore  little silk dickie bow ties and the other a complete set of plus fours and matching walking cane.  When I first saw him, from a distance,  I thought it was Sherlock Holmes until  I heard his American accent. He didn’t have a pipe but his plus fours were real and actually made of tweed. Ironically, I’d met this chap before, some 6 years previously when we worked together in an academy ‘factory.’ Before the plus fours and business card, and of course, ‘professorship,’ he used to turn up for work looking like a backpacker, his hair never combed and his clothes disheveled and scruffy. One day, I recall my old boss consulting me as to whether it was acceptable to offer to buy him some new clothes. If I’d known at the time what I now know I’d have simply suggested conferring a professorship upon him and buying him some appropriate name cards. The rest would have taken care of itself.

Even when I’ve known teachers who for one reason or another moved from university to hagwon, from the status of ‘plastic professor’ to that of a boring ‘teacher,’  they’ve initially introduced themselves, or been introduced to me as, ‘professor.’ Further, not only have they continued wearing the dicky bow, but they’ve insisted students call them by title.

I’m a snob, academia, the classics, the entire gamut from music, art literature to history, Oxford, Cambridge, public schools, grammar schools, dickie bows, waist coats and plus fours, professors, even plastic professors, I adore them all. When I was a boy, this was what constituted education and refinement and through out my twenties I aspired to it. Sadly, by the time I got to university, in my early thirties, the gown, mortar board and anything ‘classical,’ if not already on a heap in the college quad, were on their way! And now, well, every Tom, Dick and Harry have a degree – usually in hair dressing or business studies. As much as I mock plastic professors, tongue in cheek, a least the title sets you apart from the herd. Sadly, of all my university friends, some of whom are university lecturers, professors, some even renowned in academic circles, few embraced ‘the classical’ with any passion in little other than their individual subjects. I don’t want to leave my current occupation, that would be foolish, but secretly, I would love one of those business cards and the snobbery of calling myself a ‘professor.’ Is it possible to teach a lesson or two a week in a university, even a poxy one, and ‘earn’ the title ‘professor,’ or even ‘associate professor?’ If so, pathetic as it is, I want the job!”