Elwood 5566

Kerbside Crap – Korean Style

Posted in Comparative, customs by 노강호 on October 4, 2011

and this is on a good day

Saturday evening and I was really feeling like I wanted some company. None of my friends were home and so I was forced to go out trawling the streets in the hope I might bump into an acquaintance that I knew well enough to have a coffee or dinner with. I would even have settled for a student but really wanted a makgeolli but drinking in their presence is taboo. Eventually, I was forced to sit outside a convenience store and make like some of the blog authors I read about who seem so acquainted with this ‘hobby’ and write so entertainingly about it (The Supplanter).

I’m not quite comfortable with this pastime and am forced to either sit at the GS25 near my one room, which is secluded but boring, or sit a little further where another GS25 is on a main crossroad and there is plenty to watch. I choose the latter. And the root of my discomfort? First, I’ve just bumped into the local vicar who has been accosting me at least once a week for three years. Despite the fact he always tries to encourage me to attend his church, I quite like him. He’s a music-major and likes Handel, one of my favourites and we seem to agree more than disagree about the political issues we’ve touched on. On this subject, he is the first Korean I met to describe their views as ‘socialist.’ He’s with his teenage son and in the process of going to cancel a contract for a Samsung Galaxy S which he’d only taken out a contract on that morning. It was a reward for his son’s doing well at school but when mum found he hadn’t ‘won the prize,’ that is achieved 100%, she insisted the contract be broken. The boy, who’s about 14, is looking noticeably glum. We’re standing directly outside the entrance to their church and Dad starts telling me about their new Saturday morning Bible class. All I have to do is look interested and mutter the occasional ‘maybe’ and he’ll give up. He offers an incentive, free breakfast, and immediately bacon, sausages, egg and toast spring to mind. Then, I remember a church ‘feast’ I once attended with a friend and the utter disappointment at finding it consisted of seaweed soup, five grain rice and some kimchi. Some sausages might have lured me but tofu beanpaste soup I can make at home. Sitting at the GS25 on the cross-road is bad as I’ve met him there only a few weeks ago, drinking makgeolli and I don’t want him thinking I’ve a problem.

Second, it’s been a hot day and the plastic street furniture is hot. Around a year ago, just after getting comfortable in one, a leg snapped off. It has been an old piece of ’furniture,’ its colour having faded and I guess over a long time they bake in the summer sun and become brittle. One moment I was enjoying myself, the next I was on my back, my arse still in the chair. Worse, I couldn’t get up and felt like an upturned tortoise. I flayed my limbs a few times, aware of the faces looking down at me. Instantly, I rolled over and got straight up, dusted myself down, moved the broken chair against the window and briskly walked off. I didn’t walk on that side of the street for the next six months.

My other discomfort stems from the fact I want to drink makgeolli and there is a sort of taboo with doing this in public and a few of my Korean friends will quite happily sit outside a convenience store with a beer, but not makgeolli. So, I eventually buy a few cans of beer and cautiously settle down in one of those horrid blue chairs, selecting as I do, one that looks new and robust.

Ideal for when you’re caught short

As I’m sitting watching life, a small boy steps out of the adjacent restaurant, his mum follows. Mums guides the boy to a tree with a patch of earth at its base upon which he proceeds to vomit. It’s only a small vomit, the boy is probably only 4 or 5 and he’s quite skinny but despite this mum takes a wadge of tissues out of  her handbag uses it to soak up what sick hasn’t already been absorbed into the thirsty ground. Next minute, another little boy comes out with his mum and he pees into a small bottle she has which she subsequently puts in her handbag. On this issue, I note that E-Mart now sells small piss bags exactly for this purpose. Apparently, urine or vomit is turned to a lump of gel once in the bag. Meanwhile, on every other street corner are small to large piles of trash. Trash on the road side, at designated points is the usual manner in which refuse is disposed of and it’s collected on a daily basis. I can still remember the song that refuse-carts used to play, a custom that stopped in Daegu well over 6 years ago. I never did get an accurate translation of the lyrics but was told it gave instructions for putting out rubbish and how plastic and glass needed to be separated. Few things about Korean culture annoy me but one that does that a significant number of the population dispense with the obligatory waste disposal bag and simply chuck their garbage, un-bagged, onto the designated area. Milk cartoons, egg shells, plastic bottles, bits of vegetable and food are all left to blow about. It’s hardly surprising how many Korean visitors to Japan comment on their clean streets. It seems quite strange that one should mop up a slither of sick destined to be absorbed by the soil, or to allow a toddler to piss in a bottle rather than in the gutter when littering is almost a universal custom. Only a few weeks ago, I watched an elderly man empty the rubbish from a cardboard box he wanted into the gutter before walking off with it.

unsightly and unhygienic!

In so many ways I prefer Korean life and culture to that back home but if there is one area where a massive improvement is needed it is in littering and bagging refuse appropriately. The correct bagging of refuse doesn’t just mean using designated disposal bags, but that it can also be publicly stored safe from the many cats and pigeons prior to collection.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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Who’s Pissing in the Pool?

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, podcasts by 노강호 on June 4, 2011

pissing in the pool

Podcast 83

Here are three Korean habits which I find displeasing: spitting, littering and pissing in public. Now, before getting on a cultural high horse, all three habits can be observed in Britain and certainly, in my hometown on most evenings of the week, you can observe both public spitting and urinating. I have even seen a teenage girl squat against a shop door and urinate without even pulling her jeans or knickers down. A month earlier the Queen herself had walked through the very same doorway (William and Griffith’s in Colchester). Not only can you see the displays of public urination, spitting, as well as vomiting, but in the daytime every recess oozes the reek of urine. And then there is a habit among British teenage boys and low-class men which you will not see in Korea, and which was taboo when I was a boy, of one or both hands down the front of ‘trousers’ toying with genitalia.  I’m sure this habit has evolved along with the spreading popularity of ‘trackie’-type trousers where an elasticated waistband provides ease of access. I once watched a young man in a supermarket constantly first contacting his tackle intermittently touching fruit and vegetables and worse, other people!

there is even a Facebook for this practice

It has taken me a while to ascertain how common urinating is in the bathhouse. I’m afraid I don’t go for those waygukin (foreigners) who claim Koreans golden shower all over bathhouses, piss in the pools and constantly gawk at their nudity. Such accusations are normally levied as a means of excusing yourself the bathing experience because you fear an unclothed environment. Of course Koreans stare! They stare everywhere you go but if you have any cultural awareness you will know that all you need do is look around busily, instead of lowering your gaze which you naturally do when embarrassed, and make eye contact. Koreans will instantly look away because starring is considered rude and eye contact exposes this. Better still, make eye contact and smile. Nothing dispels the tension caused by starring quicker than a smile and instantly, a stressful encounter is made friendly. As for accusations about pissing in the showers, from my experience, they are exaggerated.   Firstly, it is not easy to determine if someone is pissing at the same time they are showering. Indeed, from my own ‘experimentation’ it seems that if you stand in a certain position you can actually manipulate the flow of water so it appears you are urinating. How you determine someone is urinating while in a pool eludes me. With considerable bathhouse hours clocked-up over a long period of time in many different bathhouses, I have only witnessed a few people who were definitely urinating in the shower.

One such occasions occurred a few days ago when a teenage boy entered the complex with his friends. I immediately noticed him as he spat onto the pile of used towels by the entrance. Teenage boys often spit as they enter the bathing complex and I perceive this a territorial act an animal might make when it urinates on ‘its patch.’ Then, as he stood in the shower, he arched his back and pissed as high as he could up the shower wall. In the meantime, he is busy talking with his friends. I am also reminded that not too long ago, I watched two boys larking in the showers during which boy golden showered on his friend’s leg. Considering it is deemed dirty to blow your nose in a handkerchief and rude to even blow it in public, I would have thought pissing on your friend’s leg totally taboo. However, they found the act highly entertaining.

as long as I don't see it

I have no problem with snorting or spitting in the bathhouse provided it is expelled in a gully and not on the areas walked over. For most cases this is what happens, often with a spray or douse of water to speed the emission on its way. However, last week a man bathing next to me, noisily coughed up a projectile and spat it onto the floor. He did this several times and without the usual habit of throwing water over it to wash it away. This was particularly revolting especially as I was about to eat breakfast.

Yes, Koreans have some grotty habits but so do most cultures and teenage boys aren’t the best candidates on which to judge a nation’s hygiene. Personally, pissing in the bathhouse, by which I mean pissing on the floor or tiles doesn’t bother me if it’s done discretely; in other words don’t let me see you doing it or if you do at least make the act ambiguous. Blatant disregard of protocol is more an act of disrespect than of pollution.  I’m sure people sometimes piddle in the pool but I am not that bothered unless I see them doing it when I would be angered, not by urine contaminating my bathing water, but by the perpetrator’s gall at pissing in front of me and hence challenging my adult authority.

As for the third offence I began this post with, namely, littering,’ there is no doubt Koreans excel at this anti social habit. Korean refuse collection leaves much to be desired both in terms of public provision and personal standards. It is one thing to put out garbage in the legally required bin-bag, and quite another to simply empty the contents against a lamppost, as many seem to do.  In terms of littering the street, teenage boys are the worst offenders and seem to assume that rubbish can be dropped anywhere and cleaned up by someone else – which it generally is. This isn’t much different to the misguided attitude many British school kids have, that you can drop little on the floor because cleaners are paid to pick it up. Now that dog muck has been largely banished from British streets, and ten years ago it was tolerated, it is only fair to say British streets are far cleaner than their Korean counterparts and littering is clearly anti-social and illegal.

(2002) in around eight years it has become anti-social to let your dog foul the pavement

So, how prevalent is pissing while in the pool?

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.