Elwood 5566

A Gully of Urine and Discarded Cigarette Ends – Vacation Finished!

Posted in customs, Diary notes, Korean children by 노강호 on March 1, 2012

Vacation fashion – the shaggy perm

These past few weeks I’ve experienced the naughtiest behaviour many Korean kids, especially boys, get up to. I live in an area of one and two room accommodations close to a university and sandwiched between high rises on three sides. One-rooms are basically studio type accommodation for one person which range from spacious and comfortable to poky and claustrophobic. Two-rooms are the same but have two bedrooms. The bathroom is always an additional room even if a one-room and often, though not always, so is the kitchen. Usually there is an enclosed veranda bordering the ‘rooms’ and in which you can hang washing, store items and is often the best location for a washing machine.  The enclosed veranda provides an excellent insulation in the winter as it effectively produces an enormous form of double glazing. I’ve lived in most of the variations. The worst was in Cheonan and though it was clean and pleasant, it was on the ground floor and as usual, there were bars on the windows. Worse however, was that the kitchen was in the bedroom area and it was small, small enough so that I could sit on my bed and prepare meals. Indeed, I could do everything either sat at my bed or by taking one-step. A ‘one-step’ would have been a far better description for this type of accommodation.

A small table pulled out from the kitchen unit alongside the bed so that I could prepare food and eat from the comfort of my bed, ideal for invalids and the infirm. Then, by standing and taking one small step, I could wash dishes and cook. For several years I was always embarrassed to say I lived in a ‘one-room’ because it sounds so much like a dingy UK bedsit but I’ve learnt there is great variation in size and comfort. My first two-room, in 2000, for example, had no air-conditioning; ten years ago air-con wasn’t a standard part of a teacher’s accommodation contract and we weren’t even supplied with a fan. My current one room is quite large and probably four times the size of my ‘one-step’ room in Cheonan. I suppose the worst thing about such accommodation, and purely based on my experience, is the lack of any view. Ground floors feel like prison cells due to the barred windows and very often the only glimpse of life beyond is that of the adjacent building’s wall. And of course, the outer windows of one rooms are generally frosted so even if you have a view it’s obstructed by this and the mosquito screen.

the alleyways around my one-room

Around and between the tightly packed one-rooms/two rooms in the area in which I live, are a maze of small passage ways. These provide access to down pipes, gas pipes and air conditioning units rather than a means of walking from one place to another. For nimble and athletic school boys however, capable of climbing over the walls which separate them, they are perfect recesses to hide from the adult world. For most of the year these passages are void of life but during vacation month they are frequently visited by groups of lads up to the Korean equivalent of ‘no good.’

a myriad of hidden recesses

So, this afternoon, March 1st, a national holiday (삼일) marking the earliest public display of resistance to the Japanese occupation which took place on March 1st 1919, the last gaggle of school boys huddle on their haunches under my kitchen window to commit some of the naughtiest acts possible for Korean teenagers. The first of these is smoking which is always accompanied by dribbling spit onto the pavement. This act has a sort of fashion to it and spit is rarely spat out but dribbled with an accompanying intense interest and fascination practiced by the performer. Next comes the pissing, which two boys do against the wall of my building. This is naughty but it’s not an altogether uncommon site in public. The third offence is their noise, boisterous and lively, but too loud! After the cigarette session, they run around a little playing chase and wrestling, almost deliriously happy. One of them throws a stone, not at a window or another person, but simply on the floor. Then I am spotted! There are a few seconds when they freeze, rather like a pack of wolves, in this case toothless, and stare in my direction, sniffing the air, motionless and silent. Then, without any discussion, they are gone. I am still able to hear their chattering and laughing but from a passage I can’t see. Their final offence is in the litter left from the visit, cigarette ends and a discarded packet. However, Koreans litter with impunity and this is only deemed an offence by foreigners. For school boys, such behaviour is about  the closest Koreans come to being hoodlums or delinquents.

Today is the last day of the long winter and spring vacation, two holidays interrupted by a few days school, which preceded the start of the new academic year. Of course, nothing is ever quite as it seems in Korea and despite the fact students have a school vacation, most attend the private academies in the afternoon and evenings or school academic camps.  High school students have hardly any vacation and attend academies on the weekend.

The long holiday period, spanning about seven weeks, allows elementary and middle school students to truly let their hair down. In academies they are often tired from playing lengthy sessions of video games or watching TV until the early hours of the morning and dyed hair, painted nails, earrings and perms are all tolerated. After seven weeks the shorts back and sides of many lads have been groomed into more lengthy and fashionable styles and I’ve even noticed boys tossing their head to flick hair out of their eyes, in a manner reminiscent of Justin Bieber.  It’s all been tolerated, even encouraged, that is until today. I’m sparing a thought for the thousands of kids who will be washing out the dye, getting their haircut and scrubbing their nails clean as they prepare for school in the morning. My fitness center will be void of  the peer groups of teenage boys and girls whose chatter and laughter have accompanied my training sessions for the last two months.  Going back to school in the UK, after the summer vacation, was always depressing but the respite of a week’s half term holiday was at the most only ever about six weeks away.  With the obsessive and intense nature of Korean education and the next vacation laying far in the distance amidst the screaming memis’ song of summer, the end of the spring vacation, the beginning of a long, long  haul marked by a chain of exams and the relentless daily trudge from one academy to another, must be especially gloomy.

a gulley of urine, cigarette ends and a discarded cigarette packet mark the remains of the long vacation

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam Il – (Bathhouse Ballads March 2011)

Korean Teenagers’ Wacky World of ‘Vacation’ Fashions – (Bathhouse Ballads July 2010)

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Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam-Il (삼일 March 1st)

Posted in History, patriotic Taekwon-do, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 1, 2011

Remembering Sam-Il International Taekwon-do Style

It may be of interest  to know that there exist two ‘spellings’ for Korea’s most famous martial art; namely ‘taekwondo’ and ‘taekwon-do.’ Here in Korea, ‘taekwondo,’ basically sport taekwondo, is the most popular style with most practitioners, however not only does another major style of taekwon-do exists, but there were originally 9 different schools of TKD.

emblems of various kwans and federations

In the 1940’s, 5 major schools (kwans) had survived Japanese colonization where their practice had been banned. A ‘kwan’ was a school or group of martial artists following one particular style or leader. Kwan members were forced to study Korean systems, such as taekkyon, in secret, or learn Chinese or Japanese styles often in Japan, Manchuria or Okinawa. During this period, the future of Korean martial arts were significantly influenced by this exposure and most especially the exposure to Japanese Shotokan karate, the practice of which had been allowed. After WW2, when Japanese colonization ended, five major kwans emerged:

Soeng Moo Kwan (성무관) ‘Pine School.’ Founded by Ro Byung-jik, in 1944. Influenced by shotakan karate. Popular in the army.

Roh Byong-jik

Cheong Do Kwan (청도관) sometimes spelt Chung Do Kwan,  ‘Blue Wave School.’ Founded by Lee Won-kyuk, in 1944. Lee practiced taekkyon (Korean traditional kicking) and Okinawa te. Popular in the police as Lee was a teacher at the Korean Police Academy.

Chung Do Kwan emblem

Moo Duk Kwan (무덕관)  (from which Tang Soo Do is derived). Founded by Hwang Kee, in 1946. Hwang practiced taekkyon, tai chi and kung fu.

Hwang Kee, Martinov, Jae Joon Kim and Norris

Moo Duk Kwan

Kwon Bop Kwan – later became Chang Moo Kwan. Founded by Yoon Byeong-in, in 1946. Yoon studied kung-fu and karate andof all the kwan styles, early Chang Moo was the most heavily influenced by Chinese kung-fu.

Yoon Byeong-in

Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan – Founded by Chun Sang-sup, in 1946.

Jidokwan (Yun Moo Kwan)

By the end of the Korean War, four other schools were established but these emerged from the original 5 kwans. The ‘new’ styles were:

Han Moo Kwan – Founded August 1954 by Lee Hyo-yoon. This kwan derived from Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan.

Oh Do Kwan Founded by Choi Hong-hi (죄홍희) and NamTae-hi (남태희) in 1955 who were originally Chung Do Kwan (Cheong) exponents.

Jung Do Kwan – founded by Lee Yong-woo, in 1956 and also emerging from the Chung Do Kwan.

Kang Duk Kwan – founded in 1956 by Park Chul-hee and Hong Jong-pyo, emerging from Kwon Bop Kwan.

In the early 1950’s, President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi (Oh Do Kwan) to introduce martial arts to the Korean army where he was a senior officer.  On April 11th 1955, either Choi (Oh Do Kwan) or Song Duk-son (Chung Do Kwan) proposed the name ‘taekwon-do’ as the term to identify the styles practiced by the kwans. Though not all adopted this name and continued using terms such as tang soo do, it was broadly used. In the mid 50’s,  Syngman Rhee then instructed Choi to unify the nine kwans which led to the establishment of the Korean Taekwon-do Association (KTA) in 1959-60.

ITF's Choi Hong-hi

In the early 1960’s, The KTA and Korean Government dispatched a team of 12 taekwon-do ‘diplomats,’  known as The Original Masters of Taekwon-do, on a world tour to promote taekwondo and Korea. The twelve were: Choi Chang Keun, Choi Kwang Jo, Han Cha Kyo, Kim Jong Chan, Kim Kwang Il, Kong Young Il, Park Jong Soo, Park Jung Tae, Park Sun Jae, Rhee Chong Chul, Rhee Chong Hyup, and Rhee Ki Ha. The group was led by Choi Hong-hi and Nam Tae-hee of the Oh Do Kwan. Members of this group became instrumental in introducing and establishing taekwondo in countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, Germany the UK and Ireland.

Rhee Ki-ha, UKTA

In 1966, Choi (Oh Do Kwan), and other senior members  founded the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). In the early 1970’s, other members founded the official governing body, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). Their headquarters became the Kukkiwon. The WTF is supervised by the Sports Division of the Ministry of Culture.

Kukkiwon, headquarters of the WTF, Seoul

On January 8, 1977, the nine  kwans unified, recognizing the Kukkiwon as the black belt promotional body for Taekwondo. The WTF replaced kwan names and gave them a numerical designation: (1) Song-Moo-Kwan, (2) Han-Moo-Kwan, (3) Chang-Moo-Kwan, (4) Moo-Duk-Kwan, (5) O-Do-Kwan, (6) Kang-Du-Kwan, (7) Jung-Do-kwan, (8) Ji-Do-Kwan, and (9) Chung-Do-Kwan.

Korean demonstration team

WTF taekwondo emerged largely because of political machinations between the various kwans and its subsequent popularity, especially in Korea, was enhanced by the introduction of taekwondo into  the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. In 2010, taekwondo became a sport in the Commonwealth games. ITF taekwon-do has suffered division since Choi’s death in 2002 and now has three competing organizations, two in Austria and one in Canada all claiming direct decent from Choi and the ITF. The ITF, structured on Oh Do Kwan practices and most especially retaining the 24 patterns originally practiced by the Cheong Do Kwan, also came to dominate North Korean taekwon-do. Pyongyang is the unofficial headquarters of ITF taekwondo training.

When Taekwondo Strikes (1973) broached the subject of the Japanese occupation

Although I have trained in both WTF and ITF styles, I have a preference for ITF which is perhaps not unusual as I took my black belt in this style and taught it for a number of years. The reason for my preference is that for many ITF practitioners, practicing at a time when Korea was isolated and mysterious, learnt about Korea came from the Choeng Do school (Blue Wave School) of patterns which were taught throughout the  Korean army and in universities. All the patterns imparted some aspect of Korean history. Though my knowledge was superficial, I at least knew who founded Korea, who the Hwa Rang-Do were and who Ahn Joong-gun was at a time when you’d have found it difficult to locate  any relevant information whatsoever.  A few years ago I quite impressed a Korean teacher when they asked me if I knew who, in tradition, was reputed to have  founded Korea. I instantly replied, somewhat like a robot, ‘the holy Dan Gun’ legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC.’ When taking my junior grading in Germany, you were required to know the relevance of each pattern.

Today is Sam-Il, which the anniversary of the birth of the Korean Independence Movement which was initiated when 33 nationalists signed a Declaration of  Independence, telephoned the local Japanese police to tell them what they had done, and were subsequently arrested. The event not only led  to some softening of harsh Japanese rule, but led to further displays of nationalism both in Korea and further afield.

We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.

We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race’s just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.

Japanese troops at West Gate, Seoul, 1904

Sam Il, (which means 3,1, ie March 1st), is the 16th pattern of the International Taekwon-do Federation and the pattern used to test black belts for their 3rd dan. It comprises 33 movements, as a reminder of the 33 activists who had the courage to sign their name to a document that they knew would lead to imprisonment, and possibly their torture and death.

I no longer train in TKD but I feel its spirit and I miss it. My own teacher, Georg Soupidis, trained under one of the Original Masters of Taekwondo, namely Rhee Ki-ha and gained his black belt under him. Rhee is still the leading figure in the British International Taekwon-do Federation and I once spoke to him at a grading in the UK. And General Choi Hong-hi once stayed at Georg’s house when he was visiting Germany. Further, if you should find a copy of Choi’s ‘bible’ of taekwon-do, on one of the back pages, Georg can be seen among the ITF black belts representing West Germany.

There are twenty four patterns in ITF taekwon-do, all descended from the original Cheong Do Kwan (Blue Wave School). ‘One pattern for each hour of the day.’ All have a significance in terms of Korean history and it’s struggles against oppression and diversity and I have certainly found no other form of martial more patriotic or more insistent on developing decent citizens, via a code of conduct, than taekwondo and none more so than taekwon-do. If you want a potted history lesson, read through the meanings of the 24 patterns, below…

Name Meaning Level
CHON-JI means literally “the Heaven the Earth”. It is, in the Orient, interpreted as the creation of the world or the beginning of human history, therefore, it is the initial pattern played by the beginner. This pattern consists of two similar parts; one to represent the Heaven and the other the Earth.It is said that the pattern was named after Lake Chon-Ji, a beautiful lake in North Korea with water so clear and calm that you can literally see the Heaven meeting the Earth. 9th Gup
DAN-GUN is named after the holy Dan-Gun, the legendary founder of Korea in the year of 2333 B.C. 8th Gup
DO-SAN is the pseudonym of the patriot Ahn Chang-Ho (1876-1938). The 24 movements represent his entire life which he devoted to furthering the education of Korea and its independence movement. 7th Gup
WON-HYO was the noted monk who introduced Buddhism to the Silla Dynasty in the year of 686 A.D. 6th Gup
YUL-GOK is the pseudonym of a great philosopher and scholar Yi I (1536-1584) nicknamed the “Confucius of Korea”. The 38 movements of this pattern refer to his birthplace on 38o latitude and the diagram represents “scholar”. 5th Gup
JOONG-GUN is named after the patriot Ahn Joong-Gun who assassinated Hiro-Bumi Ito, the first Japanese governor-general of Korea, known as the man who played the leading part in the Korea- Japan merger. There are 32 movements in this pattern to represent Mr. Ahn’s age when he was executed at Lui-Shung prison (1910). 4th Gup
TOI-GYE is the pen name of the noted scholar Yi Hwang (16th century), an authority on neo-Confucianism. The 37 movements of the pattern refer to his birthplace on 37o latitude, the diagram represents “scholar”. 3rd Gup
HWA-RANG is named after the Hwa-Rang youth group which originated in the Silla Dynasty in the early 7th century. The 29 movements refer to the 29th Infantry Division, where Taekwon-Do developed into maturity.The meaning of this pattern sometimes causes confusion as it refers to two time periods, the Hwa-Rang youth group of the 7th century and the Korean 29th Infantry Division formed by General Choi in 1953. 2nd Gup
CHOONG-MOO was the name given to the great Admiral Yi Soon-Sin of the Lee Dynasty. He was reputed to have invented the first armoured battleship (Kobukson) in 1592, which is said to be the precursor of the present day submarine. The reason why this pattern ends with a left hand attack is to symbolize his regrettable death, having no chance to show his unrestrained potentiality checked by the forced reservation of his loyalty to the king. 1st Gup
KWANG-GAE Is named after the famous Kwang-Gae-Toh-Wang, the 19th King of the Koguryo Dynasty, who regained all the lost territories including the greater part of Manchuria. The diagram (+) represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory. The 39 movements refer to the first two figures of 391 A.D., the year he came to the throne. 1st Dan
PO-EUN is the pseudonym of a loyal subject Chong Mong-Chu (1400) who was a famous poet and whose poem “I would not serve a second master though I might be crucified a hundred times” is known to every Korean. He was also a pioneer in the field of physics. The diagram ( – ) represents his unerring loyalty to the king and country towards the end of the Koryo Dynasty. 1st Dan
GE-BAEK is named after Ge-Baek, a great general in the Baek Je Dynasty (660 A.D.). The diagram ( | ) represents his severe and strict military discipline. 1st Dan
EUI-AM is the pseudonym of Son Byong Hi, leader of the Korean independence movement on March 1, 1919. The 45 movements refer to his age when he changed the name of Dong Hak (Oriental Culture) to Chondo Kyo (Heavenly Way Religion) in 1905. The diagram ( | ) represents his indomitable spirit, displayed while dedicating himself to the prosperity of his nation. 2nd Dan
CHOONG-JANG is the pseudonym given to General Kim Duk Ryang who lived during the Lee Dynasty, 14th century. This pattern ends with a left-hand attack to symbolize the tragedy of his death at 27 in prison before he was able to reach full maturity. 2nd Dan
JUCHE is a philosophical idea that man is the master of everything and decides everything, in other words, the idea that man is the master of the world and his own destiny. It is said that this idea was rooted in Baekdu Mountain which symbolizes the spirit of the Korean people. The diagram ( | ) represents Baekdu Mountain. 2nd Dan
KO-DANG is the pseudonym of the patriot Cho Man Sik who dedicated his life to the independence movement and education of Korea. The 39 movements of the pattern show the number of times of his imprisonment as well as the location of his birthplace on 39 degrees latitude.Ko-Dang was replaced by Juche in the early 1980s, either in the year 1982 or 1983. 2nd Dan
SAM-IL denotes the historical date of the independence movement of Korea which began throughout the country on March 1, 1919. The 33 movements in the pattern stand for the 33 patriots who planned the movement. 3rd Dan
YOO-SIN is named after General Kim Yoo Sin, a commanding general during the Silla Dynasty. The 68 movements refer to the last two figures of 668 A. D., the year Korea was united. The ready posture signifies a sword drawn on the right rather than left side, symbolizing Yoo Sin’s mistake of following his king’s orders to fight with foreign forces against his own nation. 3rd Dan
CHOI-YONG is named after General Choi Yong, Premier and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces during the 14th century Koryo Dynasty. Choi Yong was greatly respected for his loyalty, patriotism, and humility. He was executed by his subordinate commanders headed by General Yi Sung Gae, who later become the first king of the Lee Dynasty. 3rd Dan
YON-GAE is named after a famous general during the Koguryo Dynasty, Yon Gae Somoon. The 49 movements refer to the last two figures of 649 A. D., the Year he forced the Tang Dynasty to quit Korea after destroying nearly 300,000 of their troops at Ansi Sung. 4th Dan
UL-JI is named after general Ul-Ji Moon Dok who successfully defended Korea against a Tang’s invasion force of nearly one million soldiers led by Yang Je in 612 A.D., Ul-Ji employing hit and run guerilla tactics, was able to decimate a large percentage of the force. The diagram ( L) represents his surname. The 42 movements represents the author’s age when he designed the pattern 4th Dan
MOON-MOO honors the 30th king of the Silla Dynasty. His body was buried near Dae Wang Am (Great King’s Rock). According to his will, the body was placed in the sea “Where my soul shall forever defend my land against the Japanese.” It is said that the Sok Gul Am (Stone Cave) was built to guard his tomb. The Sok Gul Am is a fine example of the culture of the Silla Dynasty. The 61 movements in this pattern symbolize the last two figures of 661 A.D. when Moon Moo came to the throne. 4th Dan
SO-SAN is the pseudonym of the great monk Choi Hyong Ung (1520-1604) during the Lee Dynasty. The 72 movements refer to his age when he organized a corps of monk soldiers with the assistance of his pupil Sa Myung Dang. The monk soldiers helped repulse the Japanese pirates who overran most of the Korean peninsula in 1592. 5th Dan
SE-JONG is named after the greatest Korean king, Se-Jong, who invented the Korean alphabet in 1443, and was also a noted meteorologist. The diagram (Z) represents the king, while the 24 movements refer to the 24 letters of the Korean alphabet. 5th Dan
TONG-IL denotes the resolution of the unification of Korea which has been divided since 1945. The diagram ( | ) symbolizes the homogenous race.

VARIOUS PERFORMANCES OF SAM-IL HYOENG (삼일형) ‘BLUE WAVE SCHOOL.’

Some  Interesting links

jidokwan link

songmookwan link

Link to ITF taekwon=do patterns taken from here

World Taekwondo Federation link

International Taekwon-do Federation link (1)

International Taekwon-do Federation (2)

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Samil Public Holiday. March 1st

Posted in Diary notes, History, Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on March 1, 2010

(삼일 운동) Samil – (3-1) relates to March 1st 1919, which saw the emergence of the Korean Independence Movement. On this day, Korean independence fighters declared their independence from the colonial rule of Japan. The Japanese having been in occupation of Korea since 1910. The declaration, sparked widespread processions and demonstrations which Japanese authorities harshly supressed. In one village. Jeam-Ri,  all male sympathizers were herded into  a church and then burnt.  However, in the aftermath the Japanese authorities changed some of their policies especially those deemed particularly obnoxious by the independence fighters. Military police were replaced with a civilian police force and a limited press freedom was allowed. The march 1st Movement was significant in the establishment of the Republic of Korean Provisional Government, in Shanghai, in April 1919.

For those interested in taekwon-do, especially the patriotic and original taekwon-do as practiced by the ITF,  the history of which seems unknown here in Korea, Samil is the name given to one of the advanced patterns. The pattern contains  33 movements which represent the original 33 patriots who planned and penned the declaration.

My Inauguration into Korean Bathhouse Culture – March 1st 2001. (Korean Accounts Part 1. 2000-2001)

On Korean Independence Day, (Sam-il, March 1st), I went to U-chun’s sister’s house with her daughter, Ga-in and her husband, U-no. They live in Changwon (창원) which sits between Masan in the west, and Pusan in the east.  They arrived at my apartment in two cars as her sister, her husband and their daughter, Min-ju, are all traveling to Changwon where another one of their sisters lives. It was great to get out of Daegu and to travel in a direction I had not been before. U-chun has five sisters and the one we are visiting has a husband who is an officer in the army and hence they live in married quarters. The quarters were outside the city and everywhere, as it is Independence Day, hung the national flag, the daeguk gi (대국 기).

Ga-in (Olivia), in 2001 (Sam-il)

U-chun’s sister’s family  live on the top floor of the apartment block so there was a great view of the surrounding countryside.

On the journey to Changwon, U-chun asked me what three things I wanted to do before I left Korea. I said I wanted to eat pondeggi which is steamed silk worm cocoons, eat dog soup (보신탕) and go to a bathhouse (목욕탕 ). Now I have no great desire to eat cocoons or dog, but I do think I should fleetingly sample them before I leave. As for the bathhouse, which in Korean is called a mokyoktang, all that is stopping me is a fear of nudity and an insecurity at my own physique. Nana outright refuses to visit one and this is now his fifth year in Korea. Most westerners I meet here have not been to them and many don’t even know they exist. I am drawn to them simply as I am afraid of them and see them to be Korean enclaves.

Anyway, U-chun laughed and said that they were planning to visit a bathhouse  this afternoon. There was a strange plummeting sensation in my stomach, like I was suddenly falling at a very fast rate. At first I thought she was joking and then I tried to tell her that I was planning to visit one in the final week or so of my year I Korea. She didn’t seem to understand!

At U-chun’s sister’s house we drank cold green tea and then walked to a nearby restaurant. There were perhaps fifteen of us all together and of course, I was the centre of attention. We were served fish, a very ugly fish which I suspect was monk fish (악귀) as its mouth was massive. Several fish were placed on our tables, all smothered in noodles and drenched in red pepper paste. I didn’t really enjoy it. As always, there were a variety of side dishes one of which was a selection of very chewy meat. I asked U-chun what it was and her and her husband grinned. ‘it’s ddong chip.’ She replied. Now, my knowledge of the Korean language isn’t extensive but I do understand the word ‘ddong’ (똥) as this word I found written all over desks in my classrooms in my first week in Korea. The word was usually written under a drawing of a turd that curled upwards into a little point rather like Mr Whippy ice-cream. ‘Chip’ (집) is simply Korean for house.  So I was eating chicken’s arse! Korean food is very often Klingon in nature and I didn’t eat anymore from that bowl.

After the meal we walked to a nearby traditional potter’s work house. The outside of the building was a regular concrete structure but the interior had be decorated to resemble and old, traditional lodging and work place.  There were wooden rafters on the ceiling with a papery material stretched over them. Wooden posts had been sunk into the floor and the walls were paneled in wood. Everywhere was covered in Chinese characters and in one room they were even on the walls and ceiling. The potter sat at a wheel making various objects which were later to be fired and put on display. We ordered some dongdong-ju (동동주) which we drank from traditional gourd bowls. I would love a recipe of this drink as we have nothing like it in the west. It is a creamy rice wine which hasn’t been strained and which seems to be the tipple of peasants and farmer folk. As we were walking back to the apartment block, reeking of smoke from the wooden fires in the potter’s shop, U-chun told me the next stop was the bathhouse. Suddenly, the sinking feeling returned.

Sam-il 2001, in a traditional restaurant and potter’s shop on the day of my first visit to a Korean bathhouse

In U-chun’s sister’s apartment, I was offered the choice of staying with the women to play games, or going to the mokyoktang with U-no and two other male relatives. I couldn’t stay with the women without losing face, though they wouldn’t have minded, and so I decided to swallow my pride in the mokyoktang. I was really nervous but I wasn’t going to back out of the experience. At the mokyoktang in Changwon, on my inaugural visit, I immediately saw a few men who were proportionally fatter than I was and any insecurities about the genital department quickly evaporated when I realised that there were very little differences between people. I was quite honoured when two strangers volunteered to scrub my back for me but it was a weird experience. It was wonderfully liberating to be naked with other men and boys and not feel in anyway assessed or eyed up. Nudity in the west is always accompanied with sexual overtones or notions of masculinity which detract from the experience’s potential pleasures. Next to me a boy of about fourteen rubbed his father’s back and then the father rubbed his. I had a slight shock when the boy lay down and his father began rubbing his son’s chest and then moving his dick and balls to one side, scrubbed his groin. The boy then did the same to his father.

My only qualm on my first visit to the mokyoktang, besides squatting on one of those little seats,  was bending over to pick up the soap. I felt this a far to undignified act to perform. U-no spent almost an hour scrubbing himself  and I did notice that when the boy beside me was having his back scrubbed, a small line of dead, grey skin was being stripped off. Koreans actually have a word for this skin, ‘dae (때) which translates as ‘dirt.’ The abrasive cloths they use, which come is several gradients are almost like sandpaper. When we left the mokyoktang, U-no said to me, Nick! You are a new man now!’ I think he meant it in the sense I was clean but I interpreted it more mentally as the experience was a landmark in my visit to Korea and in my personal development. It was an experience that quite liberated me but has remained an experience I can only enjoy in Korea.

I have since been in three different mokyoktang premises and they are all fairly similar in what they have to offer. The changing rooms are large and opened planned and there is usually a television around which people sit naked or dressed either drying off or recuperating after the session as it can quite tire you. When you go from the changing room area to the bathing area you have no security at all as you are totally naked.  Everything is supplied for you and so you have to walk past the relaxation area without even the safety of a face cloth or towel. I actually felt so naked that even my watch and dog tags gave me some minuscule sense of security.

Once in the bathing area there are plenty of high powered showers which you can adjust from freezing cold to scorching hot. Next there are rows of showers where you sit down on a small plastic stool which is not much bigger than a washing-up bowl. In front of you, as you sit, is an enormous mirror and it is here that you do most of your scrubbing clean. One my first visit I avoided these showers as the seat is so low to the floor that even if you have a relatively small belly, it is highlighted. Soap, toothpaste, razor blades, salt – for scrubbing your teeth, towels, abrasive body cloths are all provided. In the bathing area are usually a number of pools which would include a hot pool, a cold pool, a warm pool and often a Jacuzzi. Around these are a number of rooms such as a steam room and various saunas. In some mokyoktang houses are shower cubicles which blast your body from a hundred different vents with ice cold water.

I have fallen in love with the Korean mokyoktang and not for any seedy reason. In fact, since I started this diary entry I have made six trips to different establishments around Song So (성서). First of all, no one ogles at you. Koreans, by their nature will have a little inquisitive stare but will look away very quickly as starring is considered rude. I surmise that Koreans will have seen thousands of bodies by the time they become adults and everything I have to offer, other than Caucasian looks, will have been seen many times before.  The mokyoktang, experience has given me a deeper insight into the Korean psyche. Koreans are impeccably clean and have a very healthy attitude towards nudity and physicality albeit within gendered confines. Many of the insecurities that exist in the west I should imagine are unknown here. I doubt few teenage boys or men grow up worrying about the size of their penis. I can remember the hatred I had as a teenager when it came to school showers and there were many of us that used to try and dodge them. For some perverse reason showers only ever seemed to be enforced around the age of puberty. Korean mokyoktangs are full of men and boys of all ages who visit with their friends or alone and obviously have no worries about nudity. When I last taught PE in an English school, probably around 2003, boys undressed underneath enormous towels and even one boy saw another naked both observer and seen were deemed ‘gay’. How pathetic!

In the week following my visit, one of the foreign teachers from the Yon San Dong school suffered an emotional trauma over an experience she had in her classroom. One of the bosses of the school, a guy we call ‘Scary Hat Man, as he always wears the ridiculous looking stetson, was playing with Mr Jo’s youngest son. She saw him playfully pinch the boy between the legs. The event traumatised her and she was sat crying inconsolably. She ranted on about leaving Korea and that she couldn’t work in a school wear a boss was a child abuser. Recently, the relationship between the foreign teachers in the school has been a little strained and Matt and I tried telling her that you couldn’t judge on western attitudes. I have read that Korean adults will often feel a young child between the legs to determine if it is a girl or a boy and that this is quite acceptable. Further, several infant boys have pinched me between the legs and run away laughing, this has happened more than once. Another common behaviour is for children to clasp their hands together with their index fingers protruding, and then to poke you up the backside. This is always accompanied with the Konglish (mixed English and Korean) exclamation, ‘Ddong Injection!’ (‘shit injection!’)  This is always a group activity, or perhaps I should say attack, and is always accompanied with laughter. When I told her about the father who moved his son’s dick and balls to one side to scrub his groin, she promptly shook her head and said ‘I don’t want to hear this!’ Her attitude is annoying as I feel that when she is in my class I have to censor the way I act though I have no interest in feeling a kiddies crotch. I am just concerned she may interpret my sitting a child on my knee or touching a child as ‘sexual.’

Another thing I have started doing here, in order to live the Korean experience, is making slurping noises when I eat and making those throaty noises when my nose or chest is blocked. Loudly clearing your nose in the mokyoktang gutter is quite acceptable and actually enjoyable. It provides a wonderful sense of personal freedom though I am sure such habits will cease when I return to the UK.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.