Elwood 5566

Wonderful Spaland – A Little Less Wonderful. Update (1)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu, services and facilities by 노강호 on October 26, 2011

For most of this year, Wonderful Spaland has remained my favourite bathhouse in the west side of Daegu. The allure lay in the heady scents emitted in the Roman Mosaic Steam Room, and the smoky smell of the oak charcoal bath the essences extracted by a process of condensation. Other attractions included a large massage pool, the semi-exposed no-ch’eon (노천) as well as the fact the facilities were impeccably clean and comfortable.

Wonderful Spaland

Last weekend was a bad time to visit. With a major baseball quarter-final in play the baths were packed and at one point I estimated about two hundred people in the pool and shower area. However, most bathers weren’t watching the game but enjoying the massage pool. To compound matters, Saturday had been a ‘play Saturday’ (놀토) and as the majority of students had finished their mid-term exams, there were plenty of kids splashing about and making a noise.

Unfortunately, several changes have occurred in the arrangement of pools which has slightly downgraded my rating of Wonderful Spaland. I know from comments by other readers that the women’s section had the same structure as the men’s area but currently, don’t know if the changes have been applied to one area or both. In my opinion, the changes have removed facilities that gave the establishment  a clear lead over other luxury bathhouses.

The ‘Roman Sauna,’ which formerly had a large structure in the center of the circular room which hissed out the most intoxicating aromas,  has been removed and the floor underneath replaced with mosaic. This was the central feature of the sauna and it felt quite natural to be seated around this, on solid mosaic seats. With the structure removed, and no central focus, it now feels a little odd sitting in a circle. A TV screen now occupies the wall but the circular seating isn’t practical and effectively retires the seating under the TV. I can’t remember if the screen was there before; if it was, its presence was insignificant as one’s interest was dominated by the hissing of the ‘cauldron’ in the center of the room. This sauna has gone from balanced and enjoyable to clumsy and pointless but the mosaic decoration, if any consolation is attractive.

Wonderful Spaland’s luxurious ‘milky bubble tang’

The oak charcoal bath (짬나무/목초탕), the scent of which permeated the entire bathhouse, was formerly in the no’ch’eon area, next to the salt sauna but this has now been replaced by a mud bath. The current charcoal bath is now located in the center of the complex alongside  the ‘event-bath‘ (이벤트탕) and the unique ‘milky bubble bath.’  The charcoal pool is no longer as intense as it was and though its scent is still noticeable as you approach the changing rooms, it no longer lingers on your skin for several days.

The mud bath is nothing to get too excited about and whatever mud is present merely dirties the water.  Perhaps mud baths don’t need to be sloppy and dirty and in all fairness, the only suitable place to locate this facility is by the salt sauna as these also have a shower outside them to hose off excess salt.

In my opinion, while Wonderful Spaland still remains one of the best Saunas in the area though the restructuring knocks it down a notch making it directly comparable to other ‘quality’ bathhouses.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Advertisements

Bathhouse Basics (8): The ‘Special Event Pool’ (이벤트탕)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on September 19, 2010

a ‘special event pool’ (이벤트탕)

I’ve always found e-bente-tangs to be the biggest disappointment in bathhouses and always a tongue-in-cheek anti-climax. I can remember sitting in e-bente-tangs in the past, waiting for something to happen and rarely anything did. Most often, the ‘event’ I anticipated was already in play. Don’t let the title mislead you, e-bente-tang are much like the ‘Korean holiday,’ or ‘final exam,’ by which I mean they are usually the opposite of what they claim to be.

Special event pools outside

E-bente-tang are smaller sized pools which are usually mid range in terms of temperature and which  have some added feature  such as: coloured or scented water or coloured lighting radiating from within the pool. They may also uses a combination of features or have  the capabilities of a jacuzzi.The most frequent colours are green, red or blue and the most common scents are ginseng, lavender, berry, herb, mugwort (쑥) and pine.

Coloured water ‘event’ pools’

Despite being less eventful than the name suggests, e-bente-tang are great places to relax and are often one  of the pools in which you can languish for long periods without getting too hot or cold. The addition of coloured water or aromas adds  a touch of pampering to the experience.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Migwang Bathhouse on a Sunday Morning

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Gender, seasons by 노강호 on August 1, 2010

Bathhouse view over city

I’ve been in Cambodia for a few days and today was the first opportunity in over a week to wallow in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕). I was visiting Migwang jjimjilbang in Song-So, Daegu. Though a Sunday morning at 8.45am, it was the quietest I have known it and quieter than the odd occasions when I have been in the bathhouse at 3 or 4 am.

Today it’s 35 degrees and even at 8.15 the memi were screaming from passing trees. At this time of year, with the screaming in chorus, you can hear them in a taxi with the windows closed. As is usual in hot weather, I head straight for the cold pool once I have had a shower and shave, but today I noticed something very special. I often joke to my friends about the e-bente-pool and tell them how I lay waiting for them to start spinning or jiggling up and down, but they never do. The very term ‘e-bente’ is a bit of an anti-climax and in the English use of the word merely adding a smell to the water doesn’t really constitute an ‘event.’ An ‘event’ implies something out of the ordinary or special. The very first time the complex management added an aroma to the water constituted an event which subsequently became a normal feature and a bit of a ‘non-event.’ Today however, I noticed the water has been coloured deep pink to complement the ‘herb’ aroma. So, by-passing the cold pool, I head straight for some pink pampering. Hardly much of an ‘event,’ but after waiting for over a year for something to happen, anything is better than nothing.

As I’m wallowing, I suddenly become aware of other subtitle changes. The ceiling has been cleaned and new pattern section as been placed above the central baths. In the cold pool, I discover a ledge has been built against the far wall and is big enough to sit on. One this, at intermittent spaces of about a meter, big enough to park my fat arse, are various devices which look like various kinds of fountain; I can’t tell as I don’t think it has been finished yet. Above these are multi-coloured light fittings. It looks like the lights and fitting may comprise a new water feature. Migwang is obviously doing well  financially as every holiday new items miraculously appear. Several months ago the gigantic tropical islands photos surrounding the cold pool were replaced with new ones, the tiles in the high-powered shower replaced with ones of sunflowers, and a long strip of jagged paving stone, to walk on and stimulate the soles of the feet,  a torture Koreans’ seem to enjoy, was installed.

Bathhouse overlooking city

By 11 am, the bathhouse is busier and I’m treated to a display of some guy doing a complete taekwondo workout. Another guy, cooling in the cold pool, directly behind the guy exercising, is treated to a peek up his back passage when, on several occasions, he  stretches   downwards to put his head between his knees and place the palms of his hands flat on the floor. In the e-bente-tang a teenage boy and his dad are caressing each other. The dad is sitting between his sons outstretched legs while his son pummels his shoulders and massages his back. They wrestles in the water  for a while, wrapping their legs around each other and at one point, the boy bites his father’s toe. When they watch the TV together, I notice how close they sit to each , almost like lovers, their heads are almost touching; I notice them later on when they are walking between the pools either hand in hand or with their arms around each other. I wish I could have had such intimacy with my father; I don’t think I ever massaged his shoulders  or scrubbed his back and sitting that close to each other, as adults, even when clothed, would have been uncomfortable.   If you see anything sexual in such a reflection you’re clearly a dirty waygukin with a perverted mind!

Ohhhhh! Summer’s heavenly haven

There is another teenage boy with his dad, probably about 14 and he has got the most enormous dick: if you watch the faces of other men as the boy passes them, you can see them peek at it. When they’re sitting in the e-bente-tang, the boy makes several visits to the ice-room where collecting a handful of ice, he takes it back into the pool and commences to massage it over his father’s head. In typical Korean fashion, his father makes loud noises to express his pleasure at the sensation.

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

No Pain no Gain – The Korean Bootcamp

Posted in Comparative, Education, History, Korean children by 노강호 on June 23, 2010

The ebente-tang (야벤트탕). Mugwort (쑥)

As the weather gets hotter I spend increasingly more time in the cold pool than in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) which today was scented with mugwort (쑥). In the cold pool  (냉탕) it was so cold I found it difficult swimming underwater but in another few weeks, when we are right into that horrid monsoon, it will be a welcomed sanctuary.

In the cold pool a couple of boys are messing around a little noisily and so some middle-aged man asks them to be quiet. The boys are summoned to attention by the word ‘hakseng’,’ (학생 – student) and simply told to stop mucking about.  A little later they have to be asked again though this time the man raps them on their heads with his knuckles. In pansy Britain that’s assault.

I’m thinking about Daech’eon (대천)  which is on the west coast, not too far from Ch’eonan, and a beautiful stretch of beach. The freshmen boys in my last high school used to visit there in summer just after their end of semester exams. As beautiful as Daech’eon is, I imagine that whenever they are reminded of the place they will tremble and break out in a sweat. For them, Daech’eon was a place where you both met yourself and your limitations, a place from which you returned a different person and  it was feared! In the months leading up to the summer I often heard mention of Daech’eon, always with a mix of  reverence, fear and foreboding.

Kids can learn a lot from a smack around the head and some discomfort and pain. In the west we’ve molly-coddled kids to such an extent they’ve had to invent ‘extreme’ sports in order to make themselves feel alive. Anything potentially dangerous in the playground has been removed and that nasty hard and rough floor replaced with a comforting rubber mat. Of course, there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about their sports other than a scratched knee or bruised shins. ‘Extreme ‘is playing on a playground without the protective rubber floor, getting into the boxing ring or doing some of the more strenuous of martial arts with instructors who take pleasure in grueling sessions. In one taekwondo school I attended in Korea, the instructor put a ‘naughty boy’ in a headlock until the boy’s legs went limp and he flopped to the floor – that’s ‘extreme.’  Back in the UK I’ve trained in schools so strenuous, 200 front rising kicks and 200 hundred sit ups just for a warm up, that membership was limited to less than ten students – that’s ‘extreme.’ My military training was 12 weeks which included  6 weeks at a school of physical training. The day commenced with an eight mile run and the remainder was spent in the gymnasium – that was  ‘extreme.’  Bungee Jumping would freak me out and definitely pump me full of dopamine especially as I’d be terrified the rope would break given my extreme weight. Personally, I see little ‘extreme’ about  such ‘sports’ especially as they are associated with fun and a poncy lemonade, Mountain Dew,  and anyone who aligns their personality with a carbonated corporate  beverage is  gullible and totally un-extreme.

Most kids would think this ‘extreme’

Korean special forces training – ‘extreme’

Facing your own limitations

In order to keep kids in post 16 education Britain, has introduced colleges of football, basketball, dancing, and most likely tiddly-winks. In contemporary teenagers’  jargon, most ‘extreme’ sports as well as the sports offered in sports colleges are ‘gay.’ Most British boys wouldn’t last the day in my last high school and they certainly wouldn’t last if subjected to a real training session. Many of the teenagers in British sports colleges have no idea what it takes to become a professional athlete because the ‘training’ they have been subject to is largely based on making it fun. By sanitizing all unpleasantness and removing all threats, kids are no longer forced to confront their own limitations, let alone attempt to push beyond them and in terms of both sport and academia, most  are still crouched in the starting blocks.

The TV Series ‘Kung Fu’

No Mountain Dew? Brutally Extreme!

Boy crying as he reads letter from home (Link to Rokmccamp.com)

Permeating much of the general life philosophy of Korea, is a belief that through discomfort, even pain, we become stronger. I was aware of this ‘philosophy’ when I first started training in taekwondo in the 1970’s and it is an attitude prevalent throughout the east. In the opening sequences of the 1970’s, Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is seen taking the final initiation which marks him as a Shaolin monk, lifting a heavy cauldron of glowing coals between his arms. The cauldron bars his way forward and  in moving  it  the symbols of the Shaolin Temple, the tiger and the dragon, are seared onto his forearms. The initiation is one of pain and marks the transition novice to master, from the hermitage of the monastery to life beyond its confines.  Of course, the initiation, symbols and hot-pot are probably historical baloney but it made excellent TV and encapsulated much of the spirit of the time which included an intense interest in eastern mysticism, the orient and martial arts.

Perseverance (인내)

Team work

In the late 1970’s I remember reports and photos about the Japanese Karate team practicing punching solid surfaces while kneeling on broken glass. The glass must have been ground as anything other would be highly foolish. General Choi’s (최홍희) Taekwon-do ‘bible’  (the first book about taekwondo published in English) advocated training in the snow to develop ones resilience, something still undertaken by Korean soldiers and school kids where  the philosophy of discomfort and pain strengthening the human ‘spirit’ is still alive and kicking.  Indeed, the five tenets of both the  ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) and the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) include: perseverance (인내), self-control (극기), and indomitable spirit (백절불굴).

A central figure in the history of Taekwon-do,  ignored by the WTF

Korean teenagers often attend trips, organised by schools or private organisations, designed to bond them, develop leadership and strengthen the character and coming from both an ex-military and marital arts background, as much as I dislike macho-militarism, I belief there are some benefits in such pursuits. Without doubt my training in martial arts heightened my mental power and  my ability to ‘tap into’ a superior mental state, now that I no longer train, is severely weakened.  The heightened state of reality, caused by the body being flooded with endorphins, gives rise to a euphoria which can make a lasting impression on the mind and this state, though somewhat perverse to subject ones self to, is rewarding in itself. Confronting ourselves is a revealing experience.

Getting messy hair – ‘extreme’

Part of the economic success of Korea has been attributed to the hard work and discipline of older generations. My closest friend often tells me about his childhood and the constant hunger he faced. His mother used to make dong-dong-ju (a rice wine alcohol) which he carted to the local market to sell. By western standards he is working class and for the ten years I have known him he and his wife have struggled to ensure their son and daughter had a good education and entered a decent university.  For the last five years he has worked in a car factory in Ulsan and lives away from home returning only every second weekend. His wife runs a street pancake stall where she will freeze or sweat, depending on the season. I can think of few individuals back home who work as hard as they do but their experience is one shared by majority of Koreans who were children in the wake of the 1950’s. It is this hardiness which on the one hand is often  attributed to Korean economic success and on the other, to the both the pampering of their children and the occasional desire to provide their children a taste of harshness that might make them better citizens or students.

Korean Kids at a ‘camp’ near Asan

I’ve taught in English schools where you weren’t allowed to shout at children and had to ignore bad language unless aimed at you personally

Knowing your’re alive doesn’t happen very often

Across Korea are various ‘boot’ camps which specialize in providing today’s youth with a taste of hardship. The courses are designed  to  bond, facilitate team work, and develop perseverance and tenacity. Trekking up mountains, standing still for an hour, twice a day, military style discipline and exercises, training in snow, mud, rain or the sea are all common. Some of my middle school students recently went on a trip which involved sleeping on graves in the mountain without any adults – however, how widespread this is I don’t know. Sure, lots of people will see such training as harsh and wicked but for even the most average sports person or averagely talented person, facing your limitations is a common experience.  While many of today’s rich and famous have ascended to stardom by virtue of a mixture of luck and looks, most of us will only achieve great things by guts and determination. As much as I dislike football, Beckham is talented but then he spent many hours hammering balls into goal to hone his skill. Molly-coddling kids and protecting them from facing themselves simply teaches them to be less than mediocre. In addition, discipline subjects children to the will of adults which is no bad thing. I’d rather live in a society where the kids are controlled than in one where they run amok doing exactly as they please.

Link to New York Times article

Indomitable spirit (백절불굴) And it does them good!

It’s only pain!

The British army stopped log  training many years ago and burpees in the mid 1970’s.

All young men are required to undertake 24 months military service and for young boys this kind of training is a taste of things to come. Considering the relationships between North and South Korea, and the fact the war has never officially ending,  conscription is a practical preparation for the unspeakable event. When your country prefers to wage war on distant shores, you can rely on a professional army but when the enemy is on your doorstep such luxuries evaporate.

Circumcision and the freshman summer camp were probably the two most feared events in the lives of  the freshmen in my high school. The morning  the buses rolled up onto the school grounds to cart them off was especially silent, as if an execution were about to be  detailed.  A week later they returned exhausted, sunburnt, bruised and very proud. All the boys were scarred, all had badly friction burned knees  or elbows, there were cuts and bruises and a few  returned with broken legs or arms. Though the boys still had two years of one of the most demanding schools systems in the world to endure, the friction burns, cuts and bruises, like the Shaolin tiger and dragon, were badges of belonging, symbols of esprit de corps. Daech’eon was an intensely private and intimate experience and once recovered, and confined to history, mention of that beach stirred memories and emotions and at such times I felt both an intruder and outsider. In a preface to one of his James Bond novels, Flemming writes: You only live twice; once when you’re born and once when you die. I think the Daech’eon boys, and any other kids who attend such boot camps, have already experienced a second brush with ‘living.’

After the Daech’eon camp

Tired

Post dopamine lull

LINKS TO VIDEO CLIPS OF KOREAN TEEN BOOT CAMPS

ITN News Report

Reuters 1

Reuters 2

Nocommenttv

NTDTV

———————————————————————————————————————————–

LINKS TO WRITTEN ARTICLES ON KOREAN BOOT CAMPS

Jjujund. Translation from the Chicago Tribune Sept 2009

Link to ABC News

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Song-So in Transition

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on June 19, 2010

E-bente-tang (이벤트탕)

In the Ebente Tang (이벤트 탕) today the additional essence was pine (솔입). It was slightly busier than usual for a lunch-time and I got talking to the westerner who isn’t afraid to bend over. It’s actually the first time I have sat with a westerner, naked in a bathhouse, since I visited Korea a few years ago with a friend. I passed another westerner on the way in;  I was taking my shoes off as he was putting his own. He didn’t want to talk, I could tell, and he was a dirty looking backpacker type with grungy looking clothes and a month’s stubble. I almost  let him escape then said, ‘hello,’ after which he had to exchange some conversation with me. I’ve not really seen him around before but of course, he’s lived here for a few years, which means probably 13 months.

I’ve had a few drinks. This evening, as I left work, I felt like a stroll down to where my old school  used to be which involves crossing a large cross-road near the Lotte Cinema. I  hardly ever go Keimyung University side unless I want some Baskin Robbins ice cream.  The cross-road forms a barrier, an asteroid belt between my realm, a few blocks, and what is basically another universe. I usually experience a sense of adventure as  I cross it and begin journeying where I haven’t been before.  Of course, I probably have been in this location before but the transformation of the buildings and businesses occupying it generally make me feel passing them is a first encounter.   I’d started the journey from my bank and half way towards my old school, as it starts to rain, I realise my umbrella is in the bank foyer. It’s pointless turning back and beside, this is Korea and the chances are very high it will be there when I return.

Song-So in 2000 from the top of E-Marte. This area still had patches of farmland all since developed

2010. Same location

The businesses towards my old school, a hideous factory in which I worked for 18 months, have changed. KFC has gone – the first pace I ate on my own in Korea, so too has Lotteria burger bar where I’d hang out in the most humid part of summer because contracts back then didn’t include air conditioning, and where a bedding shop used to be I’m treated to a reminder of life back home  in the form of a Tesco’s Home Plus. Not content to have invaded every corner of England, they are now starting to terminate all small businesses in Korea. My old school is no longer Di Dim Dol but some other school, still run by a money grabbing businessman boss. On the huge poster on the third floor,  some round-eyed western kiddy stares out at Korea, pen in hand, looking studious. Of course, the truth is most western kids couldn’t give a fuck about English and the native language skills of both Britain and the USA fall behind that of Korea, which for all its faults, has one of the most successful education systems in the world. My old Taekwondo Academy has gone and so too has the Pizzaland underneath it.

This entire stretch of road used to be the most affluent part of Song-So but since a mega cinema complex, known as Mega Town, was built some 6 years ago, opposite where I currently live, the money has moved into the next block. It was an obvious transition; near the Cinema is the E-Marte supermarket and surrounding it are buffet restaurants, pizza restaurants, coffee shops and a Dunkin Donut. Further down the road towards the university, the area in which my old school used to be the atmosphere is  now slightly shabby and deserted. When I cross the large crossroads and venture into the unknown I often feel guilty of being lazy but nowadays I just remind myself I rarely come here as there isn’t really much to see.

Sea squirt (멍개)

I end up eating dinner in an Oyster restaurant where I know the owner. It’s one of the hardiest local businesses. The first thing he says to me is that I have put on weight when indeed I have lost it. Not a good start to the evening especially as my favourite food here was oyster tempura. Ten years ago this restaurant was a North Korean restaurant  and was where I regularly used to meet my friend Cherie, currently my boss after she quit Di Dim Dol Factory School. The owner is really pleased to see me and wanting an excuse to drink, plies me with plenty of ‘service’ in the form of beer, makkalli, sea squirt, and sliced jellyfish.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what its like to eat a boil, Sea Squirt (멍개) is a close approximation. I’ve eaten them before and never found them delicious. Sliced jellyfish (햅아리) however, I like especially if in a sauce. The specialty in this establishment is oyster. My home town in the UK, Colchester, has existing oyster pens built when the Romans occupied Britain. Indeed the oyster trade dates back 2000 years. You wouldn’t really know this as oysters are probably no more visible in Colchester than in any other town especially as they cost about a pound a shot – approximately 2000 Won each. My basket of delicious Oyster cost 20000 Won (£10) and there are probably 30 oysters – enough to make me feel a bit sick. And this is where I have to laugh because they cost the same price back in 2002!

I left the Oyster restaurant feeling a little sick and pissed and on the walk home passed a restaurant in which sat a group of around 6 waygukins. I stopped for a moment and spied on them. They were all young and shabby, the men unshaven and clearly back-packer types with a touch of goth about them as they were all mostly dressed in black and drab colours. One dumb-ass  had a tea cosy on his head and sat next to him was the guy I met going into the bathhouse today. No wonder he didn’t want to talk as he obviously has a gaggle of mates to chat with.

I ended up back at the bank where my little sojourn had begun and there, where I had left it, was my umbrella.

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Nancying in the Powder Room. Bathhouse Ballads

 

 

A Bathhouse Ballad

In this particular bathhouse (목욕탕) you can sit in the ebente-tang (이벤트탕) and watch the men and boys nancying about in the little ‘powder room’ that are provided in all bathing establishments. This particular ebente-tang doesn’t have any added aromas  or coloured water and you might be forgiven for wondering why indeed it is even called an ‘ebente-tang,’ until the pool starts frothing and chomping quite crazily. The jets of water from inside the pool, should you be unfortunate enough to be sat over  one as it starts and you fart, are powerful enough  to  administer a surprise enema.  As I’m being buffeted by the jacuzzi jets, I’m busily watching  three middle-aged men in the ‘powder room.’  All are stood, independent of each other and two are in straddle stances, or in what martial artists would recognise as a  ‘horse stance.’

 

A 'wushu' version of the 'horse stance'

Traditionally, this stance is used to strengthen the legs and as a position from which to practice  various blocks and strikes. As a combat stance it is redundant as it renders a male a potential gelding should a strike to the groin be forthcoming.  Don’t forget, the men in the ‘powder room’ are totally naked. Rather than blocking and striking, feet rigidly anchored to the ground, both men are drying their  sack and crack with hairdryers. I’m thinking they must have studied at the same school because despite all the variations of horse stance,  both are in identical style, technique and positions. Most likely it’s a taekwondo derived stance as it is much higher than in the Chinese version above yet not as high as the one featuring Bruce Lee (이소룡), below. This version is in-between.

 

이소룡 (Bruce Lee) practicing the sack 'n' crack stance.

The accompanying arm movements are identical: first the dryer is held pointing at the sack ‘n’ tackle before being swung  between the  legs to windy the crack area.  The latest event in the tub, an eruption, has quelled and I’m chuckling to myself as a third man in the  ‘powder room’  demonstrates his technique. Clearly, he has been trained in a totally different school.  After fiddling with one of the big fans on the long dressing table, angling it into the required position, he turns, get into a straddle and bends over, parking his exposed  butt in the fan’s stream.  The technique is very different but the stance is identical to that of the other two men and with head almost touching the floor, the fan is probably capable of drying his sack ‘n’ crack all at the same time.

Jeez, Korean men are such ponces! That’s why I like them. Back in the UK, a room such as this would terrify most westerners not just because you nancy about in it naked, but because the purpose of the room involves preening oneself. Actually, I much prefer the safety of the ebente-tang to watch how different men occupy themselves in this task. I never stay long in the ‘powder room,’ not because I don’t like being naked in front of other men, but because I don’t like being naked in front of myself, and like most ‘powder rooms,’ the walls are covered in mirrors.

All the flaws of being western are magnified in the array of mirrors and bright lights. Our skin tone tends to be more varied; my face is slightly ruddy, my buttocks lily white, my forearms as tanned as any Koreans and my neck brown. The rest of my body is whitey- pink, like a giant maggot. Then there’s the hair; back hair, chest hair, arm hair and leg hair and it’s all different in colour, texture and shape. My arm hair is smooth, my chest hair a little coarser and the hair on my back is somewhat like the hair on the backs of my arms, long and straggly and the sort of hair a neanderthal might have. I can’t stand looking at myself in those mirrors and always find the ‘powder room’ a little stressful.

 

All that hair. Yuk!

I touched on the subject of body hair several months ago, in relation to living in an environment free of carpets. It’s only in this type of environment that you realise just how much hair we shed. I am not especially hairy and I sweep my floor everyday with one of those magical wipes to which hair and fluff adhere. Despite this, I find hair everywhere. I’ve found them in the fridge, freezer and only a few days ago I was eating a slice of water melon when what I thought was a little crack on my plate, was in fact a pubic hair. I’m 54 and have a full head of hair non of which I see anywhere, but pubic hair, chest hair and those unsightly, straggly back of arm and back hairs, get everywhere. Korean bodies are so much nicer, more alike in proportions, colour and apart from having pubes that are long enough to perm and which often seemed to be straight rather than curly, are usually pretty hairless. Hair, its antediluvian and barbaric! As I get older I notice my eyebrows becoming wilder and if I don’t trim them I start to develop antennae. Nasal hair is a bugger but is kept at bay with regular burst from a cigarette lighter. And I dread getting ear hair as that looks especially alien.

 

No hairs in his fridge!

 

In the ‘powder room’ a couple of men and a boy are preening; an old man is methodically combing his hair with a brush from the selection  of brushes and combs which are always available.  I’ve never seen any hairs on brushes and assume they are cleaned regularly and in many ‘power rooms’ are small steam boxes similar to those used in doctors surgeries and dentist, to sanitize such items. A boy is cleaning out his ears with cotton buds (q-tips), an item as standard as towels and soap. On the long dressing tables, there is always a collection of face creams, hair gel and skin brace.   As with everything in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, no two places are exactly alike.

 

Fat is Here

A Bathhouse Ballad

In the ebente-tang, the aroma of the day is lavender (라벤더). I’m wallowing while I see some guy stood in the cold pool snot-up into his hand and casually just wash it off – into the pool water. Filthy twat! I occasionally take in a mouthful of that water, I guess most people do and, I open my eyes underwater! Pissing in the baths is one thing, at least you are unaware of people doing it, but if you’re going to snot up, be discrete! The snotting incident made me wonder if the water is filtered. It is certainly changed on a regular basis and probably filtered. Neither is it chlorinated but as most people shower before entering the baths this doesn’t bother me. I can remember seeing a few turds in British swimming pools but despite the chlorinated water, I wasn’t going to swim anywhere near them! Often I notice children, usually unaccompanied, get straight into a bath without showering. Last Thursday, which was the eve of Buddha’s birthday, and a public holiday, there were about 10 teenagers running around. Usually, adults get irritated by raucous behaviour but the atmosphere was jovial and I noticed several men lounging in surrounding pools watching them and smiling. There was a definite holiday spirit; they held the door shut to the ice room door trapping friends inside and threw bowls of freezing cold water  at each other. For almost an hour the bathhouse, the noisiest I have ever heard it, despite it not being very busy, resonated with their laughter.   Then a fat guy walked in and I started thinking…

At one time, when there were few other wayguks around, I used to be the fattest man in Song-So and one of my companions, a woman from Australia, was probably the fattest woman. Though she was excellent company, I hated walking around with her. A fat person, especially one who is 1.95 cm tall, attracts attention but two fat people together, well, the assumption is they are a couple and that all western wayguks are fat. Two fat wayguks together loose their identity in the conflation that reduces them to, ‘they’ and ‘fat.’  If you’re sweating, unable to buy clothes that fit, if you’re seen eating, if you don’t like walking up four floors to your place of work, well, it’s all because you’re fat! And eating an ice-cream in public! No wonder you’re fat! I happen to take size 14 (UK) shoes. You can’t buy them in Korea, apart from perhaps in Seoul. And the reason my feet are so big, despite being the leanest parts of my body?  I’m fat, of course!  When Koreans see a fatty or a fatty couple, this is how they probably think, and I assume this, as in the west, it is how we think. Even if I see a fat person eating an ice cream on a hot summer’s day, even if I am eating one myself,  my immediate thought is, ‘go on a diet, fat arse!’ Two fat people with backsides like hippopotami, holding hands on the beach front promenade, and wobbling like jelly…  ‘gross! The contradictory nature of my thought, doesn’t even sully the flavour of my ice-cream.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but when my fat female friend and I took a taxi, along with two petit Koreans, and her and I ended up sitting on the same side of the cab,  it was clear what caused the problem, and it wasn’t paranoia! The window on our side of the taxi looked directly onto the tarmac while the opposite window framed the full moon. After a hundred meters and a few grating sounds from some part of the vehicle now in contact with the road, the taxi driver evicted us.

In  2000, and probably until fairly recently, I was the fattest person I ever saw in a bathhouse. Even proportionately, no Korean ever came close to my dimensions. This isn’t because I have the girth of Jabba the Hutte, but because Koreans were, and to some extent still are,  smaller than westerners. My diary pages from that period provide several references to there being a distinct lack of fat people. In the school at which I taught there was one fat boy, I even remember his name, Jack; a photo of him hangs in my bedroom bathroom, back in the  UK. In my taekwondo school was another chubby. Neither boys were particularly fat and today, just ten years later, would be classified as fairly normal.

I need no helpers for this size portion!

In the last few months, I have noticed that on almost every visit to  a bathhouse there are one or two Koreans proportionately the same size and sometimes fatter than I. Very often, other fatties are kiddies. Burger bars, fried chicken, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donut and plenty of other western style fast food outlets have proliferated, and the price Korea is paying, especially their youth,  is the bulging waistline. Ten years ago I went into a Baskin Robbins in downtown Daegu. I was with a Korean friend and her daughter and when I arrived at their table with a tray containing  three, what I considered ‘normal’ size ice creams, they starred in amazement. One tub, they told me, would have been enough for all three of us but to me, they were the sort of size you would buy yourself back home. In the ten years interim, I now have two Baskin Robbins within a 7 minutes walk of my home and occasionally I will treat myself to an 11.000Won (£5.50), pot of ice cream. I think it holds about 5 scoops. I can easily eat this and could also finish off one of their  larger buckets. Even if I buy the smaller pot, smaller than a Macdonald milkshake cup,  staff will ask how many spoons I want. Shame prevents me from replying’ ‘one’ so, pondering in thought for a moment, as if counting the number of people back home waiting for me to deliver, I reply, ‘four.’

Along with the western fast food diet, fat has finally arrived in Korea

Korean proportions are always piddly and I’m not really into the act of sharing my food, especially ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a Korean meal, even at a buffet restaurant, and left feeling properly stuffed, stuffed western style where you can’t breathe properly and feel you’ve mutated into an enormous maggot. In the west, there are countless times I’ve gone for a meal and reached the point where Mr Creosote, in Monty Python’s, The Meaning of Life, cannot eat another chocolate wafer. But in the midst of a Korean public,  usually much skinnier than I, being a fatty fills me with guilt and curbs my glutenous instincts. The fatties I now see around me  at the bathhouse, and who attract more attention than I because, they are Korean and fat, which is novel, and not wayguk western and fat, which is common, certainly know what it feels to be ‘stuffed’ and all I am left pondering, as I wallow in my scented bath, feeling  more like a warthog than large bottomed hippopotamus,  is how do you pig out on Korean food? Fat has finally arrived and the blubberier it becomes, the slimmer I feel.

Link to Crazy Fat Korean Video

'Psychedelic' Exercises (이벤트탕) E-Bente-Tang

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads by 노강호 on May 23, 2010

A Bathhouse Ballad

The e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) today  was scented with ginseng (인삼). For some reason the bathhouse has been incredibly busy this week . The  steam room has varied between 51-54 degrees and I made my first venture into the ice room (어름굴) since last summer.  The ice room is simply a large freezer with some chairs around the edges and as the weather becomes hotter and more humid, it is usually a good place to finish off  a session as it both dries your body and stops you sweating.

I have thought about several things this week as I wallowed: I am interested to know whether people dry themselves in a random fashion in which one might use a towel just a moment before used to dry their arse, on their face, or whether, in a sequence such as, head to toe. Yes, there’s so much going on in the world that I consider this pointless trivia! I don’t particularly care! In the west I was always moaning and ranting about the nastier aspects  of life  but in Korea I don’t even bother reading about world news and I’m a lot happier. Ignorance is quite a pleasant state of mind especially as the more I have studied, the more exams I have taken,  the un-happier it has made me. It seems  that once the clutter of mans’ inhumanity to man is removed, which is usually the contents of most world and national news, and the tools encouraged to analyze that world decommissioned or at least limited, pondering the sound of one hand clapping, or the manner in which a towel is used,  is wonderfully liberating. Thinking has never done me any favours and often quite the contrary. Thinking can actually be harmful to your health and in retrospect  has probably ruined my life, it certainly hasn’t made me happier. I would say an insect has more propensity to happiness than a human with a working brain especially if that brain is influenced by  ethical issues. Despite what we are told,  thinking is both anti-social and disliked and most bosses, even in education, dislike  either thinkers or those who are ‘educated.’  Most of the thoughts I have had in the last twenty years, basically since going to university, have  set me  in opposition against other people.

I think a lot wallowing in the e-bente tang but have to cast much of it aside as people don’t like to be remind of their impotency especially within a democracy. But what you do with your bath towel, where you put it and in what order, apart from being  a totally inane topic, is vastly more original in concept than the impending destruction of our environment and is far less likely to raise any hackles. Pondering the pointless is a new therapeutic philosophy I am pursuing. At the moment, my concerns about how towels are used is a subject in a state of infancy. Moving on…

Have you ever noticed that when Koreans do little exercise routines, especially in the bathhouses, they look like they have mad cow disease? Privates on Parade, a British black comedy movie (1982), contains a hilarious scene where John Cleese, a mad army officer, performs a very strange exercise routine. So complex and awkward is this routine that mastering it entails highly developed muscle coordination. Being a taekwondo instructor at the time I first watched this movie, I bought the video and set about learning the routine in the privacy of my bedroom. It was far too ridiculous to practice in a gym. At the same time as instructing taekwondo, I was also a military musician and my musical skills were beneficial in analyzing the rhythmical structures that were used. Basically, the legs started off in a wide ‘lunge’ position, in many martial arts known as a ‘front stance’ and this stance changed from right to left, at approx 1-2 changes per second.

A typical, left front stance

Independent of the legs (moving in musical terminology of 2/4 or 4/4 time), the arms performed a routine in 3/4 time but with each arm separated by one beat. The left arm began the sequence which consisted three parts, each synchronised with the changing stance of the legs: (1) slapping the thigh, (2) ‘pointing’ to the ceiling, (3) ‘pointing’ horizontally to the left. As the left arm ‘pointed’ to the ceiling, the right arm slapped the right thigh and so at all times the right arm was one movement behind the left arm Now, I describe the arm movement as slapping and ‘pointing’ except the pointing was limp-wristed and the elbows never straightened. The arms were more thrown out as if casting something unpleasant off the hand or waving something away. What makes the routine so amusing is the rhythmic asymmetry caused by the lower half of the body moving in 2/4 time and the top half of the body, both in 3/4 but with  a displacement between the right and left arms. I never really persevered with the sequence to perfect it and to have done so would have been a small accomplishment requiring considerable focus. Apart from its merits as an exercise it was also highly comical, even  more so performed by John Cleese and for me, it is the most memorable part of the film, even more so than the fact the entertainment troop Cleese commands, all get killed.

John Cleese and the famous Ministry of Silly Walks

If you performed this sequence in a British gym, you would undoubtedly attract some attention but in Korea psychedelic exercise routines are quite common. indeed, if you were to walk around the pools in a Ministry of Silly Walks fashion, I don’t think anyone would pay much attention.

This week, I have seen several people performing exercises that at first suggested some mental incapacity.  I have seen two men standing in a corner performing an exercise in which alternating arms are shaken as if flicking a turd off of the fingers. In this exercises, after approximately 10 flicks, the cheeks are vigorously slapped. Standing in the cold pool, holding onto the side and water jogging is also a common sight. Stretching is also very common especially in a steam room or sauna though this form of exercise is identical to those practiced in the west. Laying supine and raising the knees to the chest or swinging the legs over the head until your knees are by yours ears isn’t unusual, unless of course, your naked. However, more amusing, is laying on ones back, pointing the knees to the ceiling with a 90 degree angle between the back of the calf and thigh and  in this position doing small rapid steps in the air with the feet while concurrently tapping the scalp and face with the hands. Perhaps the most common psychedelic exercise, more common around apartment complexes and in fitness centers, but which may be seen in bathhouse with treadmills in rest areas, is walking in a brisk manner, palms open, and hands raised to face level pictured below. Even though I know it provides a better workout than conventional western style walking/jogging, I find adopting this custom as alien as wearing a face mask.

The typical Korean walking style

Fart Pants (방귀 바지) 코딱지

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative by 노강호 on May 12, 2010

rubus coreanus (복분자) 'wildberry'

In the E-bente Tang (이벤트 탕) today was a an aroma I’d not encountered before, black raspberry, or wild berry (복분자).  Translating is always a problem. First of all, the ‘information board’ advertising the aroma had a picture of black and red berries and so too did a bottle of berry ‘wine (more like liquor) I subsequently bought (복분자 주). To compound the problem, I suspect in the UK we call these berries blackberries and raspberries and these are quite different in taste. When I looked up this berry on the internet, I noticed the red and black berries were growing on the same stem. So, I discover that the Korean berry, bokbunja (복분자), is actually a member of rose family and of the genus rubus of which there are hundreds of species divided into 13 sub-genera, one of which contains 12 sections. (more rubus info) Indeed, if you want to be pedantic, bokbunja is rubus coreanus. Interesting, but all academic as from the scent emanating from the pool I couldn’t tell whether I was wallowing in blackberry, blackcurrant, or indeed, rubus coreanus.

I’ve been meticulous in bathhouse ablutions today as I am feeling particularly dirty. The source of this dirt is both mental and physical;  increasingly I come to realise that by socialization westerners are dirty species both mentally and physically but also,  short of being showered in shit,  I was fouled upon. Not having used a bathhouse for 4 days, and yet despite showering twice a day, I was amazed at the scum that washed off my body into the gutter. As I was on the end of a row of sit down showers, I could see it collecting in the drainage grill and it was  gray and creamy, more like sludge than scum. Neither was my ablution particularly stringent and was made using the normal, mildly abrasive bathhouse towel than by the rasp of one of those little green ‘Italy towels.’

Once lovely and clean, and basquing in my favourite patch in the hot pool, I got thinking…

I’ve recently had a new pupil called Fart Pants (방귀 바지) who is currently sitting on the fence between the kids who have a brain and the ones, and there are not many, who I deem ‘hobaks’ (호박). Hobaks are pumpkin head kids who are just incredibly slow and tiring to teach. Most professional teachers, back home at least, will castigate the practice of pigeonholing kids in such a derogatory manner and will certainly condemn me for printing her name except of course, it is not Fart Pants. But let’s not get holy, holy, most teachers pigeonhole kids in one form or another but  usually deny they do so and as is the case in Korea, you can still call one kid intelligent and another a mong without offending the silly sensibilities of political correctness that demand all kids are equal.

definitely worth licking

I’ve always maintained that if ever I had to lick a bum hole, if I was forced on pain of death, if I couldn’t choose a baby to lick upon, it  would be a Korean. Of course there’s a ranking system: all babies first, followed by males (preferably younger) females (preferably younger), old men, old women.  I would think this ranking would be a fairly common for anyone forced to comply but given some preferences. Personally, I think a hierarchy  much different from this, for example, preferring to lick ancient butt to baby butt, a truly rank  preference, would be  suggestive of some sexual perversion.

Although I wouldn’t want to lick any bum, not even for pleasure, if I had to my first choice would be that of a baby. Anyone other than a baby I could probably never look in the face again ether from a sense of guilt or revulsion. A baby would no more remember the act than having its  nappy changed. As a baby has  no personality it’s not like  licking the arse of a real person, and once out of its nappy it’s not much more than a dirty doll.  Denied a baby, I’d select a Korean.  Perhaps some Koreans don’t scrub their butts out but I know lots do because I’ve seen them. On the other-hand, I’ve never seen a westerner clean out their arse.

Koreans must have the cleanest arse holes in the world. I doubt you’ve ever seen a westerner scrub out their bum hole so you don’t really know if they do. I suspect most westerners just flush their butts with a blast from the shower which isn’t very hygienic considering its a deep, dark, dank, dirt dump  which we sit on all day and despite its catalogue of offenses is subject to significantly less scrutiny than our mouths and teeth. There is a veritable arsenal of mouth wash and gargle to both freshen and kill oral bacteria but nothing of a similar nature with which to douche your arse.

Like most arses, Pluto has been exiled

With an arse hole as distant as Pluto, the first time I saw a bide abroad, I assumed it was either for bathing a baby or washing your feet.  And even though its design should have announced its purpose, the idea was repugnant. A device for washing your arse! A filthy idea!  To have deduced the purpose of that alien bide would have required a morally degenerate mind and the inclinations of a pervert.  You dump out of a bum and after mopping up you forget the filthy offence. Poohing is a sin and a sin of such gargantuan proportions that even though ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ the Bible avoids any mention of that dirty orifice. You don’t talk about poohing, you don’t share the experience and you certainly don’t make devices to clean it. If there’s one reason, why westerners are so distrustful of Islamic culture it’s because their poohing customs, ie. mopping up with a hand wetted with water from an old baked bean can, force  infidels to confront the one place we hate to go.  For the westerner forced to muck-out a la Mohammad,  having to touch that unspeakable place, especially when adopting the most undignified of postures, is a  significant form of first contact.  Touching down in that dark and alien cavity and being compelled to blindly explore it contours without the comfort of a wad of tissue, is something you never forget.   It is a first contact not just in that you are forced to acknowledge that  there is life on Pluto and that is not as nearly as far away as you thought, but that in all the years leading up that significant event, you staunchly upheld the prime directive of non-interference  (and if you were interfering with one, even your own, you never talked about it!)  A working definition of a seasoned traveler? Someone who has had first contact with their own arse hole.  Hence, I imagine most arses, especially non Korean arses, have permanent bad breath and while you can have the pseudo medical condition ‘halitosis,’ there is no corresponding medical term for a smelly bum.  Unfortunately, considering their propensity for filth, bum holes are sorely neglected.

But of all Korean butts in Korea, there’s one exception, Fart Pants! Fart Pants (방귀 바지) is the dirtiest Korean to date I have met. And though her parents aren’t poor, her dirtiness has more to do with her habits than being physically dirty. Admittedly, her favourite coat, salmon pink, looks like it has been used to clean the floor but this didn’t bother me until she started farting in class. The pink coat, being padded, has insulating properties and a fart is always more unpleasant when heated. I don’t know how universal it is in Korea, but I’m told that teachers rarely say anything to  a kid who farts because it draws attention to them which of course, they don’t like. In common with the rule of vile farts, hers are silent but I  know  they’re hers  because her eyes will be sparkling and she will be salivating heavily in a manner that suggests she’s either been fingering her own butt or  sucking a turd up and down her back passage. Either way, there is an intense look of pleasure and glee on her face.

The smell, still warm, then looms up from under the desk around which we  sit and it’s truly hideous. As the foetid guff engulfs me, I sit up, then press my neck as far back in my collar as possible, before moving my chair back after which there is no escape.  A few days ago, after trying to hold my breath  I knew  was going to retch and had to leave the classroom.  Betty, who is sat right next to her, must have had her nasal passages cauterized as she doesn’t seem to notice a thing.  Fart Pants lets one-off in most lessons. When she first started classes, nerves probably clenched her butt  shut but now she’s in the swing of things and relaxed, she blows  off with as much ease as someone with a prolapsed rectum.  I find her farts incredibly intense and personal  and being subject to them is a form of abuse. Apparently, she farts in other teacher’s classes but no one has heard her which makes me suspect she might have a punctured colostomy bag.  If she moves about too much, even a considerable time after issue, a residual smell, loitering under the lagging of that pink coat, will waft up.

If this hasn’t been bad enough, there have now been a number of occasions when I have noticed her toying with a bogey  (코딱지) between the tips of her index finger and thumb. She seems to keep  a bogey in play for several minutes, massaging it around like a piece of sticky glue or a grain of cooked rice.  Then her hand goes under the table and I anticipate it being dropped. Moments later however, it re-emerges only this time its on another hand. It’s  magical! Not in the sense she can keep amusing herself with one bogey for so long  or that it seems to matter transport from one digital location to another, but because the things are so moisture retentive. A few days ago,  she must have forgotten about one of her nasal playthings: it had been rolled, stretched, palpitated,  passed between various fingers and hands. Suddenly she went still which was quite noticeable because she is always fiddling and tears welled in her eyes.  Another fart was being primed! The intense pleasure its production provided distracted her enough to evaporate that offensive entity being entertained predominantly between her fingers.  When I asked a question which necessitated pointing in a book, her hand reappeared from under the table. From this stage on it’s a guessing game; which hand? which finger? When she pointed to the page, on the end of her right  index finger, perched a pale green bogey still looking fairly fresh despite the copious palpitations. Next moment, her hot fart smacked me  in the face.

Over the weekend I bought some anti-bacterial hand cream, the choice was amazing as this item is currently very fashionable. I also bought a bottle of Febreeze as I noticed that the farts clung to my clothing like fried food or tobacco smells.

Monday afternoon! First class of the week and Betty is on her own. Fart Pants has left the school and I shalln’t miss her!

I Touch Kiddies and I'm Proud of it! (Eulogy for Children's Day)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Korean children by 노강호 on May 5, 2010

podcast 16

In the Ebente-tang (이벤트탕) the aroma of the day is jasmine. I now play this game where I try to guess the scent before looking at the  information board. I got it wrong today but then I have a slight cold. For the second time in 2 weeks I saw an older guy with a snood. Anyway, I was thinking…

Not suitable for pumpkin people! (click)

Betty and Becky are two small kids I teach three times a week. Betty is the most adorable little girl you could ever meet. She is always impeccably dressed, usually in her little school uniform of matching gray skirt, jumper and blue blazer and her hair is  usually decorated with some form of hair clip, a sequined butterfly or a flower. Around her neck hangs the customary mobile phone, stark pink with a little teddy bear suspended from it, as is the fashion. She is always laughing and skipping and incredibly happy.

Recently she has been playing the ‘ddong chip game’ (‘똥  injection’) which a few weeks ago I thought must have gone out of fashion until I noticed a couple of boys playing it. This ‘game,’ more of a gesture than a game,  consists of clasping the hands together and extending the index fingers. The custom is to adopt a sort of James Bond stance, holding the clasped hands like a gun, and then poke your index fingers up your victim’s arse. It’s common for kids to do this to teachers. This week however, Betty has struck me twice in the testicles.  The problem is, she has a habit of jumping out from a doorway so that she is under my belly and I can’t see her, at which point she strikes and runs away, giggling. Obsessed with  my hairiness, she constantly strokes my arms, or feels the stubble on my chin and today after a hair cut, she wanted to stroke my head. Sometimes she sits on my knee or hugs my leg, her face almost in my crotch… Beginning to think I’m a paedophile?  If so, that’s actually quite a sad indictment of our society.

As a westerner configured and attuned to sickening sexual predilections, as all westerners are, at this point I feel compelled to offer some defence. You know the kind of crap: ‘I’m not a perv but…..’.  In Britain you can  no longer make ‘statements’ such as: ‘I love children….’ ‘I touch children…’  I like the affection of children…’ without having to subsequently proffer some heavy mitigation to  annihilate any suspicions.  It’s a crazy situation which has been allowed to develop because  electorates are poorly educated in subjects that matter to civilization and easily coaxed and coached to hysteric proportions.  As with all the witch-hunts of the past, professionals have done little or nothing to challenge  proceedings  until a point is reached where  a profession actually emerges to ensure the paranoia remains; a sort of official ‘Witch-Finder General Body’, which will poke and inflame fears and very successfully accuse, or suggest all opposition, especially professional opposition, as a manifestation of the problem itself. Hence, to defend a witch is to be a witch, and to critique paedo-paranoia suggests one is themselves a paedophile. ‘I love animals…,’ ‘ I love the affection of animals…,’ ‘I touch animals…’ needs no mitigation!  Paedo-paranoia, as an ideology and profession which seeks perversion in everything, is as offensive, anti-social and unnatural as the abuse it seeks to prevent.

Betty’s behaviour is totally normal and no Korean would see anything amiss in her physical intimacy with adults. Earlier this week, in a class with two older boys, probably about 10 and 11, I had to lift up my shirt to let them scrutinize the scar across my navel where I had an umbilical hernia repair. Neither did they wait for me to consent before starting to tug my shirt out of my trousers.  On another occasion an older boy who had an allergic reaction to something, pulled off his shirt and asked me to scratch his back and a few weeks later, the same boy asked me to put drops in his sore eye. Patting your stomach, stroking your arms, and playing with your fingers or hand are all regular, natural occurrences which should, in a predominantly healthy society, be associated with our being  human and mammalian. Older kids will give you massages and play with you in a manner I have never witnessed in a British school and which would certainly lead to an interview with management. As for my Korean boss, I’ve seen her on the floor wrestling both girls and boys and I’ve seen a boy give her husband a massage on his thigh, very close to his groin,  after he pulled a muscle. All totally natural ! Those whose minds have been poisoned with all that western crap, and from which I am not excluded, supposedly premised on love but in practice totally the opposite and in which everyone,  especially men, are  potential molesters, are likely to see such behaviour as suspect. Of course , child abuse goes on in Korea,  probably more than we  are aware off.  But thankfully, during my life time, social relationships in Korea will not be perversified and terrorized to an extent where every adult is a demon and every touch between adult and child  a  potential case of abuse, to the same obsessive level it currently enjoys back home. I like contact with kids and see it as a part of natural, human relationships. If  indeed the sexual abuse of kids is so high in the west, it is perhaps time we reevaluated either western human sexuality or human sexuality itself.  Let’s face it, compared to Korean society, many facets  of western life are fucking messed!  Teenage pregnancy, sex diseases,  anti-intellectualism, gross male machoism,  rampant crime and violence.

In the UK in August 2007, a company launched Kevlar  padded school uniforms to protect children from knife attacks.  Perhaps our sexualities are fucked, too? The way we dress our daughters would suggest paedophilia is a prevalent predilection much closer to home rather than an offbeat obsession of strangers.  What Daddy wants to see their daughter dressed like a tart? Clearly, many! Currently, in the  UK, much debate is raging about Primark’s marketing of a padded bra / bikini for 8 year old’s! This joins similar promiscuous products of tweeny-hood such as thongs for six-year old’s emblazoned with two cherries and the caption ‘Eat Me!‘ (Argos)  Marks and Spencer’s, ‘Angel ‘ range of thongs for 7 year old’s  and the pole dancing kit for kiddies.

Of course, when you try to explain to Koreans about the sicker side of western society, the crime, teenage pregnancy, anti-intellectualism, the high rates of teenage infection by sexually transmitted diseases, the promiscuity, our obsession with sex etc, etc, it is rarely really comprehended. Several years ago I was in a bathhouse with my Korean friend, David. It was a hot and sticky afternoon in August and we’d gone to a mogyotang (목요탕) to cool off in the cold pool. As it was the  summer vacation there were a number of children present including a 12-year-old American boy who was on his own. A 12-year-old boy naked and alone in a public place! In the UK, paedo-paranoia is so great kids can’t even go to school alone let loiter in a bathhouse unaccompanied and nude. For a  while we played with a couple of small boys, flipping them into the air with clasped hands in which they put a foot. The American boy, whom we’d chatted with for a little, sat on the edge of the activity and at one point, David tried to encourage him to join in. When David touched the boy’s shoulder I noticed him tense up and I had to explain that for westerners, such physical intimacy is uncomfortable. It was a miracle the boy was in a bathhouse in the first place.

Childrens Day

Physical intimacy for westerners is now predominantly perceived as a sexual act which means that innocent intimacy, especially  between adult and child, is branded suspect and a potential grooming process which could lead to sexual abuse. And if professionals such as social workers, teachers, the police, etc, aren’t enforcing paedo-paranoia,  they are mute in any criticism of it.  Indeed many teachers and other professionals will encourage paedo-paranoia.

Occasionally, though perhaps more so in the past, grandparents or relatives tweaked small kids between the legs, more so boys than girls, sometimes as a game and other times if checking the gender of a baby, and when this was witnessed by a foreign teacher in a school in which I taught several years ago, I found her crying hysterically in an adjoining office. She was adamant this was sexual abuse and wanted to know where she could report the incident. That this was a foreign country with different values and that  it was not a sexual act, fell on deaf ears.  One only has to talk to a professional involved in ‘child protection’ to sense their sickened mind-set, that everyone is suspect, that every intimate gesture must be scrutinized and that it is a perversion which is rife throughout society. In such discussions one always feels judged, that you too must be ‘one’ and hence the intense need to mitigate yourself. Krystalnacht, the Salem Witch Trials, the persecution of women in the middle ages, the Spanish Inquisition, McCarthyism,  all were spurned and inspired by the babble, conflation and hyperbole of ‘professional’ witch-finders.

Physical intimacy with students or Koreans doesn’t phase me and if you think it’s just kids that are so lax about bodies, body proxemics and touching, it’s not. Several years ago a friend of mine who is totally heterosexual, asked to see my dick.  There was a reason, non sexual, which I will save for a later post, but I had to take it out for him to inspect. He had just delivered my lunch  and the steaming mandu were on the table between the two of us as I unzipped.    Then, almost as if returning a favour, he nonchalantly showed me his vasectomy. Tackle zipped away, we sat down and tucked into the mandu which, made by his wife, happen to be the best I have eaten.

So, ‘I touch kiddies’ and I don’t mind when they ‘touch me!’ Indeed I’m proud to say, ‘I touch kiddies.’ And if you think this is perverse you can throw me in water and if I float, I’m guilty. Matthew Hopkins, Witch-Finder General, a medieval ‘professional babbler,’  was paid a pound for every witch he discovered and the  water test was one of his prime methods of exposing them. Needless to say, with a livelihood premised on the existence of witches, and so, so many of them,  he found them everywhere.  Until that was, so legend says, it was discovered he too floated and he was promptly executed.

We have foisted a range of fears onto children and youngsters that lead them to perceive potential danger in innocent interactions, have taught them to distrust intimacy, to seek perversion in others and most perverse of all, taught them that intimacy is solely sexual. It is future generations  that will have to endure the anti-social, anti-human damage wrought by those perverted ‘professional babblers’ and a society who kept silent!

But that is back in the perverted West. Meanwhile, here in Korea it is Children’s Day and my school is taking some students to the park. We’re going to play!

Creative Commons License

©  林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Links to the ‘padded bra for 8 year old’s debate in the UK:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/14/primark-padded-bikini

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/15/primark-padded-bikinis-mumsnet-sexuality

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/14/primark-children-padded-bikini-tops