Elwood 5566

Somewhat Greener Grass

Posted in Comparative, Entertainment, services and facilities by 노강호 on July 18, 2012

The speed of construction in Korea; a year between clearing the lot to the opening of Starbuck’s on the ground floor

Koreans will tell you their economy is in recession but there are recessions and recessions. Prices don’t seem to have increased much over the years and my utilities bills are in some cases cheaper than they were five years ago. Meanwhile, my electricity bill in the UK has increased by almost 300% in the last five years and it’s the same with gas and water utilities. Indeed, the price of one bill in the UK, my Community Charge, currently almost £150pm (w300.000), would not just cover my all monthly Korean utility bills but, my health contribution, internet and cable TV, and my monthly subscription to the most exclusive gym and jimjjilbang in my area.

My monthly Korean gas and electric bills always contain a graph showing the price you have paid for each month over 13 months so at a glance you can not just see if you’re paying more this month than you were in the corresponding month last year, but can access seasonal variations. The same system in the UK would mortify me as we have been subject to massive hikes every year for the last five years – indeed in one year there were two large increases. Meanwhile, the restaurant in which I’ve eaten for the last four years has increased the price of pork kimchi stew by 500Won (25 pence).

Coffee houses – an indicator of disposable income

When business folds, another quickly opens, more often than not, a mobile phone store or a coffee house. Coffee houses in Korea are often used as an indicator of disposable incomes. One of the most pertinent signs that the Korean economy isn’t in the same depressing mess it is back home, is that rate at which buildings are erected. It isn’t just the case that buildings are being built but that they are speedily completed. In Korea, you can expect a 12 story building to be completed within a year and in a five mile journey across the city a few weeks ago, I must have past at least 20 buildings being erected. In one area alone there were at least six that that weren’t there a year ago.

a busy building program in Dasa, Daegu. Construction can be seen from early morning until it begins to get dark – six days a week!

But there are other markers of a relatively healthy economy despite the world recession; many of my students have the latest mobile technology and in some cases expensive technology and on the streets at the weekends it’s easy to spot new jeans and trousers, especially on teenagers. New trainers are common and the current trend New Balance, not just in trainers but as logos on T-shirts and bags. Korean students have a ‘preppy,’  respectable appeal and there is a distinct lack of the ‘East European fashions’ which tend to dominate British streets such as leggings, cheap trackies and hoodies.

new trainers on my students

And then there are middle school students with cameras costing anything up to 1.000.000KRW(£500). Take a trip to any popular Korean destination and you’ll see an inordinate number of Koreans not just with expensive cameras, but with enormous telescopic lenses.

The quality of life in Korea is high and living on the peninsula reminds me of the years I spent in Germany, during the late 70’s and 80’s, in an economy equally as vibrant. More important is the atmosphere generated when there is a good quality of life. Economic depression casts a gloom over the societies it infects and no amount of social manipulation in the form of festivals, flag waving jamborees or ‘big events’ can shake off the feeling that society is sick. Yes, currently, Korea is probably one of the best places to be to ride out not just the current global recession, but the general greed that seems an endemic part of my own culture and in which most transactions leave you feeling ‘ripped-off.’

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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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FURTHER REFERENCES

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

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

Fit fathers, fat sons

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care, Korean children by 노강호 on September 16, 2011

the fit, fat and flabby

I arrived in back in Korea after my UK holiday a few days before work is due to begin and spent several sessions lazing in bathhouses. On Sunday, I spent almost two hours in a cool, massage pool drifting in and out of sleep and watching the weekend cleaning rituals between fathers and sons and friends. At one point, there were three fathers busy scrubbing their teenage sons but what was most interesting was that while the fathers were slim and fit looking, especially as I reckon they were aged in their 40’s or 50’s,  their sons were all pudgy and fat. Neither was it puppy fat but quite copious amounts of well established lard which far exceeds the requirements of puberty. One father and his son came and sat in my pool and the lad, despite being a foot shorter than I, was equally as broad.

flabby tummies at my old high school

The UK debate about obesity still stirs the emotions and a convenient theory is that fat parents produce fat kids. No doubt there is a correlation but my observation is a reminder that kids can turn fat independent of their parents and that the roots of obesity are complex and compound and not to be explained by one grand ‘theory.’

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Images of Innocence (6) Annie

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, vodcast by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Annie, one of my students, is about to go to high school. She often finishes her evening studies at a study room (돗서실), at 1 or 2 am after which she walks home. Feeling unsafe, she has recently bought a whistle. I wouldn’t want to underplay the fears of Korean kids walking home late at night but the streets are far safer than in even the smallest UK towns. I wouldn’t let an unaccompanied girl, or boy,  into town on any evening of the week back in the UK and only an idiot parent would allow someone her age to be in town past 10 pm. You can read about my experiences of British streets in Scumland UK. Needless to say, even I feel unsafe on a British street at anything past 7 pm after which they rapidly degenerate.

It’s difficult explaining to those who have never experienced Korean life, how crucial and central education is in the Korean mindset. Streets are buzzing with students going from one place of study to another on everyday of the week, from the early hours until past midnight. Several years ago, the government made it illegal for private academies to teach students past 10 pm but it has changed little. Many schools still seem to operate and parents can always employ a tutor who can visit the home or have the student come to them. Wherever you are in Korea, ‘education’ in one form or another, is always apparent.

A Korean study room

A multitude of schools exists teaching every subject: maths, social studies, English,  Chinese, hanja, art; there are schools of music, taekwondo, kendo, hapkido, ballroom dancing, ballet; study rooms and places that offer student support. And all the time brightly coloured mini buses are ferrying kids between their homes and schools. Yes, there are flaws with the Korean system; kids sleep at their desk, they often look drained, they suffer stress and constantly face a barrage of exams by which they are ranked. There are many things I would change about the Korean system but, for all its flaws it is more effective than British education where around 50% of students don’t even achieve 5 A-C grades in core subjects. And I would argue that while British education largely provides kids a holiday in comparison with their Korean peers, it is British teachers who are stressed and abused. Korean teachers have their problems, but having to constantly battle bad students and worse, anti-intellectual attitudes, which are ingrained in British society, isn’t one of them.

Unlike Britain and the USA, there is a consensus in Korea about the importance of education and whether you are the lowest paid worker or a company CEO, the goals and expectations for your children, in terms of learning, are the same; good grades and entry to a good university. I have one friend in the UK who came from one of the worst housing estates in the country. When he gained a place at university in the 1970’s, his family disowned him. Education in the UK, and attitudes towards it are still influenced and articulated by class.

Yes, I know all about the flaws of Korean education, but I’ve also taught main stream in the UK for over ten years and it was a hideous experience. Every class in the UK is polluted by a couple of scum students, bred and conditioned by scum parents and their effect on the learning process has been catastrophic. (see, Scenes From the Battleground) Unless you are lucky enough to be in a top set or selective school, most British classrooms and schools have geared themselves to accommodate the scum and it is the decent kids, the majority, who suffer. Anyway, was I ranting???

Over to Annie…

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Bicycle Boy

Posted in Korean children, Photo diary by 노강호 on May 25, 2011

Sitting outside a GS25 late on a Saturday evening, I noticed quite a few interestingly designed bicycles.

the photo is poor quality, but you get the idea

he was quite proud of the flashing lights

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Teenage Pluckers’ and Cottagers

Posted in Korean children, No Pumpkin Category by 노강호 on April 10, 2011

a sign of stress?

It was a personal opinion and I’m not generalizing, but I was once told the worst affliction for a Korean teenage, one worse than acne, was grey hair. I rarely see Korean girls preening themselves or each other to the extent that occurs in British schools but the occasional group plucking usually among girls, but occasionally boys, is not uncommon. Whether grey hairs are a sign of stress I am unsure but Koreans believe them to be so.

As all waygukin know, Korean kids are fascinated with the bodies of westerners and especially with body hair. I have a girl in one class who will regularly play with my fingers and pinch out any bits of skin from around my nails. Another boy will check my eyebrows and pluck out any straggly hairs. I don’t know how long it takes other western teachers to become oblivious, if at all, to the increased levels of physical contact between teachers and pupils; I ceased judging it by British standards a long time ago.

Sometimes however, Korean inquisitiveness goes too far for western sensibilities. Not once have I used the boys toilets in my school as we have ones specifically for staff but when a repairman was resident last week and I was bursting, I slipped into the boys toilets and immediately two middle school boys who had been leaving, turned back. Despite positioning my back to them, which in mid flow is all I can do as I am too tall to hide between the sides of the urinal, one ventured to the side of me. Undeterred either by my embarrassment or suggestions to ‘fuck off,’ he simply starred.  Was this cheeky inquisitiveness, blatant cottaging or urophilia? I wasn’t angry and there was something comical about the incident. In all however, one of the minor embarrassments of life in Korea and for those waygukin unable to ditch their cultural prejudices, it is probably an incident that can only be understood in relation to perversion (hence the pumpkin logo above.) I shared the incident with my boss; she found it very amusing.

 

a greater degree of physical intimacy

And if ever your shoulders and back are tense simply ask a student for a massage. Korean kids, and indeed Koreans in general are as eager to pummel your shoulders and back as British kids are to arm wrestle though in my absence from the British education system, that too might now be taboo.

a group plucking during a break

FURTHER REFERENCES TO SKINSHIP WITHIN THIS BLOG

It’s All in the Touch (April 2010) Also in podact

Korean Teenager (Ben 2) And Other Stuff (June 2010)

When ‘Gay’ is ‘Gay’ (June 2010)

Who Really Worships the Wang (October 2010)

Laura (3) Korean Teenagers – Magical Moments (Oct 2010)

Bathhouse Zen (1) Dec 2010

Bathhouse Zen (2) (Dec 2010)

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More Than Words can Say

Posted in Education, Gender, Korean language by 노강호 on March 28, 2011

Preamble. One of my friends, who is actually my boss, has a daughter who has recently been accepted into the top high school for English, in Daegu. Gaining entrance was highly competitive and as such local middle schools can nominate only a limited number of applicants, based on their student population. Her school nominated 6 students but she was the only one to pass the entrance procedure. Not only did she have to compete with a large number of students from her school, but then with students from all over Daegu. Nominated students then had to endure a rigorous selection process held over two weekends the first of which included a fifty minute essay and a question paper. The results of the first weekend provided the final batch of applicants who on the following weekend were subject to group debates and an individual interview.

Korean mothers pray for their children’s exam success

On Wednesday, when the results were released, my boss was hooting with delight and for the remainder of the week the atmosphere in school was hyper. I could probably have canceled my classes and gone home and she wouldn’t have minded. On Friday, I was given a cash bonus and thanked for the extra work I’d volunteered to help her daughter succeed.

Now, this isn’t really the point of this post. After being handed my bonus, as usual in an unsealed envelope and presented with two hands, we walked to a nearby cafe and on the way my boss stopped on several occasions to talk to women she knew and during each brief interaction told them of her daughter’s success. Suddenly my sociologist’s head was activated as I noticed some fleeting, but very interesting behaviour. Perhaps mothers share a special empathy but on two different occasions the conversing women held their clasped hands to their chests and emitted this strange squeal. I noticed it instantly and almost asked, ‘what the fuck are you doing?  Perhaps it was just coincidence or maybe it really is a shared habit – I’ve no idea. The squeal, sounded in unison lasted only a few seconds and is quite hard to describe. It was certainly joyous but in a totally feminine manner. Being a musician, I have a fairly good ear and the strangest aspect of each occurrence was how their squeals rapidly attuned themselves to one pitch so that for a few seconds both were squealing the same note. In that instant, and it was an instant, they seemed to share an understanding, to mutually empathize.

All cultures have their own variations of body language and of sounds, guttural and otherwise that can’t be  located in dictionaries. Probably the cutest Korean one I know is when someone doesn’t know something or is unsure and they the touch the back of their head and inhale slightly between their teeth.  In a very strange way the shared squeal, their faces and the way they preciously clasped their hands at their chests, conveyed far more emotion and intimacy than their spoken words. Was it a coincidence or is this a gender based, non-verbal, socially shared form of communication?

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Finding a Pathology to Fit the Procedure – Circumcision (포경)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, Gender, Health care, podcasts, seasons by 노강호 on March 24, 2011

a sometimes used image on Korean urology websites

podcast 76

Mention ‘whaling’ (포경) to Korean men and most will cross their legs in pain while boys about to go to middle school (at about 13) , and perhaps some about to go to high school (16), will turn white with fear. ‘Whaling’ is a touchy subject and it is during the lengthy winter vacation that the cull reaches its peak. In Korean, ‘po-kyeong’ is a homonym attributed to the hunting of whales and of the widespread practice of circumcision, (포경 수슬), and in this case, as I will explain later, it is a misnomer. Finding information about or attitudes towards this subject are difficult and very little is available in English. That Korea has the world’s highest rate of secular circumcision is rarely acknowledged and the practice is generally associated with the USA.

it needs to be…you don’t have to…

However, attitudes are changing. I recently spoke to two men (one 27 the other 32), who explained that while they didn’t blame their parents for undergoing circumcision, they are nonetheless angry it had been performed. Both felt the procedure resulted in a reduction in sensation and given boys are well into puberty by the time they have the operation, their claims are perhaps more valid than those from American audiences where it is usually performed neo-natal and where men are not really qualified to make qualitative comparisons. One friend clearly remembers his circumcision and the fear invoked in anticipation even though it is done under local anaesthetic.  I have discovered Korean boys tend to be more squeamish about injections than girls and this is hardly surprising given that you are either anticipating multiple injections in your dick or in a cold sweat recalling the memory. Both men are adamant that it will be their sons who choose whether or not to be circumcised.

once you’re out of elementary school you need a circumcision

The circumcision debate is a great subject for exposing how dumb people really are. There is nothing intrinsically superior about a circumcised dick and the aesthetics attributed to penal status are largely derived from whatever is the most accepted social custom.  Circumcision looks ‘weird’ to many Europeans as much as a foreskin looks ‘weird’ to many Americans. Meanwhile, a Filipino boy might be proud of his new circumcision (pagtutuli), which isn’t really a circumcision at all, while both Americans and Europeans are likely to consider it reminiscent of an accident incurred with a meat grinder. Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder but the beholder is significantly influenced by their social and cultural milieu. In the USA where radical circumcision, including the unnecessary and extraneous removal of the frenulum, have several decades’ dominance, cultural values have transformed wonky stitches and chewed up scar tissue into aesthetically pleasing damage which in the least is seen as an enhancement and at the extreme deemed natural.  If a society can eradicate the botched and overzealous circumcisions many American males have been subject to, making them ‘disappear’ with far greater success than any cosmetic surgery or skin cream,  just imagine how it could transform attitudes to acne, obesity and aging.

beauty is culturally informed

Then there is the ridiculous argument that circumcision protects one from HIV and STI’s. Well, maybe there is some medical evidence to support this but I suspect it is spurious or simply invalid. When rates of  circumcision in the USA were almost at a peak, in the 1980’s,  HIV was able to infect a significantly large number of people. Surely the answer lies in safer sexual practices rather than in an amputation which leaves the recipient under the assumption that a circumcision is as good as a condom in terms of safer sex.

Circumcision has a long history of being a cure for something and when not the foreskin has been identified as a cause of immorality and perversion. The ‘benefits’ of circumcision, apart from the obvious, which ironically is currently one of the most contested, namely that it reduces sensitivity, include: reducing a tendency to masturbation (Athol Johnson, Lancet, London,  April 7, 1860),  cures polio and reduces masturbation, (Dr. Lewis Sayre, USA, 1870),  reduces masturbation (J.H. Kellogg,  USA, 1877. Not only did he advocate circumcision, but that it be performed without anesthetic, a trend that continued in the USA  until recently.),  reduces lethal diarrhea (AAP, USA, 1880’s advocating routine neo-natal circumcision), cited as cure for bed-wetting, syphilis and tuberculosis (Dr P.C Remodino, 1893), will reduce syphilis by 49% (Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson, London, Lancet. 29th December,1900), will prevent cancer, masturbation and syphilis (A. Wolbarst, USA 1914), will prevent HIV in Africa (Halperpin and Bailey, Lancet, London 1999). Not only has there been a crusade against the foreskin for several hundred years, but its possession has been associated with physical and moral degeneracy. Remodino accused it of being a ‘moral outlaw.’ From the 19th century onwards, and repeatedly, a tight foreskin (phimosis) has been attributed with promoting masturbation (an immorality) and circumcision presented as its cure.  Even as late as 1935, circumcision was being advocated to curb the sins of self abuse.

Nature intends that the adult male shall copulate as often and as promiscuously as possible, and to that end covers the sensitive glans so that it shall be ever ready to receive stimuli. Civilization, on the contrary, requires chastity, and the glans of the circumcised rapidly assumes a leathery texture less sensitive than skin. Thus the adolescent has his attention drawn to his penis much less often. I am convinced that masturbation is much less common in the circumcised. [Cockshut RW. Circumcision (letter). Br Med J. 1935; 19 October: 764.]

And perhaps the greatest exposé of how dumb nations can be is when parents fall for the shite spouted a ‘medical’ profession which benefits financially from the procedure. In the USA, the procedure produces approx $400 million dollars profit a year in addition, foreskins are sold to biotechnology and cosmetic companies.

Despite the obviously irrational cruelty of circumcision, the profit incentive in American medical practice is unlikely to allow science or human rights principles to interrupt the highly lucrative American circumcision industry. It is now time for European medical associations loudly to condemn the North American medical community for participating in and profiting from what is by any standard a senseless and barbaric sexual mutilation of innocent children. [Paul M. Fleiss. Circumcision. Lancet 1995;345:927.]

At a time when neo-natal circumcision has declined drastically in Australia, the USA and Canada, it should be wholly anticipated that in any  country where medical procedures are paid for by the patient or parent, that claims will now be made that mass circumcision will reduce transmission rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.  The USA is one of the most poxed up countries in the world, and the most poxed up in the developed world and  incredibly high rates of circumcision have done nothing to curb this. Whatever your particular view on the topic, the decision to be circumcised or not should ultimately rest with the consenting individual especially when medical claims are spurious and made in the interests of profit.

and yes, some facecreams really are manufactured from redundant foreskins

Korean circumcision, influenced by the USA’s involvement on the peninsula during the Korean War, is widespread and by the age of conscription most men are circumcised.  However, Korean medical ‘care’ has made a significant leap affixing a pathology to the procedure and the most commonly used term for circumcision, ‘po-kyong’ (포경) isn’t really an operation but the condition a circumcision will cure.  When Korean boys and young men head off for session with the scissors,  it is because  they have been led to believe foreskins are inherently tight and in need of amputation.  Indeed, po-kyong (포경 수슬) is simply phimosis and if you have a foreskin it is naturally phimotic and requires removing – once you’ve paid the fee!  The word for circumcision proper is ‘hal-lye’ (할례) but its usage to describe the procedure is much less common.

So, a few weeks ago I overhear that, ‘Tom is going for his circumcision,’ except what is really said is, ‘Tom is going for his tight ‘foreskin operation.’  And I think, like the majority of boys, he probably hasn’t got a tight foreskin at all. However, the debate about medical ethics vs. profiteering and the pros and cons of the procedure has a long way to go especially in a society where conformity is a perquisite.  With a pathology already affixed to the procedure, and a few more claims waiting in the wings, whaling is a lucrative business and for the foreseeable future the victims are not just parents and boys, but social integrity.

 

RELATED ARTICLES ON THIS SITE

Summer Snippet (an inside view of Korean circumcision)

I Saw a Snood

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‘Just’ – Revelations

Posted in Just - 그냥 by 노강호 on December 24, 2010

traditional tea in Insadong, Seoul

I was given a guided tour of Insadong (Seoul), on Monday by two ex-high school students. The tour was interesting for several reasons; firstly, because few British kids would have the least interest in taking their old teacher out for the day unless it was to lure them to some secluded alley and then assault them. Teachers are not particulalrly cool in the UK. However, this is Korea and for students, taking your old teacher out has considerable kudos attached to it. Both boys call me ‘teacher’ despite the fact they graduated high school over a year ago and even though I invite them to call me by my first name, both tell me this is rude and uncomfortable and continue calling me ‘teacher.’

15th century pagoda in Tapgol Park in Jongno, Seoul

Secondly, in a relationship with Korea that spans ten years, I have managed to avoid Seoul for all purposes except leaving and entering the country. Considering I live in a city, namely Daegu, which could easily pass for a location in Seoul, this avoidance is pretty stupid.  However, the size and complexity of  the metropolis will continue to scare me away unless suitably chaperoned.

Palgakjeong Pavillion, Tapgol Park, Seoul

With a guided tour of some important locations and quince tea in a traditional tea shop, the day is memorble but mostly because I ask one of the boys if he has a girl friend. The reply he provides is one only a Korean could utter and epitomizes that cute Korean innocence that many teenagers exhibit. ‘Oh teacher,’ he laughs, ‘I don’t have any interest in girls; I like boys, but I’m not gay!’

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Images of Innocence (1)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 13, 2010

the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한)

In the prestigious boys high school in which I taught for a year, on sports day a class of first year students wore T-shirts on which was emblazoned the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한). Capturing the innocence of Korea students in writing is not only difficult, but contended; there will be many Koreans and westerns alike who see their proclaimed ‘purity and innocence’ as over rated or mistaken. But in Korea, I have never taught scum students, students who are vile human beings and whom if had to label, I would classify as violent, anti-intellectual, promiscuous, untrustworthy, grossly disrespectful, and foul-mouthed. Often they had parents who were equally as bad and in most of the UK schools in which I have taught have encountered boys and girls who basically epitomise what it is to be anti-social.

‘Pure’ – not a fashionable concept among British teenagers

Among most teenagers in Britain, ‘innocence and purity,’ which as usual we immediately associate with sexual conduct, but which I think Koreans would understand in a much broader context, is not something to be aspired to; indeed, I would suggest it is something to be shunned. I would absolutely agree that not all Korean students are angels and that there will exist some who could be classified ‘scum’ and I also agree that most British students are decent. I am suggesting, however,  that standards and expectations in Korea are higher than in the UK and that associated values are currently much more effective in providing social cohesion, especially across generations. It is the values of Korean society that put the nation in the top echelons in terms of educational achievement, despite the systems pressures and flaws, and those values which produce a society with one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnant, sexual activity and infection by sexually transmitted diseases.

Yes! Bad things happen in Korea and under the surface there is more nastiness than is immediately apparent. But unlike Britain, I have never seen a Korean girl of 13 giving a boy oral sex in the bike sheds and I have never taught or seen girls of 14, 15 or 16 who are pregnant.   Instead of leaping to the defence of the moral and personal degeneracy of the west, which festers like an  open wound and is visible at every level, instead of raising reminders that Korea too has a bad side, which I do not doubt, we need to acknowledge that in some spheres, Korean society is  very successful and perhaps worthy of emulation.

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