Elwood 5566

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

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LINKS TO WRITTEN ARTICLES ON KOREAN BOOT CAMPS

Jjujund. Translation from the Chicago Tribune Sept 2009

Link to ABC News

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Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

When 'Gay' is 'Gay!'

Posted in Comparative, Gender, Korean children, Westerners by 노강호 on June 21, 2010

 

Not suitable for Pumpkin people

How do you know if another boy is gay? I asked some 15  year old boys.

1. A gay boy stands close to other boys

2 A gay boy strokes other boys

3. Gay boys likes to hold your hand

4. Gay boys kiss other boys

5. Gays hug people

As for gay girls, I’m told: you can’t really tell if a girl is gay because all girls hold hands with their friends.

So! It would appear most Korean boys and many men are gay!

 

'No Regret' (2008) Korean gay movie

The  use of the term ‘gay’ in Korea is fairly new to me and I certainly don’t recall it being as prevalent in the past as it is now. However, the term is only ever used within the context of ‘homosexual’ and doesn’t carry the broader western  connotation, ‘bad,’ ‘crap,’ ‘shit’. etc, which can be applied to anything.  In Korea, you won’t find any ‘gay’ books, or ‘gay’ movies and unlike my last UK school, where even chairs had  ‘gay’ graffitied on them, there are no ‘gay’ objects. Though they might react differently if they someone were gay, their use of the word  lacks all nastiness. I imagine that the idea of someone really being gay, is so alien that the the term can be used without emotion.  That someone could be ‘gay’  is as likely as someone being  a ‘martian.’ In the west, when kids use the word as an accusation its purpose is very often  to  assert an appearance of heterosexuality, the rationale being if you want to appear heterosexual, simply behave in a homophobic manner.  When ‘gay’ is used as a derogatory term in the west, it’s never simply spoken and is often heavily invested in emotion  even to the point of being spat out with hatred.  The Korean use of the term ‘gay,’ by comparison, is the most naive and innocent I have ever heard. Indeed, Koreans use the  term ‘gay’ in the gayest of ways. Of course, for Koreans in the closet, derogatory comments are as insulting as they are in the west and that they seem to be voiced in the absence of malice probably symptomatic of the success with which society has oppressed/suppressed same sex relationships.

 

Skinship by Hee Chul and Sung min

Most of my classes are co-ed but a few weeks ago, as we were trying to group abilities more closely, we were left with one class which is solely boys.  I’ve read a few posts by teachers who get annoyed at displays of skinship during lessons and have to admit, since the girls left, the amount of petting and pawing has increased. The class consists of 5 boys , divided into 2 groups (3;2) and which are very tight peer groups, that is to say boys who attend the same school, same classes and in many cases will have been friends for a long time. Both groups are inseparable and are by their own definition ‘dick friends.’ (고추 친구). In Korean culture, between men or boys, one cannot count a friend close until you have seen each other naked, eg at a bathhouse, at which point you become ‘goch’u ch’ingu,’ (고추 친구). The last thing most western lads want to see is their mates dick and any interest expressed in this direction would be a deemed ‘gay.’

 

Korea, camp minus gay

The main protagonist of the skinship is Mark, a boy of about 15 (English reckoning). While the other boys sit in the same seats, all the front row, Mark seems to change seats each lesson and will paw and fiddle a different lad correspondingly. Stroking hair, massaging shoulders, holding hands are all common but on two occasions he has also kissed other boys on the cheek, albeit as a joke. His friends tell me he claims to be ‘in love’ with a different boy each day and accuse him, in the nicest and gayest way possible, that he’s ‘gay’ – on two occasions this has been the point he has kissed the current object of his interest.

As for the list supplied by the boys:

1. A gay boy stands close to other boys – in the school office this afternoon one boy was laying on top of another one (aged 12)

2 A gay boy strokes other boys – in every class boys fiddle with each other

3. Gay boys likes to hold your hand – that means all my best friends are gay. And yesterday in the bathhouse I actually saw two boys, most likely brothers aged around 12 and 7 respectively, the older boy of which was sat on the side of the pool holding his brothers dick as he talked to him and when the younger boy went to run off the older boy pulled him back with a tug.

4. Gay boys kiss other boys – I don’t see this often but I have had Korean male friends (certainly straight) kiss me.

5. Gays hug people –again, my male friends have hugged me.

Perhaps a more pertinent question might be how do you tell if a Korean man or boy is ‘straight?’ Any insights into Korean homosexuality warmly welcomed!

K-pop - Kamp-pop. And are the lads eying each other up?

 

Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Ben – Korean Teenagers (2) and other stuff…

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, Gender, Korean children by 노강호 on June 9, 2010

Japanese youth icons: 'Camp' is not a universal recognition

I’m always intrigued by the campness and expressions of skinship displayed by Korean men and boys. In a class today, Mark, one of my 16-year-old students was leaning across his desk to write his name on a sheet of paper. Meanwhile, two boys behind him start stroking his arse and putting their fingers in the waistband of his boxers, his shirt having ridden up to expose them. Mark doesn’t even twitch even as one of the lads put his hand right under his crotch. Earlier in the lesson, and this has happened on more than one occasion, I noticed Mark’s arm behaving in a very suspicious manner in the proximity of the boy’s lap sat next to him. Of course, any suspicions are solely in my own dirty western imagination as Korean teenagers always appear to be totally innocent  in terms of sexual behaviour.

I remember when I taught a class of 13-14 years olds in a British Boys’ school and was constantly noticing lads with erections. So prolific were these manifestations I nicknamed the class, ‘erection city.’ And boys wanking in class?  One of my colleagues, a female teacher, walked around the side of a boy’s desk only to see him, grinning in a manner that suggested he anticipated some erotic development, with his erection exposed and being toyed in his hand. There were even occasions when I  caught boys with their hands on the front of each others  trousers. There was an obsession with penises and sex throughout the school and even the head teacher, a seedy character, used to shower with Year 9 boys when the weather was hot, or interrogate them in lessons about issues such as masturbation and puberty. Penises were everywhere, drawn on desks, scrawled on walls, in books and constantly referred to.  Some went beyond scrawling  and  meticulous in detail, were clearly the result of  much study, observation and affection.

I used to teach religious education and the class text books we used had penises graffitied in appropriate places wherever possible. When they couldn’t be inserted naturally they were simply drawn sprouting from foreheads.  And distance was no barrier for these fantastical phalli;  even when bodies were at the extremes of opposing pages, immense penises connected them. I kept a copy of the most graffitied text-book as the creativity and imagination of the boys was staggering.  In parts I was reminded of Hieronymus Bosch’s, Garden of Earthly Delights, which in the boys’ hormone-fired imagination, was exactly the landscape they were trying to express.

Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights

One of the photos depicted a priest offering a kneeling woman Holy Communion. What idiot designs a school book with such a photo! If boys hadn’t already graffitied the page, I would have to have done it on their behalf. So, a great monster of a penis miraculously sprouted from the front of his cassock, meandered into a suitable position to be held in his hand, obliterating the communal wafer and finally, was plugged into the woman’s face. More in line with the Catholic Clergies clandestine predilection for young lads, a more topical candidate might have been a kneeling boy. Meanwhile, the flanking attendants and congregation were suitably adorned with penises sprouting from under cassocks and from their foreheads. And in the air, a small chorus of  body-less penises, hovering like wingless angels,  jettisoned copious ejaculate wherever faces were visible and gagged and subsequently force-fed any open mouth. Manna from heaven! Graffitied cocks are seldom seen in Korea and personally, I’ve only seen three.

'Obscene' Korean graffiti - a rarity

In the UK, Ben, one of my students and an adorable boy, would be bullied for being a little faggot. Earlier in the year he dropped 2 marks from his English paper, scoring 98%. In the west, and rightly so, that’s an achievement worth celebrating but in Korea, if it’s not 100% it’s basically a fail. Even in essay competitions students who don’t win first, second, or third, will tell you they failed. Despite being the cream of their school and competing at province level, anything other than gold, silver or bronze is a failure. Distraught and ashamed, Ben spent an entire evening sitting alone, crying. Apprehensive about facing his parents, my boss had to comfort him and then drive him home. On this occasion, his ‘kibun’ was so damaged he couldn’t talk to me for several days.

Ben

More recently, he’s been quite excited. His dad has promised to buy him a puppy if he does well in the end of semester exams. Ben is ecstatic and is bouncing around the school like an amphetamine doped gazelle. ‘A puppy, a puppy,’ his constant cry. I’m thinking: a fucking puppy!  The boy’s sixteen and he’s totally thrilled by the prospect. In the UK, his mind would be polluted with plans to simultaneously get pissed and loose his virginity.

Faggoty is fashionable!

My school, like my last high school is full of faggoty boys. One is a local champion in ballroom dancing. He’s 14  and always  turns up at school meticulously dressed. He often wears a pair of trainers with laces the colour of his top. He obviously has a stash of  coloured laces at home and I’ve noted his array include green, red, yellow and blue. Like many Korean students who don’t use a back pack, he uses a bag which is fairly common, and nothing short of a big handbag.  Usually, he’ll mince into school with an arm extended like a tea-pot and from the crux of his elbow dangles his bag appropriately emblazoned with the logo,  ‘Kamp.’ Last week he had a new pair of silver trainers and a matching black and silver baggy top with large lapels. I didn’t particularly like the top’s design as it reminded me of 80’s fashions and the clothes Wham used to parade in when singing  shit  like, Wake Me up Before you Go-Go. Besides ballroom dancing, he has a third degree taekwondo black-belt!

What...um.......yes!

Have you noticed the mincy little walk many Korean men have? The first time I saw a teenage boy mince, I was quite amused. I’ve since realised that mincing, basically walking with little steps while swinging the hips a little, is the product of wearing open back sandals. In my last high school boys had to wear sandals in school and there really is no better tool  adept at  emasculating males. If you want to feminise or at least androgynise men or teenage boys, simply force them to wear sandals, the type that have no back to them. You can’t run in them without taking small steps and as a result you shuffle along like a Geisha. Running up or down stairs is positively dangerous. In the same way you dispose a girl to femininity  by making her wear a skirt and subsequently deterring her from the rough and tumble of boys pursuits,  you emasculate boys with a pair of sandals. As a result, many Korean men mince  even when wearing shoes.

Jason is another student I have taught for almost two years. He’s a quiet boy aged about 15 and who talks in a whisper. A few weeks ago he was asked to write an essay on what he would do if he could do anything he wanted, for one evening. His response eventually concluded with spending the night in a luxury hotel, and ordering room service to deliver him steak and lobster. My western brain clicked into action: 15-year-old boy in a hotel? on his own? lots of money? – naughty, naughty!  Risky Business and all that stuff! But Jason avoided the alcohol, call girls and his luxury evening ended by watching TV, and having a double bed. ‘Double bed!’ I repeated suggestively. ‘Why do you want a double bed?’ I asked. His response was typically Korean; ‘to sleep in!’ ‘I laughed and was going to explain why, which of course is futile. Prostitutes, shagging, throwing parties when mummy and daddy are away, getting pissed – are all phenomena which exist at the furthest corner of Jacob’s universe. That’s where they belong until he is 19! The Garden of Earthly Delights, for a Korean student isn’t dependent  on sex, alcohol  or defying parents and all that is required to pave the way to paradise is no school and no homework! Meanwhile faggoty is fashionable, and mincy and kamp are cool and civilised.

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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

Laura (1) Korean Teenagers

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Gender, Korean children, Korean Clothes by 노강호 on May 27, 2010

Not suitable for pumpkin people

If there’s one thing I love about Korean teenage girls, it’s that you rarely meet one who is a slag.  No doubt slags exist in Korea and no doubt there are examples of Korean 15-year-old girls who trowel on make-up, wear Satan’s panties and are promiscuous, but I haven’t met any. In the UK, unless you teach in a top girls school, and I was fortunate enough to have taught stints in two of the top schools, notably Colchester Royal Grammar School (a boys school) and Colchester Girls’ High School, a large percentage of the girls are strumpets.  Many of them were good students and decent kids but they still dressed and behaved in a way I didn’t think appropriate: obsessed with their bodies, with looking sexy, obsessed with sex, with behaving in a sexual manner and in flaunting their undeveloped bodies all of which comprised to denude them of personality.  From childhood recollections to my more recent experiences as a teacher, being a slapper, in the UK at least, drastically improves a girls popularity among both other girls, and naturally, among the boys. My sister is convinced that had she been in those elite ranks, she’d have had a more interesting life. Amusing though this comment is, I’m glad she wasn’t.

 

High school students in the 2nd grade. ( aged around 16-17) Absolutely no make-up at all was permitted in this particular school.

Laura, one of my Korean students, is 15 and totally adorable and like many Korean teenagers, a country with the lowest rate of teen pregnancy in the world, she is, in the cute Korean way, ‘innocent.’ Laura definitely has an interest in boys and one of our regular conversation topics centers on which boy band she is currently into and which boys she finds attractive. Recently, she has started using perfume which I would imagine she applies  after leaving her school and before she comes to the haggwon in which I teach. The ‘safest’ place for her to do this is probably on the elevator up to the third floor, where the school is located. Her perfume predilection started about 2  months ago and in the initial stages of pioneering application, I think she doused herself in it.  The smell was ‘in your face’ and strong enough to remain in class and around the school, long after she had left.

To compliment the perfume, she has also started wearing the faintest traces of make-up, basically lipstick and some mascara. The make up isn’t applied in the manner many English strumpet’s apply it, which is by slapping it on in the manner a plasterer might plaster a wall. I’ve seen plenty of young teenage girls with such thick mascara it looks more like cladding and usually little pebbles of it will be stuck to their eyelashes or  face and will occasionally flake off like little pieces of a crusty, albino scab. The art of teenage make-up,  like their interest in sex, is uniquely British, which is to say, is an overstatement and hence pots of mascara and eyeliner and all the other accouterments of teen tartery are used with as much subtlety as that of a circus clown. For the most part, Korean teenage girls, certainly under the age of 18, are discouraged and often forbidden from make-up and so when a little is used, forced into subtlety of application,  it often enhances their features. You probably wouldn’t notice Laura’s make-up  if it weren’t for the fact that when applied, she’s incredibly sheepish and self-conscious. As for her lipstick, it is so faint I imagine it’s simply lip balm with the slightest trace of added colour.

 

One particularly common style of British teen make-up

Discerning how much make up Korean girls do wear, is difficult as girls, like children everywhere, will ‘push the limits’ and hence I hear stories of girls wearing ‘short’ skirts to school or who wear make up but in Korea a ‘lot’ of make-up is actually very little and a ‘short’ skirt doesn’t mean you can see their knickers.

In British schools, I often saw tell-tale signs that girls were wearing a pair of Satan’s panties and it wasn’t unusual to see that flimsy bit of ‘string’ riding above a girl’s waistband. This is a sight  I’ve never seen in Korea and Korean adults are often mortified to know that western girls, often not yet teenagers, are permitted to wear, or even want to wear, such sexualised clothing.  Indeed, in Korea, I’ve never caught glimpse of a girls knickers.  While it is solely an opinion based on my observations, and which doesn’t include routing through the children’s underwear section in my local E-Marte, I would imagine that Laura’s  knickers, like those of her friends, are void of the translucent panels, little bows and lacy frill edges  that are used to sexualise the bodies of little kids. Her knickers probably reach to her navel and  are styled like the baggy blue things, British girls were compelled to wear for PE in the 60’s and 70’s.

I mention knickers, panties and thongs, not for any perverse reason but to highlight the divergence of social values between Korean and western societies.  How children ‘choose’ to adorn their bodies, the extent to which this adornment is encouraged or tolerated, how it is subsequently received by societies both at home and abroad, expresses and exposes important attitudes and values. In Britain at least, there is a difference between ‘knickers’ and ‘panties;’ ‘knickers’ are functional  whereas the purpose of ‘panties’  is two-fold, to induce arousal in the observer and a sense of sexiness in the wearer. Satin’s panties take this to a totally different level. In Britain, many girls, will tart up their twat with ‘sexy’ panties or a thong while still children and often before using make up.  In Korea, while a little experimentation with make-up might occur whilst still at school, the transition from knickers to panties, from innocence to awareness, probably occurs at about the same time a girl becomes an adult.

Over the duration of a week or so, Laura’s perfume gradually mellowed until it was actually quite pleasant and on a few occasions, when it hung faintly in the air, I was reminded of my mother who always wore floral type perfume. It has become a regular habit of hers to hold her wrist under my nose and ask for my opinion on her latest scent. I then discovered, from her brother, that the  various perfumes  she  parades,  are her mother’s and are sneaked on when no one is at  home.

Ben. Korean Teenagers (1)

Posted in Diary notes, Education, Korean children by 노강호 on May 25, 2010

Ben is one of my students. He is 15 or 16 and in his final year of middle school. Tomorrow he is off  on his class trip, in this case to Sorak Mountain. He is in school early in the afternoon as his class has been let out and so he calls in for a few hours study, prior to buying  ‘snacks,’ at the nearby E-Mart. The snacks he tells me, will include ramyon (Korean pot noodle), choco-pie, (Korean chocolate cake-biscuit things), crisps (what American refer to as ‘chips’) and drink.

It’s the first time I’ve seen him in uniform; gray trousers and jacket with matching gray waistcoat, and a white shirt with the typical burbery-type pattern on the inside of the collar and inner cuffs. On his breast pocket a green flash carries his Korean name, stitched in gold. He’s a skinny boy who in class we often refer to as ‘chopstick boy.’ Today he is incredibly happy, his ‘kibun’ repaired after his post exam despair, last Friday. He’s not just a little happy, he’s ecstatic and he keeps telling me he wishes he was going now.

Next, he starts to tell me about how he fell over in football at school today and had to go to the school ‘hospital.’ He pulls up his shirt cuff to reveal a scratch the length of his forearm. It bled so much he tells me; ‘there was blood everywhere.’ He understands the difference between a cut and a scratch but insists it bled a lot. Then I considered how skinny he is and thought the loss of a little blood for him might be catastrophic and won’t to tease him but am cautious. Koreans do not like being teased as we in the west do and a bit of fun can very quickly upset someone and then you’ll have to wait for another day to clear the air. However, as a rule, Ben doesn’t mind a joke. That reminded me of last year when I jokingly asked a student, Mark, to close his eyes and then, from about a foot from his ear, I pulled the rip cord of a firecracker. Mark almost jumped out of his chair and didn’t find it at all amusing. He sat crying for almost half an hour and there was nothing I could do to console him. The firecracker had made one big bang, not like other ones I’d set off and Mark claimed a bit of powder had hit his ear. Well, if I’d been teaching in the UK I would probably have lost my job. Next day I gave him a box of choco-pies. In the nest lesson we discovered the firecracker had been made in China and that they are notorious for being loud and unpredictable.

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An Interlude of Insects

Posted in Animals, Health care, Nature, seasons by 노강호 on April 11, 2010

A memi

The memi; every summer there’s one hiding near whichever window is open. Of course, it could be a cricket type thing.  I always forget which one sings first in the year and which last. Koreans never seem to know either and if I ask I’m even more confused.  I think I generally fathom it out by October, by the time they’re all dead,  but when spring comes back, I’ve forgotten. ‘Listening to the Locust,’ well I like the alliteration but locusts are too much like cockroaches and ‘Listening to the Gweedorami,’ too off track. Last year I remember hearing a memi almost at the end of Autumn. I came over all nostalgic as it must have been the last memi of the year – (but maybe it was a cricket thing!) It’s solitary chirping was quite pathetic as there were no other memi chirping back. I know they’re ugly but what a bum way to go!  Do they hibernate? A  memi is a cicada but I never know how to pronounce the word and of course, we don’t have them in Britain, so they’re a little special.

I saw my first cockroach of the year last week. It was freaking big. It was late afternoon and with the kitchen window open, the warm afternoon temperature, which obviously coaxed it from  its hidey-hole, had dropped and stranded it, almost frozen, on the wall. I didn’t look at it too long as I was expecting it to scuttle away but I saw it long enough to notice that despite its length, about 3 cm, it looked quite gaunt. I rapidly picked up a floor brush and bashed it on the wall but the bristles hit it and it fell to the floor where it lay on its back dazed. Between the fridge and wall, this horrid piece of God’s creative genius, was almost safe, it only need drag itself a few centimeters to be under the fridge, but the fall and cold were taking their effect and I had just enough time to grab my spray can – unused since last year. I pointed the nozzle between the space by the fridge. There it was,  with those revolting antennae bibbling and bobbling, trying to hide behind the electric cable. I’ve noticed the spray works excellent on flies and mosquitoes. The mosquitoes drop almost instantly, dead after a few twitches, while those big fat flies which Koreans so aptly call ‘Shit Flies,’ fly around for a minute before nosediving into the floor where they suddenly go all spastic-spasm and then stop – dead!  Sometimes they’ll lie still for several seconds and then buzz crazily back into life, usually whirling round  on the floor like they’ve been hit by the most enormous dose  of amphetamine. Then, dead, they stop for good. But the cockroaches, you can spray them and they simply run away. Even neat bleach doesn’t seem to affect them. I don’t think the spray really works unless you spray so much on them they drown. If it wasn’t for the fact the spray kills  other insects I might think it simple water. So, cornered and behind the power cable, I spray the thing so hard it’s blown onto its back where it sticks  to the wall, weirdly cruciform. I didn’t stop spraying until I knew it couldn’t escape.  I left it down there for a day, until it had dried and fallen from its sticking place, then I swept it out, chucked it in the sick, and washed it away. Even though it didn’t touch any of the stainless steel, I tipped a whole kettle of boiling water down the sink hole to purge its passage.

Kill 'em! (click-pic for company site)

In class, kids tell me never to splat them as if it’s a female it can deposit eggs and I know they carry an egg sack, even that sounds revolting, an ootheca. They also tell me they can crawl back up sinks and climb out of toilets and that microwaving them is the best method of disposal. Would you want to heat your toasty in the microwave after baking a roach in it?  I’ve now strategically placed roach (Combat)  stations all around my flat. I only saw about 8 roaches  last year and know they were coming under my front door, from outside.What fucking planet was God on when he designed a bloody cockroach?  That’s an animal absent from ‘All things Bright and Beautiful!’

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FURTHER REFERENCES

Useful information on cockroaches and their control.

Combat Website