Elwood 5566

Anniversary of the Murder of the ‘Frog Boys’

Posted in History, News by 노강호 on March 26, 2012

a sad and gruesome mystery

Monday 26th, today, marked the anniversary of the infamous ‘Frog Boys’ who left their homes on the morning of March 26th, 1991 and didn’t return. Indeed, it wasn’t until eleven years later that their bodies were discovered, 2km from home, in a gully on Warayong Mountain, Song-so, Daegu.

For more information on this tragic event, the circumstances of which are still a mystery, see, Five Boys Meet Death Where the Dragon Dwells (Bathhouse Ballads, May 2011).

Bathhouse Ballads chronicles many aspects of my life in South Korea. Kimchi Gone Fusion focuses on ‘the way of the pickled cabbage’ while Mister Makgeolli is dedicated to Korean rice wine.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Magic Mushrooms – The Mantle Mushroom (망태 버섯)

Posted in plants and trees, seasons by 노강호 on December 17, 2010

I rarely go anywhere without my camera and could guarantee that when it wasn’t in my bag I’d be confronted with something that needed capturing. Needles to say, last week, camera-less and in the mountains such an incident occurred. I’m fascinated by mushrooms and toadstools and back home in the UK have learnt to identify a number of interesting varieties with enough precision that I am happy foraging and eating the edible ones. My favourites are probably the Parasol Mushroom (큰갓 버섯), Shaggy Ink Cap and Puff Ball. I’ve seen Parasol Mushrooms (큰갓 버섯) several times in Korean mountains but never Puff Balls. I’ve never seen any of these mushrooms in markets but know the Parasol Mushroom is eaten as it is listed in one of my Korean recipe books.

 

Shaggy Ink Cap

 

emerging Parasol Mushrooms (큰갓 버섯)

 

Although I’ve seen numerous varieties of stinkhorn, only ever in northern Germany, I have never seen any of the netted versions and do not think such types grow in the UK. When I caught a glimpse of vivid yellow in the undergrowth and discovered four pristine Netted (or Mantle) Stinkhorns (망태 버섯), I cursed myself for having no camera. Make no mistake about it!  Stinkhorn mushrooms, even though edible, have a strong and rotting stench that will easily make you retch. Their purpose is to lure flies to that  obscene helmet where they will trudge about picking up spores on their feet which they subsequently help disseminate.

 

The Common Stinkhorn (as found in Europe)

 

The Korean ‘mang tae’ mushroom is somewhat Gothic when cloaked in its bizzare mantle.

 

A Korean Mantle Mushroom (망태 버섯) Click photo for source

 

totally bizarre (click photo for source)

 

encountering this mushroom was a magical experience (click photo for source)

 

massed mantles (click photo for source)

 

Acknowledgments –  the source of all photos can be traced by clicking on the actual photos.

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

 

 

Sorcerer Spider Webs (무당거미)

Posted in Animals, seasons by 노강호 on October 16, 2010

There were from my last mountain trip at the end of September. The ‘sorcerer  or ‘shaman’ spider (무당거미) webs all measured around 1.5 meters in diameter. (These spiders have a number of other names)

male sorcerer spider (무당거미)

the sorcerer spider has one of the strongest and largest  known webs

Often the web has a greeny-yellow tinge

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Mountain Obsessions

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes, Health care by 노강호 on September 28, 2010

I keep saying fat has arrived in Korea but of course truly fat Koreans are still rare and nothing compared with the fatties of the USA or UK. Generally, Korean fatness is chubby rather than humongous but no doubt this will gradually change. In a recent OECD report, Korea was placed 30th  in terms of obesity in the world’s top 33 most economically developed countries.

Sunday, 5.51 am and the restaurant has customers

On Sunday morning I decided to walk up the mountain and watch the sunrise. I wasn’t quite early enough and actually reached the point where the mountain trail begins, as dawn was breaking, at about 6 am. But on leaving my house I was greeted by total darkness. Of course, it’s never quite quiet in Korea and near my house a 24 hour restaurant had customers who were either finishing off last night’s party or having an early breakfast. Even the small park by my house had a few visitors.

Sunday morning, 6.04 am and it's light

7.40 am Tuesday morning

The point at which Warayong mountain trail begins is directly opposite the municipal sports center and swimming pool with adjacent football pitches and tennis courts. As dawn broke there was already a football match underway and around the pitches I counted twenty two people briskly walking. As is usual in Korea, they were mostly middle-aged and older.

7.40 am Tuesday. Jogging and walking

6.53 am the the first peak (Dragon's Head, 용두)

Even early in the morning there are people on the trail. Koreans are quite obsessed with mountain walking and even the big climbs, up larger mountains, are perceived as a walk rather than gruesome exercise.  Most Koreans have the paraphernalia necessary for a trek in any season and in any weather: walking boots, breathable clothing, hats, water bottles, walking sticks and hankies or towels to mop up the sweat.  Once in the mountains, especially in the morning, it’s not unusual to hear people doing a Korean type of yodel and I have even heard someone practicing a trumpet.

After reaching the Dragon’s Head (용두), the crown of the Warayong Mountain, I walked a little further to where the refreshment stall is and there find twenty people, again mostly middle aged and over, working out on the exercise machines as well as a number of people waiting for the vendor to start serving.

This was taken on the Saturday

a mountain vendor

the long shadows of autumn

Children or young people are not as prolific on the mountain trails, they are usually too busy studying but in fairness, many will do one of the various martial arts or other sports. Walking up the mountain taxes me enormously and I frequently have to stop and catch my breath. However, I have yet to see a Korean pensioner as knackered by the mountain climb as I am. Indeed, for most Koreans, the Dragon’s Head is the point at which you begin stationary exercises, or climb the next peak, in either case,  it is a warm-up. For me however, it signifies the climax of my exercise routine and  once I have had a little sit down and a cup of coffee, it’s downhill all the way home.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Shaman Spider (무당 거미)

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on September 23, 2010

I’ve had an infection or ‘red-eye’ and haven’t been able to use the gym or bathhouse so instead I’ve been walking up Warayong Mountain (Wikipedia location) in Song-So.

I noticed a wasp nest on a tree and watched it over several mornings. These wasps are much smaller than European ones.

wasp nest

This is the shaman spider (무당 거미), which is often translated as ‘sorcerer.’ In English it is known as the golden banana spider or joro spider (nephila clavata). ‘ It probably measured about three inches long and can inflict a mildly painful but non-deadly bite. Autumn signals the mating season for spiders and these beautiful, if not scary looking specimens are also cannibalistic. The female is larger than the male and has red markings towards the back, underside of her abdomen.

Female shaman spider (무당 거미) nephila clavata

female shaman spider with distinctive red markings on the underside of abdomen.

the nephila family spin one of the largest size webs – often in excess of 2 meters.

The web was about 4 feet across and slightly yellow in colour and at one point I walked into  a supporting strand. It did not break and I noted at the time how resilient it was. Apparently, genes from this spider have been injected into silk worm cocoons and as a result they subsequently produce a much stronger silk. This product is being launched on the market, in the form of extra durable socks, in 2010.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Warayong Mountain, Song-So, Daegu

Posted in Comparative, Daegu, Diary notes by 노강호 on September 18, 2010

I decided to go for a  little mountain walk this morning as I’ve got an eye infection and can’t use a bathhouse, so the gym was out of the question.

Warayong Mountain from Song-So Rose Park

It was going to be touch and go whether I actually left my one-room and decided that if I took a bottle of dong-dong-ju (동동주), which is unrefined rice wine, to drink at the summit, my departure might be guaranteed. However, once in my local GS25 store, I decided not to bother with the alcohol and told myself, if I really wanted some I could probably find a few old guys on the mountain top who’d give me a glass.

A 'watering-hole' on the way up Warayong Mountain

Mountainside graves

Mountainside graves

Up Warayong San, (Wikipedia start of trail) in Song-So, even at 8 in the morning, there is an army of pensioners trundling up the mountain. I was expecting the climb to be easy. I’ve been working out at Migwang on a treadmill, 3-4 times a week and walk at a brisk pace for 30-50 minutes. I never run, when you’re fat and over fifty running is totally undignified and besides, I’d probably break the walking machine. Before I’d even reached the mountain, I was sweating and once I’d climbed the first 60 steps on the mountain itself,  I was ready for a coronary.

The climb to the peak closest to E-Mart, Song-So, is a baby of a mountain and much smaller than Ap-san and Pal-gong-San but the walk involves several steep climbs by steps. At the top, I was exhausted and my legs had turned to jelly.

The communal mirror at the Warayong Peak where you can fix your make-up before the decent.

A clock has been located here for over ten years. The men in the background were my source of rice wine.

I’ve written Warayong peak before, (Safe and Sound), and was pleased the clock is still on a tree where the exercise facilities are plus a mirror, which some one had affixed to a tree. Korean kids are kept too busy to turn their interests to vandalising and wrecking the efforts of others, that they so often do in Scumland UK. Sat on benches were three men who offered me rice wine. It was chilled and the drink filled with shards of ice. Then I moved down a side path to where I knew there was another exercise area, seating and usually a small refreshment area. Here I was offered red wine. The refreshment stall is a simple, large umbrella under which coffee and soft drinks  are sold. When not in use the items are stored under tarpaulin. Often there are vendors selling socks, mountain wear, or baseball caps at this location and dotted around the edge of exercise areas were their tarpaulin stores.

A mountain side refreshment vendor

Mountain vendors' storage facilities

Descending

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

The Changing Face of Song So

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Daegu, podcasts, services and facilities by 노강호 on March 23, 2010

Ceramic store

When I first experienced Korea, in 2000, I remember a chemist shop on the corner where I lived which used to stack vitamin drinks outside the store, in front of the windows. The drinks were in boxes and used to remain there throughout the night. Anyone wishing to steal a box would have had little difficulty. Today, the store is a plush American styled bar which may even be called ‘Friends’ and the chances are that  next year it will be a restaurant or internet cafe. I remember the boxes of drinks well as I ways always tempted to steal one. I never did and don’t think I ever intended to but clearly, there is something in the western psyche that prompts one to steal anything which isn’t chained down. This observation I base on my own immoral character, as well as on the characters of fellow westerners, from New Zealand, Australia and the USA, who all admitted that if something isn’t secured it warrants being stolen.  I know electrical stores which stack new refrigerators outside the store, flush against the windows, and street vendors, some who are friends, will often leave microwaves, food, small televisions and many items in their little plastic tents over night. All easy pickings for anyone with a pair of scissors or penknife and a will to steal. Leaving property in situations where it could be stolen is clearly not a major concern in Korea and the practice of leaving things unattended or stepping out of premises temporarily, without locking up,  is widespread.

Several months ago I went shopping at 6.30 in the morning and apart from the food hall, on the ground floor, the other 3 floors were all void of staff and despite some display being draped with covers, the majority of goods, clothes, sports equipment etc, were visible. Once again that little urge to steal presented itself, but I resisted. I still find it amazing that a large department store leaves its isles open  and unguarded overnight. I’m sure cameras were present but I doubt stealing something would have been all that difficult.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that in Korea crime does not exist as it does and on one occasion, I was the victim; but I do feel one is less likely to be a victim in Korea than in the UK, my home country and beyond any doubt, one is much less likely experience physical violence.  Several years ago my neighbours in the UK moved house and their  old property remained vacant for almost a week prior to new occupants arriving. In their front garden they left two, large ceramic plant pots. Late one evening, just as I was going to bed, I heard a car stop adjacent to my house and looking out the window, I watched a silhouetted figure emerge from the car, dart across the front garden to steal the two pots. My neighbourhood in the UK has one of the lowest crime rates in the UK but it doesn’t stop plant pots or garden sheds from being stolen and rape and the occasional unprovoked, violent assault, all occur from time to time. My home town has a population of 35.000 compared to Daegu which has around 3 million.

Ceramics

Much of the crime suffered in the UK however, and a crime I feel especially absent in Korea, is the vandalisation and destruction of property for no apparent reasons. A significant element in our society has a bent for destroying, wrecking, maiming or ruining anything which belongs to someone else and there seems to be a correlation between the amount of affection put into what ever it was that was targeted, and the relish with which it is destroyed. Grave stones, bowling greens, and especially attractive gardens seem currently in vogue. If you can assault the victims emotions, committing the crime seems all the more pleasurable.

In 2000, when I first worked in Song So (성서), Daegu, the KFC next to my school had a life-size model of Colonel Saunders stood outside the store. As it was Christmas, he’d been jollied up in a Santa outfit and even had a walking stick hanging from his wrist. Neither the model nor the stick were secured and remained in situ until he was de-jollied sometime in the New Year. In my home town in the UK, a similar model has to be secured by a chain to prevent it being stolen and it is not left out at night. If vandals attempted to remove the UK model and found it chained their tempers would be inflamed and they would simply smash it  to pieces.  Back in Korea, Colonel Saunders remained outside  the store, unfettered, 24 hours a day. No one thought to carry him a mile or so down the road, for some silly prank; or to rip his arms off or kick his head off; and no one thought it necessary to steal his cane and subsequently use it to smash a shop window or terrorize a passer-by. But then the fast food restaurants in my high street have to employ bouncers and at one time, whilst a student at university, I worked as one for almost a year.

Kicking these about would feel great when pissed!

And in Korea, students as young as 7, usually with mobile phones dangling from their necks, bring their parents’ ATM cards to school to pay their monthly fees. Nonchalantly, they hand them over to staff and no one seems concerned or worried that the kids might lose them, use them or that the staff might make notes of their details or overcharge them. As for their mobile phones? Often expensive and the latest in the range, who would want to steal them? Every one simply trusts each other to do the right thing. I’m sounding like a Kimcheerleader but back home a little kid with an expensive mobile would assaulted and robbed.

Almost opposite my school is a garden center which sells a vast range of ceramic items all of which are stored outside the shop. This business is one of the longest surviving in my part of Song So and has been here since at least 1999. The road on which it stands is fairly quiet, especially  in the evening and at one time, prior to building projects, several vacant lots nestled besides its borders which occasionally hosted 24 hours soju tents. Even to this day, I am amazed that the place has never been vandalized or that drunks have never decided to kick over a few pots. I think the photos do the premises justice and as you can see, there are thousands of items all displayed in tiers and completely open to the public.  Though there seems to be  the supports for a fence fronting the premises and though I pass by here every day, I have never seen evidence of vandalism.

Open to the ‘elements’ 24/7

Wooden bokken and brooms

It is not unusual to see people, usually elderly, who will stop and pick up a piece of litter in the street  but perhaps the best example of  mutual respect and community spirit can be found on mountain trails where small gyms are customarily established, usually on or close to mountain peaks. I have used such gyms in both Cheonan and Daegu and in the mountains verging Song-So, Daegu, I have used two. The closest to my apartment, perhaps a 30 minute, I have used on and off over ten years.  Here you will find a number of exercise facilities provide by the local authorities but which have been augmented by items carried to the top by local people. A clock has been secured to a tree, numerous weights, exercise hoops and an exercise bench. None of these items are chained or secured in place. In Ch’eonan, someone had  provide stout bokken (wooden kendo sticks made of a durable wood) and on a sturdy tree stump fixed rubber tyres.  Frequently, I sat and watched individuals swing the bokken from one side to the other in order to strike the tyres with powerful blows. And nearby was a waste bin and numerous  brooms  for sweeping the little gym clean.  The clock on top of the Song-So mountain impresses me the most as this has been here for ten years though it may not be the same one. Irrespective, no one has thought to smash it or hurl the weights or dumbbells down the steep path which leads to the mountain summit.

A bokken striking post and exercise hoops

That you can set something delicate on the side of the road or in a small clearing on a secluded mountain summit and leave it in the knowledge it will neither be stolen nor vandalized, is a testament, a trophy, to the nature of the people living around you.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Return to Korea (Korean Accounts 2. 2002-2003)

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Bathhouse, Diary notes, Korean Accounts 2 by 노강호 on September 29, 2002

I arrived back in Korea, in September 2002, after agreeing with Mr Joe that I would do a six month contract. After my former mistrust of Joe, it might surprise you I returned to work for him but I suppose my feelings towards him mellowed and in addition, I really wanted to return for an extended spell. In the year since I was last in Korea, much has changed. Now there are many more westerners than there were two years ago. The evidence of westernization is striking and there are even more Macdonald’s burger bars, Baskin Robbins ice cream parlours, Pizza Huts and Burger Kings. On the main road through Song So, that leads to Kemyoung University, in addition to the MacDonalds and KFC, there is now a Baskins Robbins parlour, a second one is presently being built, and a Pizza Hut. All these facilities are within a 10 minute walk of my front door. I am also sure that I am seeing more fat Korean kids than I did before.

I am living just around the corner from my old apartment and in fact I could have looked out my former bedroom window onto the side of the building I am now living in. This time I am in a one bedroom apartment which is next to a Chinese Medicine establishment and looking directly onto a barbecue restaurant and restaurant which is being built and as yet has not opened.

Pak Jun-hee and his family left the old restaurant where I spent every Saturday evening teaching Ji-won. I don’t think the restaurant, which was behind the Shin-woo (신우) supermarket on the main road leading directly down to the university, was bringing in custom.  They have moved to a restaurant just around the corner from where I live which is just a few doors down from the bakers and the Hapkido School. The restaurant is very small and sells pork (삼겹살) or beef barbecue. Even though the restaurant can be very busy, I think the returns are less than adequate and the family is struggling a little.

I have been up Warayong Mountain several times with Pak Jun-hee and though it is a struggle to get to the top it was well worth it. Warayoung is the mountain which lies directly behind Song So.  Last weekend was the Korean festival of Chu-sok and so we had Friday off. The weekend was a bit boring as all my Korean friends headed off to their family tombs. However on Sunday, after our mountain climb, Pak Jun-hee, took me to his house. It is in an apartment on the 10th floor of an apartment overlooking the street his restaurant is on. It was a special occasion as I have never been here before. The house was smallish but comfortable and as usual very open planned. There was a cabinet with a lot of liquor miniatures in them as Sun-hee collects these and then quite a few large jars, like parfait jars, with various fruits in them pickled in alcohol – these are Pak Jun-hee’s. Ji-won was really excited to see me and showed me his room – simply a bed on the floor, his work desk and books.  Apart from some teddy bears, his sister’s room was much the same – a complete lack of pop posters, fashionable clothes, music systems, computers and all the consumerist crap that western teenagers have to have. What was more interesting was that rather than their rooms being dens in which to hide themselves away and pretend to be individual – their rooms were completely open to the house. I don’t think privacy is such an important issue here. Sun-hee returned from town and cooked us some food and then I watched a Tarzan movie with Ji-won and his sister. This week Pak Jun-hee started a new job. In the mornings he goes to work on a construction site. He leaves home at 6am, returns home at 6pm (all for around 30 pounds a day), and then in the evening works in his restaurant which Sun-hee closes at around 4 am. They are saving money for Ji-won to go to university. What a life! And I moan at having to work anymore than 6 hours a day.

The exam period for middle school kids (13-15 years old) is here and it so noticeable; the streets are teeming with kids going to and from the Hakwons. They study in these until 11 or 12 pm and in Di Dim Dol, my school; they can buy cakes and noodles because they do not have time to eat a meal at home. I have had several private classes cancelled though I still get paid for the lesson. This week in the elementary schools (7-12 year olds) sports day and as always everything in Korea happens at the same time. The kids sit in classes with stamps on their arm telling you whether they came 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the various competitions – running, jumping, dancing etc.

At the moment my routine is really good; in the morning I study Korean, then I go for lunch, then to the mokyuktang (Han Song), and then work. I finish work at 8 pm, go straight to Pak Jun-hee’s to eat and at 10 pm I do some private lessons. My Korean and Hanja are really improving. I sat in the green tea bath at the mokyuktang on Friday talking, to an old man and managed to learn that he was 68, weighed 65 kilos, was 1 meter 60 tall, had three sons, one which lived in the USA, that he was a grandfather and had been the Los Angeles. We got talking as he said he recognised me from another mokyuktang bath house and the whole interaction excited me as he spoke no English at all.

Several times a week U-chun and I meet up and spend time chatting in a restaurant. We have been visiting this place which sells oysters – nothing but oysters and for around £10 pounds you can have a big meal for two – usually something like oyster tempura, smoked oysters and oyster soup served with a variety of salads, kimchees and ray fish in spicy sauce. (This restaurant was originally a North Korean restaurant that we visited on our first get together, back in 2000. I re-visited for oysters, several times in 2009 but it has since closed.)

Yesterday David and I went down to the part of Song-so near Kemiyoung University. I wanted to buy a CD as I have been listening to the same music for almost six weeks. Then we went to this excellent restaurant down near the university. It was supposed to be a Spanish style place but there was nothing Spanish about it at all. The place was really weird – just a sort of cocktail bar and restaurant with nothing but sofas and tables. A rather large room just filled with big comfy sofas. David (이영선) said Korean’s think this place is western and he was surprised at my expression when we entered because it isn’t western at all. We ate squid and octopus fried rice and Japanese style pork cutlet.

I do get a bit pissed off at the way Koreans laugh whenever I try to speak Korean. Even U-chun will sometimes have a little giggle. In a private class the other day, I mentioned my arm was sore and the two boys burst into a fit of giggling. One of the boys, Kim Young-jun (김영준) is a bit slow at telling the time and I told U-chun (유천) that he’s a bit slow. She teaches him maths privately. ‘Oh! He’s stupid.” she said. ‘I regularly have to hit him or make him stand in the corner of my front room with his arms above his head.’

Like I said, everything was going well but in Korean things can always change. On Monday, I discovered that the Tasmanian teachers in Di Dim Dol, Matt and Debbie, had done a bunk and left the country over the week-end. Well, now I have been told that tomorrow and until further notice, I must work the hours 10-12am, 1-2pm, 3-8pm! I wasn’t too pleased. When I got home I went to Pak Jun-hee’s and he could tell I was angry but he calmed me down. Later I decided to write a letter and outline my concerns. In the morning I didn’t go to work and handed the letter to Keith as he went to the kindergarten. I then met U-chun and we spent the morning at Baskin and Robbins. A bit of ice cream cheered me up. I had told the school I wouldn’t be going to work until 3pm and that I would work their hours for 2 weeks and then decide what I was going to do. When I went to school, Nell the kindy head, called me into her office to discuss things. The turnout was that I have a slightly longer break in the afternoon but to be honest the quality of my life is shit. Now I work 10-12am, 1-2, 3.50pm or 4.35-8pm. I don’t really have time to do anything substantial and there is no time to train as by the time I get home there is really only enough time to eat, socialise or study for an hour and then go to bed. The problem is Joe is running two schools with one set of teachers and things will get worse in October and November when Nana and Wendy leave.

There has been a lot of stuff on the TV here about five boys who disappeared 11 years ago. Anyway, the boys are known as the ‘frog boys’ (개구리 소년) because on the day they disappeared, they were going to collect frogs. They lived right behind where I live and went into the Warayoung Mountain where they disappeared. There have been loads of police around and several thousand soldiers were drafted in as the boys bodies have been discovered buried and with what might potentially be bullet holes in their skulls. For the last few weeks they have been gradually piecing together each boy’s skeleton. One boy’s coat was tidied at the cuffs. It’s on the TV every evening and has gripped the nation as it has been a mystery here what happened to them and of course the boys’ parents have been on TV. It has been very sad.

When I ask Koreans about this incident they approach it in quite a strange way. I think events like this are so rare that they don’t really have a rationale for them. When I ask Koreans what they think happened I get responses like, ‘they were murdered’, or even stranger, ‘perhaps they were murdered.’ Really!?’ To suggest the boys might have been sexually abused isn’t the first or even second conclusion Koreans come to. The police seem to have had a history of naivety in the investigation. A few weeks ago they suggested the boys had frozen on the mountain despite it being March when they disappeared and them being not too far from home. (The fact they were buried didn’t seem to make any difference.) The boys were found in an area that at one time was close to an army training camp and they now think that a boy may have been accidentally shot by a soldier and then the other boys shot to cover up the incident up.

I went for 4 sessions of acupuncture on my arm as I have had a slight pulled muscle in it for several months. In total the treatment cost me £30 pounds this being exactly 4 times cheaper than getting treatment in Wivenhoe plus several sessions lasted over 2 hours. Now I know why Korean doctors have empty offices as all the problems which clog up the western surgery, the back problems, pulled muscles, etc all go to traditional centres in search of relief. Let’s face it; western doctors are crap at dealing with such problems. Anyway, the treatment seems to have worked but what was most interesting was that I had had another strain in my back which has niggled me for nearly two years. I had treatment earlier in the year back in the UK and after two sessions with there was no improvement. I didn’t notice popping when they manipulated my spine. The Korean doctor, using exactly the same technique, popped my entire spine and the problem disappeared.

I haven’t seen too much of Ji-won as in less than four weeks he has his exams and the whole of Korea is counting down until the day they begin. These exams are known as the ‘goa sam su neung’  (고삼수능) and are the final year exams of high school students.  For very many young Koreans this will be one of the most important days of their lives. We went to the PC rooms (PC 방) last week and they had to ask me if I gave Ji-won permission to be there as it is illegal for under 19 years old’s to be in them after 10pm. I have also found out that in some schools, boys are not allowed to have hair more than 3cm long and it is not to be dyed. They are also not allowed to wear trousers any narrower than 7cm at the ankle. Ji-won told me one of his friends was beaten for having highlights in his hair when it was in fact grey streaks -yes – some Korean kids have natural grey streaks in their hair and there is a Korean term for this. One of my private students, Hyun-min (현민), arrived at my apartment barely able to walk. His hair had been more than three centimetres long and so he, and a few other boys, had to strip down to their boxers and run around the sports five times and then do fifty squats. Hyun-min (현민) is 18!

©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Written Sept 2002

The Letterland Saga – 11th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 11, 2000

I didn’t really feel like going to school this morning however, I had to get up early to give Dong-soo (박동수) a lesson and then go to my school, Di Dim Dol to meet Mr Jo. Mr Jo is taking Nana and I to his new Letterland School over in Yon San Dong. As usual, Mr Jo didn’t turn up and it wasn’t until we’d telephoned him that he did. He was still in bed when we phoned and he didn’t arrive at Di Dim Dol until after midday.

After he arrived he drove us out to the new school where we are also due to meet the new teacher from Australia. The Letterland School was totally brand new and things like white boards and books were arriving as we entered the building. We met Pauline, the new teacher and after a cup of coffee went to have a planning meeting to discuss what we are required to do when the school opens on Tuesday. This meeting was led by Young-seop (영섭) who is the senior Korean-English teacher, but he is only about 26. Nana and I were given seven books and were told that we were to teach in front of the prospective parents. Neither of us has ever taught the Letterland system and don’t know anything about this method of instruction. Pauline tried to make some suggestions and it quickly became clear that she thought it was only Nana and I involved in this activity.

‘But you’re teaching too,’ I told her. ‘The three of us have to do it!’

‘But I’ve never taught before,’ said Pauline, obviously under the impression we were going to be able to give her some guidance.

‘Well we’ve never taught Letterland either so we’re all in the same boat,’ I replied trying to console her. Pauline couldn’t believe what we were saying and looked very concerned. The meeting was tense especially as Young-seop (영섭) didn’t seem to know what was going on either and of course we couldn’t really make sense of what he was saying. Much of our failure to communicate was derived from the way Koreans respond to negative-type questions, basically any question with ‘not’ in the question (don’t, aren’t, couldn’t etc).

‘Are we teaching to three separate classes or one class?’ asked Pauline.

‘To three,’ replied Young-seop (영섭).

‘So were not teaching to one big class, then?’ asked Pauline trying to clarify what was to happen. It didn’t help that she was talking very fast.

‘Yes,’ said Young-seop (영섭). Pauline was becoming very agitated.

‘You are confusing me, Young. Let me get this right, we’re not teaching one big class?’

‘Yes, he replied.

‘Oh Jesus! One moment you are saying we are teaching one big class and the next three separate classes, what the freak are we doing?’ I didn’t understand the confusion at first and later discovered that Koreans agree with a negative question so when Pauline asked, ‘so we’re not teaching one big class,’ Young-seop’s reply meant, ‘yes, we’re not teaching one big class.’

At this point I decided to start moaning about how ridiculous it was that we were expected to give a presentation and teach in front of parents when we had no idea at all about the Letterland system. To make matters worse, we only had seven pupil workbooks from which to deduce the Letterland philosophy. The meeting dragged on until 2 pm when it was decided we should meet this evening at 8.30. Mr Jo drove us back to Song-so where we visited a noodle restaurant and I arrived back in Di Dim Dol only minutes before my first class was to start.

My head was still pounding from a hangover when we met at 8.30 and I wasn’t too pleased that I was having to do all this un-scheduled work without being consulted. It’s not the money I’m bothered about but the fact I came to Korea to experience Korean culture and Jo’s lack of organisation is impinging in that. The group had now swollen with the addition of several other Korean-English teachers including Gloria, Angela and Winnie. Mr Jo started the meeting of with a little speech and was desperately trying to give the impression he knew what was going on. I moaned a bit more to the Koreans and tried to explain to them the meaning of ‘being a mushroom, being kept in the dark and fed on shit’ but I don’t think anyone understood what I meant. I tried to move things along and so did Pauline but Nana kept criticizing our suggestions.  Young-seop (영섭) then told us that there were some teachers’ planning books at the Letterland school. This revelation made me really annoyed as they were the books we needed to consult, someone needed to be sent to get them. An hour later and they arrived but it was now 11 pm so we decided to meet on Monday at 9 am in the Letterland School.

On Saturday morning I took a taxi over to Pauline’s house to see if she wanted to do anything this evening. I remembered how lonely and lost I felt on my first weekend. Pauline lives not too far from Yon San Dong, on the edge of town and with a good view of the mountains. It was refreshing to get away from the high-rises of Song So (성서) and to see some new views. Pauline was busy cleaning her floor and she wasn’t very impressed with the condition of her flat – basically a porta-cabin sandwiched between some houses. She has no iron, TV, or video. In addition no one from the school had visited her to see if she was okay or needed anything. Mr Jo really has no idea how to treat people, especially westerners and it is quite clear South Koreans need a revolution to reorganise the slavish way people are expected to work.

In the evening Pauline and I met up and had bibimbap in my favourite restaurant. I came out to her and she seemed genuinely pleased I was gay. Most of her friends in Australia are gay and so we spent some time criticizing straight men. She has a really good sense of humour, wears no make-up and likes to eat as she is very fat. I expect we will get along fine. I told her I had had a book published and she asked if she could read it. It took me a while to find it as I had hidden it in case Nana came across it by mistake.

On Sunday, I went for a walk up the mountain behind my flat; the mountain is called the Warayong Mountain. This is the first weekend since I’ve been here that I didn’t feel all achey and tired. Today is December 3rd and I can remember doing a guard duty in Polemedia Camp, Cyprus, when I was with United Nations, on a December 3rd. Somewhere I have a photo of myself at the guard post. I think that would have been in 1973, the year I joined the army. I was surprised with the change of scenery up the mountain as when I was last here, some five weeks ago; the trees were still green though some where changing to red. Now all the leaves have fallen and you are able to see much more of the city below. I walked the same routes as on previous trips, basically straight up the mountain to the resting place at the top. At one point there was a really clear view of Wu Bang tower in the distance with a large Buddhist temple between both points. I took a photo of it but it never came out. At the top of the mountain is an open air gym equipped with benches, dumb bells, a clock suspended from a tree, a radio and speakers, some weights and hoops. No one steals them and nothing is vandalized as it would most certainly be in the UK.  Friends and families were exercising here and it was interesting to see fathers of forty plus doing this with as much vigour as their sons. Once you get to this point on the climb you realise that there are higher mountains behind it. There must be miles and miles of walks up here.  I walked back down the mountain and went to write my notes up at a nearby internet cafe, known as a PC bang.

 

 

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