Elwood 5566

Back in Wivenhoe

Posted in Comparative, Layer Marney, Travel, Uncategorized by 노강호 on April 30, 2016

In July 2015, I left Korea after 8 years (10 years total) and returned to Wivenhoe, in Essex, UK. Why? I’m still asking myself! Korean life was so relaxed and familiar but I missed my friends and family back home. I think I would have stayed in Korea permanently if it had been possible for foreigners to buy property or to live in the country without having to exit every 3 months and return with an updated visa.

Layer Marney July 2015

Layer Marney July 2015

Hardest of all, was saying goodbye to my gumdo Master, Kwon Yong-guk. I had trained with him everyday for almost four years. When I eventually stepped on to the Seoul-bound trained, in Daegu, we both had tears in our eyes. However, leaving Korea in 2015 was quite different from leaving in 2001; with the internet and the likes of Facebook and Skype, staying in contact is easy and I video chat with him most weeks. In 2001, the primary mode of contact was via e-mails or the likes of Messenger and a Christmas phone call, Seoul to UK, in 2000, cost me £80.

Before I left Korea, I already had an inkling of what I was going to miss, and I very much do. Most of all I miss Koreans. In particular, I miss young people. Korean towns and cities are filled with children and teenagers and street life is enlivened by their routines. Further, Korean culture is coloured by the broad range of amenities provided for them: PC rooms, Kids Cafes, jumping rooms, noraebang (singing rooms) and play areas in restaurants. Even amenities which in the UK would be predominantly for adults are equally frequented by children and young people. Where in the UK, do you see children or teenagers eating together, unsupervised, in anything but the likes of MacDonalds or KFC?  And of course, in Korea, children haven’t yet been indoctrinated and corrupted by the idea that their bodies’ are a source of sexual attraction to lusting adults and especially lusted over by those who were formerly trusted, such as relatives, teachers, politicians and the clergy. Britain is now a very scary place for the child and indeed any adult whose interactions with a youngster are misinterpreted. Indeed, so central to the British psyche are concerns of child sexual abuse, to the point of obsession, that it suggests either a very unhealthy national preoccupation, or worse, one that is rooted in the human condition.

Then, I miss Korean men; ever since I experienced life in Germany, I’ve always found a great swath of the British male population to be horribly brute. Indeed, to be fair, male or female, the British character is typified by vulgarity, aggressiveness and violence. This character is predominantly a product of the working-class tradition of which it is currently politically correct to deny the existence or influence of and yet we see the class dichotomy paraded for entertainment in the likes of Downtown Abbey, East Enders and the intrigues of the royal family. Few Brits would deny the existence of a British upper class, but to correspondingly talk of a ‘working class’ has become as socially uncomfortable as flying the Union Jack over your house. I have met Koreans whom I dislike but I’ve yet to meet a Korean man who is brute or vulgar, let alone a brute or vulgar female. It is wonderfully liberating to walk busy streets surrounded by predominantly feminine men or youths rather than having to negotiate the complex variations of the British psyche where one man is a gentleman, the next, some slob with his hands stuffed down the front of his trackies and the next some male looking female who is foul-mouthed and muscled.

I miss being really clean, ‘clean’ in the same way you can be in Korea and I’m not claiming all Koreans have the same standards. Swimming pools, spas or sauna are not a daily part of British life. Unless you live within 20 mins of a bathing complex, most of us don’t enjoy water or cleansing as entertainment. On the contrary, bodily hygiene in Britain tends to be functional procedure especially as many British homes don’t have a bathroom suitable for cleaning your body in a truly comprehensive manner.  And Korea is bursting with restaurants, coffee shops, street food and markets. In six months back in the UK, I’ve eaten out twice. It’s simply too expensive to eat out at a decent restaurant twice a day. Of course, I’m living in a large village rather than in a city but even if I go into town, population approx. 122.000, there isn’t a great deal to do and the quality of resources and culture is impoverished. One big problem with Britain is that so many of the things you would do on a daily basis in Korea, and without a second thought, are not just expensive luxuries in the UK, but by comparison, are second-rate. Trains are slow and dirty even when they are high-speed intercity trains but no British trains are truly ‘high speed’ because the ancient infrastructure limits speeds to 125 mph, maximum.

There are some pleasant aspects of being back in the UK though I don’t feel they compensate for living in both an impoverished culture and among so many with brute and vulgar sensibilities. I enjoy damp air, green fields, eccentricity (which in Korea is frowned upon), birds and houses with gardens… and that’s about it. I actually thought I’d be able to be more positive but on reflection that’s all I can muster.

I have no doubt my posts here will commence with ones of a comparative nature before they broaden out into other topics.

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The Changing Face of Song-so, Daegu

Posted in Comparative, services and facilities by 노강호 on August 27, 2011

I returned to the UK for a summer break to the usual welcome. This time, the train company that carries me on the last leg of my journey, to Wivenhoe, Essex (UK), had changed from First Connect to National Express and for the third consecutive time, the train’s only toilet was out of order. In the winters of 2009 and 2010 it was locked. This summer, I took my wash-bag to the toilet, put shaving cream on my face in preparation of having a shave, only to discover there was no water. Indeed, there was more water swilling on the floor and the lip of the toilet was decorated with shit. A big thank-you to National Express and British standards! Then, a few days later the riots began. Britain is indeed a dirty, second-rate nation and I no longer intend bemoaning the state of the country.

great to see standards maintained over a number of years

Three weeks later and I return to Korea and to Song-so, Daegu. Mr Big has opened as a mobile telephone shop, Mutory, where you can sit and drink coffee while pondering which hand-phone to buy. The high-rise block which began in February 2011 is almost complete and the butcher’s in my local Dream Mart has closed. Meanwhile, Migwang Spolex, the sport center and bathhouse I use, has been given a face lift (Migwang Face-lift, August 2011).

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

As a note, it is now autumn 2012. In summer 2012 I travelled back to the UK and on both trips to and from the airport, British rail toilets were again either in a filthy state or could not be used.