Seoul Seeking [Retired]

A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ding Ddong!

Ever notice how whenever Seoul Seeking peeks back out of retirement it's always to talk about ddong?

Well, my friend Gillian pointed me towards this blog about cake disasters and a post featuring a cake with *surprise* a frosting coil of ddong and a bunch of plastic flies.

In the comments, blogger Tom Terranova pointed out this link on the phonetic connection between "luck" and "poop" in Japanese. According to The Poop Report, the Japanese word for poop "unko" (also "unchi") shares the same "oon" sound as the (unrelated) word for luck.

One reader asks about a golden poop key-chain she saw at Narita airport. She, like myself and anyone else I've talked to about about the ddong phenom, described the Asian poop motif like a swirl of soft-serve ice cream:

"At the risk of getting too graphic, I really must address shape because everyone I spoke to brought it up. Diane, you described the Kin no Unko as looking 'disturbingly like soft ice cream,' while Fujii, its creator, expressed it as a 'nice tatsumaki-shape (tornado-shape).'"

While the shit storm / chocolate swirl debate rages on, let's look at some more instances of Japan and poop.

This site has some cell phone key-chains with a good intro to the "unchi-kun" school of poop:

In Japan there are many stories about unchi and money. If you had a dream of unchi last night, you should go straight to a lottery box and try your luck. Especially golden unchi has a strong power to call big money. Other unchi-kuns have their own power. Please select one depend on your wish. They are funny and cute mascot. Don't they look lovely?

What gets me about this is the honorific "unchi-kun" which is mostly used by senior men refering to their juniors (like young friend or little brother) but can also be used by women to address men they are emotionally attached to, or to a male pet.

The little unchi-kun at the top is the same as the pink and green "banggut banggut" ddong toys that Paul gave me. ran a story back in 1999 about the Japanese interest in poop. This provides us with some key terminology:

maki guso - curly or curlicue poop

And the expression for when someone steps in dog poop:

"un ga tsuku," or "luck has stuck to you."But this Korean cartoon song absolutely eclipses everything I've ever dug up on this blog before on the topic of ddong:

Ddong coffee, Dongchimee, Doggy Poo the movie, or even the ddongchim flash game.

What the hell are they doing!? Ddong flossing?

Watch in amazement and sing along to the "ddong, ddong, d-d-d-d-dong!"

I'm still no closer to a bona fide explanation about WHY exactly poop is so popular in Japan and Korea. Some people have speculated that it goes back to Korea's poor agricultural days when family feces was saved to use as fertilizer, and so it was something valuable that kids would have to learn to muck about in. Maybe this in combination with the influence of the Japanese lucky language puns and both countries' penchant for making anything and everything into a cute-eyed toy or bauble? They all churn together in the bowels of socio/scatological progress and at the end of the day there's an unchi-kun in every home and the gods of digestion are smiling the kind of smile that could even make poop look like a friend...

샘-샘 (Sam-Sam)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ddongchim Evil?

So in reporting my experience of what I knew as the "dung-chip" phenomenon during my year of teaching, it seems I misheard the word itself. It seems the actual act "똥침" is said more like "ddongchim" (or ttongchim) so mostly the same.

Get this: the rough translation of the special attack is "dung needle."

There is a similar act in Japan known as Kancho—great explanation here.

Here's a bit from the Korean Wikipedia entry! (interestingly somewhat-translated via Google):

"Iran together into one index finger of both hands ttongchim seunhu, anus of another person with the aim of stabbing one of the children's fun. Chojunggogyosaengdeung primarily, the underage students are often among his age group enjoy the kind of a joke.
Usually done as a joke, or is not ttongchim evil, just like any business, you can be that much violence is in excess."

It goes on to describe (I think) the medical dangers of overzealous ddongchiming.

Be wary.

Wary like this family wasn't...

[Don't be ddongchim evil.]

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dethroning Dongchimee

It's been more than six months since I left Korea, but a discovery too incredible not to share has drawn me out of retirement.

I stumbled across this game today and it blew my mind.

Move over Dongchimee. [EDIT: or maybe not...]

Assume the role of your average ddongchimming Korean hero— hands permanently clasped in the (not dissimilar) prayer and/or dung-chipping stance— whose goal is to ddongchim a disembodied, starry-thong-wearing flushed pink buttocks into oblivion. Naturally you have to dodge the perfectly formed dung piles that fall down towards you (complete with buh-je-jic sound effects).


This little South Park expat and ddongchim warrior will periodically fall from the top of the screen to "level-up" your ddongchimming finger shot from yellow to blue to red.

If you hold down your mouse, your ddongchim will power up in high octane anime fashion and your character will launch up the screen to deliver a true between-the-cheeks ddongchim to your adversary.

Like so:



Be careful because each dung hit to the face will stun your character temporarily and if your energy bar disappears...

...BUT! If you managed to dodge the dumps and ddongchim your score bar to the max then...

And in your victory screen it is revealed your opponent was none other than some poor mohawked slob who you ddongchimmed till he wept.

Feels good to win, right?

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Welcome home," said Nova Scotia.

"Thanks," I said. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world."

She blushed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Seoul Sought, or, So long and thanks for all the kimchi

I leave Korea tomorrow, homeward bound for Halifax via Toronto and a brief back-flip through time, and thankfully no layover in the United States (no offense; airport hassles, you guys know the drill).

I've said most of what I wanted to say about Korea through this past year in posts. I have been trying to think of something conclusive about what I'll take with me from my time here—nursing bekseju, pondering Han, laughing with the most wonderfully spirited children I've ever gotten to know.

If anything, I've taken equal parts pride and humility from this year: pride at where I come from, and the things that I realize make up my idea of home, but also the humility that comes from being a long-term guest in a country where life can be baffling, and you tend to feel like a creature of spectacle.

I am incredibly grateful for all the kindness and generosity people have shown me here, from my endlessly obliging hagwon boss, to the kind Paris Baguette proprietor Mr. Kim and his countless free pastries, to the friendly restaurant ajummas who would smile and flip an extra fried egg onto my bowl of bibimbap.

Today was my last day at the school, and I faced a barrage of little people hugging my legs and saying:

"Bye-bye, Sam Teacher!"

"Thank you!"

"I love you!"

"Bye-eeeeeee! Goodbye!"

It was pretty sweet. I'm going to miss these little ones. Part of me wants to smuggle a few off in my suitcase and take them off somewhere green, and as far from a classroom as possible.

Thanks to all who read and were entertained by Seoul Seeking. Though this is my last post from Korea, feel free to check back every now and then and I'll post links to any new writing or blogging that's worth a spit.


And so it went that 25-year-old Sam-Sam shed both a Sam and a tacked-on Korean birth year as he climbed onto an airplane and began a long haul backwards in time, grateful for the memories and the new perspective on this mostly green and blue cosmic lump we all inhabit our own little nooks of.

Sometimes it helps to not be so exclusive with our choice of nooks.

Annyonghi kyeseyo, Korea.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Don't forget to remember

In my mailbox this morning I found a helpful letter from the Korean government reminding me that my Visa expires in 10 days.

That's kind of like shouting to a trapeze artist with one hand on the final bar, "Hey! You're almost there!"

Thoughtful, but profoundly unnecessary.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Singin' the Kogal, Eggman, Idoru blues

The search for Eggman was not over easy.

In fact it was impossible.

I never found the chimeric music club as I wandered through the rain-slick streets of Shibuya in the early evening. With only the map in my Lonely Planet book and a few incongruous landmarks, the streets seemed to me only as a maze of empty yet still open designer boutiques with one word English names.

It was still early on Thursday night, but I had no sense of my surroundings. I knew Shibuya was the creche of Tokyo youth culture along with Harajuku (a fact which Gwen Stefani shamelessly exploits) so with a few spots on a year old map, I was hoping I could find some kind of show to take in.

It was harder than I thought.

I had been walking in the wrong direction for easily 20-minutes, and when I doubled back, I doubled back too far, and found myself walking up and along the infamous Love Hotel Hill.

I got tired and gave up entirely too easy.

It had already been a long day by about 5:00.

Having spent Wednesday night in Asakusa, and the afternoon wandering the Imperial Palace Gardens and the swanky Roppongi Hills, I wanted a calm start to my final full day in Tokyo, followed by an electro-shock of neon signs and street fashion as it started to get dark.

That morning I took the subway to Meiji-jingu, the forested Shinto shrine dedicated to the restoration Emperor of the same name. It was spitting enough that I had to buy an umbrella at the subway station, but the rain really added to the atmosphere of the shrine. I stood at the huge wooden Torii, at the entrance to a 175 acre evergreen forest with just a handful of Korean tourists and residents out to walk. It was remarkable. Here, flanked on all sides by Harajuku, Omote-sando, and Shibuya, centres of couture and consumption all, was a massive forest and temple, dedicated to the souls of passed royalty. Sort of like Central Park if you replaced the park bench wankers with Empress Shoken's memorial lily garden.

Sort of.

The light rain, made the turquoise roofs of the temple proper shine, and the green of the 120,000 trees seemed that much deeper. I was able to get lost in the woods in the middle of Tokyo. That's pretty awesome.

After savoring the green, I headed down Omotesando, billed as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees. I had lunch at a great little fusion restaurant with fluent English speaking staff and then, belly full of swordfish, headed down the street where affluent Tokyoites get their D&G, Benetton and other international names.

Shibuya was next, mid-afternoon. I crossed with the masses at Hachiko square and guessed I had never been part of so big a single crowd before. It's hard to take a step in Shibuya without running into a kogal and her ten thousand friends. Essentially the Japanese valley girl, kogal is a catch-all term for a young thing with bleach blond hair, tanning-bed complexion and clutch-purse fat with disposable income. It's a strange look to see on the Japanese figure and face, but there are thousands of girls who look like this. They make themselves pretty obvious, since people tend to come to Shibuya to be seen. I spent about an hour floating through an HMV listening to the latest J-pop, from L'arc~en-Ciel (who I sadly missed at Incheon) to a group called Ketchup Mania. I got a coffee at the world's busiest Starbucks, but had to drink it sitting on a bench next to Hachiko, since inside there were no seats, since probably years before.

When night fell, I thought of going to Shinjuku and seeing the Park Hyatt where they filmed Lost in Translation. But I was so tired and daunted by the world's biggest city's biggest transport hub, I thought I'd try to seek out some new sound.

"Do you have battle in your life!?" a large video screen asked me, while I waited at the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare on the planet.

"That's a reasonable question," I thought, having not given it much consideration until that point.

"I suppose I don't."

Apparently I also missed my chance, since battle, the aggressive sign went on to explain, was a band playing a popular club next week. Sold out.

This was just the kind of thing I wanted to take in tonight.

However my hopes for Eggman were promptly scrambled (is it just me, or do I get funnier by the minute?) and like the protagonist of William Gibson's Idoru (which I had picked up in Roppongi to help narrate my trip) I found myself seeking a single club in a place where they live about as long as mayflies, in order to dig up the dirt on how a universally popular Irish/Chinese rock musician announced his intentions to marry a holographic Tokyo pop "idoru" and plunge the dataflow into new depths of subterfuge and manipulation.

Or maybe the last part wasn't quite like me.

As I said, it had been a long day about 4 hours back.