Disclaimer: Excuse the language, this was an article suggested by one of our loyal readers. This post is better suited at the Korean crowd. Enjoy.
One of Korean school kids’ favourite games is ë˜¥ì¹¨, or ‘ddong ch’im,” which translates roughly as ‘shit needle.” It’s not complicated; all you do is run around with your two index fingers in the steeple position, find vulnerable anuses and jam your ‘needle” up them as hard as you can. (Find a digital version of the game””a kind of excremental Asteroids””here. ) For the foreign receiver, this is rarely funny or enjoyable in any way. However, the activity is indicative of a much larger national relationship with turds.
In the West, we have plenty of juvenile toilet humour, but when it boils right down to it, there’s not much we like less than shit. We think shit is gross. We equate it with moral filth, degeneracy, everything in society that we would like to flush into the sewer along with our deuce bombs. As Erik D’Amato points out in his ‘Mystery of Disgust,” ‘in most cultures the same word used to describe feces and decay ["˜disgusting'] is also applied to morally-dubious acts.”
In Korea, however, shit is cute. It has somehow been adopted as a kind of cartoon mascot, a harmless and even adorable little character that takes the form of a coiled, anthropomorphized pile of poop. You’ll find this little guy on stickers, notebooks and other school supplies, and even used on signage for restaurants; currently, by my count, there are at least three ‘Ddong” bars in Shi-cheong, the student pub area of Jeju City, each of which is adorned with a glowing pile of shit to draw carousers in for a few shitty beers.
In Seoul, there is even a pair of public sculptures of the peaked forms done in colourful mosaic. The forthright appreciation for crap goes even further in Jeju, where indigenous black pig, traditionally raised in pens that doubled as toilets for Jeju villagers and therefore fattened on the droppings left therein, is among the most coveted and expensive meats used for Korean barbeque. This is not only undisguised””it is advertised in the very name of the animal: ‘ddong dwaeji,” literally, ‘shit pig.”
The Korean fondness for feces probably has roots in Confucianism, wherein the individual is always part of a larger group, thereby rendering Western notions of privacy moot. This ideological base also dictates that standards of shame are based more on concepts of social dishonor than fear of the body. It could also have to do with the much more direct relationship Koreans have with the sources of their food””there is no equivalent in Korean for the English words ‘beef” and ‘pork”; here, you order ‘so gogi” or ‘dwaeji gogi,” ‘cow meat” or ‘pig meat,” and the animals that provide the meat appear alongside the little turd as cartoon ambassadors for the restaurants in which they are served as dinner. Maybe recognizing the stuff you are eating makes it easier to face the stuff you are excreting, which is, after all, the same shit in a different form.
Whatever the explanation, the discrepancy between our fear of shit and Koreans’ tendency to want to cuddle it points to the same difference in perspective that I mentioned oh, about six million words ago in the introduction. What is important when looking at these differences, be they to do with food or shit, is not to fall into the trap of grafting our moral judgments about things we deem ‘disgusting” onto cultures that haven’t absorbed our inherited cultural attitudes. As D’Amato points out, ‘by relishing something we consider gross, an otherwise well-regarded culture can be instantly relegated to barbarian status.” The fear factor is a big one in forming our opinions of people from other places. The empathy of taste””trying to wrap your head around enjoying those fried toad balls, rather than just eating them on a dare””is something we all need a little more of when developing our global palates.
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