Sunday, 25 November 2012

North Korea - Wish You Were Here!

Here, a cheery bunch of Aussies is sumptuously entertained in Pyongyang, the Kim dynasty's bizarre film-set capital of North Korea. You needn't watch it all - they had a bloody nice time, eating well, drinking beer, joshing, dancing and posing with carefully selected locals. That's all you need to know.


Can my frequent visitor from Seoul translate the texts on the banners in the photo above? I'll lay odds they are all about death to the Imperialist Bastards, but I'm open to correction.

Human Rights Watch Report 2012 tells us:

'The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) systematically violates the basic rights of its population. Although it has signed four key international human rights treaties and includes rights protections in its constitution, it allows no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and endemic problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other “anti-socialist” crimes.'
How far up your fucking arse do you have to be to put out a video of 'What I Did On My Hols In North Korea', and show no awareness, no acknowledgement, that you are in a state that appears to have modeled itself explicitly on Nineteen Eighty-Four? (Christopher Hitchens speculated that some time around 1950, somebody must have given Kim Il Sung a Korean translation of Orwell's novel and said 'what d'you think? Reckon we can make it fly?') How crashingly bloody insensitive do you have to be to recommend people visit this Hell on Earth 'before it changes'? This is a state where in the nineties two million people died of starvation while the Dear Leader stocked his 10,000 bottle wine cellar and sent his sushi chef to source caviar from Iran and sea urchins from Japan. (On the latter expedition, the chef managed to slip his minders and escape.) In a country where sex is not deemed a fit subject for discussion, Kim Jong Il hired girls to dance naked for his favourites while they sloshed down the Hennessy. This is a country where every individual, whether one of the privileged permitted to live in Pyongyang (so long as he behaves himself) or a serf in a forced labour camp, is state property. Did that jolly little bunch of visitors not wonder where everyone went in Pyongyang after dark? If the people are not on parade, they're under curfew. Seen from space at night, North Korea is a field of black between the lights of South Korea and China. How much is revenue from tourism going to benefit the people in that darkness, subsisting on grass and tree bark, given that the Kims have always seen them as so many expendable extras in the drama of their own greatness?

Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, always had himself depicted as sleek, plump and benign, dispensing hand-shakes and homely wisdom to his grateful and admiring people. Sometimes he was shown with a ciggy in his hand, to add an air of down-home just-folksiness to his image. The goitre that afflicted him in later life is omitted from all representations, naturally. Kim Jong-Un seems to be playing the same easy-going, noblesse oblige card - see below. Like his dad the Dear Leader, he has a fondness for the top-drawer smokes and Scotch. One day, according to Jong Il's sushi chef, Jong-Un got to thinking a bit. Picture him gazing meditatively into his Johnny Walker Black. 'We are here,' he mused, 'playing basketball, riding horses, riding Jet Skis, having fun together. But what of the lives of the average people?' Well, you horrible little cunt, read the Human Rights Watch Report, since you don't operate under the same IT restrictions as your subject populace. You needn't go further than You Tube if reading wearies you. Since Jong-Un took over that little parallel universe from his father, the young things of Pyongyang have a brand new funfair to play with and may gab to one another on cell-phones. It's impossible to make international calls, of course. The attempt alone could get you shot.. Play nicely, or else.

Here's The Dear Successor with his Mrs, opening a supermarket in Pyongyang. It looks as though the architect of Kim Il Sung's mausoleum designed it, incorporating an addled memory of  Manchester Airport. Anyway, the design way upstages the merchandise. The ritual involves the same saluting, handshaking and bonhomie that attended Kim Jong Il's visits to factories and offices, the same sense of empty display. We do not buy it.


In his book The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol-Hwan, who along with his family spent ten years in the Yodok concentration camp, tells of being forced to witness executions by firing squad or hanging:

I attended some fifteen executions during my time in Yodok. ...they were [almost all] for attempted escape. no matter how many executions I saw, I was never able to get used to them, was never calm enough to gather herbs while waiting for the show to begin. I don't blame the prisoners who unaffectedly went about their business. People who are hungry don't have the heart to think about others. Sometimes they can't even care for their own family. Hunger squashes man's will to help his fellow man. I've seen fathers steal food from their own children's lunchboxes. As they scarf down the corn, they have only one overpowering desire to placate, if even for one moment, that feeling of insufferable need.                        

Well, at least those Aussie trippers got shown a good time. Here for balance is another who's less wide-eyed


Stuff I've read recently:

Demick, B. (2010) Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea London: Granta.
Kang,C. (2001) The Aquariums of Pyongyang London: Atlantic Books.
Kang, H. (2005) This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood London: Abacus.
Myers, B.R. (2010) The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans see themselves and why it matters. New York: Melville House.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Queer Meme

I stole this ‘meme’, if that's what it is, from somebody who stole it from somebody else who’d stolen it from somebody else.
How old were you when you knew you were gay?
I remember my first thrill of homosexual attraction. I was transfixed by a shot on TV of a bare-chested boy diving into a river. It was in a TV adaptation of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, and it must have been the 1962 BBC version, but certainly a repeat, as I was only three when it was new. Even so, I don’t think I was older than six when I decided that shirtless and pantless boys were a bloody sight more absorbing to contemplate than girls in any state of dress or undress. Obviously at that age I didn’t associate this aesthetic pleasure with sex. I must have been about seventeen before I made the connection and acknowledged that for me, nothing in this sublunary world matches the beauty of a fit, naked lad with a twanging hard-on. When did you realise you were straight? Or did you just take it as read that you would be?    

Have you ever had sex with the opposite sex?
Yes, at university. Odd experience: a mixture of genuine enjoyment of the company of the women involved and the peer pressure to get laid as often as possible exerted on one another by young men in an all-male college. I suppose I appreciated the ‘penis exercise’, as we practically and unromantically termed the act, but knew that my heart wasn’t in it even if my other relevant organ was. Have you ever has sex with the same sex?

Who was the first person you came out to?
My sister, I think.  Who did you first confide in that you were (gulp) straight?

Are you out to your family?
Yes. I arrived at my parents from Cambridge one day circa 1982 wearing a sweat shirt I’d ordered from Gay News. It bore a lambda symbol on the chest, and I waited to be asked what it meant. On hearing the explanation, neither of my parents could honestly pretend it was a surprise. My dad never had any problem with it, but my mother had visions of me being eternally mocked and queer-bashed and took a few months to come round. It wasn’t long before she was calling me in Cambridge to inform me of anything of queer interest coming up on on the telly.

Do you want children?
No. I only eat white meat.

Do you have more gay friends or straight friends?
They are nearly all straight.

Were you out in school?
Are you kidding? It was a boys’ Grammar School in working class northern England in the seventies: announcing you were queer would have been like publicly confessing atheism in Saudi Arabia. Anyway, I didn't know at the time that I was. I was aware of being different in a manner I couldn’t define, and of being frequently reviled and sneered at. I might have been slightly camp in a Nigel Slater-ish sort of way, but I can’t really remember. Publisher Stephen Pickles and TV producer David Liddiment were respectively three and five years ahead of me. Both are queer as coots and they deflected the taunts of those days by developing extravagantly stagey personas, Pickles waspish and camp and Liddiment (a prefect) like a Kapo from Belsen. That they both treated me more kindly than they treated other little oiks suggests they recognised one of the brethren even if he didn’t recognise himself at the time.      
Have you ever done Crystal Meth?
No. Never even met her.

Have you ever been in a sling?
Not of any kind for any purpose.

Have you ever done a 3-way?
Yes, three or four times.  All terribly busy. 

Have you ever dressed in drag?
I did two female parts in school plays. You can imagine how this enhanced my reputation, which when all’s said and done is all a girl has.

Cher or Bette?
Eh? Oh, I see, the Diva thing. Neither. Us thinking poufs go for Joni Mitchell, and at 
university I played no music but hers, which drove everybody around me nuts. I feel vindicated these days when I learn that people who knew me then now have Blue and Hejira in their CD collections. Nearly all my CDs are of female artists - Mari Boine, Miriam Makeba, Lisa Gerrard, Mamak Khadem, Savina Yannatou – but the attraction of Cher, Bette, Barbra and Judy is lost on me. 

Have you dated someone of a different ethnicity?
How old are you, fourteen? You seem to have led a rather sheltered life. I've had (as opposed to 'dated') men from all over the place, but my only extended relationship was with a young man from the Seychelles, now resident in Sweden. We are still in touch sporadically, twenty-odd years after we met in Athens. He was 21 and I a decade older. He was naïf, generous, loyal, stubborn and tough. He was not out of the top drawer intellectually and I’m afraid I was a bit of a bully. Was there any point, I would sometimes ask him, in our staying together?

Him: It’s deep end.

Me: Whaddaya mean, ‘it’s deep end’?

Him: It’s deep end on you!


Been to Fire Island? Saugatuck? Key West? Ft. Lauderdale? Palm Springs?
No, and highly unlikely that I ever will. Never even heard of Saugatuck.

Have you ever barebacked?
 No. I’d as soon have a gin and tonic. I put in the side bar a quote from Christopher Hitchens:
“The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.”

How many Madonna CDs do you own?

Name of your first love?
I can’t tell you that. Needless to say it was wholly unrequited. I’ve decided unattainablility is a great aphrodisiac.

Do you still talk to him?
Yes, by e-mail.

Does size matter?
Absolutely it does, and the 'size-doesn’t-matter' twaddle is a sad piece of rationalisation made up by men with scrawny knobs. If you detect here a certain self-confidence on my part, well, then... Your really huge plonkers are, for purposes other than micturation, pretty useless. I once had a strikingly handsome boyfriend, rather like the lad on the right here, whose member on the jack was gargantuan.  Such was its girth that no hand, mouth or ring-piece could encompass it without risking trauma.
You could only really look and say, ‘right, yeah, it’s big, isn’t it?’ When the point of climax was inevitable, Glen would sit astride me wanking that pole, massive bollocks aswing, and I swear you could hear the stuff coming. No, what matters more is proportion. Big dicks on skinny boys look silly, and vice versa.


Biggest turn on?
Youth. Wiry muscles. Lascivious smile. Stubble. Bollocks. Hairy thighs. A fat bulge in a lad's Jockey shorts. Light dusting of chest hair.

Biggest turn off?
B.O.  Those blokes who single-handedly turn an encounter into a threesome: you, him, and his tool. God-botherers who babble about 'the gay lifestyle' and never stop to consider how vacuous the phrase is.

Ever been harassed due to your orientation?
All the way through school. It took me a long time to realise the extent to which as a kid I had internalized the constant, low-level verbal bullying and rejection and turned them into the body dysmorphia that has been a source of misery (and celibacy) on and off for most of my life.

Worst gay stereotype that applies to you?
Err… Once when a (gay) guest was coming I had to dash out and buy two matching tumblers for vodka and tonic because although I had several, they were all different and more suitably shaped for whisky. Does that count? 

                                                        Would you marry if you could?
No. I long ago decided that those of us who lack a talent for intimacy had better do everybody a favour and stop trying.

Would you rather be rich and smart or young and beautiful?

Rich and smart, and pay for surgery.

Ever had sex with more than one person in a day?
Yes. There is a club in Athens called Lambda that has a not-too-dark dark room, where those of us who see sex as a contact sport rather than a divinely-ordained sharing of souls can get it on, or at least in my case could get it on – it’s all in the past for me now.

Do you have any tattoos?
No. My generation associates them with petty criminals, thank you very much.

Do you have any piercings?
Dear God, no. The sight of a Prince Albert makes me wince and cross my legs.

Would you date a smoker?
That question dates you, or my answer dates me. I don’t think I’ve ever had sex with a non-smoker. Persecuting smokers and ostentatiously wafting your hand in front of your face when you pass one is a prissy habit that hadn’t really taken off when I left for Greece, and most Greeks smoke like Battersea Power Station used to.

Do you know anyone who has died from HIV?
Not personally. I know some people with HIV though.

Grinder or Scruff?
I don’t understand the question. 'Grinder and Scruff' sound like a pair of cartoon dogs.

Are your best years behind or in front of you?
Christ… I have a horrible, horrible feeling they are behind me.

Got Porn?
Yes. Looking at beautiful, joyful, naked ithyphallic males is a source of unending delight. Bloody Christers burbling about porn addiction make me want to rip off their heads and piss down their necks. Before any literal minded idiot reports me to the Blogger /Twitter Thought Police, I don’t mean that I would literally do that or advocate it as a course of action. Still… I dunno.

Make out music?
Never really been important to me. Since I can't ignore music, it'd put me off my stroke... I remember being ravished on somebody’s living room floor to the accompaniment of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, but I suspect that isn’t what you mean.

                                                       Ever been in love with a straight guy?

Dozens of times. Here, for example.

Did you ever have sex with him?
Of course not.

Have you ever been to a nude beach?
Super Paradise on Mykonos a couple of times, and another on Angistri. I bloody hate beaches, but all those tanned boys and their swinging cocks made them tolerable.

Have you ever been to a bath house?
I went to a place in Athens called the Ira Baths, in the (then) very down-market Omonia Square. It was a most anaphrodisiac experience. Rent boys and their clients, men of astounding seniority, were bossed about by a fat, squawking female receptionist who might previously have been employed at Ljubljanka. It was all hideous cracked marble tiles, marble slabs and humid, cockroach-friendly darkness.    

What gay gene did you miss out?
I think most of them, looking back over this. 
Anyway, isn’t it time we retired the adjective ‘gay’, and ‘homosexual’ used as a noun? What information of any importance do they convey about anybody? Am I gay when I’m teaching? Am I a homosexual while reading a book on the train, or just  staring into space? I don’t think so. I just like dick but not pussy. So what? 

Now, if you will excuse me, I have backs to bite, false witness to bear and that which is unseemly to work. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It is Better a Chylde Unborne than Untaught

HUMS (= ‘humanities) Module WTF 101’Sensitivity in Inter-cultural Communication’, Bernard Manning Building, room 3.11. Week 7.

‘This morning, ladies and gentlemen, we shall consider from a linguistic point of view the phenomenon of politeness, so shut the fuck up and listen.’ 

I notice that only half the group is present. (Nine people? This you call an audience? Hardly worth getting into the drag and slap for.) One student informs me that some project has to be completed for another module, hence the poor turn out. I am miffed that it should be my session they consider dispensable. I’ve spent three whole days researching and putting these two hours together, and now I have the grumpy, grudging feeling of having over-catered. Never mind.  

In preparing this module, I have made use of my many experiences of inter-cultural fuck-ups, and as a result become more forgiving of myself and others in situations where our cultural expectations (our ‘mental software’, as Hofstede calls them) have caused us to misinterpret one another's intentions, often wildly. I based a whole two-hour session on the saga of my first job in Greece, a monumental train wreck involving a marriage between a Greek school and a British Educational Trust, a match made in hell if ever there was one, ending in acrimonious divorce after only two years. This is a tale I might relate some time if I can disguise it sufficiently to avoid getting sued. Meanwhile I’ve also learned something useful about Chinese students and their ideas on politeness as it relates to behaviour in class.

I have to admit my prejudice here re newly-arrived Chinese kids, sitting there silent and motionless. Rote learners, I'd think. Parrots. No critical thinking skills. Cowed by authoritarianism. Once they started to open up, the thought would be there at the back of my mind that the thaw was due at least in part to my own efforts. The definition of prejudice is maintaining a frozen, over-simplified image of a person or race in spite of incoming evidence to challenge it, and I have been guilty of this, I’m afraid. Once the students get used to a new way of interacting, it's obvious that they are not and have never been simply rote-learners and regurgitators.

Teachers in China are accorded a degree of deference that would embarrass their western counterparts, or me at least. I now know that students in China are expected to be silent in class, and more important, why. ‘I understand what you want us to do, Sharon,’ one boy told a colleague in a tutorial in summer, ‘but all my life my father and grandfather have told me it is respectful to keep silent in front of a teacher.’ So Chinese students are taught to respect their instructors, which is fair enough, but it's a bit of a bugger for us language teachers that respect is shown by sitting schtum. 

Non-teachers will never know how unnerving it is to stand in front of a group of students, eliciting like mad and getting nothing out of them. Staffroom conversations at lunchtime are of blood from a stone, pulling teeth and pissing into the wind. The silence makes me ratty, I don’t always hide it well, and in this I’m not alone. Perceiving that the teacher is getting rattled but probably having no idea why, the students feel guilty for offending him and to atone, they lower their gaze even further and dial down their facial expressions to Buddha-like impassivity. This is done to ensure that they evince nothing that could be perceived as a challenge to teacherly authority, but it bloody infuriates the western teachers because to them, it looks like passive-aggressive resistance. I learned ages ago that it's best to get Chinese students working in small groups as soon as possible if you want a buzz in class, because nobody will speak out in plenary. I didn’t know why students were so reluctant to do this, and the reason again is politeness. To offer the teacher and class your opinion unbidden is seen as pushy, show-offy behaviour, vulgar and unbecoming. Discussing an issue in groups so as to arrive at an agreement strikes them as altogether more civilised.

So my module aims to get the participants to observe the behaviour of people from other cultures, and on the assumption that in classrooms and boardrooms all involved are most likely exhibiting behaviour intended to be polite and cooperative, make intelligent deductions as to why that behaviour matters within their culture.  
 ‘...and in this manner, ladies and gentlemen, we avoid stereotyping and culturism, and deepen our appreciation of diversity. Next week, gait. Observe if you will the sprightly step of the English lad: compare it to the sneaking Chinaman and the slouch of the Arab...' 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Top Set, Bottom Set

All that Book-larnin and Thinkology, gonna be the ruin o' this Great Nation.

Amid the Alien Porn

I'm going to suggest that the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) where I work might offer courses in EPP, English for Pornographic Purposes. This would be heavily promoted in the Czech Republic, where they seem to have more than their fair share of beautiful boys but no idea how to whet the appetite to watch them perform. EPP graduates would  able to avoid this kind of thing:

Nice Dicks Dudes Masturbate Together! 
From slow to fast each one haas their own technique to getting hard. Picking up their passer to totally fast, they stroke the shit out of their cocks till they cum all over themselves so tastefully. 



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