I sat looking out at sea, but POSCO had claimed it. Sea walls, giant freight ships, and clouds of black smoke hung over the horizon. Behind me the sun shone majestically. It did its best to bring out some good in this unnatural scene. The water lapped upon the beach, sweeping broken white shells off to some better place. A crab crawled out of the water and spluttered, staggered, and died. An old woman with a red net-bag hobbled along the beach and picked it up. She dropped the bag, sniffed the crab, and nibbled on its longest leg. Satisfied, she threw it in the bag and scuttled away.

An old man drove by on a scooter, tearing up the sand. He tried to set the bike down, but it kept sinking. The beach wanted no part of it. Finally, he threw it to the ground and ran into a shaded spot by a pile of dirty rocks, and shat on the sand. He was maybe thirty feet away from me.

To my left were towers, owned by oil companies, and the same repugnant apartment buildings that littered Daegu, Busan and Seoul. A warship waited in a harbour, and a cement ship turned in a smog of its own dirty emissions. A ferry, with the cursed word ‘Dokdo’ on the side, sat pointlessly by a pier.

To my right, the POSCO steel mill stretched out into the bay. Some of the chimneys were newly painted red and white; everything else was black. It all seemed cast in shadow, and indeed it cast its own shadow upon the water.

– – –

As I write this, an old man is circling me. He stops two feet behind me, trying to decipher my handwriting. He can’t. Even I have trouble reading this mess. He circles twice more, and walks away down the beach, stopping and turning and looking back every thirty seconds, to make sure I’m not shooting up, smacking bitches or blogging negatively about Korea… Dirty foreigners.

– – –

Another old man, indistinguishable from the first, or indeed, from most old Korean men, stepped out of the water. His one unique feature was that he was wearing only a see-through pair of purple underpants. It was like watching an aging, Asian Daniel Craig. As he stepped over the waterline he stared at me and waved his arms in circles; it’s something I’ve seen countless elderly Koreans do – an ancient, pointless exercise.

I smiled at him and looked down at my notebook, hoping he would wander away without feeling the need to speak, shout or circle. Instead, he turned and dropped his underpants. Then, he bent his knees and mercifully buried his sagging white cheeks in the filthy sand.

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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

85 responses to “Pohang: A Day at the Beach”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    Whatever happened to plain old pissing in the sea?!

  2. I know! Seriously… There’s nothing wrong with good old fashioned pissing in the sea.

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    I wave my arms in circles all the time.

    • When I was in San Francisco I saw a couple of elderly Asian people doing these weird exercises. I had no idea what the hell was going on… And then six months later I moved to Korea and it all made sense. They were Korean people! Doing Korean exercises!

      These exercises commonly include – but are by no means limited to – slapping trees, walking on pointed rocks, putting hands in the air for several minutes at a time, thrusting suggestively (but not realising it’s suggestive)… Oh god, there are so many…

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I watched a documentary about Bruce Forsyth last night.

        Legend though he is, his exercises are pretty weird. And a little disturbing to watch.

        Less distrurbing, I imagine, than watching elderly Koreans thrusting. Brucie doesn’t thrust.

        • Oh god, I haven’t heard the name “Bruce Forsyth” in many, many years. In fact, I only now realise how happy I was to have him out of my life.

          I am, however, a little curious to find out what sort of monstrous exercises he did to keep in shape for the past 100 yrs.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Haha. The man is a legend! He was a guest star on Magnum PI!

          Also the only man to have dated two Miss Worlds. Which is more disturbing than it is cool, because in the ’70s he looked liked the world’s biggest pervert.

          The exercises are from a book called the Fountain of Youth. His mother-in-law gave them to him to help prolong his life, what with him being around fifty and his wife a mere 23…

          There was a lot of rolling. Also twirling. I thought I was having a very surreal dream.

        • Jesus H Forsyth! That’s going to give me nightmares… Twirling AND rolling? Urgh. Nasty business. He has so many sags and folds that I can’t think about it.

          According to his Wikipedia he also does Tibetan stretches for 30 minutes each day. I guess that’s why he never made it big in China.

          This is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen: http://www.globalcitizen.co.uk/wp/bruce-forsyth-challenge/ Why spoil a nice trip around the world with even a single Brucie-related thought?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          That would be the coolest thing ever if he could do a Brucie pose properly.

        • Yes, but instead he just looks foolish.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          He’s not doing it well enough and taking it a little too seriously.

          Which is a shame, because it could make for an amusing and quaintly British travelogue if it was done properly.

          There only one thing for it. I’m packing a numbered box, a black phone, and a floral shirt and I’m going to go around the world posing as Noel Edmonds.

        • Good idea. See if you can get a British tabloid to sponsor you. They love that sort of bullshit. Every five shots you could don the Mr Blobby suit.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I genuinely miss Mr Blobby.

          Probably because when I was a kid I didn’t think he was the most annoying thing to ever appear on television. I had a Mr Blobby mug, I think.

          I don’t want corporate sponsorship. What will happen is it’ll start off small in my local paper, then the free London papers. Then it’ll get into the tabloids with maybe a brief interview and an article on my ‘spiritual mission to spread the gospel of St. Edmonds.’

          Then it’ll go viral on the internet and I’ll get a book deal to tell my brain-numbingly dull story…

        • That’s quite a plan. I hope it works out for you, but remember that guy who used to dance a weird dance in different countries? He got a chewing gum company to sponsor him and all his travels were free after that.

          You would, of course, have to end your tour outside Crinkly Bottom.

          I hated Mr Blobby when I was a kid, but now that I don’t have to see him or hear him anymore, I no longer care. That was one annoying bastard…

        • Zara Potts says:

          What’s on the board, Miss Ford?
          Ahhh. ‘The Generation Game’ is the stuff of my childhood.

          That conveyor belt with all the prizes.. I used to shout it out at my TV.

          ‘A toaster! An electric blanket! A soft toy!’

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I remember the Generation Game from the 90s. It was Bruce free. It was Jim Davidson in those heady days, and he’s a massively untalented racist comedian.

          It was the same show though. Same prizes. Same cuddly toy.

        • Matt says:

          I have no idea what the hell you’re all talking about. My instincts tell me that’s actually a good thing.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          classic British TV game shows.

          The Generation Game was great. A skilled professional would do something, and then the contestants would have to match them to the best of their ability within a given time frame.

          All this would be presided over by a guy with a big chin, a moustache and brown checkered suit… and a catchphrase…

        • Zara Potts says:

          It was awesome.
          I especially liked the cake icing bits. And the pottery wheel.
          And the CUDDLY TOY.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          the messy ones were, by their very nature, the best ones.

          christ british tv is awful. in the best possible way.

        • Matt – You’re probably best off not knowing. These shows may spur nostalgia but they were shite nonetheless. I have no idea why that conveyor belt ever became so famous…

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I think they spur nostalgia precisely because of how shit they were…

          except Catchphrase. Catchphrase is a timeless classic.

        • Ah yes, Catchphrase was amusing enough. I liked that it always looked like the mystery guy was jerking off or fucking someone in the ass.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Mr Chips. Good old Mr Chips with his strange, jerky, thrusting movements…

          Roy Walker was awesome.

        • I actually met Roy Walker a couple of years ago. He was an asshole, really. He took himself very seriously and seemed to consider Catchphrase to be about the peak of culture.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I can believe that. Unfortunately.

        • Matt says:

          You guys forget that over here we had to deal with Chuck Barris, who may or may not have been killing people on the side for the CIA while masterfinding such brilliant programming as The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show.

        • Ah yes, I saw the movie based on that story. I didn’t realise that was his real name, though, or if I did I probably misread it as “Chuck Norris.”

      • Irene Zion says:

        slapping trees?

        • Yes, that’s right. “Huh?” is a fairly typical response. But they do it. You’ll see them just slapping trees, trying to… I don’t know… build muscle? Stretch their arms? Develop calluses?

  4. Irene Zion says:


    I do not think that I could get used to people just defecating everywhere in front of me.
    Do they do that any where else?
    In India, men have urinals outside all over the place where they pee, but I never saw defecation.
    (I also never saw anywhere for women to pee.)
    In China and Southeast Asia, people went to places, granted they were holes in the ground with no toilet paper, but they were distinct places with holes dug and hidden from view.
    In Africa, there are holes in the ground too, but people build structures around them for privacy.
    Victor remembers in the old Soviet Union that there were holes also, but the special touch was a thick sisal rope hung from one tree to another. You were meant to first pull it back and let it fly and the old poop would be dried and fall off, then you straddled it to wipe your butt. I wouldn’t have liked that.

    • I’ll direct your question back to my old post on the subject of Asian toilet habits: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/dswills/2009/12/shitting-squatting-and-squirting-a-guide-to-the-toilets-of-asia/

      That Soviet Union toilet sounds like the worst damn toilet imaginable. I’ve never heard of anything like that before. Urgh. That’ll give me nightmares.

      In China children poop on the street all the time. Their clothes are designed for it – they have a slit around the crotch and the parents just pull the legs apart and they let rip.

      I’ve seen it here a lot more in the past few weeks. Something about summer… People shitting everywhere. It still turns my stomach.

      • Irene Zion says:

        I did see the split pants in China, but at least it was only children.
        Adults are a whole nother kettle of fish in my opinion!

        (God! Don’t make me read that retch-inducing story again!)

        • Yes, children are a different matter… but when the parents encourage outdoors defecation it’s a little disgusting. You’d think they’d try and teach the kids to hold it in for a while. Haven’t they heard of toilet training? I guess they just don’t want to change diapers. It’s easier just to walk away and leave a big kimchi shit on the pavement.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Irene, that last bit totally grossed me out, and I thought I’d experienced all the ways, culturally, to poop in the world.

      • That would make a wonderful book.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Wonderful, maybe, but, David, would you want your author name attached to the title _All The Ways, Culturally, To Poop In The World_?

        • If you type any number of gross combinations into Google, you’ll come up with my name. My old blog (which was shut down recently) was number on the Google search for “Asians shitting” and “Korean children pissing”. That’s not something you want to be attached, too… Even if it is an unfortunate accident.

          But a book on the subject? Of course!

    • Erika Rae says:

      Aaack! Irene! That just gave me a lifetime’s worth of shivers.

      • Irene Zion says:

        This has just completed a perfect day!
        Grossed-out Judy, (ka-ching!)
        Grossed-out Erica Rae, (ka-ching!)
        Taught David yet another poopy story, (ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ching!)

  5. Judy Prince says:

    David, arse-fascination and public defecating seem important to Koreans. ‘Supwidat?

    Do Korean males also wear velour “lounging trousers” (as UKers call leisure pants) with matching tops?

  6. Joe Daly says:

    Yeah, I’m with Simon here- I’d probably be 50 pounds heavier if I didn’t wave my arms around for a few minutes every morning. Before getting into my car.

    Thank you for helping me appreciate my California beaches all the more. And for not producing any pictures of the see through purple grape smugglers.

    • Matt says:

      I had the same thought. Every complaint I ever had about our local beaches vanished while I was reading this.

    • I hope you have the hand motions right, because you can’t just wildly flail your arms… that would be silly. You have to point your wrists directly upwards and flounce about. There is an art to this madness.

      Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to get back to the beach for some more photos. This time I won’t miss those grape-smugglers.

  7. Posco is such a perfect name for the central cause of such a blighted scene…it sounds like “Oh, man, I met this girl in a bar the other night and the next day I woke up with the worst case of POSCO…”

    I love the crab struggling out of the water to a weary death, only to be nibbled raw, its already-multiplying poison tossed happily into a sack to be absorbed later…

    • I was mostly amused by the fact that the crab walked just like the woman. They both scuttled around the beach.

      And yes, POSCO has a special ring to it. I hear they’re very good at combating environmental destruction these days… but not good enough to undo decades of such land-raping.

      They pretty much own the city of Pohang. There isn’t much there that doesn’t have a POSCO label on it, and no one who doesn’t work for the company. It’s a bit – dare I say it – North Korean…

  8. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Good God, David! I don’t know what’s worse, the vision of “the beach at the asshole of the universe” or the comment thread about international shit-removal techniques. All I know is that I must stifle the laughter or I someone will ask, “What are you shaking your head about?” And I would be required to show them….

    May your future be free of decrepit old men in see-through shorts, my friend.

  9. Matt says:

    Okay, I wrote a comment, and it looks like WordPress ate it, damn it.

    Be happy you didn’t have to fail at mercy-killing that crab, too.

    Soon you’ll be free, David.


  10. Brian Eckert says:

    I used to exercise at this park where an ajushi would thrust his pelvis roughly into a conifer. I always wondered the health benefits of dry humping a tree.

    You paint a bleak yet accurate account of Korean “nature”. One of my greatest fears is that such scenes are a portal into much of the rest of the world in 50-100 years. Or sooner…

    What are your plans post-Korea, post-America, post-UK? Beware the temptation to return to Korea for easy money. I’ve considered Taiwan lately…seems similar-ish to Korea, but not as bad. Although China has some tempting job offers, I’m always worried it will be dirtier and less civilized than Korea.

    • Yes, the benefits of dry-humping trees are dubious at best. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do, unless they have splinter fetishes.

      Don’t worry about me coming back to Korea. I’m banned from travelling here for five years. Even as a tourist.

      The plan now is to take a job in Hong Kong.

  11. Brian Eckert says:

    Well done. Is that a self-imposed ban or did it arise for other reasons?

  12. Zara Potts says:

    I don’t know what happened to my comment either..

    I said, I loved the crab bit too. Perfect!

    • I don’t know what’s up with the commenting. I think WordPress is conspiring against me. I have only received notifications for about half of my comments, and apparently comments are disappearing. On my personal blog the same thing is happening. Also, TNB wouldn’t load for me yesterday about half the time. Maybe I offended the WordPress Overlords.

  13. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    I’m a sucker for beach imagery – beautiful, gritty, pristine, dirty, I take it as it comes. This is raw. I was in it, which is cool. I liked the characters drifting in and out of landscape too.

    • Thank you, Lisa. That is honesty pretty much all I was going for. I absolutely love beaches – even the dirty ones – but this was a step too far for me. It was a horrible place. I think “raw” is a fairly apt description.

  14. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Yeesh! And gross! But, you know, it’s not very much different than the Texas coast what with the refineries and off-shore drilling, etc. I had to laugh about a week ago when our local news showed evidence of “tar-balls on the beach!” Apparently, they’d tested these to determine these weren’t our usual tar balls. Though smaller, these were the *infamous* tar balls from the Deep Horizon disaster. And said tar balls were shown wedged in the sand amidst cigarette butts and pull tabs.

    By the way, speaking of Asian toilet habits, ever heard of the Modern Toilet restaurant in Taiwan? Fecal-looking food is served in mini toilets while you sit on a toilet seat. Their mascot is a shit dollop: http://matadornights.com/modern-toilet-restaurant-a-good-place-to-let-yourself-go/

    • Ah yes, America has its fair share of nasty beaches these days. What a goddamn shame. I really love the beach, but it seems we’re more than willing to sacrifice them for big business. Disgusting.

      I’d never before heard of that restaurant… but now I’m definitely planning a trip back to Taiwan! That looks horrible, yet I’m compelled to check out.

  15. Becky Palapala says:

    He was peeking over your shoulder to make sure you weren’t talking smack about K-Pop.

    K-Poop, fine.

    K-Pop, absolutely not.

  16. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Ha! I know the Pohang Steelers because they’re always at the Club World Football Championships, all running like they have 3 lungs each, which I now see must be their evolutionary requisite to live where they do? And just read the Wikipedia article about Dokdo. 2 permanent denizens and a handful of police and coast guard and they dump 8 tons of waste into the sea every day?! WTF?!

    • Dokdo is a hilariously sore subject here. Thousands of Koreans claim it as their permanent address, yet only those two live there. Its image adorns everything here. They love Dokdo so much… because it’s a sign of their strength in the face of Japan. Japan, of course, claims it but not as childishly as Korea. They even run adverts in the NY Times and on billboards in the States, saying: “Do you know Dokdo? Dokdo is Korea!” Like the average American gives a flying fuck about a polluted, seagull infested rock in the middle of a faraway sea.

      Sorry, I could rant about Dokdo all day.

      The Pohang Steelers aren’t very good, but they’re better than any other K-League team.

  17. Erika Rae says:

    They run adverts in the NY Times??? I’m completely baffled.

    OK, so on the island I used to live on in Hong Kong, there was a factory right smack on the beach as well. It had these three distinct chimneys, which were visible from most anywhere in the village. The artists on the island painted them in every imaginable light, stroke and color and hung pictures of them proudly in the local gallery. The only saving grace was that they had (mostly) bothered to put the factory behind a hill, but still…the smokestacks were there towering over the crest. It was the main distinction of that island. We westerners would be out playing volleyball on the beach on Sunday – every Sunday – in spite of the fact that the water was completely disgusting and not a good place to swim. Exception: during a typhoon. During a typhoon, the water would clear (i.e. one could not contract conjunctivitis by swimming), and we would even have some waves, which we would take advantage of to body surf on. All of this with the power plant in the background of the scenery. Ah, those were the days.

    But I never – I repeat NEVER – saw the local HK Chinese poop in public. That would have been unheard of. I don’t understand Korea. Not one bit.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      A ha! You said “conjunctivitis.” Becky claims Americans only say “pink eye.” Not that I believed her one bit anyway, but always fun when evidence strolls by a little while later 😉

      • Becky says:

        I never said any such thing, liar.

        I said “pink eye” was the common (as in “lay”) name in America. And it is.

        • Becky says:

          Though it’s important to note that it’s only the common name for one type of conjunctivitis (bacterial), so I would have never said that Americans “only” say pink eye. There’s viral conjunctivitis, contact conjunctivitis, etc. None of which would be called “pink eye.”

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          I think you double up the lie quite nicely, Becky. But I think it appropriate to take this back to where it started. And I shall…

        • Becky says:

          I never said “Americans only say pink eye.” It’s a ridiculous statement.

          Take it anywhere you want. IF that’s how you want to spend your day, be my guest. You will not find that I said any such thing.

          What you think you read is a different situation, but that’s got nothing to do with me.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          If you really want to drag this out, having said earlier that you didn’t, that’s your choice. But as I already said, I’m taking it to where it belongs:


          No more from me on the matter here.

        • Becky says:

          You refuse to admit you’re wrong.

          Or that you were the one who dragged my name into this conversation.

          But fine. Have it your way.

        • Gloria says:

          Dudes: Get a room.

    • Yes, they run ads in the NY Times to promote Korean nationalism. One said “Bibimbap is delicious.” Because, of course, taste is not subjective. Korean food is the best! Another said “Dokdo is Korea” which doesn’t even make sense…

      But you see, Koreans hate Americans but badly need their approval. They do this kind of weird thing all the time.

      I’ll have to find that beach in Hong Kong. I’ll be there in September, hopefully. It sounds like an odd place.

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