Small pleasure craft wooden boat like the ones I swam off of in the ocean off shore to Song Do Beach. One man would row the boat around with one long ore off the back of the boat.
Little Rodney Hard with Mom and Dad in front of the "Railroad Hotel"
Song Do Beach in Pusan, Korea about a mile from our house.
Korean old man in traditional garb and horse tail hair woven hat.
LET ME FEEL YOUR PEPPER
By: Dr. Rodney T. Hard
Today, as an adult looking back at my younger self during early childhood in Korea, I find it interesting to recall how I dealt with my perceptions and feelings about my experiences having to do with nudity and sexuality.
My father often took our family to Song-Do Beach in the summertime to swim and picnic. We often rented a small boat and its owner would row us out away from shore so that we could swim off the side of the boat in cleaner waters. Waste disposal in the city surrounding this beach consisted of an open sewer system that all drained from the surrounding hillside houses and buildings directly into the ocean below.
Sometimes, without my parents, my brother Sterling and I would take a bus to the beach with a few of our neighborhood Korean friends. We would play in the sand and swim in the water with all the other kids. We would swim out to the platform on stilts that you can see way to the left in the picture. We would dive off the highest diving board on the platform after being dared by our friends. Sterling and I wore swimsuits but most of the Korean kids could not afford them. So, the kids ran around the beach and swam naked. Yes, girls and boys even up to the age of twelve were all playing and running around totally bare.
At that time, the girls did not develop sexually at an early age as many girls do now. I don't know if it was a protein deficient diet or just the meager wartime survival level diets that most of them had probably suffered.
How did I feel about all this? I really didn't think anything of it at that time. That is just the way things were. I guess I was aware enough of my modesty that at least I was more comfortable in a swimsuit.
Women would pull out their breast and breast feed their baby on a crowded bus with no attempt to cover up. That was natural and nobody gave it a second notice.
Parents were very proud to have a son and wanted to show him off to the world. When getting the baby boy's portrait done at the photography shop, the baby was always naked. The parents would spend five minutes getting the baby to sit with his legs splayed open and rearrange his genitals until they were satisfied he was ready to have the full frontal picture taken that would show his "manhood". You could walk by any photography shop and among the wedding portraits and other pictures on display in the shop window, a good portion of them were pictures of naked baby boys.
In Chinhae, a harbor city with a naval base about 22 miles northwest of Pusan, there was a hotel called the Railroad Hotel which was famous in that region for its natural hot springs bath house and a yearly cherry blossom festival. I recall on several occasions, when I was probably five and six years old, that we stayed at that hotel and rented the bath house. My father, my mother, my older brother Sterling, my younger sister Gwendolyn, and I would all go to the hot tub room, get naked, take a good shower, scrub ourselves clean, and then all soak in the very large tub of naturally hot spring water until we all came out looking as red as lobsters. At that time in my life, I never really thought anything about that. That's just what people did.
There was one practice in Korea that did make me feel very uncomfortable. When I was five and even six years old, if I ran across some old men squatting down in a group smoking long pipes and passing the time of day, they would often call me over to talk to me and gawk at the little "round-eye" "Yankee" boy. Invariably, one or more of them would reach to touch my private parts and say, "Let me feel your pepper." This annoyed me greatly and I would get away from them as quickly as possible, showing my obvious annoyance, telling them to "Leave me alone." They would all get a good chuckle over this.
I don't think this was any kind of sexual perversion or someone trying to get their jollies. This was a cultural thing - a custom. To them, it wasn't any different than patting a little kid on the head. In fact, my sister Wendy (that is what we called Gwen at that age) was always having people touch her hair. All Koreans have thick black hair, so Wendy's very fine blonde hair was amazing to them, and they just had to feel it.
In the 1990s I did read about a Korean tourist in America getting arrested for child molestation when he "felt the pepper" on some little American boy at a gas station on the west coast. It was in public and he wasn't doing it in secret. He did not know he was violating a law in our society. The Korean embassy was called, and the representatives from the embassy had to do a lot of explaining about how this was just a harmless custom in Korea before charges were dropped and the police let the tourist free.
Dr. Rodney T. Hard
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