You know how kids have their little jokes? The things they think are hilarious and will repeat at any given opportunity? Some kids I have known in the past, for example, have made a thing of shouting “HELLO HAYLEY!” at the top of their lungs every time they saw me. Others have deliberately misheard my name and insisted on calling me something else, forever. Others have been obsessed with hiding and jumping out to scare people with a “Boo!”.
Well, kids here are no different. What is different, however, is one of the things that just about every child in Korea thinks is funny. It’s called the dong chim. Which, by the way, roughly translates as “poop needle”.
The dong chim is performed on any unsuspecting victim, male or female, child or adult. A prime target will be (a) bending over, and (b) concentrating on something else. The mischievous party will clasp his or her hands with the index fingers extended – the kind of motion you might make to mime shooting. And then, dear reader, they will ram those fingers right up your arse.
As you howl with fear, shock, anger, embarrassment, and a number of other emotions that will no doubt overwhelm you at this moment, your attacker will shout “dong chim!” and laugh in delight at his or her victory. Fortunately, I’d been warned about this by my English teacher colleagues, who had not been so fortunate as to receive a similar warning. We are all constantly on the lookout for small children behind us, which can be exhausting when you spend eight hours a day in a primary school. Occasionally, you’ll be bending over a desk helping a pupil, and only in the nick of time sense the presence of a child approaching you from behind, fingers outstretched, about to dong chim you. You whirl round with a sharp “Oi!!”, grasping both their wrists in your hands, and say firmly “No dong chim! Understand?”. And they’ll either smile innocently or laugh in your face.
It’s seen as nothing more than a harmless, childish prank here, but foreigners are consistently shocked and embarrassed by it. I know I would have been mortified if it had happened to me, especially without knowing what was going on. Just Google “dong chim” and you’ll see how much talk it generates. To Korean kids, however, it’s a huge joke. There are even online dong chim games, like this one, which are (for me) on the border between “disturbing” and “hilarious”. But when it comes to dong chim, there’s not a shadow of doubt as to which side of that border the Korean youngsters place their favourite prank…