Still, as I say, he was doing this with greater than usual emphasis, and finally asked if I could give him a slip to go home. "Why?" I asked, somewhat reasonably.
"Aaiiee!" he said, shaking his head miserably.
After a discussion, the best speaker in the class says to me: "Teacha, you know--penis--cut?" with a scissors-like hand gesture or two.
"You mean circumcision?" I ask.
Yeah. So it turns out this kid--eighteen years old or so--got circumcised yesterday and was in considerable discomfort today.
The speaker pointed at another student. "Him--no!"
It turns out that this procedure has become a sort of manhood rite among Koreans since the time of the Korean War. According to this survey (pdf) from the British Medical Journal:
Results: The overall proportion of circumcised was 1306(78.0%) and an additional 192 (11.5%) wished to be circumcised later. Circumcision was carried out mostly during their elementary and middle school years. Of men circumcised,
the decision whether to circumcise was most often made by their parents. Of the subjects, 75.0% believed that circumcision is necessary, while 2.9% believed it to be
unnecessary. Among those who believed circumcision to be necessary, the most common reason was to improve penile hygiene (89.1%).
Conclusions: Our results indicate a positive attitude toward circumcision in South Korean men, linking it with hygienic practices. Circumcision in South Korea depends on the perpetuation of cultural beliefs that support it.