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Needles and a mouth organ at Team Korea House

Yes, there have been K-pop flashmobs, dancing robots, traditional music performances and comedy magic shows at Team Korea House. There has even been a live radio show broadcast from there, with presenters dressed in royal hanbok.

Dulsori in samulnori format
Dulsori in familiar four-percussion instrument samulnori format

Last Saturday (4 August) was the final performance by Dulsori before they head off to Germany. They opened with the samulnori-style drum session which they have shared with us before, but they continued with instrumental music, as they had done at the opening of the Korean Eye exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery a week beforehand. One of the instrumentalists was playing the rarely seen mouth organ, the saenghwang (생황).

The Sunday Times was the first to highlight the other activities in the Knightsbridge base of the Korean Olympic team, devoting four column inches to the acupressure machines there.

The Sunday Times article (29 July 2012)
The Sunday Times article (29 July 2012) on the different national Olympic “houses” in London starts with Team Korea House

I had to give them a try. You insert your hands into a white machine which looks like an iPod dock with the two speaker grilles taken off. It’s like putting your hands into some oversized gardening gloves which are slightly knobbly inside. The thing gets switched to the low setting, and airbags inside the machine inflate, pushing loads of rubber nodules up against your palms. You’re listening to headphones playing some plinky-plonky Joseon dynasty court music on kayageum and other instruments (“traditional Korean meditation music”, you are assured), but actually you can’t hear much of it against the background noise of the K-pop. You are told to close your eyes, relax, drop your shoulders, and drift off. Actually, it’s not an unpleasant experience, as your knuckles are gently stretched and your palms squashed and squeezed in a firm but strangely soothing way. I should imagine that it’s like having a toothless but extremely strong snake trying to wrestle your arm down its throat. Not that I’ve tried feeding myself to a boa constrictor yet.

Hand acupressure machine
Don’t try doing this with your iPod dock at home

The five minutes pass surprisingly quickly, and I wouldn’t mind having a go on the medium or high setting, but there’s a queue behind me eager to have a go as well.

I’m told to wash my hands in clear gel, and am dismayed at what I see: it looks as if I’ve been hennaed for an Indian wedding: those nodules have sure been digging into my flesh. But I’m assured that after 10 minutes or so I’ll be back to normal.

My hands after 5 minutes of gentle acupressure
My hands after 5 minutes of gentle acupressure

Meanwhile I have a quick consultation with Korean Medical Doctor Sena Lee, who is sitting nearby. She examines my palms and immediately diagnoses which of my internal organs are weaker than the others. “How can you tell?” “It’s my secret” she says with a smile. With my predilection for soju, and poor recovery time from its after-effects, it’s hardly surprising that she pinpointed my liver as a weak spot; and without wanting to give away too much information she wasn’t far off on the other weak spots.

And “pinpoint” is an unintentionally appropriate word. Because fortunately, there is a treatment for my weak spots: acupuncture. On my hand. Dr Lee explains why in this article.

I’m not really in to needles, but there is an alternative: little sticking plasters with tiny little spikes in them. It’s acupuncture for wimps. I had four of these stuck to pressure points on my palm corresponding the four organs which needed attention. My hand generated a tingling sensation (and pain as well if I picked up something heavy while forgetting I still had those little spikes against my flesh). My companion, whose back was diagnosed as problematic, had a row of plasters down her forearm.

I was briefed on how to give myself therapeutic acupressure. So if you see me prodding myself in a purposeful way in the future, that will be it.

Im Kwon-taek's arm
Whose arm has received some careful acupuncture?…

Those who were braver than I could have proper grown-up acupuncture. A couple of days previously the legendary film director Im Kwon-taek had an hour of treatment, leaving his forearm looking like a porcupine. He loved it. We’re all hoping that he’ll be encouraged to come back for more during his London retrospective later this year.

Im Kwon-taek
Im Kwon-taek enjoyed a visit to Team Korea House for some hand acupressure and acupuncture

So yes, enjoy the dancing robots. Enjoy the music and magic show. Dress yourself up in Hanbok and make a traditional Korean fan. But make sure you also come when it’s nice and quiet and give your hands a relaxing therapeutic workout.

The dancing robots
The alternative entertainment: dancing robots

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