Banner design by Helena, portrait by Eva


Thursday, March 01, 2007

How to Pee in Korea

Looks comfortable, right? Sorry for the recycled material but this is an in-depth toilet article so give me a break. I'm even degrading myself for you, in the above photo!

My running joke about toilets in Korea is, "why do you need toilet paper when you can spend the whole day drip-drying to the sound of chirping birds?" Courtesy bells are popular here.

Peeing into a squat toilet is great fun. Cheap restaurants and bars practically never have in-house washrooms. You're handed a key, and given directions to a bathroom shared by more than one business. Cleanliness is always... questionable.

There's rarely soap and if there is toilet paper, don't assume it's in the stall. A dispenser may be located in the hallway or beside the sinks. You take what you need before entering the john.

At a coffee shop the other day, the server behind the counter handed me a key and asked if I needed toilet paper. I'm a girl, of course I do. She held out a roll and let me unroll some, in front of the other patrons.

Carry a packet of Kleenex to avoid that embarrassment!

Squat toilets don't always flush. You may have to do it manually by pouring a bucket of water down the hole. And the trash bin at the bottom right is for toilet paper. There's an unspoken rule in Korea that you don't flush. Wipe and toss it into the garbage. It isn't the most hygienic practice.

The pinnacle of my toilet-shock in Korea was at Tae Hun's house on New Years. He has an outhouse in the yard for "serious business" but his family pees into what looks like a shower drain hole, in the middle of the bathroom floor. The hole is minuscule, and there's a bucket to fill with water and pour onto the floor, afterwards.

Do you have a fun toilet story? Let's hear it!


John from Daejeon said...

Hi Eva,

I'm naming alleyways and the sides of buildings. Usually I only see drunken men making use of these public spaces, but yesterday I saw my first young woman utilizing the great outdoors here in South Korea. I turned a corner and nearly fell over her. I guess when you have to have to go.

As for Chris O'Donnell, he is now working in TV. Last year he guest starred on "Grey's Anatomy," and this year he is in the mini-series "The Company" about the history of the CIA.


John from Daejeon

John said...

If they don't charge you to use them, they're marginally better than Paris. -j

Eric said...

When I travelled to Belarus last year I stayed with the family of a girl that we sponsor. They have no running water and the "outhouse" is sort of attached to the house through a porch and shed. This was kind of nice as I didn't have to go completely outside (it was March). They had "renovated" the outhouse in celebration of my arrival. It was freshly lined with cardboard and the hole in the floor had 2 new boards, one on either side for your feet. Obviously being an outhouse there was no flushing required. Most places that we went that had running water had either squat toilets or a more modern looking toilet but without a lid or seat ... just cold porcelin. You can see examples in this video:
To be completely honest if I am somewhere where cleanliness is in question, I much prefer the squat toilet, and I always carry a small bottle of hand cleaner with me.

Sorry for the long comment, but you hit on one of my favourite topics!!! ;)


PS: I am returning to Belarus later in March and will be posting lots more to my Blog then.

Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

John from Daejeon: hahaha. She must have been a Korean feminist, or just really drunk.

John from France: Oh I know all about that! I have family in Paris.

Eric: AMAZING story! I love the details about them renovating the outhouse for your arrival.

I think you could get a book out of your experiences in Belarus.

And I agree, squat toilets can be the safest bet! Sorry I haven't gotten back to you about the rental system yet.

MUD said...

After a year in Vietnam, I thought I had seen about everything. Everything from the great outdoors to the real flush toilets when at American Air Force Bases. For the most part the US Outhouses were wood shacks built above ground with 1/3 of a barrel to receive the waste. That waste was then burned with diesel fuel to create a smell that overpowered the stink of the rest of the country. Generally the lowest ranking screw up got the job of "Burner".
Now that I live here with a septic system, I am more aware that not everything flushed just goes away.
What a topic, got sucked into responding like it was good news.

wheels said...

When I was in China many of the toilets had no doors. Some guys would pretend they were reading a newspaper to cover themselves, but many had no shame in taking a dump with no covering or newspaper. In my three years there I could never get used to walking into a restroom and seeing a Chinese guy half-naked while taking a dump so openly.

josh said...

that's pretty funny, wheels.

Bonus points for having a cool nickname.

Fox said...

Yep, I remember those. Pretty humiliating actually! The position naturaly makes you grunt.... I swear, it's not just me! wasn't, rather...
Thought they got rid of them long time ago, I guess not.

What do I know, it's been a while since the last time I stepped on the Korean soil.

John said...

Ugh. Okay, never mind, public bathrooms in Paris are mini-paradises compared to what you're describing. Public bathrooms in Los Angeles... I don't even want to talk about.

Funny post. :) -j

Gdog said...

Those squat toilets are everywhere, from the UAE, to Hong Kong. My sister doesn't like them, that's for sure!

But about the "wipe and discard" that is pretty unhygienic though...

Fox said...

True enough John, I bet there aren't too many used needles and rubbers laying on the floor with a bit of reds on the wall in Asian public bathrooms.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind China, Some of the establishments in New York has those public pooping stalls without walls. You get to socialize while you do your business. I was quite surprised that there are bathrooms like that in a highly industrialized country like America.

At for squat toilets.. you don't have to sit on urine/shit covered toilet seats that were used by hundreds of thousands of times by strangers.

Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

Mud, Wheels, Fox, Josh, John, GDog, Anonymous... thanks for the great stories!

Matthew said...

This is good stuff, I don't feel so bad about taking a leak in the shower anymore :)

Now, as for your recommendation of taking tp and napkins along with you.

It sounds like you'll have great use for this new invention. Might even be more lucrative then teaching...

Ron said...

I was searching for info on Suwon in wikipedia when I found this blog. Anyway this toilet article hits the nail right on the head.

This peeing on the walls's not just Korea. This is widespread in several countries. In Manila, Philippines, men pee on walls so often, that the government decided to build super cheapie-style public urinals on the sidwalks, and you pee on a small tube. It stinks like crazy coz I think the tube just goes straight to the ground with no "S" trap like in toilets and sinks. The funny thing is, they paint the MALE urinals pink!!!

here's a pic:

Ariel said...

Hey Eva!
It's been so long! But I have a question before I share my Mexico toilet story with you... basically... on a squat toilet how in the world do you not pee on your clothing??

K- so while I was in Mexico (which also does the "wipe and discard") I needed to make use of the facilities where I was... where I was was a farm compound in the mountains.
There was a flush toilet, to my ever lasting surprise, but the toilet was in the pig shed. So trying to navigate around the pig droppings to get to the toilet... which I cannot even explain the things what were growing on and in the porceline... there was also no toilet seat, which really sounds like the least of my problems at this point.. but even whilst hovering, at least if there is a seat and you slip your going to land on nasty seat... not in the toilet itself!
So there I am, trying to manage peeing in the toilet out of which things are growing from every crack, trying not to topple in a skirt while praying that no one walks in through the open door!

Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

Great story Ariel! Thanks for visiting and posting. Hope to see you back in Montreal.

yumi_huh said...

When I was in Tokyo for the first time I was so shocked that a city so clean did not provide soap at most of their public restrooms. The Japanese are normally so anal about being clean.

I made sure in my second trip there that I brought plenty of travel size purrell bottles so that I could clean my hands after each bathroom trip. If you're anything like me I go like 20 times a day. Can't help it, I'm small so my blatter is small as well.

My most interesting bathroom experience was in Tokyo. I was in one of the big malls waiting in line for the restroom. I was a whole head taller and a great deal wider then everyone else in line. Basically it was like being in line with a bunch of junior high school students. Mind you I'm 5'4 110lbs (50Kilos) so I've never felt that way! My husband took a picture because he says I looked like an Amazon, and believe me I felt like if I swung my fists around they would all go tumbling down like bowling pins.

My husband and I are probably moving to Seoul in a little over a year. He's interning this summer in Seoul (hes getting his MBA). I'm Korean American but have lived my entire life in the US. Can speak Korean pretty fluently but it should be fun to live there for a couple years and get to know the motherland and its people better.

Thanks for posting this blog. Its nice to see other westerners experiences in Korea. =)

David said...

hilarious. you have a great page. thanks for the morning entertainment.