Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Toilet talk

This post is appropriately dedicated to the faithful readers in the bathroom at know who you are.

Before I came to Korea I really didn't give much thought to the differences I would encounter in the bathrooms. A bathroom's a bathroom, right? Well... yes, but some of the bathrooms here I would definitely never come across in Kansas.

First, there's the squatting toilets as pictured above. I was freaked out about these when I first got here but now I don't think twice about them. Flushing the toilet with your foot is definitely more sanitary (not that I don't do that on ordinary toilets though). The other day I heard a couple female foreigners talking in a public bathroom in Seoul with only squatters, "There's no way in hell I'm using that thing! Let's go." I smiled to myself and wondered how long that would last.

As if public bathrooms in general aren't already disgusting enough, Koreans seem to think the toilet is the perfect place for a smoke. There are many conveniently installed ashtrays right next to the (usually nonexistent) toilet paper roll. Nothing quite like a simultaneous shit and a smoke, I guess. Baffling.

The area usually reserved for washing your hands is usually unfortunately right in front of a mirror. Not much hand washing going on with all that staring into the mirror. If anyone ever bothers to turn the water on, ice cold water is what will you will usually find.

Then there's the relatively frequent bathrooms where you're not supposed to flush toilet paper. There is usually an overflowing bin for used toilet paper. Yuck. I thought the ability of a toilet to digest toilet paper would be one of the most basic functions of a toilet. Nope, not in Korea.

Then there are the bidet toilets you find in some of the more posh areas and at saunas. A few months ago I had my first encounter with a bidet toilet in Korea. I was out with Korean friends at a bar in Apkujeong when I excused myself for the bathroom. When the time came to flush, I looked down at a panel on the side with about 30 different buttons written in hangul. I just wanted to flush the toilet.

I wasn't looking for pulsating, soft aerating, massaging or vibrating. I didn't want to push the button that heated the seat, massaged my ass or automatically closed the lid. And no, I didn't want a blow dry either. I just wanted to flush the damn toilet! Is that too much for a girl to ask?

There was only one toilet and now a line had formed right outside the door. I stood aside and decided on the button that most likely resembled a flush button. Wrong answer. A stream of water squirted out, missing me but going straight for my backpack, which is hanging on the hook of the door. I thought it would never end.

I involuntarily got misted with toilet water spraying off my backpack. The water was forming a puddle at the bottom of the door, which could be seen by all the Korean women patiently waiting. Screw it, the toilets not getting flushed. After the bombardment stopped, I walked out with my dripping backpack past several giggling Korean women. No more bidets for me, thanks.