Elwood 5566

Minimal Intervention – Toilet Technology

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Blogging, Comparative by 노강호 on November 10, 2010

but what;s inside is a gamble

 

This month the Korean census is being compiled and on Sunday afternoon I was visited  by a friendly woman who took my details. Handing me the census form to complete, I sat at my desk by the front-door while she knelt on her knees so her shod feet hung over the small entrance where you leave your shoes. From that position she could just manage to offer me assistance without taking her shoes off and entering my one-room proper. With her at my feet looking up, I felt a little like a Buddha.

 

an unpleasant experience and even worse if there's no toilet paper

 

One of the questions on the census asked if my ‘one-room’ toilet is ‘sit-down’ or ‘squat’ and it would seem that the ‘sit-down’ toilet is more desirable or ‘classy’ than a ‘squat’ job and this might suggest that the proliferation of  such toilets is part of the ‘westernization’ of Korea. Not only are Koreans being encouraged to eat western shit in the form of  fast-food, but they are being encouraged to expel it whilst seated. I’ve had my fair share of squatting in countries like India and Morocco and having to do so in Korea always reminds me of unpleasant digital incursions necessitated by a lack of toilet paper. Of course, Korea has toilet paper, or at least it’s available but if you’re using a toilet away from home there is a probability that  both the toilet you are forced to use and you yourself, are tissue-less and hence a digital dredging will be required. Last time I encountered such a situation I was fortunate that both a hose lay in the  cubicle and a handkerchief  in my pocket (Emergency Dump)

 

Personally, the idea of squat toilets are rich in unpleasant associations but they do offer some advantage on the seated toilet bowl. Firstly, they conform to the Korean ideal of ‘well-being’ in that they ideally align the body to provide the greatest expulsion of waste and in the process help reduce or retard the development of hemorrhoids. Secondly, much less ‘skinship’ is required squatting and most notable are the fact you don’t have to sit on what is a public seat and neither do you have to reach for the  sheets from a communal toilet roll. Nothing is worse than having to sit on those stainless steel toilets in British public conveniences which look great if regularly cleaned, but when not are tarnished with stains of unspeakable origins.

 

I notice many K-bloggers don’t like squat toilets but for those who have traveled and have more than one frame of  reference, even the worst Korean public toilets aren’t that bad; they actually have partitions and doors, are usually made of porcelain, have running water, and there’s never a sea of shit six feet from your backside.  Regardless of where you are in the world, shitting anywhere but in your home is a gamble and the worst you can expect in Korea is a lack of toilet paper,  some bad smells and the need to squat. And unlike some of the more ‘developed’ countries in which I’ve traveled, you’re unlikely to encounter anything ‘seedy.’ I once wet for a piss in a toilet in Denver and what I witnessed can be left to the imagination.  Yes; Korean public toilets often lack toilet paper and they can be basic and require that you squat  but in the scale of things this isn’t that bad. But Korea is full of surprises and it is just possible to discover that the emergency toilet is not only impeccably clean but creatively designed. Last winter, on my way to Seoul, the bus pulled-in at what in the UK would be  ‘motorway services.’  The gents toilet was amazing with a large central, glass atrium which filled the toilet with natural light and under which a large garden flourished. There were even a number of showers. Many bloggers seem to think Koreans have a monopoly on dirty toilets and not  only could I cite truly unpleasant toilet experiences, but also that you don’t necessarily need to travel beyond Britain or the USA to find them.  I’ve taught in British schools where students would piss or shit on the floor because they thought it amusing and I have even seen examples where kids would jam a whole toilet roll in the ‘S’ bend and then cap it with a shit.  Every country has unclean toilets and  a lack of toilet paper does not make a toilet ‘dirty’ it just means you should have carried tissues with the same zeal in which you carry a bottled water in summer.

 

a luxury toilet

 

I  am tempted to refer to the toilet on which you sit as ‘comfortable.’ Of course, this is a  culturally orientated value judgment as Koreans do not find squatting, either on a toilet or waiting for a bus, uncomfortable. It isn’t that a Korean wouldn’t want to read a book or newspaper while squatting, but that to do so seated is preferable. The difference is much the same between that of a stool and an armchair;  a stool is great for milking a cow or weeding the garden but if you want to watch TV or read a novel, an armchair is much nicer.

 

control console

 

alternative control console

 

Basically, Korea has four classes of toilet which may be designated squat, seated, luxury-seated and deluxe-seated. The three classes can be further classified by four bands based on cleanliness: very bad, bad, okay, super nice. The UK, on the other hand, only has one class of toilet, ‘seated’ and though  UK toilets can be ‘super nice’ in terms of cleanliness, I have yet to witness a ‘luxury’ or ‘deluxe’ toilet though it’s been rumoured for a  long time that the Queen has one.

 

Hyundai's electronic bidet

 

Both Korea and Japan have taken the western style toilet and transformed it into a luxury item which has invested bathrooms and toilets with the same comfort one would expect in a bedroom or front room.  If the ubiquitous British toilet is suitable for reading and relaxation, the Korean luxury toilet provides the comfort in which to enjoy the marathon epics of Tolstoy and Wagner.  Many Koreans households now have toilets fitted with an additional tier which is plumbed and wired-in to create a crapper with the  same sophistication  as the Starship Enterprise. Among the state of the art additions are features such as a toilet lid which raises and closes at the touch of a button or even automatically as you enter or leave the toilet. Koreans love heat under them and so a heated toilet seat is ideal. Cleaning you arse properly never really caught on in the UK  and only on the rarest occasions have I ever seen a bidet in a British home. A  recent survey revealed 1 in 4 British commuters had fecal matter on their hands (Telegraph. UK) which would suggest either sinks by a toilet are a rarity or us Brits wash our hands in the toilet bowl before flushing it.  Meanwhile,  over 70% of  Japanese households have a bidet and Korea is rapidly catching up.

 

Korean toilet fixtures provide a high-tech control console from which to activated a bidet and by which the temperature, force, and location of the spray are controlled. Once douched, an anal-dryer kicks-in and blow-dries the entire area. So, far, only one digit has been required to complete a procedure that formally required at the very minimum, an entire hand. Equipped with musical accompaniment, the ability to automatically inject a variety of scents into the air as well as instantly sucking out  foul smells  from almost the exact point of their origin, deluxe models sanitize the entire process and take poo-ing where no one has gone before.

 

a luxury toilet (link to 'Sharon')

 

A luxury toilet in my last high school

 

There seems to be some discrepancy about whether toilet paper should be used before activating the bidet. Some sources suggest ‘wiping away’ excess matter, some suggest ‘patting’ it partially clean, which I guess means removing any ‘crumbs’,  while others opt for the immediate activation of the anal shower unit. I guess it all depends on the consistency of your crap and certainly, while you might be able to ‘pat’ a bum clean that has just expelled the remnants of a Korean diet,  a western diet will render a much stickier, chocolaty mess totally impervious to anything but a vigorous wiping.  The luxury of a hands-free crap, of cleaning your backside without any form of manual intervention is probably only possible on a diet high in fibre and as most waygukins who eat Korean food on a daily basis, will testify, this is achieved when what you expel looks much the same as when ingested. If the contents of your toilet bowl resemble last nights kimchi-stew, your bowels are blessed with  ‘well-being’ and a bidet will free your hands completely.

 

High School toilets, when kids clean them themselves they are less tempted to piss or shit on the floor

 

And often other luxurious bathroom innovations can be found. I worked in one academy where a kids toilet had been designed and not only were there a miniature urinal, sink and sit-down toilet, but the room itself was less than two meters high and the door by which you entered was miniature. The entire bathroom was like something from a doll’s house.

 

toilets for kids

 

great idea

 

For super clean hands, even after crapping 'hands-free' style, nothing purges loitering microbes like the ultra-violet hand dryer.

 

Korean toilets, the shape of things to come...

 

There is so much more to Korean toilets and ablutions than squat loos and lack of toilet paper and putting up with a little discomfort, which could just as well occur ‘back home’ seems to distract some many bloggers not just from what else is out there, but also the usefulness of their experience as a subject. So, next time you find yourself caught short and in a squat toilet with no tissue paper…

 

and then go write about it!

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Memory Lane

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on November 1, 2010

Kimpo Airport

I often mention how rapidly Korea is changing. I have only lived here four and a half years, spread across ten years, so in comparison to friends who have over twelve years experience, I’m somewhat of an infant. I would love to have been here fifteen or twenty years ago, when Korea was truly a country where other than American soldiers, few ventured. ‘Fat ‘has arrived in Korea, an observation I often point out in my posts on bathhouses, and EPIK has brought an army of teachers into schools to such an extent our uniqueness has been lost. And no doubt those who first came to Korea in the 90’s will have noticed even greater changes.

Kimpo in 2000

When I arrived in Korea in September 2000, Inch’on International Airport was still being built and looking back, it is quite incredible to think that the piddly sized Kimpo was the country’s major airport. Kimpo was basically one big room through which people arrived and departed and I’m sure it’s bigger today than it was ten years ago. Few restaurants had English menus and on every street corner were  ‘video shops’ renting the latest videos. The internet contained little information on Korea in terms of cooking, culture or history, zilch on hanja and very little on Korean. Few teachers had air-conditioning and for those in English academies, split schedules, a common practice, meant the 6 hours you’d been led to believe you’d end up teaching in Korea, were probably closer to 8 or 9. Maybe it is still the same in some language academies, but  class sizes  were big, sometimes twenty students packed in small classes and often with no air-conditioning. There were fewer academies and my school, the largest in the area, occupied three floors of a large building. There were few resources, wall sockets often didn’t work and only a couple of tape players if they did and if you complained you were simply told to read to the kids. Most of the westerners I remembered meeting at the time seemed to work  under similar conditions.  Back then, university posts really were the cream of jobs with significantly more pay than other types of teaching and before the recent changes in bureaucracy, transferring from one town to another or one school to another, was easy.

If you had a pair of shoes like this in 2000, you were 'sexy.'

Big shoes were the fashion on young lads. By ‘big’  I mean long and so long that I thought I easily find a pair of English size 13’s. Indeed, they were so long, a little like the old ‘winkle-pickers,’ that they turned up and gave them a medieval appearance. On younger boys, even very young ones, a long forelock on the side of the head was tinted gold meanwhile their teeth were black. While older children seemed to have good dental hygiene, milk teeth were seen as unimportant and many of my younger students had black baby teeth. Today, this is something I rarely see.

Coffee beans or ground beans were hard to buy and I remember a coffee filter machine in supermarkets attracted small audiences and if you wanted a bottle of wine, if you could afford it and could find it, they were stored in a glass cabinet and the choice very limited. It seemed everyone wanted English lessons and were willing to pay for the privilege and being stopped and asked if you would teach privately, was an almost daily occurrence. In my diary for Saturday 18th of November, 2000, I wrote:

Here (KFC in Song-So) I met a man who wanted English lessons and said he would take me sightseeing to temples in return for lessons. Then a boy of about 11 came and talked to me and introduced me to his little brother. Later, yet another stranger came up and asked if I would read stories in his kindergarten and I said I would ring him on Monday.

The KFC near Han-song Plaza has closed and is now a stationary store in which the glass stairs are still embossed with Colonel Saunders’ face, but in the last two years I haven’t once been asked to teach privately by strangers in restaurants or on the street.  I used to teach a few privates on a Sunday and would earn around a 100 000 Won an hour for teaching a small class of 3 or 4 students.

at one time were were as novel as coffee-filter machines and wine

Your presence, especially with children, was often enough for people to stop, gasp and gawk at you in awe.  Only yesterday, a boy of 14 told me how he remembers seeing westerners when he was four years old and how he would be filled with excitement. Few schools had resident foreign English teachers and what foreigners existed were a novelty. Many of the children, and some adults, you met ten years ago had never spoken to a foreigner. Then there was the starring… I remember times when the constant starring stressed me to such an extent, I’d occasionally step into a recess or doorway for a break. Unlike today, when a solitary passenger stares lazily from a busy bus, a westerner on the street would turned every head. I imagine it was even more intense in the early 90’s and 80’s and probably not much different to an experience I once had on a station platform in Delhi, in 1984, when a crowd so large gathered to stare at my friend as he opened a map, that after a few minutes you couldn’t see him. In the Korea of today, you are noticed and not much else and it rarely causes excitement or stops people in their tracks.

A few weeks ago I was up Warayong Mountain in Song-So, Daegu; I’d stopped for a coffee at a small stall almost at the summit and was attempting a conversation with a woman sat on the next bench along.  I noticed a couple of small children coming down into the clearing where we sat and around which were various communal exercise machines. Suddenly, their faces broke into excitement and they started running and skipping towards my seat. For a moment, it was the kind of reaction I remember on my first visit when kids would run up and then stand and stare, or might bravely attempt to say hello or stroke the hairs on a bared arm. However, ten years later and the focus of their attention isn’t me but the dog sat beside the woman with whom I am talking.  The children skip up to it and lavish it with as much excitement and attention as they’d once have given a foreigner. It isn’t even a real dog but one of those ‘handbag pooches’ which look more  like a wisp of cotton-wool on straw legs. I could have understood if it had been a real dog, a labrador or sheep dog, but this pathetic specimen! I realised in that instant that this is what it has come to; a miniature poodle now commands more attention, is more interesting and exotic than a foreigner. I am not exaggerating when I add that despite my height and size, and sitting right next to them, they didn’t even notice me.

a puff of wind and it's dead

Amongst all these changes however, one convenient constant; unlike the rest of the world prices have changed little. I bought a hanja dictionary in 2000 at a cost of 15.000 Won and in exactly the same store, nine years later, the same book cost 15.500 Won. That’s an increase of 25 pence in UK sterling! Quite amazing!

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Return to Korea (Korean Accounts 2. 2002-2003)

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Bathhouse, Diary notes, Korean Accounts 2 by 노강호 on September 29, 2002

I arrived back in Korea, in September 2002, after agreeing with Mr Joe that I would do a six month contract. After my former mistrust of Joe, it might surprise you I returned to work for him but I suppose my feelings towards him mellowed and in addition, I really wanted to return for an extended spell. In the year since I was last in Korea, much has changed. Now there are many more westerners than there were two years ago. The evidence of westernization is striking and there are even more Macdonald’s burger bars, Baskin Robbins ice cream parlours, Pizza Huts and Burger Kings. On the main road through Song So, that leads to Kemyoung University, in addition to the MacDonalds and KFC, there is now a Baskins Robbins parlour, a second one is presently being built, and a Pizza Hut. All these facilities are within a 10 minute walk of my front door. I am also sure that I am seeing more fat Korean kids than I did before.

I am living just around the corner from my old apartment and in fact I could have looked out my former bedroom window onto the side of the building I am now living in. This time I am in a one bedroom apartment which is next to a Chinese Medicine establishment and looking directly onto a barbecue restaurant and restaurant which is being built and as yet has not opened.

Pak Jun-hee and his family left the old restaurant where I spent every Saturday evening teaching Ji-won. I don’t think the restaurant, which was behind the Shin-woo (신우) supermarket on the main road leading directly down to the university, was bringing in custom.  They have moved to a restaurant just around the corner from where I live which is just a few doors down from the bakers and the Hapkido School. The restaurant is very small and sells pork (삼겹살) or beef barbecue. Even though the restaurant can be very busy, I think the returns are less than adequate and the family is struggling a little.

I have been up Warayong Mountain several times with Pak Jun-hee and though it is a struggle to get to the top it was well worth it. Warayoung is the mountain which lies directly behind Song So.  Last weekend was the Korean festival of Chu-sok and so we had Friday off. The weekend was a bit boring as all my Korean friends headed off to their family tombs. However on Sunday, after our mountain climb, Pak Jun-hee, took me to his house. It is in an apartment on the 10th floor of an apartment overlooking the street his restaurant is on. It was a special occasion as I have never been here before. The house was smallish but comfortable and as usual very open planned. There was a cabinet with a lot of liquor miniatures in them as Sun-hee collects these and then quite a few large jars, like parfait jars, with various fruits in them pickled in alcohol – these are Pak Jun-hee’s. Ji-won was really excited to see me and showed me his room – simply a bed on the floor, his work desk and books.  Apart from some teddy bears, his sister’s room was much the same – a complete lack of pop posters, fashionable clothes, music systems, computers and all the consumerist crap that western teenagers have to have. What was more interesting was that rather than their rooms being dens in which to hide themselves away and pretend to be individual – their rooms were completely open to the house. I don’t think privacy is such an important issue here. Sun-hee returned from town and cooked us some food and then I watched a Tarzan movie with Ji-won and his sister. This week Pak Jun-hee started a new job. In the mornings he goes to work on a construction site. He leaves home at 6am, returns home at 6pm (all for around 30 pounds a day), and then in the evening works in his restaurant which Sun-hee closes at around 4 am. They are saving money for Ji-won to go to university. What a life! And I moan at having to work anymore than 6 hours a day.

The exam period for middle school kids (13-15 years old) is here and it so noticeable; the streets are teeming with kids going to and from the Hakwons. They study in these until 11 or 12 pm and in Di Dim Dol, my school; they can buy cakes and noodles because they do not have time to eat a meal at home. I have had several private classes cancelled though I still get paid for the lesson. This week in the elementary schools (7-12 year olds) sports day and as always everything in Korea happens at the same time. The kids sit in classes with stamps on their arm telling you whether they came 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the various competitions – running, jumping, dancing etc.

At the moment my routine is really good; in the morning I study Korean, then I go for lunch, then to the mokyuktang (Han Song), and then work. I finish work at 8 pm, go straight to Pak Jun-hee’s to eat and at 10 pm I do some private lessons. My Korean and Hanja are really improving. I sat in the green tea bath at the mokyuktang on Friday talking, to an old man and managed to learn that he was 68, weighed 65 kilos, was 1 meter 60 tall, had three sons, one which lived in the USA, that he was a grandfather and had been the Los Angeles. We got talking as he said he recognised me from another mokyuktang bath house and the whole interaction excited me as he spoke no English at all.

Several times a week U-chun and I meet up and spend time chatting in a restaurant. We have been visiting this place which sells oysters – nothing but oysters and for around £10 pounds you can have a big meal for two – usually something like oyster tempura, smoked oysters and oyster soup served with a variety of salads, kimchees and ray fish in spicy sauce. (This restaurant was originally a North Korean restaurant that we visited on our first get together, back in 2000. I re-visited for oysters, several times in 2009 but it has since closed.)

Yesterday David and I went down to the part of Song-so near Kemiyoung University. I wanted to buy a CD as I have been listening to the same music for almost six weeks. Then we went to this excellent restaurant down near the university. It was supposed to be a Spanish style place but there was nothing Spanish about it at all. The place was really weird – just a sort of cocktail bar and restaurant with nothing but sofas and tables. A rather large room just filled with big comfy sofas. David (이영선) said Korean’s think this place is western and he was surprised at my expression when we entered because it isn’t western at all. We ate squid and octopus fried rice and Japanese style pork cutlet.

I do get a bit pissed off at the way Koreans laugh whenever I try to speak Korean. Even U-chun will sometimes have a little giggle. In a private class the other day, I mentioned my arm was sore and the two boys burst into a fit of giggling. One of the boys, Kim Young-jun (김영준) is a bit slow at telling the time and I told U-chun (유천) that he’s a bit slow. She teaches him maths privately. ‘Oh! He’s stupid.” she said. ‘I regularly have to hit him or make him stand in the corner of my front room with his arms above his head.’

Like I said, everything was going well but in Korean things can always change. On Monday, I discovered that the Tasmanian teachers in Di Dim Dol, Matt and Debbie, had done a bunk and left the country over the week-end. Well, now I have been told that tomorrow and until further notice, I must work the hours 10-12am, 1-2pm, 3-8pm! I wasn’t too pleased. When I got home I went to Pak Jun-hee’s and he could tell I was angry but he calmed me down. Later I decided to write a letter and outline my concerns. In the morning I didn’t go to work and handed the letter to Keith as he went to the kindergarten. I then met U-chun and we spent the morning at Baskin and Robbins. A bit of ice cream cheered me up. I had told the school I wouldn’t be going to work until 3pm and that I would work their hours for 2 weeks and then decide what I was going to do. When I went to school, Nell the kindy head, called me into her office to discuss things. The turnout was that I have a slightly longer break in the afternoon but to be honest the quality of my life is shit. Now I work 10-12am, 1-2, 3.50pm or 4.35-8pm. I don’t really have time to do anything substantial and there is no time to train as by the time I get home there is really only enough time to eat, socialise or study for an hour and then go to bed. The problem is Joe is running two schools with one set of teachers and things will get worse in October and November when Nana and Wendy leave.

There has been a lot of stuff on the TV here about five boys who disappeared 11 years ago. Anyway, the boys are known as the ‘frog boys’ (개구리 소년) because on the day they disappeared, they were going to collect frogs. They lived right behind where I live and went into the Warayoung Mountain where they disappeared. There have been loads of police around and several thousand soldiers were drafted in as the boys bodies have been discovered buried and with what might potentially be bullet holes in their skulls. For the last few weeks they have been gradually piecing together each boy’s skeleton. One boy’s coat was tidied at the cuffs. It’s on the TV every evening and has gripped the nation as it has been a mystery here what happened to them and of course the boys’ parents have been on TV. It has been very sad.

When I ask Koreans about this incident they approach it in quite a strange way. I think events like this are so rare that they don’t really have a rationale for them. When I ask Koreans what they think happened I get responses like, ‘they were murdered’, or even stranger, ‘perhaps they were murdered.’ Really!?’ To suggest the boys might have been sexually abused isn’t the first or even second conclusion Koreans come to. The police seem to have had a history of naivety in the investigation. A few weeks ago they suggested the boys had frozen on the mountain despite it being March when they disappeared and them being not too far from home. (The fact they were buried didn’t seem to make any difference.) The boys were found in an area that at one time was close to an army training camp and they now think that a boy may have been accidentally shot by a soldier and then the other boys shot to cover up the incident up.

I went for 4 sessions of acupuncture on my arm as I have had a slight pulled muscle in it for several months. In total the treatment cost me £30 pounds this being exactly 4 times cheaper than getting treatment in Wivenhoe plus several sessions lasted over 2 hours. Now I know why Korean doctors have empty offices as all the problems which clog up the western surgery, the back problems, pulled muscles, etc all go to traditional centres in search of relief. Let’s face it; western doctors are crap at dealing with such problems. Anyway, the treatment seems to have worked but what was most interesting was that I had had another strain in my back which has niggled me for nearly two years. I had treatment earlier in the year back in the UK and after two sessions with there was no improvement. I didn’t notice popping when they manipulated my spine. The Korean doctor, using exactly the same technique, popped my entire spine and the problem disappeared.

I haven’t seen too much of Ji-won as in less than four weeks he has his exams and the whole of Korea is counting down until the day they begin. These exams are known as the ‘goa sam su neung’  (고삼수능) and are the final year exams of high school students.  For very many young Koreans this will be one of the most important days of their lives. We went to the PC rooms (PC 방) last week and they had to ask me if I gave Ji-won permission to be there as it is illegal for under 19 years old’s to be in them after 10pm. I have also found out that in some schools, boys are not allowed to have hair more than 3cm long and it is not to be dyed. They are also not allowed to wear trousers any narrower than 7cm at the ankle. Ji-won told me one of his friends was beaten for having highlights in his hair when it was in fact grey streaks -yes – some Korean kids have natural grey streaks in their hair and there is a Korean term for this. One of my private students, Hyun-min (현민), arrived at my apartment barely able to walk. His hair had been more than three centimetres long and so he, and a few other boys, had to strip down to their boxers and run around the sports five times and then do fifty squats. Hyun-min (현민) is 18!

©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Written Sept 2002