Taking Care of Business: 5 Things About Korean Bathrooms
I apologize in advance, but it had to be done. We have to talk about the toilet situation in Korea. Is it weird or just plain awesome that this is actually the second time this blog has had a whole post devoted to toilets?
Maybe I just didn’t research Korea enough beforehand, but I didn’t realize that toilets and/or the entire bathroom situation might be different from what I was used to. Maybe this makes me ignorant, but either way, I feel like it’s something people should know! So without further ado, here are 5 things you need to know about public bathrooms in Korea (and to some extent, all of Asia):
Pop a Squat
Don’t be shocked if you open a stall and see this:
Squatter toilets are super common all over Asia. For a Westerner, the first site of one of these puppies can be quite shocking–how does it work?? How do you use it without peeing all over the floor (or yourself!?) The answer…you just do. It’s not nearly as complex as it looks, although I still avoid them like the plague whenever possible.
At least half of the public toilets in Korea are squatters, so at some point, they become impossible to avoid. Unfortunately, more often than not you find yourself in these situations in the wee (pun intended) hours of the morning, in a dirty bar in a haze of cigarette smoke, bladder full of soju…overall, while not pretty, sometimes I’m just thankful I don’t have to touch anything.
Where’s the Toilet Paper??
…well, when there actually is toilet paper, it’s usually on the outside of the stall. This one makes no sense to me, except that maybe it’s supposed to conserve paper? But then it’s a bit counter-intuitive, because most people I know grab extra just in case...
Anyway, this is (for obvious reasons) a good one to know before you enter the stall.
The Toilet Paper Goes Where??
…not down the toilet as you’d expect. Maybe it’s because the plumbing is old, but almost every public toilet has a garbage can next to it to throw your used paper in, and a sign that reminds you not to flush the paper (stupid Westerners!). This is as gross and stinky as it sounds. We don’t need to discuss it any further.
You’ve Hit the Toilet Jackpot!
As I mentioned before, about half the toilets are squatters. So what about the other half?
High tech space toilets.
At least that’s what they remind me of–complete with seat warmers, built-in bidets and a range of spray/stream options, these Japanese-style toilets have more buttons than my television remote control.
Basically, in the game of Russian roulette that is Korean toilets, consider yourself very lucky if you draw one of these space-age commodes!
Want to Wash Up?
Want to wash and dry your hands? Well, that might be asking too much. Far too many public bathrooms in Korea are lacking both soap and/or paper towels. Most of the subway stations are pretty well stocked and most use motion-sensor hand dryers, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve found both soap and something to dry my hands in a restaurant or bar bathroom. I don’t like to think about what that means for the people preparing my food and drinks…
Moral of this story, always carry hand sanitizer.
Have you experienced any unusual or unfamiliar bathroom situations while traveling?