This is clearly one of the first things I should have written about. Korean bathrooms can be summed up in one word: surprising. It's always a experience with every new bathroom I visit.
Let's get right into the messy goodness that is Korean restrooms. Allow me to break this post into a few helpful points of interest:
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- Slippers -
Walking into all private and a few public bathrooms, one will undoubtedly notice the pair of clear plastic slippers greeting you upon entry. The curious foreigner might imagine that these were carelessly left by a forgetful family member or perhaps used when the bathroom floods. No, kind sir, these shoes are for you...and everyone else. That's right. In a country full of germophobes, you'll be basking in the sweet sweet foot juice of all that came before you. You too, will leave your own unique brand of foot sweat for the next guy to absorb as he thinks about bleaching his feet.
- One Big Shower -
Not so much public bathrooms but almost all private bathrooms are essentially one big shower room. Everything liquid makes its way to the drain in the middle. Take the shower nozzle and go to town if you want. This excessive wetness also helps to explain you're wearing some stranger's slippers.
- Smoking in the bathroom -
How old are we? Why do I even smell cigarette smoke? What decade is this? When did smoking in the bathroom become cool again? The goofy part about walking into a bathroom that smells like the Marlboro Man is that not only is it a nasty habit with smelly consequences, but it's done in an already consequentially smelly place. Quite possibly the smelliest place we all know and use. There's now two grossly different but equally gross stenches competing for your nasal attention. So, why not just go outside to smoke? If a grown man is either too embarrassed or too lazy to smoke outside, then he shouldn't be smoking the the first place. But then again, no one should be smoking in the first place.
- Ashtrays -
Which brings me to this lovely contradiction. If I'm at a urinal and I look to my left only to see an ashtray, what does that lead me to think (other than I should have just been looking straight ahead like a real man)? It makes me think that smoking in the bathroom is okay despite the "No Smoking" sign posted directly above it. Why Korea. Why.
- Soap -
This is either completely missing or comes in a very strange form. What ever happened to good old fashioned liquid hand soap purchased in bulk and dispensed by a cube-shaped dispenser attached to the mirror? I like my soap liquid. I like not having to share a communal bar of soap with the rest of Seoul. I like washing my hands without wondering if I need to get an STD test afterwards. An orgy of germs await my fragile fingers every time I slide my hands across the permanently-fixed egg-shaped communal soap on-a-stick. Mister Blue-Soap-Stuck-On-The-Mirror, you're gross. You're almost as gross as the Bar-Magnet-Soap that sticks to another magnet.
- Paper Towels -
Why in all that is holy does Korea not stock bathrooms with paper towels? Why even tease me with the dispenser only to leave it empty? Paper towels dry my hands. That's what they are there for. If I don't see paper towels, I wonder how else is everyone drying their hands? Then I realize that they aren't. Ah, but perhaps I'm being too hasty in my hygienical judgments. Yes, we must be getting more green. Less paper, less waste, more happy earth. I'm all for that. So, I turn my attention to the machine on the wall, place my hands underneath, wait for the warm goodness to flow across my drizzled hands...
- Hand Dryers -
...only to find that it blows. Not literally. More like it sucks. Also not literally. These weak-ass hand dryers do the equivalent of a creepy old man's constant stream of mouth breath. It's just unpleasant and not needed. What's the point in washing my hands only to discover a gentle summer's breeze attempting to remove all moisture? Like drying clothes outside on a summer's day, the breeze takes a good three hours to work it's magic. You bring that noise up in my house? All talk and no walk. You call yourself a hand dryer? Please.
- Toilet Paper -
Why. Why. Why is toilet paper located outside of the stall? Just... why? Moving on.
- Squat Toilets -
These just seem outdated. Why does Korea still use some squat toilets? I mean, America had outhouses for the longest time and other than Schrute Farms, we got over it. We moved on and embraced the modern toilet for being a fanny-centered innovation. Korea's affair with squatters is like a drug. Korea is addicted to installing new squat toilets next to standard toilets. It's a problem. I just feel Korea needs a nice, long intervention. "Korea, I know you think you need these worthless squat toilets, but you don't. Just sit on the throne like a man. You can do it. I'll help you" Do your part and just say 'no' to squat toilets. If you or someone you know is using a squat toilet, please call this number.
- Bidet -
Then there's the total opposite. In a country with questionable plumbing choices and mountain man-like restroom accommodations, we find public and private bidet. In what seems like overkill, these public bidet are a fresh option to choose when available. But why not just even the playing field by getting rid of all squats and installing good ol fashion crappers instead? Bidet? We don't need no stinkin bidet. My heiney was feeling just fine until you came along and made it think it needs something better. A bigger better slice, indeed, Mr. bidet. I'll admit it. Your freshening tactics are no match for my tried and true Crapper. But don't get cocky. When you're not around, I don't miss you. However, given the chance to experience your cleansing power, I'd let you do your dirty work on my posterior any day of the week. Twice on Sunday. You've convinced me. I'm a believer. I'm a bidet-er.
- Visibility -
In a world full of creepy stalking guys and misplaced trust in strangers, we have the partially visible bathroom. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure we have bathrooms that have no visibility blocking wall, no door, and/or easy viewing access. Go about your daily deed in full view of any passerby. I assume this public bathroom design stems from a trusting perspective and I suppose for the most part in America too, no one goes into the opposite gender bathroom. Especially a girl's bathroom. That's where cooties come from. However, in public places in Korea, there's no shortage of people able to see you standing up doing your business. May I suggest any people walking by who catch a glance to take it like the sun - don't look directly at it. It will only burn your eyes.
- Female Janitors -
So there I am. I'm doing my thing. I then go to wash my hands. One day I look up out of boredom and to see this nice little place card on one of those weak-sauce hand dryers. It states the name of the sanitation worker assigned to that particular bathroom. It even includes a friendly photo. How nice. Not so nice when I'm shaking the dew off the lily to find her two feet away from me. What is this world coming to when an insecure man can't take care of number one without a woman standing next to him? At that moment it occurred to me...I really wanna wash my hands and forget this ever happened.
- Opposite Gender Use -
Then there's the icing on the already malformed cake. At some restaurants, only one toilet exists and it is used by men and women. I did what I had to do three feet from a women doing the same thing. This wasn't a cool hangout unisex bathroom like in Ally McBeal. It. Was. Freaking. Weird.
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And to think I didn't even mention the whole wastebasket next to the toilet thing. You know, the one that no one seems to know exactly why it's there or why we even still need it?
So in conclusion, I am always surprised by Korean bathrooms. Proof:
I recognize that it's all a matter of perspective. I also realize that I'm a big boy and that none of it really bothers me. I've even had some nice sanitational encounters here. I once used a hand dryer that not only dried my hands by its jet-engine-like ferocity, it also used UV light to gently kill some unwanted germs on my hands. Not like that dirty little blue soap-on-a-stick.