Bathroom 101: Korean Style

Bathroom 101: Korean Style

Ok, people. Let’s talk toilets. I’ve previously mentioned the need to carry toilet paper around town but never explained why. It’s clearly time to rectify this.

Here’s how it works. You’re out and about in Korea—maybe enjoying some pork galbi at one of the omnipresent DIY barbecue restaurants, having a few hofs and chatting with friends. Nature catches up with you, and you excuse yourself to find the bathroom. There, you will be confronted with one of three toilet paper scenarios:

1)  There’s toilet paper in the stall, like in any normal, reasonable, Western bathroom.

2)  There’s a single toilet paper dispenser on the wall by the sink, several feet outside your stall.  You have to remember to grab a handful before you have your pants around your ankles. Take a generous helping—it’s difficult to go back for seconds.

3)  There’s zero paper of any variety anywhere on the premises, and not because they ran out. Also, the odds are about 5-to-1 against the restaurant using paper napkins. Unless you brought a pocketful, you’re going to have to get really creative.

(Author’s note: There’s not much difference between options 2 and 3, because after a lifetime of having toilet paper hanging on the stall wall, you’re not going to check before you sit down. And then you’re going to be very sad.)

Even if you’re packing, however, there are a few more twists to the Korean bathroom experience you should know about. First of all, they don’t flush used toilet paper. Instead, it goes in the little waste basket provided in each stall.

Supposedly, Korean TP isn’t made to disintegrate in water the same way American paper does. So if you flush it, it clogs the plumbing. It is worth discussing why the leading country in robotic technology can’t make a flushable toilet paper, but for the moment we’ll let that go. There are more pressing issues to worry about. Like how to work the toilet.

Once again, there are three possibilities for what you’ll find behind the stall door (urinals don’t count—I have it on good authority that these are the same here as in the US).

The first possibility is this:

A normal, Western-style, porcelain bowl. Use as expected.

Number two looks something like this:

What you can’t know by looking is that this baby has a heated seat. It also has a built in dribble mechanism that activates when you sit down. Perhaps the sound of trickling water is supposed to encourage you to start your own business; I find it a little creepy, myself. Also, check out the control panel.

This toilet can not only be used to launch interstellar spacecraft, but also has a number of grooming options, like the post-use bottom sprayer, or the refreshing face sprayer. There are a few other indecipherable, though no less troubling, buttons as well. In the interest of scientific discovery, I pressed them all (while standing as far away as possible, of course) but without result. Maybe there's a pressure sensor in the seat or something. Who can say with such technology?

Choice number three, though, is the one to fear. The squat toilet:

I only have one suggestion for dealing with this beast. Wear a skirt, ladies.