3 Things I Don’t Get About Korea (and 3 Coping Methods)

4 Oct

I’m not real big on lists these days, but I’ve been lazy lately and this will clear my head of several blog post ideas that I’ve been harboring for over a week now. Let me mention, however, that this list is not at all complete, and I don’t intend to finish it. There’s a lot of shit about life in the R.O.K. that makes me pause and ponder (like why the hell the electricity keeps going out in my apartment), but if I spent my time writing about all the weird crap that goes on in this country, I wouldn’t have any time to actually enjoy it. I picked these three anomalies because they’re the ones that–despite encountering the most–continue to perplex the hell out of me. Feel free to drop your own Korean oddities in the comments section.

#1. Eternal Traffic Lights
I live next to a five street intersection that I cross every morning on my way to the bus stop. If I time it just right I can make it to the corner just as the light changes allowing me to cross without breaking stride. If I time it wrong however, I could end up standing there for nearly 10 minutes–I shit you not. I don’t get it. Why the hell should a man be late because of a traffic light? I’ve literally watched three busses pass me by while I wait, stranded on a concrete island, held there by the menacing Don’t Walk sign. People on the bus stare at me from their moving oasis as if to say “look at this idiot. He should have left his house earlier. And what the fuck is up with his hair?”

Needless to say, I do what any normal schmuck would do and J-walk on to salvation. But this method has consequences; mainly in the form of dirty glares form the old Korean women hawking produce and milk on the corner. They look at me as if I’ve just committed murder in broad daylight. What the fuck do they expect me to do? “Sorry Mr. Principal. I was late to work because your country’s dumb ass traffic light wouldn’t turn me loose.” Fuck it. I live life on the edge.

#2. Lunatic Bus Drivers
Yes, all Koreans seem to drive crazy, but in my book, bus drivers are the worst on the peninsula. On my way to and from work I catch the smaller buses  that go up and down the hills that surround Busan. The drivers whip around blind corners as if they’re in a high-speed chase with the kimchi police. Why, my friends, must I fear for my life during my morning commute?

The solution? Bus Surfing. A girl from back home taught me this one: stand in the middle of the isle facing the front of the bus, extend your arms and spread your legs apart for stability, then ride that sucker balancing like a pro until A: you make it to your stop (provided to you don’t get punched in the face by an angry passenger), or B: the driver takes a sharp turn that sends your dumb ass flying into the side of the bus (the latter happened to me on the last of two attempts). Bus surfing uphill sucks, but coming down it’s pure adrenaline.

3. Poo Paper
Koreans don’t like to flush their toilet paper after making the swipe. Instead they toss it a trash bin next to the toilet, which if not emptied regularly has the effect of making the entire bathroom smell like boiled port-a-potty stew. In most cases (especially in subway stations), there’s not even a lid on the poo paper bin! So along with the smell, you get to see Mr. Kim’s shit streak plastered on a small white canvass.

The reason for this madness? I’ve been told the Korean sewage system can’t handle the extra task of flushing paper along with floaties, but I don’t buy it. I’d expect this in a place like Costa Rica or some other third world country, but Korea is pretty advanced. Hell, their hand dryers are more powerful than most American built cars. I find it hard to believe that they can’t develop a system that can handle our disposable butt rags.

In some bathrooms the toilet paper is either non-existent or even outside of the stall. Imagine making that discovery after dropping your load. You’re all set to clean up and get on with your life when you realize there’s no paper to wipe your fanny with. You walk bowl-legged out of the stall trying desperately not to let your drawers touch your soiled bum until you locate a dispenser (which hopefully you find), only to hobble your shitty ass back to the safe zone to finish your deed. I pray I’m never caught in this situation.

Avoid the poo paper dilemma by either keeping a stash of it on you, or by securing some before entering the stall; and unless you’re at your own apartment (where you can dispose of it in whatever way you choose) or the apartment of a friend who fears havng a clogged toilet, flush that shit straight to hell.


Kimchi Dreadlocks


5 Responses to “3 Things I Don’t Get About Korea (and 3 Coping Methods)”

  1. bloggingresolve October 4, 2010 at 11:46 PM #

    Yes! I have definitely noticed the eternal traffic lights. I’m not exactly the happiest person in the mornings, but it’s absolutely infuriating.

  2. Alexander Warren London October 5, 2010 at 1:49 PM #

    In Argentina they had separate spots for disposing toilet paper everywhere, and in Bolivia you often had to pay to wipe your ass. I remember being perplexed in both cases, but I have never come across that in Korea, and in Ulsan I haven’t come across squatting pots…
    One thing that really confuses me about Korea is that many of the “traditions” they hold on to are really just coping methods for surviving in destitute and near primitive conditions. They don’t need them anymore (like the uncomfortable toilets and bad sewage systems) but they still hold onto them, at least in some places like the southern area of South Korea. And, for thousands of years the people have been controlled by kingdoms who held a huge division between rich and poor, controlled the economy and way of life, and didn’t even protect the people when attacked by China and Japan. The culture of Korean people is basically a peasant, working class culture.

    • Jaywoodseyo October 5, 2010 at 2:09 PM #

      Thanks for the comment Alex. It absolutely blows my mind that you ave not come across squatter toilets or poo paper bins in Korea. Maybe I should have opted for Ulsan rather than Busan. I like your point about Korea’s “traditions” being coping methods from the past. this would explain why Korea has become so advanced in some areas while failing to make it out of the third world in others. Us expats just have to roll with the punches. Keep the comments coming.

  3. intrepidtraveller October 5, 2010 at 9:22 PM #

    Oh the toilets here get me everytime! Most of the time, like you said, the paper is outside the loo. I hate when the bin overflows and the places stinks. This is all made EVEN worse when it is just a whole in the ground loo and there is piss all over the ground. Gahhhh.

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