Back in South Korea, we paid a visit to Tongyeong, a southern port city famous for its chong mun gim bap: fermented octopus mixed with a variety of local spices, held together by a delicate seaweed wrap. While it was pretty good, we ended up ordering roughly two pounds of the stuff, stuffing it into my backpack, and bringing it along on a 6k island hike – because picnics are fun! It’s been nearly two months, and I’ve still yet to rid my bag of that foul, hot octopus stench.
But I digress. This is a story about buses.
So, since I just spent more than 400 words equivocating on squat toilets, let’s talk Korea, shall we?
On average, Koreans are the most nationalistic people I’ve ever encountered – a fact that, more than anything else, influenced my time there for better or for worse (though mostly for the better). By and large, Koreans are extremely hospitable, and all too eager to make you feel welcome in their much beloved home country. While Seoul is certainly an international hub with exposure to plenty of expats and general foreign influence, I got the sense that most Koreans couldn’t imagine ever living anywhere else. You can certainly say that of people in most countries, but it somehow felt even more pronounced in South Korea.
I met my own personal Satan in South Korea. It appeared not in the traditional, demonic form, but rather as something far more sinister: a squat toilet.
For those unfamiliar, squat toilets are exactly what they sound like – small, oval-shaped bowls built into the ground that require near-superhuman balancing skills. This particular squat toilet was a bastard of the first order: situated in a grungy bathroom in the main terminal of the Seoul central bus station, it greets you with the most malevolent of airs when you’re innocently expecting a run-of-the-mill public toilet with a filthy seat that you can smother with rolls of toilet paper. Honestly, it felt like walking into Mordor – and I swear I could hear faint wisps of the ominous crescendo from O Fortuna as I pushed open the rickety, lock-less door…