I’m writing this post in a sort of frantic state right now.
Allow me to set the scene for you: I’m about an hour into a 16-hour ride to Shanghai on a sleeper train with three fellow bunkmates, one of whom is Zibby. Another is a relatively mild-mannered guy of about 30 who’s in the bunk above me. He seems to be largely keeping to himself, and I don’t think he speaks any English, so communication is pretty limited (unless of course I want to greet him, thank him, or politely request that he not take my kidney). All fine by me.
But the third bunkmate, an older, businessman-looking type to whom I’ll henceforth refer as the Night Walker, is threatening to make this an extremely long journey.
Greetings from Xi’an, or as I’ve come to call it, the “Cleveland of China.” I kid, I kid… Xi’an is alright – and really, this is just a test to see if any of my Northern Ohio-bred friends are reading this. While Zibby and I, like just about everybody else traveling through Xi’an, came here primarily to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors, the real draw ended up being the fantastic street food in the city’s Muslim Quarter.
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…