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…
Suffice to say, I opted to pass on that particular bathroom experience. For what it’s worth, that was actually the only squat toilet I saw in 10 days in South Korea – which is almost certainly the most modern country I’ll visit on this trip. I know what you’re probably thinking here, that if I’m getting so worked up over a single squat toilet (in a bathroom that turned out to have normal toilets too, as it turned out), then I’m in for a hell of a ride when I get to places like Laos, Cambodia and India, each of which I would imagine to exclusively feature squat toilets in many areas. While I’ve spent a fair amount of time in less developed countries in the past, squat toilets are one demon which I’ve been able to avoid to date. But I know now that my day of reckoning is near at hand.
I bring this up not because of some perverse need to share my neurotic bathroom inner monologue with you (at least I hope not), but because I think it symbolizes something larger as it relates to my travels. I’ve said all along that I wanted to get out of my existing routine and embrace new and totally foreign experiences, and that certainly remains the case. Along those lines, things like this are a good reminder that it’s not always going to be a completely pleasant experience; you’ve got to take the bad – or maybe more accurately, the unfamiliar – with the good if you want to truly get out of your comfort zone and experience something new.