I really had to go. We’d been walking around for hours in the Damyang bamboo forest in Korea and all the water I drank to stay hydrated wanted out from my body. So when I saw the international sign for restrooms, I didn’t hesitate. There wasn’t much of a line, so I was able to go straight into the restroom only to find something that didn’t match my definition of a toilet.
It was a white contraption similar to a urinal, except attached to the ground instead of a wall. I stood in front of it, completely stunned and at a loss of words. My need to use the restroom was quickly replaced by confusion followed by horror as I realized that this mechanism was the toilet. I experienced several aspects of culture shock while I visited Korea, but my experience with the Korean squatting toilet made the most impact on me.
Out of the many things in Korea, why would a toilet make the biggest imprint in my mind? It was because I didn’t know how to use it. I had heard that in the older days, Koreans had to squat to use the restroom. But that was centuries ago! I thought that the days of squatting toilets were from a bygone era, but instead they were modernized and everywhere in Korea. Not to say that there weren’t typical Western toilets, but sometimes the Korean squatting toilets were the only options available.
It was interesting to see that the squatting toilet that was peculiar to me was a part of the native Koreans’ lives. For example, in a subway station, there were both the options of the squatting toilet and the seated one and no one hesitated to use the squatting option if the latter wasn’t available. Even girls in fancy clothing used the squatting toilets. I, on the other hand, completely avoided the squatting toilets because I didn’t know how to use them and found them to be primal and slightly repulsive.
As I continued to encounter the unique Korean toilets, I realized that if I had grown up in Korea, the squatting toilet wouldn’t have been a bizarre concept to me. I have no right to quickly brush off the oddity of the Korean toilets because I didn’t understand them. What seems bizarre to me is someone else’s daily occurrence. Instead of quickly judging the technology that I didn’t understand, it would be better for me to adapt to it without any stubborn preconceived notions.
From here, almost two months after I came back from my vacation in Korea, I wish that I had the bravery to try to use or at least understand the squatting toilets. Instead, I fled the scene every time and stubbornly waited to find a Western seated toilet. That mindset won’t get me anywhere, especially if I want to travel the world. Every country has some piece of technology or culture that is hard to understand. It’s not my role to judge someone else’s culture, but to embrace it.