South Korea is pretty good at selling itself to media: I dare you to watch any documentary talking about this country and its capital city and NOT to hear the impersonal voice boasting about the industries and the high technological development.
Now, hold tight your Samsung smartphone or tablet you are probably using to read this article and take a deep breathe before proceeding… Ready?
Despite its economic and technological progress, toilet paper is a real enemy for South Korean plumbing system: forget about flushing it during your stay here!
It ain’t be a mystery, many other countries in Asia are the set of this brutal war involving toilet paper and pipings, but I certainly couldn’t expect South Korea to be affected by it and my first approach to this ‘unique’ aspect was pretty traumatic.
When I first visited Seoul, I stayed in a shared flat I found on AirB&B. This means I had to introduce myself to new people and say goodbye to the same people pretty much everyday, which can be fairly uncomfortable when you consider you need to share the bathroom with them. Without dwelling on the questionable cleannes of the room, one thing immediately caught my attention: an open wastebin placed at the toilet’s side. Some may say my inclination to drama was taking over me, but it certainly wasn’t the case.
In Italy, we usually have small trash bins beside toilets as well, we consider them essential since they help us to immediately get rid of cotton buds, pads or whatever we are not pleased to hold until we are able to get out the restroom and reach the main garbage can. But that wastebasket was different, something was coming out and it wasn’t just about what I could see, but what I could smell.
As soon as I approached, I immediately understood what I was going to face in the next 6 days: not only I had to share the restroom with perfect strangers, but they could even keep track of my toilet experience in the house.
As a matter of fact, guests were supposed to throw used toilet paper in the wastebasket. The reason of this horrible crime has already been exposed: the plumbing system in South Korea is deficient and, unless you happen to use the toilet in a fancy building, you will surely find signs which solicit you not to flush the paper.
The general sense of unease is not only caused by the smell you are forced to deal with, or the shame you inexorably feel whenever you get out the toilet and you know the person who is getting in will find out what you did and ruthlessly judge you… There is something worse.
I talk about the chance you are in a public place, such as a restaurant or a cafe, and you feel the call. You go to the toilet, you do what the situation requires and, at the moment of cleaning yourself, you instinctively throw the tissue.
You may realize you have just commited a crime and promptly attempt to make it up in order to serve a shorter term, but the flushing is automatic and the paper is gone before you are given time to remediate the damage. You desperately look around, seeking for a remedy or getaway and then you hear it, the weird sound coming from the toilet.
In that moment there is no choice, nothing to do but get out with a low profile and secretly communicate with your travel partner through a glance to warn him/her it’s time to go.
It has happened to me once and I succeeded to get away with this nasty situation thanks to my natural nonchalance and my partner’s ability to follow my instructions without them to be explicit. In any case, that ‘deny the evidence’ thing can always be used as last weapon.
Get ready dear traveler, you’ll have a taste of adventure when hitting the head in South Korea.