Suwon: A Great Place to Shite


Korea is not afraid of honouring the unusual. With any number of festivals for all sorts of reasons throughout the year, there is definitely a culture of self praise. Suwon, where I humbly reside, is no stranger to such honorific displays, and today myself and Herself decided to visit a recently famous tourist location in the city, Mr. Toilet House.

Yes, that’s right. It is a house that was built to celebrate toilets. And why not says I? Sure, isn’t it one of those things which we shit down on all our life and never actually turn around and congratulate for the good work they do, day in, day out, all over the world. So, toilets of the world, I salute you.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon

This may be a huge surprise to many, but the toilet – or at least going to it – isn’t considered as revolting a subject as it may be in the west. It’s certainly considered a sign of good health to pass regular, solid stools. Also, having to go to the toilet not long after a meal is thought as sign that healthy food was eaten. And even though that is none of anyone’s business but the shiters, informing someone that you are going for a shite, or dump, or poo, or whatever it is you call it, is not as cringeworthy as it may be tought elsewhere. If you don’t doubt me, spend 15 minutes in any public or office toilet and witness people walk in and out of the cubicles to the sounds of gas and stools passing with the same fluidity as you would expect from cars passing through a petrol station.

I forgot to mention you can also buy food, like cakes, sweets, and snacks shaped like a warm and steamy turd. Yes. Tasty.

Anyway.

Mr. Toilet House…

Suwon itself may be described by some as a bit of a toilet, but that doesn’t stop the city revelling in the possession of such a fine cultural relic. Suwon City’s website even reserves a special piece of cyberspace specifically for outlining the wonders of the city’s drive to be a squatter friendly place to live.

Multilingual explanation for the droves who flock to see Mr. Toilet House.

The capital of Gyeonggi-do has even gone to the point of establishing an important project, “Making Beautiful Public Restrooms”, as well as its adaptation of the “cultural public restroom” concept – explanations on the back of postcard please – and of course one cannot forget the “Beautiful Public Restroom Tour”, or the “Cleanest Public Restroom Contest” all of which help to put Suwon on the map. I should add that these initiatives were followed up by the founding of the ”Suwon Restroom Culture Association”, a body which citizens are expected to participate in. However, the website did not define how one was supposed to actively participate in such the association, which is disappointing. Significantly, it did highlight Suwon’s importance to the world, now described as a veritable Mecca of public squatters and urinals. As a resident of Suwon, this makes me proud.

So anyway, the building on the grounds is kind of shaped like a toilet. The house or museum itself was actually built by a former mayor of Suwon who was purportedly born in a toilet, , a man by the name of Sim Jae Duck, and holds many photographs of the development and improvement of sanitation facilities in the Human City. On the ground floor are a handful of photographs of toilets in Korea over the years, and a few displays of toilet door markers from around the world, including something from Ireland (you can imagine that I was doubling over with pride at this stage). There are also some photographic memorabilia for the World Toilet Association and the Japan Korea Toilet Forum, among other notable achievements in the twentieth century history of the noble bowl.

Ireland proudly represented in Mr. Toilet House.

The second floor of the building is essentially a shrine to Sim Jae Duck. He was the mayor of Suwon for a couple of terms, but some parts was more like a shrine than a museum, with his brief case, notebooks, tie pins, old ID cards, and photographs of the fella standing looking a fields and watching agricultural demonstrations, which reminded me of something I’d seen elsewhere. Did I mention there are pictures and cardboard cut-outs of him all over the place?

Madness.

Outside things started getting serious as we started to encounter more toilet related extravaganzas. After passing by some buckets and chamber pots, I realised I had walked inside a large squat toilet about the size of an apartment. It was not the large sheltered seating area I had imagined it to be. Of course it was clean and not an actual squat toilet, but it took a moment for this to sink in. This toilet came equipped with its own brightly tiled novelty turd.

A nice place to relax…

There followed a number of arrangements and statues  of things like old chamber pots, toilets, and of course people going to the toilet, complete with eyes squeezed shut and brows furrowed instensely while concentrating on the job at hand. Many were quite interactive and allowed for visitors to try out the variety of toilets which have been a part of Korea over the years. Photo opportunities are a must for every visitor.

 

Making the most of my time in Mr. Toilet House

I reckon that this place really has to be seen to be believed, and I’m far from a travel blogger so describing it in detail may be beyond me. It is a magnificent celebration of what excreting is all about and I was laughing the whole way through our visit and Herself had to ask me to stop at least three times.

One final point; the toilet for the whole facility was undoubtedly the nicest smelling and most floral toilet I have ever experienced in my life, but why this is I can’t understand because, in my own humble and opinion, toilets are supposed to fucking stink.

So that’s my tourist plug for Human City Suwon done for now. See you on the jacks.

*For more photographs of myself and Herself’s visit to Mr Toilet House please click this link!*

November


I like November and I always have. The month just sits there, almost Christmas but still far enough away to be still kind of normal, and long enough after any summer holidays so any pining is well gone. Even though it can signal the true beginning of winter, a season I don’t shine too, with all the cold rain, wind, the leaves losing their leaves, I still look forward to November every year.

I think it’s one of those reliable months. I know it will be colder because the wind will suddenly pick up a notch and the temperature must drop a few degrees further. Despite this, I can prepare well. November is a great time for dusting out those heavy jackets, wooly jumpers, thick socks, gloves, scarves, and hats in warm, earthy colours of browns, burgundy, and dark greens to keep me cosy.

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And to keep me satiated it is certainly a most appropriate time for food, with soups and stews and baked root vegetables all coming out of the kitchen. It’s a great time to really roll up my sleeves and rekindle the worthwhile craft of cooking a hearty meal. In Korea as well, there is no shortage of stews, and then of course all-weather barbecue dinners take on a new life as they move indoors. These are particularly special treats, which start as soon as I step inside and the hot air warms me through instantly, and after a feed of beef or pork, not to mention a few – if not several – drinks, stepping back into the icy night air afterwards is the ideal way of encouraging passage to the second round.

If you have a fire there is no better month to first light it than November. The joy of sitting by the warmth of a crackling, or gas flowing hiss, while the television shows a late night movie and my glass is half full with my second decent sized glass of red wine cannot be praised too much. Add to this the company of Herself or friends and I can do little to complain – unless I end up drinking too much wine and wake up with a corkscrew of headache and no memory of the end of that film I was watching.

In Korea, of course, fires are far from common in the home. In fact if I lit a fire I would probably be arrested, that’s if I survived my home burning down as well as the entire building I live in. I don’t think my neighbours would be impressed. As a worthy compromise there is the always reliable underfloor heating which is piped throughout every apartment. While it can be slow to start off, once the heating is primed it doesn’t take long for the house to warm up. Stepping into a room with the floor heating on always feels like I am passing into stove warmed cabin; it is cosy, inviting, and homely, and any memories of firesides with wine are forgotten once a basket of freshly baked sweet potatoes are passed around.

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But for me, the real magic of November waits outside. By the time October has passed the trees are well beyond deciding whether or not they will move on to their winter hibernation. Their leaves are either in the process of their radiant discolouration, or they are tumbling down the street in a series of never-ending somersaults courtesy of the stiff breeze. Ochres, auburns, maroons, mellow yellows, fading greens and coppers are splattered about the trees, while the crunching and scratching of the already deceased come from where my feet meet the street. It is always hypnotic.

The air at this time of year has only began to bite and with each small gust it nibbles away at my ears and cheeks, as I duffle up my jacket fully for the first time and perhaps tie a scarf snuggly under my chin. The sky is as blue as if it has dressed for the occasion of being painted in a landscape, and if there are clouds they do the same, ballooning up in a white lather like bubble bath. At all times the sun shines down down, strong as ever, but warm like an old radiator in a big stone room.

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The buildings stand in sharp relief to this bright blue scape, with their every angle being caught and stretching out in a long straight shadow courtesy of that sun which no longer reaches a central apex. It is undoubtedly as the architect had imagined when the designs were first sketched, with the sun catching in a pinprick sized corner of glass which reflects as beaming spot light upon the riotous Renoir painted scene below.

Letter from Korea, November 2011


Suwon, Korea
22/11/2011

Dear Ireland,

A few months ago I was elected as the new Chairman of the Irish Association of Korea. I suppose I had it coming to me. So, what about it?

The Irish Association of Korea has been around for over ten years and primarily seeks to promote Ireland and Irishness in Korea. We do have a few other mandates, such as fundraising for a memorial to honour the Irish who died in the Korean War, but essentially we try our best to promote Ireland as a country rich in culture which is distinct from the many other countries busy promoting their cultural identity in Korea.

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Things to do in November when you can’t stay in bed


I found a blog post about things to do this November, notably, get out and enjoy November. Anyway, I thought about half the posts nothing really to with November, or at least not the November I’ll be having …

My ideas of November are a lot different to the lady who wrote these, mostly because I’m male, I’m married, I have different tastes, considerably different tastes, but that’s what makes us different right?

I reckon this November I’ll try to do more than just go to Seoul and get drunk (which is what I did for most of October). November is a great month for the outdoors here in Korea, it’s now coldish but it doesn’t rain heavily so some places are less busy, also it’s getting closer to Christmas so that’s always an excuse for some early celebrations, right?

Well anyway, here’s a list of some of things I might do this November here in Korea…

  1. Get outdoors and do some hiking: With the autumn comes the changing of the leaves, it’s also cooler so the mountain won’t be so difficult to hike now that it has cooled down a lot. Of course the problem with this is it’s Korea’s busiest season on the hiking trails.
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