Customs & Oddities, Seoul
If you have read my other pages, you have probably seen this already, if not, pay attention. It just may save your life!
For the uninitiated, the Asian style toilet is supposed to be more sanitary than the western ones. However they are a little confusing to the savages from the west. So, here is a little primer on the privies of the far east.
Most importantly, bring toilet paper and towels with you as they are not always provided in public facilities! The other thing to remember is that some places charge for use of their facilities, so bring change otherwise you may be on the outside looking in. This is especially true in Japan, not so much in Korea, although some places do.
First thing to know, the front of the toilet is the raised curved part below the tank in the picture here. You stand with legs on either side of the basin and drop your pants around your knees. Next, you squat over the basin, and go about business, making sure to keep your balance while you do.
The next part is the trickiest, to flush the paper or not. There is some debate over this. Many Asian style toilets will have a small trash can next to them with a plastic bag in them, I have been told this is where you place the soiled paper. But I have also seen ones that don't have this little can. If that is the case, I have assumed that it is ok to flush the toilet paper there. I am waiting for someone with more experience to correct me on this, so far none have.
If you are in some places in Asia, there may be a pair of slippers outside the door. This is so you don't dirty your own shoes, or in case you are in your socks.
If you are at the home of a person who has an Asian style toilet, don't be afraid to ask them how to use one, it is not uncommon, and you won't lose face for doing so. For further instruction, see the web page linked below for general instructions.
Lastly, public toilets are very hard to find in Korea. The key word to know is Hwajongshil. Most of the locals can point you in the right direction from there.
Since i lived with koreans for a few months I can tell you all i know about it. Coming into a korean home ( If you ever get the chance ).
Ok, when you frist come into there house, the floor will be always lower by the door. Your shoes will never leave this area. Going beyond that area with your shoes is forbidden, it's almost like a sin. Also any wet umbrellas or anything like that will stay in that area. Steping in the lowered area with bare feet is also a No-No.
Now the big problem that i had was the washroom. They keep their washrooms like they keep their rice fields, soaking wet ( this is the most important tip i can give ) TAKE YOUR SOCKS OFF, before you enter the washroom. When i frist got here i would always forget, and my socks would always be wet. I don't know why they must have a big puddle on the floor but they do. They will have slippers in the washroom but you will still want to take your socks off becuase the slippers are offen wet too. There floor is offen wet becuase of the shower.
The shower! some are diffrent then others I've had every type they have in korea. I've had the Western style. I've had korean style, that is just like a hose with a shower head on the end that comes from the sink and the water just goes on the floor. This is the most common type you will find. Its like having a shower in a RV. In new apartments they may have a tub that you stand in but water will still go everywhere. I've also done the OLD OLD korean style. Out in the countrey, I was given a bucket and you go in the washroom and fill up the bucket with hot water and use a rag. That was the worst way! you just don't feel clean after.
I think those are the most important tips i can give you.
Koreans, especially older people, love board games. There is even one TV channel devoted to possibly the most complicated board game in the world: Go, known in Korean as Paduk.
Yunoni, the game shown in the picture, is simpler and played by all Koreans, especially during the New Year holiday. It involves throwing four sticks down to determine how many squares you can move your piece around the perimeter of the board. It's a bit like a cross between Snakes and Ladders and Backgammon.
There are more!
One of the coolest things about this country is its script, Hangul. Could you imagine if Korea still used only Hanja (chinese script), oh life would be difficult.
Anyway some guff: Hangul script is attributed to King Sejeong (the fourth King of the Lee/Choson Dynasty). And by decree it became the 'Script of Korea' in 1440. But because of the Yang Bang (Noble) class the script was only adopted by the lower or common classes. The noble classes continued to take those long winded chinese confucianist exams, and learn chinese calligraphy, and poetry etc ad nauseum. Perhaps You could say I am too egalitarian for my own good, but this was done to reinforce the chasm between noble and common, Just like the use of French and Latin in Medieval England.
What is amazing about the Hangul script (called Choson Muntcha in North Korea) is that it is soooooo easy to learn and use. It contains only 24 letters (14 consonants and 10 vowels) so learning it is easy. It is used like the Latin alphabet, with letters in combination. And what is more, it is phonetic. So how the word is written EXACTLY how the word is pronounced (an Improvement on the latin alphabet). It is is possible to learn this alphabet in a week, and once you can read hangul, have the battle is won....
You can navigate, find the toilet, read the menu, and begin to learn the Korean language (Hankuk Mal) word by word on your own.. NOW HOW COOL IS THAT.
Oh By the way, The Korean people still use Chinese characters too.. :o( (Its called Hanja). Because some words descend directly from the yangbang (noble) class, some of these words can be interchanged some can't. For instance the common word for 'Person' is 'Saram' (a Korean word) but if you write in using the Chinese (Hanja) character the same word is said 'In'.. which is distinctly korean pronunciation, but it is used similarly in Japan and China. ie. 'In' Korean and 'Rin' Mandarin. Hmmmmm!
For the whole half month I was in Seoul, I was a Japanese . Can you blame me for mistaking my own nationality when I was constantly bowed at and spoken to in Japanese? (My hubby, on the other hand, was constantly mistaken for a local but more of that later.)
After the 1000th time, I got sick of saying, " Watashiwa Shingapooru-jin desu..." ( I'm a Singaporean, you daft prick ). I decided to play the part and shout to my hapless spouse in Japanese, " Hayaku!!" (Hurry up you slow poke! ) while he whined , "Matte" ( Wait for me you ***! ).
Big mistake, while speaking in Japanese earned 90deg bows, the stall holders immediately pricked their ears and chose to raise their prices for me since they have a rumoured dislike for the Japanese tourist. Who could blame them? Afterall, their country was annexed for a good many years. It's like a mini-revenge of all sorts as their former masters now return as guillible tourists..
One thing strange about Korea is that there are no self-serve gas stations.
Even stranger, is that they hire local cute girls to dance at the entrance to get customer's attention.
I'm not complaining.
Driving a motorcycle in summer is nice. Even nicer when you have to get gas.
Sadly the only pics I have of this are recent, just after Fall hit. They are all wearing jackets...
I'll be sure to get many pics when Spring hits.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has a program that names the city's most outstanding toilets of the year. As you sight see in the city, look for these bronze plaques reading "Seoul Best Toilet." You'll be glad you peed in one of these magnificent urinary attractions!
And you thought your government wasted taxpayers money!
This photo was taken in a public restroom at the southwestern base of Achesan, a small mountain on the eastern edge of Seoul.
The wedding duck is an old Korean custom. When Koreans are married the groom gives the bride two hand-carved wooden ducks. The ducks symbolize eternal faith and chastity as ducks are known to have one mate for life, and if one duck dies the other lives alone until death. The female Korean wedding duck has a string tied around her mouth, some say as a symbol to remind her not to nag the husband!
Wedding ducks are available at many shops in Itaewon selling traditional Korean gifts.
Koreans have great respect for their deceased ancestors. Cemeteries are typically on a hillside overlooking the fields or village where the person spent their life. Grave markers are typically black slabs of granite with words in Korean or Chinese. The grave itself is a one-meter high mound rising above the ground. When I was there, people often claimed the mound was because Koreans are buried in a sitting position. I later discovered this has not even a hint of truth (like many other stupid American stories about Korea which I discovered were mostly fabricated).
A Korean funeral consists of three days of viewing the deceased in the hospital, then a trip to the cemetery. At the grave site, the deceased's clothes are burned, then they are laid in the ground in a coffin. The hole is filled and the mound is created. On top of the mound, the family will place fruit and wine.
Most city parks are jammed with retired men passing the time. Often, you'll see them engaged in very competitive games of go. One of the best place to see this is Jongmyo Park, right by the famous shrine of the same name.
There are several places in Seoul where you can hear traditional Korean music. From major professional theaters to the casual, outdoor Seoul Nori Madong (Jamsil-dong) you can easily find these performers playing their ancient music on drums, silkstring instruments, or bamboo pipes.
Make sure when you use the escalator you stand RIGHT, walk LEFT in korea there really good at this but then you see the one person who stands left and backs every thing up. Don't be like that person if you stand, stand right.
You will always be sitting on the floor in korea. Just alittle warning. I thought i would be fine, that i'm young, try too sit on the floor for an hour. Just try.
If you haven't been doing it you hole life, it starts to hurt, fast.
Tips and observations during my 15 months in Korea.
Take off your shoes when entering someone's home. (make sure your dog's don't bring the funk ~ if ya know what I mean)
You will see teenage men walking in the street with their arms around each other's shoulders and teenage girls walking hand-in-hand. This means nothing more than intimacy. Touching close friends while talking to them is perfectly acceptable in Korea. Bumping into other people while passing is acceptable unless you shove them offensively. Koreans believe that direct eye contact during conversation shows boldness, and out of politeness they concentrate on the conversation, usually avoiding eye-to-eye contact. Koreans shake hands and bow at the same time. The depth of the bow depends on the relative seniority of the two people. When you receive something from an older person, you should use two hands when receiving it, with a bow. If it's small enough for one hand, use one hand to receive it and the other under your forearm or your lower chest (for support). When you are shaking hands with an older person, use two hands. If the person receiving the gift is younger or lower in stature, passing with one hand is acceptable. Rather than pouring their own drinks, Koreans pour for one another. It is a bad breach of etiquette to pour your own drink. Thus conlcudes the lecture, Now go forth, travel, be happy.
A hanbok is a traditional/ceremonial Korean gown. Made in a variey of colors, hanboks are comprised of a long dress with a short top. You will still see hanboks worn throughout Korea on holidays and other special occasions.