Going to the washroom in another country can be a surprisingly confusing and challenging task. Even saying “going to the washroom” can confuse non-Canadian English speakers, I’m told. When arriving in East Asian countries like Japan, China, and Korea (as well as some African and Muslim countries), western travellers often find themselves at odds with what I like to call the “squatty potty.” Unlike Western “throne” toilets which allow users to sit like kings and queens while they release their bowels and bladders, the squatter is a toilet that has a bowl built into the ground, and requires the user to assume a squatting position. Many westerners avoid these at all costs, and giggle or gasp when anyone brings up the dreaded prospect of having to defecate into this style of toilet.
While many westerners feel that this is a pretty shitty situation, I’ve grown to like it. In my experience, most Korean homes will have a western-style toilet, while public spaces like bus terminals, restaurants, and parks will opt for traditional squat toilets. In these places where visitor traffic is high, I enjoy the peace of mind that my own bottom doesn’t have to share a surface with stranger-butts. Of course, toilet seats are actually quite clean–cleaner than kitchen counters, money, and doorknobs–but its not exactly a place I’m eager to touch with my bare skin. And removing contact with a toilet seat means limiting the opportunity to transfer bacteria.
In addition to cleanliness, its actually a lot healthier to sit in a squat position while dropping a load. This pooping unicorn will show you why using a western style toilet is a crappy situation for your body. This can be a great way to prevent constipation, anal tears (sorry for the visual) and maybe even haemorrhoids! It also means you can spend less time in the loo and more time reading crappy posts like this one!
Of course, despite the benefits of the squatty potty, it’s not exactly the most accessible way to unload for everyone. Folks with physical disabilities, injuries, tight hips, and the elderly may find it difficult or impossible to use this style. In this case, there is usually one western-style toilet in public bathrooms.
If you’re travelling in Korea or are planning to in the near-future, there are a few things you should know in advance when it comes to this unspeakable experience. First, always bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer everywhere you go. Even my school lacks toilet paper half the time, and malls, restaurants, etc., are not better. When using a squatter, face the dome shape, and squat close to it to ensure you hit your target. Its a good idea to flush with your foot. Last, some people find it easier to take one pant leg off and hold it up to allow maximum flexibility and to prevent any embarrasing messes!
If you haven’t tried a squatter yet, good luck to you and enjoy!