Leave me alone!

I’m not scared of many things.

This used to trouble my mother somewhat, as I had a bit of a daredevil attitude – unlike my more cautious and timid sister, I didn’t have enough sense to be afraid of getting hurt. I would generally be the one doing reckless things like:

  • clambering over dangerously wet rocks in search of limpets as the waves crashed around me
  • falling out of trees into patches of nettles (yep, that happened)
  • hurtling down hills in a cardboard box clumsily attached to a skateboard in an attempt to design my own race car
  • getting yelled at to come back in when I swam much too far out of my depth in the sea
  • flinging myself on a snarling Rottweiler in order to stop it from attacking my cat (and that one was just last summer)
  • having to be rescued from a swimming pool by my father after my latest cool stunt involving the slide went disastrously wrong

You get the picture. A great sense of adventure, and none of the necessary accompanying common sense. I’m not scared of heights, the ocean, bad people, or animals. I have been held firmly back by cable car companions who insisted I was leaning too far out, and once remarked to a surprised friend that I don’t know if I’d be able to control my urge to cuddle a polar bear if I ever met one.

But alas! there are  chinks in my armor. Two, in fact. The first is cotton wool, but I really don’t think we need to get into that one again. And the other?

Insects. I try to claim that I simply hate them, and that that’s very different from being scared of them, but it’s a lie. I’m terrified of them. And not just the ones that can hurt me, like mosquitoes and wasps. I mean all insects. The winged ones are the worst, because they can suddenly fly at you from nowhere and take you by surprise, but all of them are hateful. Most people are more scared of mice and rats, but although I don’t exactly love those, to me they’re nowhere near as bad as crawly things. You can see a single rat and deal with it. But insects? They swarm. I mean, you could get into a situation where hundreds of them could be swarming all over you, and what can you do then other than shriek and scream and leap around hitting yourself pointlessly?  :::pause to shudder::: I remember an episode of The X Files where all these tiny green bugs were killing people by swarming over them and wrapping them in cocoons, and it scared me more than all the alien/monster/serial killer/scary mutant psychopath episodes combined.

Anyway, an unfortunate side effect of the heat and humidity in Korea is the presence of more insects than I’ve ever encountered before. You hear them constantly, and if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time leaping out of your seat and squealing, or stopping mid-sentence to shriek and flap around. Irish Friend One has just finished (he hopes) fighting a war against ants that recently took over his home. And the other morning I got out of bed, walked sleepily towards the kitchenette to get some coffee, and yelled the place down when I found this creature staring at me:

If I hadn’t been so utterly terrified I would have held something up beside it for scale, because you can’t tell how enormous it was from this. I have seen smaller mice. Seriously. And it was wearing its shiny armor and it had horrible big horns and it was just sitting there on the (life-saving) screen of my open window, staring in at me. I hopped around desperately in my nightie for a while, just whimpering in fear, and I believe I did actually say out loud the words “What do you want from me?!” .

Anyway, then tonight I discovered why it is a bad idea to leave a piece of rotting fruit at the top of a full rubbish bin and go away for a couple of days. My apartment is fruit fly city. I’ve heard it said that if you see one, then you can count on there being a hundred. Well, I’ve seen dozens of them, and as a result of doing that nice little calculation in my head I will never be able to sleep again for the rest of my life.

Although it was late and I’d just gotten home from a weekend of teacher training seminars and workshops, and was tired and in need of a shower and a glass of wine and bed with a good book, I spent the next few hours cleaning my apartment from top to bottom. I didn’t realise how late it was until I ran down to the shop in a frenzy to buy rubbish bags (I even threw out the bin because I couldn’t cope with cleaning it with all the things crawling and hatching in it), which I couldn’t remember the word for and could only manage the Korean for “trash”, and the guy who works there looked at me with the sort of look that very clearly says “Why on earth is this flustered and panicked-looking red and sweaty woman bursting in here at 1am in filthy clothes and chanting ‘trash’ at me?”.

Everything is sparkling clean but they’re still cruising around my room like they own it. I cannot cope with this. I may have to leave and go sleep in a jimjilbang. After cleaning and throwing away pretty much everything they were crawling on, I then did some online research and learned how to construct a fruit fly trap using some soy sauce and a paper cone. I disturbed a fruit fly when I lifted the soy sauce bottle off the shelf for this purpose, and in my involuntary leap backwards banged my head on the corner of a stupidly positioned cupboard, and now I have blood in my hair and a hole in my head for the flies to crawl into and lay eggs in my brain.

I have just inspected my trap. They are supposed to be crawling into the bottle through the paper funnel in order to get to the soy sauce, and then be unable to find the exit because it’s too small. However, instead they appear to be congregating around the outside of the paper cone and looking dopily at the soy sauce, unaware that they can easily just crawl in.

It is just my luck that the fruit flies that choose to invade my apartment are brain dead.

Love Motels

The Love Motel is one of those things about Korean culture that is so common and everyday, it now seems perfectly normal and unremarkable to me, but I do remember how surprised I was by the concept when I first heard of it.

First, you need to be aware that couples in Korea don’t move in together until they’re married. That’s just the way it is. Sex before marriage, however, is pretty standard – they just tend not to discuss these things, so they remain a bit taboo. However, if you’re sleeping with your boyfriend/girlfriend, but pretending you’re not, and still living with your parents in a tiny apartment, then the question arises… where are you doing it?!

Enter the Love Motel. These motels are everywhere in Korea, often several on just one short street. At first, you might wonder how they differ from any other motel – and then you see a price list. With hourly rates. Yep. Let’s face it, young people can’t afford to rent a room for the night every time they want to have sex. So instead, they nip out to a Love Motel and pay for an hour or two, have their quality alone time, and go home to their individual homes as innocently as if they’ve just been to the movies.

Although it sounds really seedy, I was surprised to discover that Love Motels are generally pretty nice places. Not that I’ve been to one for a quickie, I hasten to add – no, it’s also possible to stay for the whole night just as you would in any hotel. Because of their reasonable prices, they’re popular with travellers on a budget, and as I fit nicely into that category, I’ve used them several times since I’ve been here. Actually, I’m in one right now (I’m in Seoul (ish) for a training weekend), and since it’s the first time I’ve been alone in one, I thought I might as well use the opportunity to blog about the experience. Usually, I’m squashed into the bed with two friends, perhaps with a couple more curled up on the couch or floor!

The most amusing part of Love Motels, to me, is the attempt to protect bashful, loved-up customers from embarrassment. That’s why the receptionist sits behind a big screen, so they don’t see your face. You arrange your stay without seeing who you’re talking to, and then give your money to an anonymous and polite pair of hands via the gap under the screen. Your key is given to you in the same discreet manner, and off you go up to your room!

Apparently Love Motel rooms come in all kinds of wild and wacky themes, but so far I’ve only encountered rooms that look no different from my apartment. No, wait. That’s inaccurate. They’re better than my apartment. The one I’m currently sitting in has far more space, a more comfortable bed, more storage space, and a far nicer bathroom, which actually has a bathtub (an unusual thing in city apartments here)! I mean, I even have a sofa and a coffee table – I’d kill for the space for that at home! Plus I have a huge flatscreen TV, a computer with internet access, a DVD player (you can borrow DVDs and CDs from the selection in the lobby), a stereo system, and all the usual hotel freebies like a fridge, towels, kettle, hairdryer, tea and coffee, and a wide range of toiletries with everything down to hair gel, skin toner, cotton buds, nail files…

I long ago revised my opinion of Love Motels as seedy, dodgy, possibly dangerous places. I think they’re great places to stay, for the price. I know that I, for one, would be very happy living in a room like this, and would even view it as a considerable upgrade from my actual home. ;)

A little sofa of my own! I want one!!

Luxury - at least compared to my cupboard-sized apartment!

Sun rise, sun set.

I think I’ve accidentally turned into a middle-aged Korean man.

Lately it’s been all work, work, work, work, sleep, sleep, work, work, think about work, talk about work, sleep, sleep, work, work, work. Then last night I sat with some friends in a dak galbi restaurant (surrounded, obviously, by middle-aged Korean men on one of their usual post-work sessions), yawning and fanning myself and talking about… well, work. Eventually the only thing I could do was reach for the soju bottle.

I developed quite a pleasing system. Every time I (or someone else) said something work-related that made me grimace, sigh, or put my head in my hands, I took another shot of soju. This is clearly what happens to those overworked business men when their jobs start killing them. And I must confess, after weeks of feeling too tired to go out, being unable to muster up the energy or enthusiasm to join in conversations, and leaving early from any events I do force myself to go to, I felt like a whole new person once I was suitably revived by the Korean wonder drink.

It was probably this feeling that led me to march cheerfully into our usual Friday night bar and order a tequila sunrise. Which would have been fine, had it actually been Friday, or had I sipped it like a lady and not polished it off in ten minutes and chased it down with, erm, four more. The fact that it was Wednesday night somehow faded into the happy, fuzzy haze around me as I demanded that the bar staff play Take That songs and then danced merrily until 2am. I loved my lovely, lovely local bar and the lovely, lovely bar staff, and I adored my lovely, lovely friends, and the lovely, lovely tequila sunrises.

This morning, when my alarm pierced my brain like fifty large needles, I woke up (shivering due to apparently having slept with the air conditioning on its coldest setting all night), had a brief moment of embarrassment as I recalled singing my heart out with South African Friend Two at a hot dog stand (to a round of applause from the vendors), and contemplated teaching the lovely, lovely children all morning. It was not a happy thought, to be perfectly honest with you. The song lies : tequila does not make you happy. What it actually does is give you a brief taste of pure, undiluted joy only to cruelly snatch it away from you like a mugger and then push you headfirst into a dark pit of despair, going “HA-ha!” like Nelson out of The Simpsons. I only managed to crawl out of said pit thanks to a constant intake of iced coffee and Hot Six.

Hot Six is the Korean version of Red Bull, and tastes almost exactly the same. It’s an excellent mid-afternoon energy boost for tired teachers, and a good kick-start after a late night. Although it’s now part of our daily vocabulary, it caused me some confusion at first, when I frequently heard friends with a variety of accents apparently announcing their need for some hot sex in the way that you’d remark on the weather, and no one batted an eyelid. Mind you, the ads wouldn’t do much to clear up the confusion for anyone who didn’t know:

Disclaimer: most people who drink Hot Six do not look anything like this.

Belated Japan trip post #1

I think I’d gotten as far as Kyoto in my tales of Japan, but I need to backtrack just a little to tell you about Hiroshima.

This is one of those places I’d always wanted to visit. You know, one of the places you list when someone says “If you could go anywhere in the world, what would you go to see?”.

Of course, these days my list is almost impossible to write down because I have been well and truly infected with the travel bug, and just about anywhere in the world seems exciting and appealing to me. I read numerous travel blogs and articles, and more often than not they make me determined to visit the particular country or attraction they describe. But once upon a time, there would have been only a few places on my Must See Before I Die list. It would probably have looked something like this:

I have now been to the first 5 of those. As I said, the list is now hopelessly, hopelessly long, but it was founded on that Top Ten!

Anyway, number 5 was checked off the list a few weeks ago, when Irish Friend Two and I decided to put our money problems on hold for a few hours and go see more than the banks and ATMs of Hiroshima. It’s one of those odd travel experiences that you can’t describe as ‘fantastic’ or say that you ‘enjoyed’ it, much like Auschwitz. However, Auschwitz is possibly my very best travel experience to date. I did enjoy it, albeit in a very different way to how I enjoy most  places I visit. It left me feeling sad and angry rather than excited and delighted, but it made a bigger impression on my mind, my heart, and my memory than dozens of other travel destinations combined. I’d go back – and probably will, one day.

Hiroshima didn’t affect me quite as deeply (possibly because I was so distracted by the money worry), but it, too, was certainly an experience I’d describe as important. The city itself is a very ordinary Japanese city – modern, clean, and visually attractive. I think that’s why the sight of the A-bomb dome is so breathtaking.

When the atomic bomb detonated right above this building, it flattened everything around and instantly reduced the interior to ash – but the building shell remained standing, and has been preserved to look exactly as it did after the bomb. Against its backdrop of modern skyscrapers and its setting in a beautifully landscaped park by the river, it’s a silently chilling reminder of what mankind can do to each other. It’s surrounded by various memorials, statues, and gardens in a park known as “Peace Park”.

You go into the museum and walk around following a timeline of the Hiroshima story. It starts with a history of nuclear weapons, the background of the war, and how Hiroshima was chosen as a target for the atomic bomb. I was expecting this to be very selective, but I ended up being very impressed with the presentation of information. Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to how the Koreans do things, because I was expecting it to come across as Japan being a poor, innocent, helpless victim. (I have yet to read anything negative about Korea in Korean museums!) Instead, everything was very unbiased, critical of Japan as much as any other country, and packing a much heftier punch as a result (for me, at least). The aim of the museum was not to evoke pity for the Japanese, but to educate about the dangers of nuclear weapons – an issue I can’t say I’d ever considered in much depth.

Obviously, that’s changed for me now. Reading all the background was disturbing, and seeing the aftermath was horrifying. The displays take you right up to the moment of the bombing, and there’s a sudden break in the exhibits. A large portion of the wall shows a massive, floor-to-ceiling picture of a watch showing the time of the bombing, and a quotation reading:  A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly, when…

Right next to it is a glass case containing an old, battered watch that is stopped at the exact moment the bomb detonated.

You then get to see all sorts of horrific and heartbreaking images of devastation, suffering, death, destruction, and other things that make you wonder how on earth human beings can do these terrible, terrible things to each other, but for me, the quotation and the watch were the most powerful. Ordinary people, doing ordinary, everyday things, when…

Despite my hippy-dippy, “let’s not fight”, “peace on earth” attitude, I do know that war is a grim necessity in our world. I know that if it weren’t for war, the Nazis could have gone on “purifying” the earth by killing anyone they didn’t like the look of, and free nations across the world could be living in fear under brutal dictators. I’m fairly certain that there must be an alternative to war just waiting to be discovered, but know that we’re stuck with soldiers and armies and tanks until that day comes, if it ever does. Nuclear war, on the other hand… that’s completely unnecessary, and the more I now read about nuclear weapons, the more alarmed I become. I’m not one for getting involved in causes, usually, but in this case? I can see it happening.

Watch this space.

Speed blogging

I don’t have time for this. Blogging, I mean.

I have a job that demands I only stop to shower and change clothes occasionally, several million (approx.) emails to reply to, a few worries, and a strong desire to sleep for days on end. And so, because I have had no time for blogging, I will make the most of a rare and unexpected 30 minute break in which I have no tasks whatsoever (that I know of) to perform, and give you speed dating in blogging form.

  • I have finished writing my school reports. Hurrahs! I played with fire by being completely honest this time, but apparently the Korean teachers are just going to change any grades that don’t look high enough anyway, and I can’t say any more about that without screaming bad words into a pillow.
  • I went to my first baseball game on Saturday, and am thoroughly unimpressed. Baseball is a snooze fest! Of course it didn’t help that it was faintingly hot out there, and that I wasn’t feeling well, and really just wanted to sleep due to afore-mentioned tiredness, stress, and worries. But I was expecting something like the atmosphere of the World Cup games, where the stadium was filled to overflowing with cheering, dancing, singing people all having a good time… instead, I got a half-empty stadium, a lot of sweat, and a bit bored. I left about a third of the way through and returned to the icy-cold paradise that is my apartment.
  • I have bribed my two main kindergarten classes to behave better by pitting them against each other in an ongoing, unofficial competition. They listened with great excitement when I showed them the points chart and explained that good behaviour would earn them points as a class, and bad behaviour, even by an individual, would lose them points. All members of the class that has earned the most points at the end of each week will get a sticker. Now, I had my doubts about how effective this would be – it’s just a little sticker with a smiley face on it, after all. Which is why I was so amazed today at how good and hardworking and enthusiastic they were. They have stickers in their sights, and each class is determined to beat its rival. It’s like nothing else matters any more. They even kept the rowdy, hooliganish children under control so that they wouldn’t spoil the team’s chances of winning. I was almost gleeful when I realised that all I had to do was look mildly at Jamie with an eyebrow raised, and he was promptly told to shut up and listen to Hayley Teacher and behave himself, in Korean,  by all his friends. Mwahahaha. (I don’t care if he’s only 5, he’s my Nemesis.) Class was fun, interesting, successful, and effortless: I am a frickin’ genius. Or rather, Terri is, since she came up with the system – but I did have the idea to steal her idea.
  • There are some really noisy insects in this part of the world. I first noticed them in Japan, and now I hear them all the time in the trees around my apartment. They don’t chirp, they scream and shriek. And they do so in the voices of robots. Killer robots. With megaphones. They sound like some scary alien invasion (or severe electrical problems) when they get going, and they can easily drown out a conversation. As can my own, less robotic shrieks when they become entangled in my hair.
  • I am trying to plan another trip abroad for my next holiday at the end of September.  Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia are all being considered, but I only have about 5 days this time, so I need to take that into account. Decisions, decisions…
  • I haven’t cleaned my apartment since I left for Japan. There is, in fact, still a suitcase sitting in the middle of the floor, and I fall over it or stub my toe on it on average 3 times a day. It is a disgrace, and yet all I have the energy to do by the end of the day is collapse on my unmade bed, under the aircon. And the place doesn’t have to be tidy for that, when you think about it.
  • Things I currently love: my new Macbook, Korean blue grapes, the way the temperature suddenly drops 10 degrees when there’s a storm, Desperate Housewives, sticker/reward charts, tequila sunrises, the soldier who lives in the apartment across from mine, apple flavoured shisha, Stumbleupon, teaching Heungbu and Nolbu in my Musical English classes every Tuesday, mosquito repellent, sleep, the sound of crickets outside my window, Korean class… oh, and aircon. Yes, still love the aircon…

Tired.

South Korea has the highest* and fastest growing suicide rate in the developed world.

Not the most lighthearted start I’ve ever made to a blog post, but this issue has been on my mind for some time as I observe the people around me and live in this all-work-and-no-play culture, so I thought it was time to write about it.

The suicide thing might come as a surprise to anyone who’d been reading random posts of mine about life in the ROK. A modern, bustling, tech-savvy, successful, exciting, vibrant country with a strong sense of national identity, pride, and history, and a low cost of living… surely it’s perfect? No. It’s not perfect. The determination of the South Koreans to push forward and prove themselves to the rest of the world after their country’s sad and troubled history has brought them success… and stress.

I have never in my life worked as hard as I have since I moved here. I keep doing it because I see value and meaning in what I do, and because I feel happy and fulfilled more often than I feel drained and miserable. But if this were another menial office job? I would’ve quit months ago. There are three foreigners working at my school, and all of us are exhausted. We teach back-to-back classes with no breaks, no time to prepare, and no help. On top of that, we’re constantly given more and more extra tasks to do. Clean your classroom, take out the trash, sweep the floors, write weekly plans, provide detailed monthly plans, make worksheets, set test papers, write progress reports. Last week, they sprung a new “rules booklet” on us, including such gems as “Please do not sit down when you are teaching, but remain standing as much as possible” (Loosely translated “until you actually pass out from exhaustion”).

And yet I’m very aware that, as foreigners, we have it easy. We work from 9 till 5, Monday to Friday, and we get paid decent money for it. We get to refuse some things flat out, on the grounds that “it’s not in my contract and I’m on the verge of walking out and leaving you to deal with finding another teacher”. We’re essential to an English hagwon, and not easily disposable.

Korean staff, on the other hand? It seems as if, in this over-populated country, they’re not all that valuable at all to their employers. They are overworked, underpaid, and pretty much without rights. The teachers at my school are there when I arrive in the morning and there when I leave in the evening – even if I’ve stayed behind to catch up on paperwork, they’re still there at 6, or 7. I don’t know when they actually go home to their families. And that’s just the women: men work even later, often into the wee small hours.

So where are the kids while all this work is going on? Oh, they’re working too. Kids go to school 6 days of the week, with minimal holidays and ridiculously long hours. It’s not uncommon to see groups of  children in school uniform walking home from their last class of the day at 10 or even 11pm. There’s very little evidence of childhood as we know it – childhood is instead a time of hard work to ensure that the child is well enough qualified to secure a decent job in later years. The competition for places in universities is fierce, so devoted and anxious parents make sure that their kids are competing right from the moment they can talk. My little ones are only 4 years old in Western age when they start with us, and already they can read and write in their native language. Many of them can also manage basic conversations in English. Some, also Chinese. They are FOUR YEARS OLD, they can’t blow their own noses, and they are already educated beyond the level of some 10 year olds in the West.

There’s no doubt that Korean parents love their children very much. But where Western parents tend to show their love by providing treats and excursions and games and fun things, Korean parents show their love by pushing their children as hard as they can in order to secure a successful future for them. For most Korean children, school is only the beginning of the day’s work. My Korean “little brother” once confided in me that while he loves his country dearly, he also knows that it’s “very crazy”. I was trying to ask him what he and his friends did together for fun, and after some confusion it became clear that he didn’t have any such concept. Sometimes we kick a ball in the parking lot before we  go to school, he offered with a shrug.

Some time later, I sat trying to hide my shock at the life he described. There was no doubt whatsoever that his parents loved him deeply, and that he was their pride and joy. But his life was nothing but work. He went to bed as late as 2am and got up at 6am to go to classes before school. Then school, then home (“I try to sleep for an hour before dinner –  if I don’t have too much homework”), followed by up to three or four private academies (hagwons) for subjects like English, science, Korean, math, and music, or sometimes private tuition at home. He just slept where and when he could.  Seeing my horror, he went to the study and brought me a huge stack of papers to examine. They were progress reports, dating from when he first entered kindergarten, aged 4. Every single one has to be kept to build a portfolio to be presented when the child is applying for a university place. It was then that I started to realise why the parents give us such a hard time when their children don’t receive “excellent” for every aspect of their work.

Now, there’s little doubt that the education system and the fierce competition make for a strong work ethic and a country full of successful, well-educated, hard-working and determined people. But – to return to my opening remark about suicide – at what cost? Children are killing themselves because they’re exhausted and overworked and driven to despair by the need to be constantly at the top of the class. Adults are killing themselves because they’re exhausted and overworked and driven to despair by the need to appear successful. Appearance is everything, and the nature of the ‘shame society’ that rules in Korea means that the suicide of someone who’s somehow ‘failed’ in life (whether through shady dealings, a turbulent marriage, an unsuccessful business venture) is not only common, but almost expected. It’s the right thing to do, rather than live on and bring shame on yourself and those around you by admitting your failure.

It’s making me stop and think before moaning and complaining about my tiredness, when I’m lazing away the evening in a restaurant with friends while all around me the Korean population apparently works itself into the ground.

If I’m tired, how do they feel?

*[According to some sources. I’m seeing a lot of contradictory statistics, but as far as I can see the big concern at the moment is that Korea’s suicide rate has now soared so high that it has overtaken Japan.]

Toilet roll: where do you keep yours?

Toilet paper, or toilet roll as we call it in NI, is everywhere you look in Korea. Everywhere, that is, except the toilets.

I was really quite bemused by the seemingly bizarre toilet roll sightings I made during my first few months here. There was a toilet roll in every classroom in the school, just sitting there on the desk or casually hanging out on a bookshelf. There was a toilet roll on the main desk at reception in the entrance hall. There were toilet rolls in the local restaurants, and toilet rolls on the bars in the pubs. My most disbelieving reaction to a toilet roll sighting was when I was on a bus and saw one hanging from the ceiling, on a proper toilet roll holder and everything!

Then I was at a friend’s place one night, eating a very spicy meal that she’d prepared, and I got up to go and blow my nose (it’s extremely rude to do this at the table ). “Do you have a tissue?” I asked. She nodded, and pointed to the fridge – on the side of which was, you’ve guessed it, a toilet roll, neatly displayed on its holder. The time had come.

Soo kyung, why is there toilet roll in kitchens… and on buses… and, well, everywhere?” I asked, trying not to sound impertinent. She looked blankly at me, until I indicated her kitchen toilet roll with a confused look on my face. Then realisation dawned on her. “Oh, of course!” she said, “In English you call it TOILET roll. I didn’t realise that that meant you only use it for… toilet. In Korean, its name has nothing to do with toilets. It’s just tissue on a roll. We use it for everything.”

Funny how a name can change how you view something. It’s called toilet roll, so I only expected to see it by the toilet, and thought it was odd and out of place if I saw it somewhere else. But now, I’ve accepted that it’s basically just tissue on a handy roll, and no longer even notice it hanging in the bus, or in a fancy reception area, or in the kitchen. Or anywhere but the toilets, really, as there is never any toilet roll in the toilets. You learn to carry a wad of it in your bag or your pocket when you’re out and about, in case of an emergency. One great toilet-related thing about Korea is that there are public toilets just about everywhere – you just nip into the nearest building and have a look around the elevator/staircase area, and you’ll find toilets of some description. Mind you, it can be a somewhat unpleasant experience, but needs must.

Oh, and when I say that there’s no toilet roll in the toilets, I also mean that there’s no toilet roll in the toilets. Yes, in Korea you are not allowed to flush toilet roll down the loo. And yes, I realised with a sinking heart after a few days here that that was indeed what that big open bucket by the toilet was for. You go, you wipe, you throw. This is particularly nasty when you’re in a busy bar at about 3am, when the (two) toilet cubicles have been in constant use all night long. The bucket is not only full of used toilet roll, it is overflowing. There are crumpled and scrunched bits of soggy toilet roll scattered all around the bucket, all around the toilet, and indeed, all along the corridor back to the bar after everyone’s started getting the stuff spiked on their kitten heels.

I can understand the No Flushing Toilet Paper rule in developing countries where the toilets simply can’t handle it, but in Korea? One of the most technologically advanced nations in the world? Where the toilets often have control panels and heated seats and wash ‘n’ spray options? Seriously, look at korean toilet reviews, they might surprise you. Please. Just let us flush our toilet roll, for crying out loud…