Thursday, November 1, 2018

Mr. Toilet/ Haewoojae: You’ve Gotta Go!

“But... but... where did they go to the bathroom?”  I was that girl, reading books like Swiss Family Robinson, Little House in the Big Woods, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and so on with this one pressing question.  It was in the dark ages, of course, before internet searches were available, and the couple times I came right out and asked the teacher in front of the class, everyone laughed and I was told not to create such disruption.

So for a long time, I had to sit quietly, lost in my wondering.  I don’t think I was that weird.  I grew up in a country where a very common friendly question translates literally to, “How are your bowels?”  There were also times when I desperately needed a bathroom and couldn’t find a suitable one anywhere.  Moreover, I was well-acquainted with horrific news stories of cholera epidemics that wiped out thousands of lives, with a lack of good toilets largely to blame.  

The bottom line is (yes, potty pun intended), toilets are really very important.  And apparently, someone in Korea agreed with me.  When I was still living in Busan, I heard about the Mr. Toilet museum in Suwon (near Seoul), and thought, Now this is a place I need to see!  After our move this summer, I realized I was only twenty-something miles from it.  I couldn’t wait.  I had to go.

Finally, last week when my parents were visiting, we made the long-anticipated expedition.  Upon our arrival, we saw the giant toilet I’d seen in pictures, surrounded by statues in a park-like setting, but since it was pouring down rain, we first went to the “cultural center” with a children’s poo activity room.

Yes, you read that right.  

Anything and everything you could want to know about fecal matter seemed to be in this room.  The only problem was that while many of the questions were in English, the answers were in Hangul.

Some information was there, including this sign that affirmed my vegetarianism.  

And other information was more pictorial and therefore easy to comprehend.  

There were lots of interactive exhibits and a giant slide that went down a toilet. 
 The kids — okay, fine, and the adults — thought it was pretty funny,
 though after a while my mom and I were feeling a bit queasy.

By then the rain had let up, so we crossed the road to the giant toilet, passing on our way a display of artistically decorated urinals.  I learned that the Hangul name for the museum was Haewoojae, which means “a house to relieve one’s concerns.”  It was built by a former mayor of Suwon, Sim Jaedok, who demolished his house of 30 years to create the giant toilet as a celebration of the World Toilet Association.  I tried to picture myself doing the same thing, and I was fairly certain my family would think I was even crazier than I’ve seemed at times.  So I was impressed that upon his death, Jaedok’s family turned it into a public museum.  

There were all sorts of chamber pots and commodes from different times in history, 

plus informative exhibits detailing everything from what people around the world use to wipe themselves 

to how toilets work and how much water they use when flushing.  There were puzzles the kids could put together depicting scenes of toilets through the ages 

and an interactive screen wall where the kids could hit floating pieces of “poo” and turn them into butterflies, birds, and flowers.

But wait, there was more.  

In the surrounding park outside, there was a large sculpture of the Golden poo (see in the picture at the top of the post), which we had learned was “hashtag poo goals,” or the quintessential healthy number two.  This golden specimen of unicorn excrement could be found in latrines all around the park, of which there were many.  There were also sculptures of people using the bathroom, 

though in all but one statue of a baby, you could only see the bottom (thank goodness!).  I also learned surprising tidbits of Korean history and culture (read the signs).

I wish the museum had more English in the children’s area, and that they provided information about just how important good sanitation services are, possibly citing specific statistics on how many people die each year from diseases caused by a lack therof.  There were a couple exhibits that touched on this, but more information would give the otherwise very interesting but lightweight locale a bit more substance, or raison d’être.  

I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Pyramids at Giza, and now I’ve been to the giant toilet in Suwon.  As I left, I felt like I could write a new Visa advertisement, “Road toll: 2,600 won each way.  Admission to Mr. Toilet/ Haewoojae: free.  The feeling that you’ve seen it all: priceless.”

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