Monday, September 26, 2011

Ask MsCaroline: September 2011

As the Summer winds down, giving way to the more temperate days of Autumn, MsCaroline returns, once again, to answer your questions about expat life here in Seoul.  In this edition, we address your questions about subway etiquette, vuvuzelas, public restrooms, and other topics of interest. (Disclaimer:  MsCaroline's answers, although true to the best of her knowledge, are based on her having lived in Seoul for exactly 3.5 months and may, therefore, be wrong only marginally accurate.  Readers who are in search of 100% accurate information should, of course, consult Wikipedia or FaceBook.)


Question:  I am attending my first soccer game in Seoul.  What should I expect?  
Response:   MsCaroline - although not a particularly ardent sports fan unless her own children are playing - believes in full participation in the culture in which you are living, and that includes attendance at sporting events, even those that one would not otherwise attend in one's homeland.  Soccer (football) is popular in Seoul, and for that reason, all expats should attend at least one soccer game during their stay in the country.  The following are points for Westerners to keep in mind when attending:
  • Soccer is huge in Seoul:  This means that everyone in Seoul (and their brothers) will be riding the same public transport at roughly the same time.  Expect to stand (you'll never get a seat) cheek-to-jowl, with at least a bazillion others(some of them stinking drunk  in very high spirits) on a subway train all the way to World Cup Stadium.  When you arrive, expect to be swept up with the crowd, salmon-style, directly to the stadium.  If you have agoraphobia or claustrophobia, it is recommended that you take a taxi instead.  Better yet, stay home and watch the game on TV.
  • Soccer games are family activities in Seoul:  This means that, in addition to the spirited drunks devoted fans, there are numerous families with small children in the stands, participating wholeheartedly in the crowd cheers, looking for themselves on the jumbotron, and blowing their vuvuzelas with every last breath in their bodies.


Question:  What is a 'vuvuzela'?
Response:  A vuvuzela is a plastic instrument that looks like a long, skinny, kazoo with a flared end like a trumpet, sold by sadistic enterprising merchants in and around the stadium on game day.  The vuvuzela makes a deafening loud, monotonous noise that sounds like a cross between an air horn and an angry water buffalo. The vuvuzela can be used during the game in order to:  a) indicate approval of a team's actions on the field; b) deliver support and encouragement to one's team; c) public-mindedly contribute to the general ambiance of the stadium, or; d) bash one's younger sibling across the head.  It is a very flexible instrument.

Question:  How do you say, "vuvuzela' in Korean?
Response:  Not having heard any Koreans actually say the word 'vuvuzela,' MsCaroline can only base her answer on the Hangul (Korean alphabet) spelling.  The fact that Hangul (through no fault of its own) does not include the 'v' or 'z' sounds results in the somewhat inelegant transliteration,  "boo-boo-je-rah.'

Question:  What types of refreshments are on sale at Korean soccer games?
Response:  Soccer fans will be delighted to find all their favorite game day refreshments at World Cup Olympic Stadium in Seoul:  beer, dried fish, and squid jerky.  You can also buy popcorn and hot dogs, but MsCaroline sees no need to get carried away.

Question:  I am in a disturbingly crowded subway car and cannot reach an overhead strap or a support bar of any kind.  Is it likely I will fall over when the car begins to move?
Response:  Have no fear, gentle reader!  There is no need to worry about personal safety in this instance, as it is physically impossible for you to fall over because you are wedged in so tightly.  At most, you may sway a little, but falling is out of the question.  It is, however, important for you to remain vigilant and prepared to alertly spring out of the way when the car finally reaches its stop, or you will be trampled to death by your disembarking fellow passengers.

Question:  On the way home in the subway station, I stopped in the bathroom and discovered this when I opened the door to the stall:



What on earth is this, and how should I use it?
Response:  The object in question is an 'Asian Squat Toilet.'  This type of toilet is used in many parts of the world, and medical research has conclusively proven that the squatting position has many health benefits, which MsCaroline believes may have something to do with the colon, but which she prefers not to think about escape her mind at the moment.  Many Westerner women, when faced with their first squat toilet, are extremely close-minded about attempting to use them, which, of course, robs them of the unmatched opportunity to experience the true inner workings of a foreign culture, and which simply perpetuates the concept of the close-minded Westerner.  MsCaroline urges you to set aside your preconceived notions about toileting and expand your horizons.  However, in the interest of full disclosure, MsCaroline must note that, even if one happens to have spent a great deal of time in Asia as a child and  felt quite confident in one's squat-toilet competencies, this is not a skill that just comes right back after more than 20 years of disuse, especially when one is middle-aged, no longer quite so flexible, and wearing heels.  MsCaroline also suggests that this activity is best attempted when you are not wearing trousers, and, if you must take this course of action, you should proceed with great care.  For reasons involving wet floors of questionable cleanliness, the geometry of the female anatomy, and the relative location of one's trousers during this procedure,  it is imperative that one does not lose one's balance, aim, or the grip on one's trousers,  Do not ask me how I know this.





14 comments:

AAirsick said...

Do you back in to the squatty potty or do you face the wall - this always confused me!

MsCaroline said...

AA: Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and excellent question! I don't know if I'm doing it right, but I face the direction of the hole or (if there is one) the splash guard. I actually found this tutorial on wikihow, which still doesn't tell you which way to face....
http://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Squat-Toilet

Wilma said...

I inquired of my host-family when I was in Japan as that was the type of facility in their home--minus the flush. (It was in a separate building, for those who are saying ICK!! And no, it didn't smell. The honey-dipper came and cleared it out regularly and Obaachan was obsessive about cleaning it. LOL) I was told that you face toward the front of it, i.e. walk in, put one foot on either side, squat down and do your business. At home we also put on toilet shoes when we went in as we had to put on shoes to go from the house to the toilet but we couldn't wear them into the toilet as that would be unsanitary. Incidentally, that is the cleanest public squat toilet I have ever seen. If you're ever in Nara, Japan, avoid the ones in Nara Park like the plague. They are absolutely disgusting. You need a canoe to even get into the toilet building. *shudders*

MsCaroline said...

Wilma, that was a stock photo I found online: it certainly did not represent the one I saw in the subway, which was why I was so traumatized about using it. I kept imagining myself losing my balance and - shudder - having to put my hand down to keep from falling. Or - shudder - somehow tumbling over and soaking my jeans in the god-knows-what was on the floor. As a child in Thailand, I used the squat toilet in our maid's quarters regularly, since she took care of me while my mom was teaching. I never had a problem with using it - it was in her apartments - and it was always very clean. I actually find the low asian squat - sitting on your haunches - very comfortable, I guess from years of early training. ; ) However, I don't remember ever learning to use a squat toilet in blue jeans...guess I'll have to work on that skill...

Wilma said...

I almost always used it in jeans--I was a teenager. I was an expert at squatting and peeing though from using undesignated roadside rest stops all my life. LOL

nappy valley girl said...

Those toilets aren't just in Asia (though I do remember some particularly horrible ones in Hong Kong). They certainly used to be prevalent throughout Europe, in places like Greece, Italy and even France. I hate them with a passion, although some people argue that they are actually more hygienic (the argument being that you don't have to sit on the seat). Ugh.

MsCaroline said...

NVG: You're right, I do remember running across them in France more than once, especially at roadside rest stops during vacations when we lived in Germany. ...I agree that they are more hygienic *in theory*. However, I have never lost my balance, slipped, and/or fallen off a standard Western toilet seat, whereas I am constantly terrified I will do so when squatting. I think we can agree that tumbling over onto the floor in a public restroom would effectively negate any possible hygienic advantages one might gain by avoiding contact with a toilet seat....

Renee said...

When I was in China, I faced the door because there were always crappy locks and I didn't want anyone two walk in on me! Luckily, I went with a group and we would guard the doors for each other.

MsCaroline said...

Renee: I have been alone the times I have run across them, but since the locks were functional, I was able to concentrate on the matter at hand...

Outbound Mom said...

I really liked the squat toilettes in Korea. They are so much nicer than sitting on a dirty public toilette seat. I always faced the door.

Have you come across the etiquette bells in toilette stalls yet? They are buttons that you push that play a recording of a toilette flushing so that any noises you might make in the bathroom are drowned out by the sound. They're pretty pointless since it’s obvious that it’s a recording and not a real flush, so you're really not fooling anyone :)

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

So, shall we talk about the football? ;-)

MsCaroline said...

Outbound: Yes, I've run across them (they're kind of fun!) but what I have found alarming is that some public toilets have etiquette bells, and some of them have emergency buttons (the ones in the subway stalls have emergency buttons) and in pretty much the same spot, with only very minimal markings. I wonder how often it's happened that someone wishing for a bit of background noise has mistakenly pressed the'emergency' button? Have no idea what happens when the button's pressed, but I can imagine it's quite different from a little flushing sound!

MsCaroline said...

Trish - the trajectory of this conversation - while admittedly not quite top drawer - in no way surprises me. I just go with the conversational flow (if you'll excuse the bad pun)...besides, I was so fascinated by all the people eating dried fish and squid jerky around me, I hardly noticed the game, except when Seoul scored a goal.

ukash said...

Do you back in to the squatty potty or do you face the wall - this always confused me!