Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Suwon, a major city with a population of 1 million that is the capital of the Gyeonggi province, about 40 minutes from my city, Yeoju and about an hour from Seoul. There are dozens of cities surrounding the uber-metropolis of Seoul, which has a population of 10 million, and are integrated into Seoul’s subway system. One might call them “suburbs” of Seoul, but physically and visually they are quite different than American suburbs, furnished with tree-lined streets, grassy front lawns, and single-family homes. In stark contrast, sky-scraping apartment complexes abound, and these outlying “suburbs” are hustlin’ and bustlin’, densey populated, and traffic-congested. You may not be strutting down the streets of trendy Gangnam or Apgujeong in Seoul, but you certainly get the big city feel walking down Suwon’s wide, 6-car-laned boulevards. My friend Moon lives in Suwon, so I’ve visited a few times, but this time I finally took some good pictures.
There’s a long pedestrian-only walking street in Suwon, with tons of restaurants, bars, shops, and things to look at. (Most Korean cities I’ve visited have one of these.) There are lots of smells, from the yummy beef permeating from the many galbi restaurants, to the nasty sewage system that always seems to linger no matter where you are in Korea. We stumbled upon a contact lens store, which exist in America but are super popular in Korea. But I had yet to see where people actually acquire this face-changing commodity. Girls and young women wear contact lenses to achieve a “big eye” look or to color their irises, and prices range from as low as 5,000 won (a little under $5) to 70,000 won. We both considered making a purchase for a minute.
Passion for poop. A shitty situation. Doody with duties. Fecal fascination. In Korea, there is a unique cultural interest (is that even the right word?) in our most privatized bodily function. From calling the messy-bun hairstyle “dong” (Korean word for poop, since it looks like there’s a piece of poop on your head!), to graphic t-shirts celebrating the good brown stuff, people have accepted that awesome childhood mantra: “Everyone Poops!” We even spotted a street food stand selling Dong Bang – literally “Shit Bread” – pastries shaped like shit. I’m fully embracing this obsession and will be on the lookout for more signs of the shit Koreans love.
On that note, Moon and I also visited Mr. Toilet House, a museum celebrating clean public restrooms in Korea! The building is shaped like a toilet, and inside the bowl we learned about the history of Korea’s public toilets, the World Toilet Organization, and the Toilet Culture Movement (ha!). The whole institution also serves as a memorial for a former mayor of Suwon, Sim Jae-Duck, who was a leader in promoting clean public facilities in Suwon and greater Korea. A strange little place indeed, but this museum is actually the perfect example of Korea’s quirkiness and tucked-away oddities.