Ah, the small wonders of Korea. There are many, but for this moment I want to share with you the unique characteristics of the Korean public washrooms. Depending on where you’re commuting to on the Seoul metro subway line, you could end up in a swanky, pristine washroom like the ones in Noksapyeong station in the heart of Seoul, or you could end up at one of the more rural stations in Gyeonggi province like the one in Yangsu station.
The difference is you may or may not have to bring your own toilet paper, or grab what you need of the master roll on the wall before you enter your stall. The nicer washrooms have toilet paper in place inside each stall-that is the mark of class in Korean public washrooms. Most women here have gotten used to carrying a package of tissues in their purse and most stores sell them for about fifty cents a package.
Then there is the issue of soap. This wonderful invention is a Korean specialty (I think) and it consists of a steel rod sticking out of the wall with a large bar of soap impailed upon it for all to use. In a way, it’s kinda great. It’s technically hands free and unable to be stolen. You just rub that soap like a geenie in a lamp and get your suds with minimal stress. On the other hand, it’s creepy, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just a mental issue, with the soap on a stick like a sacrificial head on a post ala Apocolypse Now.
Either way, soap too, has become a mark of satus in Korean public washrooms. Liquid soap in a pump is considered a step up and if there are hand-dryers or paper towels – happy day!!! You picked a good spot to relieve yourself.
As for the toilets themselves, let me ease your worry. A lot of people who’ve never been to Korea are concerned that all washroom stalls consist of porcelin urinals laid into the ground that you have to squat over, but this is not the case. Almost every washroom I’ve been in (in a subway station/shopping mall/department store) has had all modern toilets that are made to be sat on, while some facilities also provide the traditional “squatters” for the old-school folk who would rather do it camping style. In almost two years here, I’ve had to use a squatter due to no other option only twice, so it doesn’t happen often.
You never know what you’re going to get in Korean public washrooms but I see it as part of the adventure. If you’re heading over soon, I’d suggest getting used to carrying tissues on you and stock up on hand sanitizer, just in case there is no soap at all. Happy travels!