|POOP LIKE A LOCAL
by Adam James Wagner
I’m in Pyeongchang the first time I have to poop in a squat toilet. I am meeting a friend from university where we think the 2018 Olympics are to be held. They will actually be held miles away at the other end of Pyeongchang County – Pyeongchang Village is about eight city blocks with a tiny bus station that runs intercity transport once every two hours. I am at that station when the sins of the night before place vengeful pressure on my lower abdomen.
It was some sort of pork still stuck to the bone. When the waiter took my order he waved at his face and said: hot, hot. I said spicy is good at first in German, then in English, and then maybe in Korean. I had to shower after dinner to get all the sweat off my body, but I finished the meal and I was proud.
I do not feel proud at the Pyeongchang bus station. I waddle through a small convenience store looking for tissue paper. There is always the looming threat of toilet paper absenteeism in Korean public restrooms. I’ve heard horror stories from other waygooks about having to use a sock, a business card, or, God forbid, money. I bring what I think are pocket tissues to the gray-haired man working the register.
“Mull-tiss-yu,” he says. They are wet naps.
He points to the pack of regular toilet paper on the counter next to the Mentos and gum. I buy a pack of both, just in case things get wild.
“Hwajangsil?” I ask. He walks me out front and points to a door at the other end of the bus station.
“Kamsamnida,” I say. I do not bow. I walk to the bathroom on my toes, heels in, butt-cheeks clenched like castle gates against a spicy pork battering ram.
There are three stalls in the bathroom and each door opens to a ceramic oval in the ground – the pusaesig byeongi. White tile stained yellow by treading feet surrounds the squat toilet. It is flat on the sides and round on each end like a miniature NASCAR track. On one cusp the ceramic curls up in a riptide shape. This is where the flush pours into the trough. There is a small garbage can in the corner half-full of used toilet paper.
I once asked a Korean friend how to squat-poop. He said I had to do the hunter’s squat but keep my heels on the ground. He said if I balanced on the balls of my feet my muscles would stay tense making it difficult to relax my sphincter. We practiced squatting in the smoking area outside of our dorm in Jochiwon.
Now I stand over the trough, one leg on either side, wondering why I never asked what to do with my pants and underwear. Surely they can’t just sit around my ankles. It’s too risky, they are right in the danger-zone, so I take them completely off one leg at a time, careful to step back into my shoe and not on the yellow tile. With pants and underwear rolled up and tucked under one arm, I lower myself closer to the hole in the ground. The other arm stays clenched at a ninety-degree angle like a downhill skier tucking for speed. There are no handles, nothing to grip. I teeter back and forth, shifting weight between toes and heels before finding that magic middle ground. Once I’m as comfortable as could be, I let it all out. The food is almost as fiery coming out as it was going in.
I lived in Germany before Korea. I loved every minute of it, but it was too easy to fit in. I wanted to meet exotic people with a completely different culture. I wanted to be uncomfortable.
After forty-five seconds of squatting my legs start to burn and I’m finding it more difficult to stay balanced. I stand, pressing my free hand against the wall, and let the feeling drift slowly back into my feet. I tear open the new pack of tissues and wipe twice. Then I hit it with one of the wet naps, and finish by buffering with another dry tissue. I check it for poop before tossing at the bucket in the corner and completely missing. The flush rushes from under the ceramic riptide and pushes everything down a hole in the back of the trough. Then I do the one legged pogo-dance back into my clothes.
People stare when I re-enter the bus station. They are mostly retirees who moved out of the cities and became part-time hair dressers or convenience store owners. Until my acquaintance arrives, I am the only waygook in town. I smile and bow, they return the gesture and I join them on the bus station bench. I am not without wet naps for the rest of my time in Korea. There are few things finer in life than the confidence that accompanies being in public with a pristine asshole. About the Author:Adam James Wagner was born and raised in Marquette, Michigan, USA. He uses his middle name so that he’s not confused with that actor from Teeth. He has spent the last half-decade traveling, and currently works as an English professor in Daegu, South Korea.