The Squat Toilet

  • This post is a little TMI, so if you prefer not to read about my bathroom misadventures abroad, stop reading now.

Call me spoiled, but I have never been particularly fond of bathrooms without “real” toilets. In fact, they strike fear and anxiety in me that will probably (unfortunately) lead to a bladder infection one day.

It all started in elementary school. My mother and I were at the family friend’s party in upstate New York when the septic tank crapped out (pun absolutely intended). They told me I had to pee in the woods, and I simply couldn’t do it. Instead, I cried and had my mom drive me into town so I could use the restroom at the local toothless bar. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than the woods.

A few years later, on a trip to Greece with my mom, her friend, and her friend’s son, we had decided to take a road trip from Athens to Halkidiki (about six hours). I was completely unaware of the concept of “Turkish toilets” and naively downed a bottle of Fanta before our departure. Not too long into our journey, I had to use the bathroom. We pulled over and, to my horror, the bathroom was nothing but a hole in the ground with a footprint on either side of it. I ended up taking a nap in the car to keep my mind off the fact that my bladder was going to explode.

Let’s fast forward to Korea. 2015.

I was meeting my friend Hannah in Daegu. After a long bus ride, I finally arrived at the terminal and figured I’d use the restroom. The line was long, but I waited. Finally, a woman exited the stall and it was my turn. I pushed the door open and there was nothing but a squat toilet. Panic. I paused for a moment before turning around and walking away very quickly. I had to pee pretty bad at this point. And, it turned out, that Hannah was across the city at another terminal. So, I took a taxi to find her and we wandered around until we came across a Mom’s Touch (a popular fast food restaurant) where I could use the bathroom.

And we’re going to fast forward again. Korea. 2018.

Krysta and I were in Busan. She was getting her hair dyed, which was a long process (more than 6 hours). I sat with her, watching TV and drinking cold water because it was so brutally hot outside. Finally, it hit me. I had to pee. So, I asked the manager where the bathroom was. She grabbed a key and led me to a door outside. She unlocked it. I froze. It was a squat toilet.

I awkwardly walked inside and closed the door behind me. It was oppressively hot. Terrified I was going to pee on myself, I removed my pants and underwear and hung them on the doorknob. Looking back, it was probably pretty stupid, but I didn’t want to take any chances. As I placed one foot on either side of the “toilet” and proceeded to squat down, I had an overwhelming fear of falling over and reached out to grab the wall on either side of me. What a position I was in. I finished up and went back inside the salon. There wasn’t even a sink, so I slathered my hands in hand sanitizer and waited for Krysta.

I have never felt so embarrassed in private before. As well as mildly traumatized. The entire experience was as bad as I always imagined it to be, and I hope I never have to do that again.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Do you have a bathroom horror story from abroad? Feel free to share in the comments!

A Sunny Sunday

Yesterday, the weather was better than it had been in a long time: sunny and about 53 degrees. So, Steve and I decided we would have an adventure day!

In the morning, we woke up early and made our way to Dong Gu (another area of Ulsan) to find Saint Dionysus Greek Orthodox Church. My mom had told me it existed a few months ago and I had been meaning to go. After taking the bus to the wrong stop, we got in a taxi and the driver took us right to the front steps. It was beautiful! I took a few pictures before heading inside.

We had arrived just before Holy Communion. It has been a very long time since I’ve attended service on a Sunday. While I don’t consider myself a practitioner, I do feel that it’s still part of my heritage. Steve and I stood in the back. The priest spoke in a combination of Korean and Greek, and I was surprised to see quite a number of Greek people in attendance.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the interior of the church, but it was incredible. You would have never known you were in Korea,  except for the fact that all the lettering that should have been in Greek, was painted in hangeul.

After church, Steve and I instinctively headed toward the water (we’re a Scorpio and a Cancer) and took a nice long walk to Ilsan Beach. We were starving by the time we got there, and found a Korean buffet to try.

Holy. Shit. This place was amazing. There was sushi and other fresh seafood, make your own bibimbap, a salad bar, a cheese station, soups, a steamer overflowing with mandu, and a selection of fried foods. The wait staff even brought us a plate of steak with vegetables and massive bowls of udon. We ate so much! Then, we ate dessert. There was ice cream, bungeoppang (carp-shaped pastry filled with red bean), fresh fruits, and other sweet things to nibble on.

After, we left Ilsan Beach and made our way to the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum, something else I’ve been wanting to do since I’ve been here. The museum is situated right next to the harbor and you can see all he boats coming in and out. What I did not expect, though, was that the majority of the exhibit was on whaling and that made me kind of upset. After walking through the main exhibit hall, we went to a secondary building which serves as a small aquarium and movie theatre. We even got to see dolphins! Overall, it was a lot of fun and I definitely suggest going if you’re visiting Ulsan.

What did you do this weekend?


A Trip to Tokyo: Part 4

Tuesday was my last day in Tokyo and I really didn’t want to leave! For breakfast, we had rice with dried seaweed, rice crackers, and water. We also had spinach with bonito flakes and soy sauce, and soup. I legitimately love Japanese food. I strongly prefer it to Korean food. It’s very mild in comparison (I don’t like spicy food) and there are a lot more vegetables!

After, we went to the train station to get an express ticket to the airport. Then, Eri’s dad drove us to an art studio to make traditional kiriko glass. We each picked a piece of glass to work with and the artist provided us with an adhesive template of a cherry blossom pattern. We both chose solid blue sake glasses. Then, we placed the template over the glass and cut around it with an X-acto knife. After, the glass was placed in a sand blaster, which removed the color from the glass where there was no adhesive. It was a long process, but we were very happy with our finished products. (Mine is the one on the left.)


Following our arts and crafts session, we headed to the train station and set out for Tokyo Station. From there, we would catch the express train to Narita Airport. We had some time to kill, though, so we wandered around and got lots of yummy things to eat. Like a tonkastu sandwich and shrimp dumplings. After we took the train to the airport, it was time to check in and make my way to the gate. Eri and I said goodbye and I thanked her profusely for such a marvelous time.

I am quite madly in love with Japan and found it far superior to Korea in many ways. The people are so friendly and helpful. I didn’t feel out of place as a foreigner at all, like I often do in Korea. Eri’s family was so welcoming and hospitable, which really added to my positive experience. I also found there is much more variety in Japan, specifically regarding personal style and fashion. You can see that there are different subcultures and it was comforting to me.

Additionally, while the public transportation system is massive, it is extremely efficient and gets you everywhere you need to go. When you visit temples and other historical sites, it is easy to forget that you are in a city of over 13 million people. In Korea, you always know when you are in a city. It is overcrowded and dirty, there is garbage in the streets, and you see the same chains whether you are in Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. Tokyo is very clean for a city, almost too clean!

The food is absolutely phenomenal. Japanese food has always been one of my favorite cuisines, but having real Japanese food in Japan was pretty next level. It’s hard for me to find food I enjoy in Korea, mostly because everything is so spicy. Also because everything is so expensive.

I’d really love to go back to Japan and see more of this incredible country! My trip was definitely too short, but I loved every second of it.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part 3

Monday was a long day. Eri and I woke up at 6 AM to get tickets to the Tokyo Skytree because it was supposed to get very crowded. The Skytree is in Sumida and we took the train. Eri had never been before, so we were both so excited!

When we got to the entrance, we were thrilled to find out that there was no line at all! We purchased our tickets and went up to the Tembo Deck, which is 350 meters up. After soaking in the amazing views of the city, we spent a little extra money to go up to the Tembo Galleria (450 meters up). At the Tembo Galleria, they had a Star Wars exhibit on display. I’ve actually never seen any of the movies, but it was really interesting. Then, we got coffee at the cafe, where we also had an incredible view of the city.

Later, we met Eri’s mom at Tsukiji Market, the famous fish market. We walked around and looked at all the stalls and even sampled some seaweed and almonds. For lunch, we got some very fresh raw fish on top of rice with miso soup. I can’t remember what the dish was called, but it was delicious. There was salmon, tuna, yellowtail, crab, shrimp, and roe.

When we were done with lunch, we all headed over to Asakusa to visit Senso-ji Temple. The streets were absolutely filled with people and there were many vendors selling souvenirs. Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and the entrance has a massive paper lantern. You can also see the pagoda, which is very close to the temple. Just as we did at the Meiji Shrine, we walked up the steps to toss in our coins and pray. I also got another fortune scroll.

Later, we headed back to Harajuku to do some souvenir shopping and check out the Kawaii Monster Cafe. The cafe was wonderfully weird and featured waitresses and performers dressed in the decora fashion style. We got milkshakes and multi-colored pasta, which was served on a plate shaped like an artist’s palette. It was pretty good!

We went back to Eri’s house to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to go for okonomiyaki and monjayaki. Okonomiyaki is essentially a pancake filled with your choice of ingredients that you cook on a hot plate at your table (we got one with mixed seafood and one with tuna and cheese). Monjayaki is similar, except you use more liquid while cooking it and it gets very crispy on the hot plate (ours had pork and vegetables).

After dinner, we went back to Eri’s house and had tea, sweets, and watched some TV. Then, it was time for bed.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part 2

On Sunday, we got up early. Eri made ozoni for breakfast, which is a soup made with a clear broth, sticky grilled mochi, chicken, carrots, and greens. We also had pork gyoza and shrimp shumai.


After breakfast, we headed out for Shibuya. We saw the statue of Hachiko, the loyal Akita, and the famous Shibuya crossing. We were able to get a seat upstairs by the window at  Starbucks to watch while people crossed. There were also many record stores (I miss record stores), and I bought myself a Kyary Pomyu Pomyu CD.

We walked through Shibuya on our way to the Meiji Shrine. Before getting there, though, we stopped in a little candy shop to look around. To our surprise, the workers were actually making the candy while we were there! The design they were making was for White Day, which is celebrated on March 14 and men give gifts to women who gave them gifts on Valentine’s Day. It was very interesting and we stayed for a long time to watch.

Then, we made our way to the Meiji Shrine. Walking through the gates was like walking back in time. I almost forgot I was in a city because everything was so green and peaceful. Before entering the shrine, we washed our hands outside. We also through coins into a series of slots and prayed. After, we each got an omikuji, which is a small piece of paper with our fortune on it.

Next stop was Harajuku! Harajuku is a popular area in Tokyo where a lot of young people hang out. Takeshita Street is the main shopping area. Eri and I went to a purikura photo booth (we were definitely the oldest people there) and walked around looking at the shops. There is lots of interesting fashion from decora to goth and everything in between.

Then, we went to the Nezu Museum which houses the private collection of Nezu Kaichiru. Eri had never been before, so it was exciting for both of us. They had a special exhibit called Pine, Bamboo, and Plum: Auspicious Designs in Celebration of the New Year. There was also a beautiful collection of kimonos and other garments as well as a collection of ancient Chinese bronzes. I loved it so much! We also got to explore the sprawling gardens outside.

We were totally starving after walking around all day, so we decided to go for tonkatsu. The restaurant we found was traditional style, so we got to sit in the floor. We each got a giant piece of breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet (it was like butter), shredded cabbage, rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. It might have been my favorite meal in Tokyo. I’m not sure, though, since everything was so good!

After walking around a little more, we headed back to Eri’s house. For dinner, her parents took us out to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (kaiten-sushi). The place was massive and everything was self-service (you could make matcha at the table). In addition to the sushi moving around the belt, you could also order anything else you wanted from a touch screen at the table. It was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. And I love sushi!

Day two in Tokyo was an enormous success.

A Trip to Tokyo: Part One

I arrived in Tokyo at 9:30 AM on Saturday. It was a two hour flight with Japan Airlines, which was fabulous. After clearing customs, I made my way to arrivals to meet my friend Eri. She got there about 15 minutes after I did and it was so good to see her! We got me a Suica card (metro card) and hopped on the train.

Eri lives in Kokubunji, which is about two hours away from Narita Airport. The train ride was very nice. Everything is quite clean and the Japanese do not push and shove like the Koreans do. Also, it is perfectly okay to hold a conversation on the train (in Korea, you will get hushed at and stared down until you stop talking).

After getting to Kokubunji Station, we walked to Eri’s house, which was about 5 minutes away. I was surprised to find out that Japan drives on the left side! Eri’s neighborhood is very residential. There are more houses than apartments and lots of convenience stores and restaurants.

We got to Eri’s house and put my things in the traditional Japanese-style guest room (complete with tatami mats, futon, and beautifully decorated paper walls). I also met her parents, who I would just call Mom and Dad for the rest of my trip. Her father does not speak English, but he was very kind and we communicated through smiling and hand gestures. Her mother takes English classes every week and speaks well. She has an enormous personality and is very funny.

Eri and I had a reservation for the Ghibli Museum at 4 PM, so we had lots of time to kill. We went back to Kokubunki Station to do some shopping. The station has everything you could ever want: clothing, cosmetics, traditional crafts, prepared food, and a market. First, we went to have a small snack: takoyaki. Takoyaki is a baked ball filled with octopus and topped with brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, seaweed flakes, and bonito flakes. It was so delicious! We also looked at some traditional Japanese sweets, including dried plum and mochi with red bean filling.


After, we made our way to Mitaka to visit the Ghibli Museum, which is dedicated to the films of Hayao Miyazaki. The building is so whimsical and fantastically designed with spiral staicases, tiny doors, and brilliant stained glass windows featuring characters from the films. It is not very big, but there is a lot to see. We felt like little kids, walking around and pointing at all the characters we recognized. We even got to watch a film in the auditorium, Bread Man and Egg Princess.

When we got back to Eri’s house, her mother cooked sukiyaki for dinner. It was cooked in a hot pot which was filled with slices of beef, tofu, thin noodles, mushrooms, leeks, rice cakes, and greens. We ate rice and seaweed soup with it. Additionally, everyone got a small bowl which we cracked a raw egg into, and dipped the ingredients from the hot pot. It was delicious!

After dinner, I got to take a bath. In a real bath tub. Japanese bathrooms are very nice. The toilet and shower are in different rooms. The toilet seats are all warm all the time. The bath tub was so deep and I could actually stretch my legs out and relax. It was an excellent end to an amazing first day.

Two Dum Dums in Daegu Part 1

A few weeks ago, Hannah and I decided to plan a relaxing weekend in Daegu.

I would be lying if I said we went home feeling refreshed. We didn’t.

For me, it started on the two hour bus ride from Ulsan. Naturally, I got to spend the entire trip sitting next to an offensively smelly man who kept invading my personal space and trying to talk to me. Instead of taking a nap like I had originally planned, I sat and stared out the window, guarding my bags with my life.

I let Hannah know as soon as I got to the bus terminal. Turns out, neither of us were aware that there were different terminals in Daegu. And of course, we weren’t arriving at the same one. So, after discovering that there were only squat toilets in the ladies’ room and having a mild panic attack about it, I took a taxi to the other terminal.

When I got out of the cab, I dumped the entire contents of my purse in the middle of the street. I muttered “fuck” under my breath about a hundred times. I grabbed my shit and pretty much ran to meet Hannah. We found each other, hugged, and bitched. Then, we proceeded to eat some much needed fast food.

After lunch, we decided to head downtown. I still hadn’t peed yet. We found the monorail (and a bathroom) and eventually got to Banwoldang station. The underground shopping was absolutely intense. Cosmetics shops, restaurants, clothing stores, photography studios. You name it, it was there.

We did a bit of shopping and decided to find a place to stay for the night. Our first choice was a guesthouse we found online. However, after wandering around trying to find it, we discovered that it apparently no longer existed. A Korean man saw us struggling and offered to walk us to another guesthouse. We were so grateful, but when we went inside to book a room, they didn’t actually have any vacancies.

Back to square one.

We finally booked a room in a motel. We were just happy to put our backpacks down and charge our phones. We also ate some Pepero and bitched some more. After a little break, it was back out on the town for us.

Tia and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today sucked.

Well, let me rewind.

The “suck” actually started last night when I spent over two hours trying to obtain a digital certificate in order to transfer money from my Korean bank account to my American one. Apparently, they are very serious about financial security here. Which isn’t a bad thing. However, their programs are not compatible with Apple products (I have a Mac), so I had to find a Windows computer to work on. Thankfully, Steve has one.

The second problem was that the program also doesn’t seem to like Google Chrome. So, I had to try and do everything on Internet Explorer which is glitchy and horrible and awful. It kept logging me out. And crashing. And trying to download unnecessary things.

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

At long last: success. Two. Hours. Later. I was finally able to obtain the certificate and transfer it to my mobile. Today, however, when I logged in on my mobile to attempt the transfer, I discovered that I have to register with my bank first. That means more paperwork and more numbers to obtain.


Then, I decided to take a shower to relax a little bit. Ha! Surprise! My hot water wasn’t working! After turning it on and off and pressing all the buttons for nearly 15 minutes, I sucked it up and suffered with ice water. That was horrible. First world problems, but I’m a first world girl.

After my shower (if I can even call it that), I thought I would make some lunch. Ha! Surprise! My gas wouldn’t turn on! I was getting angrier and angrier. I just wanted some eggs. So, I brooded and watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead.

Before work, I took a walk down the street to a little chicken place for lunch. For only 2,000 won (less than $2), I got a cup of sweet and spicy boneless fried chicken bites with bite-sized rice cakes. It was delicious. I also made a pit-stop for coffee because I had a feeling I was going to need it today.

I did.

I went into work at 2 PM because my Korean co-worker was supposed to take me to get my phone plan set up. Once again, no such luck. Due to the language barrier, I’m not 100% certain why, but it seemed like some of the shops were closed for some unforeseen reason. Anyway, I’m supposed to meet my coworker at 1 PM tomorrow, and we will go downtown to another shop to try and get it set up.

I also mentioned the fact that my hot water and gas weren’t working. Right there on the spot, he asked me for my apartment key, took it, and said he would take care of it. I didn’t like that. At all. It wasn’t until 9 this evening that he returned with my key and told me that I would have to go for the next 48 hours without functioning utilities!

I am truly seething. Thank the gods this day is over.

Feeling “Normal” Abroad: My One Month Update

Even 7,000 miles away from home, McDonald’s fries taste like McDonald’s fries. And that’s comforting.

I have officially been in Korea for a month and, honestly, it’s a little difficult feeling normal while living abroad.

I don’t speak Korean, although I am making a serious effort to teach myself how to read and write hangeul, which is paying off so far.

It is awkward (and almost always uncomfortable) going into businesses and trying to get what you want through broken phrases and pantomime. Sometimes it works. However, sometimes you and the person you’re trying to communicate with stare at each other while you fervently flail your hands around, distressed.

Sometimes, you get stopped on the street by Jesus freaks. They are persistent. Although, occasionally they have free coffee or tea.

Additionally, while I love Korean food, sometimes I crave salads. And sandwiches. And dinner plates featuring a meat, a vegetable, and a potato. I have found that these things are nearly impossible to find, but when you find one of them (only referring to the salad and sandwich), you buy it and eat it gleefully.

Alternative culture is also pretty nonexistent in Korea. However, it is incredibly important to me. I love heavy metal, goth clubs, and Renaissance Faires. And sometimes, I will sit in my apartment while blasting Metallica and consequently start bawling my eyes out because I desperately miss my whacky haunts from home.

I also desperately miss my friends. I have made very few female friends since coming here and it’s been hard. I’ve met some girls in passing, but I’m just finding it really difficult to reach out. It feels like high school all over again and it sucks. I just really want to explore all these awesome beauty shops, and get manicures, and go for coffee with someone. I love me some “me” time, but I’m honestly getting kind of sick of it.

Overall, though, I really am enjoying my time here. I like my job and my apartment. I feel like I’m making a difference through working with kids. I like having the freedom to explore and try new things. I also like that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to go out and have a good time here. Life is good right now.