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!

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A Weekend in Busan

It’s been well over a year since I’ve written a post, but I felt it was time to start doing so again. Matt and I have been living in Korea since December 2017 (time flies!) and it has been a much better experience for me this time around.

I was inspired to start writing again after an amazing weekend I had in Busan with my friend Krysta. We experienced some next-level hospitality, had a lot of fun, and I really wanted to share.

Saturday morning, Krysta and I headed from Ulsan to Haeundae. I had an appointment for a Korean magic perm, which is a popular permanent straightening process here. The heat and humidity have been quite unbearable lately, and my hair has been an absolute frizz fest. We went to Two Two Salon, which had wonderful reviews from other foreigners on Facebook.

We met with Sophia, the owner, who was extremely welcoming as soon as we walked in the door. She was an older woman, with blue hair and a bubbly personality. Her English was minimal, but we communicated just fine. The entire process took about 2.5 hours and cost 200,000 won ($177). While Krysta and I waited, Sophia and her staff made sure we were fed and hydrated (they even bought us ice cream). As we were leaving, she even gave me two small bottles of argan oil to take care of my hair at home. I was so happy with the results.

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After, we walked down the main street in Haeundae towards the beach. It was around 2 o’clock, but our hotel check-in wasn’t until 4. We decided to go to the hotel anyway and see if we could check in early. The man at the front desk informed us the room wasn’t ready, but offered to take our bags and said we could come back at 3. That was good enough for us, and we headed to lunch.

Krysta and I decided to eat at the Haeundae branch of Galmegi Brewing Co. They’ve been around since 2014 and are Busan’s first American-style microbrewery. I am a huge fan of their yuja gose! For food, I got chicken tacos and Krysta got a pulled pork sandwich with fries. Their food is super authentic and delicious.

After lunch, we continued on our “treat yo’self” adventure. We took the subway closer to Jangsan to get our nails done at Lana Nail Busan. Her shop was a little difficult to find. As we were walking around the complex, Lana called my phone to tell me she saw me and directed us to the shop. When I booked the appointment with her, she had told me that she would be the only one working. However, when we got there, she had asked another employee to come in (on her day off!) so we could both get our manicures done at the same time. Lana’s English was excellent, and she was so fun to talk to. I decided to go for a fun, brightly colored design (I usually do darker colors) and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

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We relaxed at SpaLand and had dinner near the beach before heading back to our room for the night. The next morning, we went back to Two Two so Krysta could get her hair dyed. This time, Sophia not only made lunch for us, but shared freshly picked peaches from her rooftop garden as well as rice cakes (they were still warm) made by another local shopkeeper. Lunch consisted of purple rice, radish soup, water kimchi, and an assortment of side dishes. I have never, ever, ever experienced such hospitality in my life.

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I had a great weekend, but wish it was just a tiny bit longer. Next weekend, though, Matt and I head to Osaka for one week for summer vacation and I am so looking forward to it.

What are your plans for next weekend?

30 Day Yoga Challenge: Days 21-25

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lack of updates – I have not forgotten about the DO YOU YOGA 30 Day Challenge! Life and work have just been super crazy for the past few days. Here are the videos I’ve done:

Day 21 -“Yoga on Your Back”

Day 22 – “Hamstring Flexibility Part II”

Day 23 – “Standing Eagle Flow”

Day 24 – “Half Moon Flow”

Day 25 – “Yoga to Restore”

I have no complaints about any of these videos, and I am feeling more flexible every day. Today’s video, “Yoga to Restore,” was slow, but my body definitely needed it. It was very soothing and provided some deep stretches. I also repeated days 13 and 17 for fun. I just wanted a little more from my workout.

On Sunday, I went into Manhattan to visit my friend Brit. We went to MoMA to see A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde. It was a wonderful exhibit and featured works by El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich, two artists I really enjoyed while I was studying art history in college. We also saw Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction. It was a retrospective and I found it to be absolutely brilliant. I wish I had taken more pictures.

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For lunch, we went to a Korean BBQ place called Jongro. We had samgyeopsal, tteokbokki, and haemul pajeon. Everything was very authentic and delicious. We also wandered around a bunch of Korean cosmetics stores and went into H-Mart so I could buy some snacks I missed!

How is your week going?

The Post-Graduate Struggle

When I decided to leave for Korea, I was under the impression that teaching English there would fix all my problems. Namely, my financial instability and my emotional distress caused by my financial instability. However, the stress of my job ended up taking an even greater toll on my psyche despite the fact that I was making considerably more money than I had been at home.

Since returning to New Jersey, I honestly spend the majority of my time watching Netflix in bed and crying about how much money I don’t have, even though I am currently working. Student loans. Car insurance. Phone bill. Gas. After all my expenses are paid, I have very little left for myself and it tortures me. I am officially back to square one.

In Korea, I had more than enough money to go out to dinner multiple times per week, treat myself to some new cosmetics, or even take a weekend trip on a whim. And that was after I sent half my paycheck home to take care of my expenses! Now, an iced caramel latte at Dunkin’ Donuts is hardly affordable.

The state that I (and many of my peers) are currently in is a sad one. What did we go to college for? To be in debt for the rest of our lives and not find jobs in our fields?  To work somewhere part-time and still live at home with our parents three or four or five years after graduating?

It hardly makes me feel better when I see people working in positions which I know they got because their families have money, connections, or both. The system is truly flawed because of this. I am absolutely certain that there are much more qualified people who could be working in so many of the jobs out there, but are not given a chance because of some petty reason.

Then, of course, there are the jobs that expect you to have five years of experience for an entry level position when you only went to school for four. How is anyone supposed to gain experience if employers are not willing to take a chance on a promising individual and teach her or him the skills necessary to do that job?

It baffles me. It saddens me.Please feel free to add your comments, and perhaps we could get a discussion going.

Korean Food Appreciation Post

I’ve recently been missing some things about Korea – particularly food. So, I thought I’d write a post about some of my favorite dishes I had while I was living in Ulsan!

Shabu Shabu

– While it’s not technically a Korean dish (it’s Japanese), there were shabu shabu restaurants everywhere in Korea! Steve and I probably ate this more than anything else when we went out for dinner. Shabu shabu consists of thinly sliced pieces of raw meat, which you cook in a boiling pot of broth at your table. You also add vegetables like bok choy and cabbage. When everything is cooked, you can roll it up in rice paper along with an assortment of other raw veggies!

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Barbecue (고기구이)

– I loved eating barbecue in Korea, especially samgyeopsal (삼겹살) which is pork belly. It was always so much fun going out to a restaurant with friends and cooking your dinner right at the table. My favorite restaurant in downtown Ulsan always put out a side dish of spicy bean sprouts and I also enjoyed ssamjang (쌈장), which is a thick sauce you can dip your meat in before you wrap it in a lettuce leaf.

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Gamjatang (감자탕)

– Gamjatang is a pork spine stew that has potatoes, radish greens, onions, peppers, and sometimes noodles or dumplings. It was one of my favorite things to eat during the super cold winter months because it certainly warmed you right up!

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Pajeon (파전)

– Pajeon is a green onion pancake that I wish I had gotten to eat more of during my stay. My favorite kind had seafood cooked into it (squid and prawn). Usually not enough for a whole meal, but definitely good for a yummy snack.

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Dak Galbi (닭갈비)

– Dak galbi is a stir fried chicken dish made with gochujang (red pepper paste), cabbage, onions, and rice cakes. You can usually add in other items, like cheese or ramen (that’s how I liked it!). Everything is cooked together on a big hot plate. When it’s ready, just scoop and eat!

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In addition to these particular dishes, I also miss chains like Paris Baguette, Lotteria, and Ediya. Paris Baguette had cheap, yummy sandwiches and salads which were great in a pinch. At Lotteria, I loved the Mozzerella in the Burger sandwich. And finally, at Ediya, they had a toffee nut latte which was absolutely to die for!

Three Weeks Later

It’s been three weeks since I left Korea. I’m very happy to be home in New Jersey and able to see my mom and friends. It’s nice to have access to familiar things, as well, such as the lake I like walking around, the boardwalk at Point Pleasant, and even my favorite restaurants. Pizza and bagels were sorely missed.

I just got a job at a restaurant near my house. I won’t have to spend a lot of money on gas and I think I’ll be able to do some saving. In the meantime, I plan on getting certified to teach ESL in public schools here. There are a few tests I have to take, including math, but some friends have offered to tutor me. I’m really grateful for that. The other tests are for oral and written proficiency, which I’m not worried about.

Even though I was only in Korea for six months, it’s admittedly been a little strange getting reacclimated to life at home. It took quite some time to get over the jet lag, and all my days seemed to get mushed together. I got so used to using Facebook messenger or Skype to talk to my friends at home (the only person I texted or called in Korea through my actual phone plan was Hannah), but now I can communicate with them without needing the internet. I also don’t have to bow at people or handle money like a Korean (which I found myself doing for a while right after I got back). I’m also thrilled to have my car again and not have to rely on public transportation when I need to go somewhere.

Anyway, I’m still getting back into the groove of things, and it’s really nice to have found a job so quickly. I hate sitting at home with nothing to do!

I’m also thinking of changing the name of my blog. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

A Broken Contract and a Midnight Run

I’ve been back in New Jersey for twelve days. I was debating over whether or not I should write about why I chose to leave Korea, and I’ve finally decided that I would.

Working in Korea was making me very unhappy. Not the kids or being in the classroom, but my superiors and their actions. I felt anxious all the time, to the point that there was a constant knot in my stomach. For those that don’t know, many hagwons use CCTV to watch students and teachers. Whenever I tried to do something fun in class, my boss would pull me aside after and tell me “no games, we must promote more study.” I’m sorry, but how are you supposed to teach a nine year old without the use of games or activities?

I was also getting very tired of seeing other teachers hit and discipline students so harshly. That’s something I’m not used to seeing in America and, by sitting quietly on the sideline, it made me feel like I was condoning child abuse, which I most certainly was not.

Additionally, the Korean teachers at my hagwon kept to themselves and there was very little communication. Often, I would walk in and find papers or new schedules on my desk with no explanation of what they were or what I was supposed to do with them. Sometimes, I would be given about five minutes notice that I was supposed to administer a test to a class. If I got courageous enough to ask someone for help or clarification, I mostly got blank looks. And, of course, still no explanation.

My breaking point came after two events. First, I was given a new class with very little notice and was expected to come to work about an hour earlier than I had been coming in all year. There were also no materials and the other foreign teacher and I were supposed to find time to make some from scratch (we had no knowledge of the level of the students, either). Second, (I will not go into this in great detail because it is not my tale to tell) one of my coworkers was berated and belittled in front of the office for standing her ground on a matter that affected her personally. In response, she was called names and was denied the things she asked for.

For me, this was absolutely a toxic environment and I had to remove myself from it. I packed up all my belongings and left without telling anyone at work.