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So… The New Year comes earlier in South Korea.

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I have to say that I feel like I’ve had a pretty good start to the New Year. That is certainly more than I can say for the guy I saw crash his car in the wee hours of New Year’s day when I was waiting for a taxi for over an hour. I ran to assist and by the time I got there the driver had already managed to negotiate the airbag, jump out of the smoking vehicle to leg it down the street. Watching him slip up on the ice was quite amusing.

I didn’t take a taxi home in the end, feeling that getting in a car might be a bad idea. I had at this point however managed to sober up thanks to the cold and waiting for the bus, I remembered the old guy we had fucked over for a taxi earlier in the night by just stepping in front of him as he waited. He cursed us as we left, looking me directly in the eyes and very slowly shaking his fist said something in Korean I can only presume was extremely rude. I shall probably die of something nasty very soon as a result of that. Such is life.

Earlier in the night we awaited fireworks on top of the roof of the club we were at only to see crappy lanterns ten minutes after the fact. London got 11 minutes of the greatest fireworks on the banks of the Thames, I got fucking lanterns. However I did manage to get very merry and had a great time loosing up my hips to a filthy beat or two. Suffice it to say that the dancing was a highlight.

Being in a foreign bar, the only Koreans I saw seemed to know how to party, which is more than I can say about how they do Christmas. Nobody seemed to get it. This is just from an observer’s point of view and worth noting that I haven’t really socialised with many of them yet.

Just the same everything seemed a tad rushed. Christmas felt like an extended lunch break, which turned out to be more work than not. We had spent two weeks running up to the “celebrations” learning a song and preparing a lot of other stuff for show. The director likes to upload things to his website, so he can show parents that the kids are getting the most out of it and enjoying themselves, but it feels unnatural and forced. I keep forgetting that we are a commercial venture that is primarily focused on maintaining attendance and making sure we all keep our jobs.

Ironically, the song my Korean colleagues chose was Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad”, a song that is mostly in Spanish. I learnt the dance then slipped out of the room just before the boss started filming it in a way I can only feel was ever so slightly creepy.

My English colleague was somehow put under a lot of pressure to find a white guy to come in and play Santa Claus. It wasn’t cool at all, because due to visa restrictions, the Santa couldn’t be paid and would have to come at a ridiculously specific hour. In the end, he did find one who was, much to our amusement, Jewish. And by somewhat of a Christmas miracle he got the Jew to do it for free. Poor Koreans didn’t get the joke; we had just had given the kids a Jewish-Mexican Christmas.

Christmas isn’t the only thing people do differently here. I was watching TV the other day and between programmes, an interesting advert played for about twenty minutes. I kept expecting it to end before looking at my wristwatch and realising by the time that it was in fact an infomercial about a certain type of toilet that I noted my boss had when I went to his place. Having more controls than Captain Kirk’s command chair (there’s a Captain’s log joke in there somewhere), this is only what I can assume is the toilet of the future. The seat is soft and warms your bum, you can jet your anus with water at the temperature of your choice after which it actually dries your arse. I wanted to try the one at my boss’ place, but it was all in Korean and ultimately didn’t want to make a mess involving piss and shit this early on in our professional relationship.

For the record and for the benefit of any potential visitors here, the above-mentioned toilets are not common in public places, where one is more likely to find at best a urinal, flush toilet and a shower (don’t ask) in a glacial small room that makes for a steamy piss that would fog up your glasses if you had any on. At worst it’ll be a squat toilet with a hose in an outhouse.

Another strange thing is the fact that a few times I’ve been places and waited outside locked toilets only to find two men coming out at the same time; they go in together, share the toilet and urinal between them and lock themselves in. I’ve seen women do it too.

This isn’t all I have to say about toilets either. Koreans don’t flush toilet paper as they feel their sewage system cannot handle it. It takes me back to my previous job working in the maintenance department and having to make phone calls on behalf of my boys to explain to the staff that using hand towels would clog up the drains due to the paper’s fibre being too dense. I feel however that modern toilet roll is designed to be broken down, a sentiment not shared by the Koreans, who prefer to keep a bin full of shit-smeared paper next to the toilet. Again best not to ask, right?

Researching toilets in South Korea is fascinating though; I haven’t been this drawn in since I was a young child being told the tale of Romulus and Remus. Sim Jae-Duck, deceased former mayor of Suwon, was born in a toilet and made it his life’s purpose to make toilets more beautiful and modernise them as much as possible. As far as I can tell from reading about this legendary man, prior to his efforts it was just an absolute mess over here. I can only imagine what kind of medieval setups and habits these poor people must’ve had here.

Running up to the 2002 World Cup, Mr Sim’s office went about improving 788 public restrooms and so honoured was the man that there is now a museum built in his memory around his bog shaped domicile. And so proud the good people from Suwon are about this, there is a very informative page on the city’s tourist website.
What a life.

I also have to mention the pleasure I had of that sweet American girl’s company with whom I went to get a Christmas dinner, whilst everyone else seemed to be doing stuff in groups and generally trying to make up for being away from home. I enjoyed her company enough not to think about it all. “Fancying the shit” out of her as I had so eloquently put it did apparently not scare her off.

I don’t have much else to say except that come payday (Monday), I’m gonna lay some down cash to get out of town for which I am desperate already. The cold only leads us from one inside box to another, which almost always leads to drinking. I forgot for a minute that I came here to learn stuff about Korea. Maybe I’ll go to the DMZ.

READ MORE KOREAN DISPATCHES: ONETWOTHREEFOURFIVESIXSEVEN

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