South Korea, or Republic of Korea (ROK) as it should be really known, as my brother and I have written about is a really fascinating place. The Korean peninsula is probably experiencing the most media attention ever since the increasingly aggressive antics of its little Northern neighbour. However it is worth getting some of the more interesting aspects of the South out there to the wider world rather than endless focus on the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation (or not), which of course we should not downplay.
The city of Suwon, dwarfed by its big brother Seoul to the North, is one such place that needs some bigging up. Suwon is the home to one of the most amazing inner city fortresses, Hwaseong Fortress, that has UNESCO World Heritage status. The fortress walls surround the inner city and are about 6 km long going through main streets and up over the large hill that springs up in the centre of town and provides a great view of the hustle and bustle of Korean life. But Suwon is not only famous for its super cool crenelated walls, that provide a great running track for the city’s fitness fanatics; it was also home to Sim Jae Duck, or as he liked to be more commonly known Mr. Toilet.
Mr. Toilet is an absolute legend in Suwon and its favourite son. This man had one goal and that was to put Suwon on the map. The way he achieved that was through his love of the toilet. Forget Thomas Crapper, Sim Jae Duck is real Prince of Poo.
Mr Toilet was born in a public toilet (or so he claims), and this is supposed to be the inspiration behind his love for the humble throne room. He became mayor of Suwon in 1995 and transformed the public toilets in the town to be some of the best in the world. This was partly to make the town a great place for tourists for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. He set in motion a massive programme of work make the toilets “clean and beautiful resting places imbued with culture”. and he seems to have succeeded. To get there he invited people from fields such as professors, artists, architects and business leaders in July 1997 and February 1999 to the symposium on “Making Beautiful Public Restrooms”, to provide direction and insight on the project.
Our experience of the public conveniences was quite good although we didn’t have time to do a full tour of the many locations across the city, but I am advised it is well worth doing. They each have a rating for quality and who they will appeal to (Koreans and foreigners) and span from traditional to ultra-modern. They even include art features and windows to the outside world or on a small private garden that only the users can admire.
In 2008, Sim Jae-duck tore down his former home and resurrected a two-story toilet-shaped home in its place called Mr. Toilet House. The name Haewoojae means ‘a place where one can solve one’s worries.’ It is now a major attraction in the town and worth a visit if you can get out to it. Sadly we didn’t get to go as we only had a limited amount of time in the city, but if we ever go back I definitely want to pay homage to the great man himself who sadly died in 2009. RIP Mr. Toilet!