So I was talking with Willie this weekend and he was mentioning how he takes care of his food scraps and the topic went from garbage to junk and then to decks/patios/balconies, and how in Korea there is no such thing as patio chairs and cafe tables because everybody uses that space to hold boxes and piles of crap – basically all the overflow from the apartments, because there isn’t sufficient storage space.  And I laughed and told him how I thought that decks were the equivalent of the American garage.

So many little things like that I mean to talk about that would enlighten you back home, but I forget.

Speaking of garbage, we were in Gyeongju and I was eating an instant ramyeon noodle and as I never drink the salt, red pepper and msg-laden broth, so I went outside to dump the liquid down the drain.  And the family marte shop keeper got all alarmed and Clara said something like, “they have a food waste container inside…”


Did I tell you that I just got off the plane?  I’d seen them before, but just never used them and so forgot about them.  Basically, there is so much emphasis on recycling that very little actually goes in the trash (and who really knows where THAT goes…?  The urban myth is it goes to slop pigs in the country) and any food that does go in the trash is solid.  How do they accomplish this?  The answer is that every place has a food waste can.  Basically, it’s a trash can with a collander/sieve straddling the top of it – or a special can with a perfectly fitting sieve resting inside, so that the solids can be removed to reduce the trash and because the fermented liquid would become a disposal problem.

I have NO IDEA where the garbage in Korea goes.  While the trash collection bins look like big plastic dumpsters, I haven’t seen any dumpster trucks come to pick anything up.  I have seen the recycling trucks: they are these archaic-looking little trucks that come by in the middle of the night and everything is hand-thrown into them by one lone guy.  This is a very low-tech process, and I’m not sure if the entire thing is done through independent contracts and/or if it is just done for re-sale, or if these little truck operators work for the city.  Then, around dawn is the sidewalk crew of adjummas.  They wear little yellow uniforms, garden gloves, and push special carts, which hold brooms and dustpans, and many different bags for them to sort what they pick up.  It doesn’t matter how littered the street is by evening’s end:  in the morning, the street will look brand new clean and spotless.  Everyone knows they’ll be by, so it’s common for people to leave their drinks, cans, bottles, cigarette butts, etc. wherever they are.  So people litter here – but it’s typically not just random throwing and tossing, but purposefully set some place where they know it will be picked up.  And most people I know who are smokers are very careful to carry around their butts until they find a trash can or chattori. (ashtray)  Of course, there are those that use the street as an ashtray – but again, considering how many smokers there are here – the streets are actually pretty free of cigarettes, and the butts you do see laying about are again in places where everyone knows either the shop worker, doorman, or cleaning adjumma will come along eventually.  So in a weird way it kind of supports jobs.

Straining things has ingeniously been thought of all over the Korean house.  In the kitchen sink, the drain has a sieve with a handle in it as well.  The sink drains here are huge:  instead of the drains that they have in the U.S. which are the same size as the 1.5 inch pipes, the drains here are about 4″ wide and about 5″deep and function in much the same way as the food waste garbage cans.  Also, in the bathrooms is a similar large sieve beneath a flat drain cover at floor height, which very effectively collects all hair after a shower.   This system wouldn’t work so well on a bathroom sink, however.  But no worries:  you can purchase from adjoshis on the subway, or at trucks selling  household items, these barbed coils of plastic with a handle on the end of it.  They’re like pipe snakes, but the barbs snag any hairs or things clogging the sink elbow.  Mr. S. didn’t like how slow my drain was and brought me one.  It works fantastic.  Everyone in America needs one of these things.

During our stay in Busan a week ago, it came as somewhat of a shock to be in a western hotel room once again.  Not only was there no foyer to take off your shoes, but the floor was not raised and heated, and the floor was carpeted.  Jane and I were both totally creeped out about the carpet and the impossibility of cleaning it properly after so many barefoot visitors had stayed there.  And then there was the western bathroom, with it’s bathtub, curtained shower, and fixed shower head.  The problem with the western fixed shower head is there is no control over the water.  What I’ve come to appreciate about the hand-held Asian shower head is how you can localize its use:  Want to only wash your feet?  no problem.  Just dyed your hair and you want that dye to stay over the drain?  No problem.  AND the water pressure close to the scalp when you are shampooing gets you rinsed out faster and more thoroughly as well.  Want to clean up only our naughty bits?  No problem.  Want to shower but feel like giving your hair a break for a day/or don’t feel like having wet hair to style?  No problem.  With the hand-held shower, you can take a thorough shower and not need a shower cap.  In fact, it’s hard to find a plastic shower cap in Korea.  Want to clean the bathroom?  With the hand-held shower head, you can hose down the walls and floors and clean up the bathroom thoroughly in minutes.  The thing I don’t like about Korean bathrooms is that you have to ALWAYS put the toilet lid down or your seat will be wet, you have to keep your toilet paper out of the way of any spray spillover, and if you share a bathroom, then there’s the slipper thing if you need to go to the toilet after someone’s showered, because the entire bathroom will be wet afterward.  But I’m lucky and my shower is enclosed, so I don’t have that problem.

Most Korean toilet paper dispensers have a stainless steel blade that hangs down in front of the roll, to make tearing off the paper easier.  Joyce was mentioning how the public squat toilets are so much better for the environment, in terms of water consumption.  They use about half as much water, yet the flushing is really powerful somehow, with no visible tank.  People say euww about the used toilet paper cans which are always next to the squat toilets, but it probably is much better for the sewer system.  And the people who empty the bathroom trash do so with very long tongs, like the ones they use to move people’s shoes around.  What sucks is when there isn’t toilet paper in a public restroom, so you always should have a travel package of tissue with you or remember to take some paper dinner napkins from any table you leave.  What’s great about Korea is that there are clean public restrooms everywhere, meaning you never have to be inconvenienced and every citizen, from those wearing fur to those living on the streets, can stay clean.  There isn’t any of this nimby discriminatory attitude here about who can or can’t use a bathroom, which is really refreshing.

2 thoughts on “waste

  1. my drain/sieve scares me so i avoid looking at it or touching it. im pretty sure its gone from grey to green since ive been here. i’ll probably end up just buying a new one before i leave.

    i know i cant possibly be the only one that throws my trash out my back window in korea.

  2. Willie, I was soooo careful to not mention WHAT and HOW you dispose of waste, and then you out-ed yourself! Is this what you learned in the peace corps? ha ha ha ha!!!

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