Today, I saw a man empty his bowels onto a street in Suwon, the town where we catch a portion of our trains around Korea. We were walking to a restaurant to have dinner after returning from a hard day’s Ultimate, and there he was. Pants down, standing up, with a neat little pile of excrement near his feet. When he was done, he simply returned his pants to the normal position and continued to go about the rest of his drunken evening. We did the same, perplexed and shocked by the sheer vulgarity of what we had just witnessed.
This is by no means a common occurrence in Korea, but it is not unheard of. Our co-workers have mentioned spotting piles of human waste on pavements around Dongtan and the cities where they previously worked. It was clear that the offender was in a drunken stupour. Hopefully, a human in their normal state would not do such a thing. There are bathrooms in most restaurants in Korea (although not all, due to space constraints), and there are public bathrooms in train stations, which are common enough that they should be able to cover the needs of anyone desperate enough. But not our bare-bottomed fellow.
One moment, we were walking happily, discussing our exploits from the day with one of our team-mates. The next, we saw a person performing an act that is normally hidden away behind a number of doors. I was almost physically ill soon afterwards, and was happy to be able to have a sugary float a few minutes later, to distract my bowels.
I pity the man. His clothes were clearly well-worn, and he was likely one of the surprisingly high number of homeless people in Korea. In South Africa, homeless people are often seen at robots (traffic lights to those not familiar with the greatness of South African terminology), begging for spare change. They are not afraid to make themselves seen, if it gets them even the smallest amount of money. In South Korea, the homeless seem far more passive. Even when they beg, they do so by sitting quietly, with a mat placed out in front of them for people to place money or food on. They say nothing, and often hide their faces. There is an air of shame surrounding being homeless in Korea, particularly when they feel the need to beg for money.
Many of the homeless are also alcoholics. Often they carry plastic bags filled with empty bottles of soju (Korea’s cheap liquor of choice). The man we saw today seemed to be a person in this category.
Extreme poverty can drive a person to do drastic things. I pity the man who felt desperate enough to forgo all dignity and relieve himself in a crowded street. I hope that his future days are better. We will likely never see him again, but I feel that the image of a man at his lowest will stick with me for a long time to come.