By Paul Morris - guest blogger
Late June 2003 I was in Korea visiting my sister Becky. Becky was an ESL Teacher at an after-school language institute for kids. While she was teaching during the day I would tour the city of Seoul.
Becky introduced me to a drink made from Aloe Vera pulp. It has an amazing flavor and is simply irresistible. What my sister sadly failed to tell me was that the aloe juice was a digestive aid usually consumed after a large feast and only in small quantities...
One day I went and bought a liter of it. The Aloe juice is such a mild digestive aid that even after sipping it for a whole afternoon it didn't bother me. In fact, it didn't bother me until the next morning.
I woke up early that morning because I planned a trip into the DMZ, that's the Demilitarized Zone in Korea. A line between North and South Korea, it' not even a line so much as a valley. The tour takes you to several historical points along the line as well as the main overlook into the valley. Anyhow, I woke up early that morning because I had to take the subway into the main city Seoul. The train left very early, about 0600, and I woke up late. I quickly threw my clothing on; it was formal clothing with the exception of my sneakers because the tour had a dress code. I took off running to the station to catch my train and only just caught it.
As I rode into Seoul I began to feel unusually gassy but didn't really think a second time about. There was no time to think about such things when the DMZ was waiting for me. As I left the train in Seoul I re-realized that I didn't speak Korean. After only 45 minutes or so I found the bus station. Looking at the time however, I realized that I had about 5 minutes to check in and get on the bus... This is where my stomach is starting to really ache... but I don't have any time for fantasy aches and pains.
I signed in and jumped on the bus looking forward to a fascinating look at Korean politics and history. It's about an hour and a half from Seoul to the Korean Military base that we were going to. Half-way there I'm wondering if all Korean buses lack bathrooms or just the one that I'm on. I've considered and dismissed half a dozen plots to make the bus driver pull over, but I'm not sure if maybe I'll step on an ancient land mine if I walk off into any of the openness around this road. Besides, there are two other buses on the tour and there really is nowhere but open space here... not the kind of place I want to drop my trousers in...
20 minutes later I think I might die; this isn't the way I imagined I'd go, but I'm sure that people have died worse deaths before... 5 minutes later I've decided that I don't want to die like this. there is no pride in dying of anal retentiveness, and if there is no pride to be retained by my agonizing death... well I'd rather be stripped of my pride and alive than stripped of my pride and dead because I'm not able to let go and live a little... so I swallow the last dregs of juice from the night before along with my pride, and I let go... don't get me wrong... I rationalized everything in my head... after all I'm thousands of miles away from home, no one here knows me, and if I ever had to publicly soil myself... this is the place to do it.
I used the side lean and tilt method to "let off a little pressure" but there is no such thing as "a little pressure." I suddenly found myself permanently in the lean and tilt position for purposes of self preservation, and prevention of further "squishage". Hey! I'm no expert in scatological matters... How was I to know you can't "let off pressure?" Anyhow, as I realized that we still had a few minutes to drive, I knew I had to pass off the horrible smell on anyone else besides me. I tilted my head towards the ceiling and with a very obvious look of disgust sniffed a few times and glanced accusingly at the people in the seats adjacent to me. It seemed to be an effective ploy because I didn't get any dirty looks in return.
Within ten minutes we arrived at the Korean military base. There are check points at the entrance of all military bases that I've been to, and this one was no exception. I waddled to the front trying not to look too duck-like. I show the guard my passport and ask the tour guide with a lot of hand motioning where the next pit stop will be. He tells me in very broken English that it will be in another 5 minutes. 10 minutes later I'm the first one off the bus.
Never has a duck waddled as fast as I did to that bathroom. A 5 minute pit stop has turned into a 10 minute stop. One stall has clogged and I've moved to the second. I used to wonder how people soiled the stall walls in public bathrooms... I hope no one else ever has to find this one out personally. The bus driver comes in and tells me in his broken English that we have to go. I try sign language under the stall but finally just tell him "no, I have a stomach problem." He understands and tells me they will return for another pit stop in one hour.
I'm relieved in more than one way.
But finally after several fake outs, my bowels are truly empty. I've never seen such a mess. My clothes are literally ruined, and stuff has fallen from them to the floor to the walls... At this point I smile, because I've reached a point where life can't get worse. And so, simply put, the rest of the day is bound to be great. I strip naked and begin cleaning the stalls, I am not so heartless as to leave this for a janitor.
I then embark in a sink shower using my socks as washcloths... I need you to picture this... So here I am, this six foot four inch white dude with an eight inch afro (this was pre-military of course.) standing butt naked in a bathroom on a Korean Military Base. People occasionally walk in and I decide that if I act like this is normal, they'll just think that all Americans takes sink showers. So I smile and wave, and everyone smiles and waves back at me.
Korea is such a friendly place.
Anyhow, I cleaned up and washed my pants in the sink. I threw away my under drawers and socks. The only clean clothing is my shirts... I refuse to put my pants back on and consider throwing them away too. I figure that maybe I can tie my button up shirt around my waste and wear my t-shirt on top. After looking in the mirror I'm nervous about that option. But I don't really see any other way.
Word must have reached the owner of the tour shop next door. He comes over and gives me some stomach pills and a pair of slacks that he'd had sitting in the back of his shop. I popped the pills and tried on the pants, but wait, these are Korean sized pants! Of course, that means that my 36x36 frame is now fitting into a size 28x28 pair of slacks. Thank goodness for stretchy materials! I pull a little harder to squeeze as much of me as I can into the slacks. I can't button them because they're too small by several inches, and I have no underwear on so there is a conspicuous v-swatch, but I easily cover all with my handy button up shirt tied around my waste. I much prefer this to being naked under my button-up.
The tour bus finally comes around to pick me up. I think that no one knows what happened because they are all so friendly to me. That could be because of an attitude change on my part. I am probably the happiest guy they have seen in a long time. After all, I figure I handled the worst that can happen, I've got life in the palm of my hand now. After making many friends on the bus we stop at our next stop, the overlook into the DMZ.
I still have the stench of foulness in my nostrils. So when 3 buses full of Korean school girls pulls up, my first inclination is to walk the other way. Something must have stood out to them about me however because I was not allowed to walk away. The Korean culture like many other cultures does not understand personal space and so I find myself in the middle of many schoolgirls. They are hanging off my arms and taking pictures and trying out their English on me. Frankly I can't understand a thing they try to say. My nostrils still burn, but I buck up and try posing for a few shots...
30 years from now some Korean grandmother showing her grandchildren pictures will tell them, "This is the crazy American that smelled like an outhouse."
Honestly, I will remember this the rest of my life... I had a great time in Korea, and I now have an even greater story to tell which you have just read... As I headed home on the train that night; I stoically ignored the stares at my high-water, skin tight, black slacks with tennis shoes, no socks, and a button up shirt around my waist. I had to stop by my sister's school to pick up the keys to her apartment... I'll always remember her expression as she did a huge double take on me. "Did you wear those clothes when you left this morning?" she asked. "Yes" I replied with a straight face...