What does “HUL” mean?
“HUL” (헐) is a Korean expression used to convey disbelief, surprise, or bafflement. It’s used a lot by kids out here when they just can’t believe their eyes.
It’s also the perfect expression for those of us who have made Korea a home away from home. Why? Because no matter how long we live in Korea, there are some aspects of the culture that will forever defy our understanding.
Every post in the “HUL!!!” series examines an oddity from the always wonderful, and frequently weird, Land of Morning Calm.
Korea’s Poop Obsession: Part One
I enjoy my job as an elementary school English teacher in Korea.
My students are great, my co-teachers are nice, and I’m compensated well for work I find rewarding and generally low-stress.
But I had a crappy day today.
It wasn’t my students, co-teachers, or a terrible school lunch – no problems there.
No, I literally had a crappy day. You see, Korea has a strange fascination with poop. That’s right, poop. Korea and poop go together like a hand and a glove — gross, bad analogy. Sorry. Anyway, it isn’t uncommon for any given day out here to take a scatological turn. It’s happened plenty of times before. But today? Today was special.
Before I explain, let me establish some context to illustrate Korean poop and this culture’s obsession with poo, dookie, crap, and calabeza. Embark with me on a visual tour of the many feces, er, faces of Korea’s poop obsession!
Korean Poop: Chocolate-Covered Comedy Gold
We begin our tour in the personal care aisle of a local grocery store. Let me repeat: the personal care aisle of the grocery store.
You’ve marked toothbrushes, floss, and mouthwash off of your shopping list. What else was it you needed? Ah, yes! Toothpaste!
As this image from A Geek in Korea shows, these little wonders are poop shaped tubes of toothpaste filled with — you guessed it — brown toothpaste.
The Hello Kitty is a nice touch. I mean, what little girl is going to want regular poop on her toothbrush? That would be uncivilized! But the other tube confuses me. Is that supposed to be a robot? Do robots poop?
If so, is there something about robot excrement that offers protection against cavities and gum diseases like gingivitis? Actually, come to think of it, I might have read something like that in one of Asimov’s short stories.
Oh! Make sure to grab some toilet paper before we finish shopping. When we get home, we can put it in this.
This cute lil’ dude is a tissue/toilet paper dispenser — when nature calls, he answers!
There is something wonderfully meta about keeping your toilet paper in a poop shaped plushy. And also it’s pretty freaking weird.
As you can see, the industry built up around Korean poop is as strange as it is hilarious. But lest you worry that Korea’s affection for poop is only of the toilet humor variety, let me turn your attention to one of the literary expressions of Korean poop.
Chances are you’re familiar with Taro Gomi’s classic story ”Everyone Poops”. In Korea we have “강아지 똥” which translates roughly to “Doggy Poo”.
This popular children’s book tells the surprisingly affecting tale of an anthropomorphic dog turd and his quest for family, identity, and purpose. Yeah. I totally just typed that.
In my reading of the story I noticed similarities between Doggy Poo and Homunculus from Goethe’s “Faust”. Both characters are fashioned from mere matter (allusion to the Biblical Adam is obvious) and both tragically seek to rise above their meager beginnings to realize themselves as fully autonomous, purposeful agents.
As with Homunculus, Doggy Poo recognizes a void at the center of his being. A void that begs to be filled by purpose, a void that is — tellingly — an essential aspect of our humanity, a void that — wait a second! I’m talking about a dog turd!
This is what happens when you pay for an overpriced, undervalued degree in literature. You start obnoxiously looking for a return on your investment EVERYWHERE. Sorry, folks.
“Doggy Poo” has become incredibly popular here in Korea, spawning a wide array of merchandise and associated content. You’ve got “Doggy Poo” snacks, cartoons, notebooks, and more. But my favorite by far has to be the stage interpretation of the book.
I’m hoping at the very least for an off-Broadway showing in America. Maybe something like “Korean Poop Lands in the Big Apple”. Keep your fingers crossed!
Korea and Poop: Much More to the Story
There is much more to the story of Korea’s poop obsession. And I haven’t even gotten to my crappy day yet!
Alas, there’s only so much turd talk I can handle in a single evening, and Part Two of this curious cultural exploration will have to wait. Trust me, though, we can dive much deeper into the subject of Korean poop. Uh, wait, maybe I ought to rephrase that?
I’ll post the satisfying conclusion in a day or two. You won’t have to wait long. I want to keep this site as regular as possible. *rim shot*
In the meantime, if you thought this post was funny and don’t mind exposing your potty humor to some friends (I promise they won’t laugh at you), would you consider sharing it? We’d appreciate it. Thanks!