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.

 Enjoy!

Korea’s Poop Obsession: Part Deuce

This is number two in our exploration of Korean poop. If you haven’t yet read Part One, that’s probably a good place to start.

What’s the deal with Korea’s poop obsession? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many a time, and one you might have shared as you read the first part of this series.

So, what’s the deal with Korea’s poop obsession? An interesting question, but probably the wrong one to ask. I think a better question would be this: What’s the deal with every culture’s poop obsession?

Think about it. How many euphemisms do you know to describe a bowel movement? How many different words do you know for feces? How many movies have you seen that exploited this most basic biological function for comedic effect? A lot, right?

And it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or in what era you lived, chances are your culture is/was obsessed with poop.

Consider the cave paintings of Lascaux, France. Among the oldest examples of Western art, these Paleolithic paintings depict arcane ceremonies and rituals, indigenous wildlife, and in one memorable case, a rhinoceros pooping out the Pleiades.

Consider Japan’s wildly popular golden poop charm. Actually, bringing Japan into a discussion about any given culture’s poop obsession is a road I’d rather not travel — let’s just say Korea’s obsession looks modest by comparison.

Finally, consider Rabelais’s famously (and hilariously) scatological series of novels “Gargantua and Pantagruel”. For those of you whose knowledge of Renaissance literature is a touch rusty, here’s the Cliff’s Notes: “Gargantua and Pantagruel” concerns the story of two giants who, among other things, piss rivers and shit mountains.

In the prologue for “Gargantua and Pantagruel” Rabelais wrote this: “It teaches little except how to laugh / Because it is natural for man to laugh.”

If that isn’t reason enough for every gross-out movie, euphemism, golden poop charm, poop-themed toothpaste, and poop-related blog post in this or any other culture, I don’t know what is.

Korean Poop: Number Two

Okay, so the whole thing that got this rumination on defecation started was a singularly curious experience I had at school recently. And I’m going to get to that. But first, two more examples of Korea’s poop obsession.

Korean poop is delicious!

This is poop bread. I hope you’re hungry!

One cool thing about Korea is the street food scene. You can probably imagine it: Stalls or carts on the streets selling all manner of delicious, artery-clogging, deep-fried delecacies. Oh, and bread shaped like piles of poop. Yeah, that last one might not be so easy to imagine.

As this image from the Korean news site Chosun.com shows, 똥빵 — which literally translates as “poop bread” — is, well, just that: Bread shaped to look like a steaming dog pile. What you can’t see from this picture is the red bean filling  (it has a nice dark-brown color) that gives each bite of your poopy treat an extra dimension of visual authenticity.

This pair of poop bread is mounted on a take-away bag. I want you to look at the image again. There’s no fewer than seven depictions of poop on that tiny bag. And in case you’re wondering what it says, here’s a rough translation: “Two delicious shit breads created by his ass.”

I just…I mean, what can you even say about that?!

A grown woman dressed as a poop. Yep.

A grown woman dressed as a poop. Yep. 

My friend Kelly Williams took this picture at a parade outside of Seoul. Nothing brings excitement (and possibly shame) to a parade like dressing yourself as a giant poop.

If my stories about the popular children’s book, toothpaste, and poop shaped street snacks didn’t drive home how mainstream is Korea’s poop obsession, this picture certainly will.

Here is a fully grown, presumably sane woman who left her house dressed as multiple piles of poop to attend a public parade.

I’m getting to the point where I think humor writers in Korea might have the easiest job in the world.

My Crappy Day: How Korea and Poop Teamed Up to Save Me in the Classroom

At my school I teach kindergaten through 6th grade.

Each class offers its own unique set of challenges and rewards, but one of the constants amongst my 5th and 6th grade students is their biologically determined inability to pay attention to any one thing for more than thirty seconds.

As a result, my approach in the classroom is a blend of stand up comedy/acting like a cartoon character with a smattering of pedagogy thrown in when I’m feeling lucky or masochistic.

To say I have to hustle to gain and maintain their attention would be putting it rather lightly.

Little did I know the solution to my problem was poop.

Korean Poop story

This little mole deserves my thanks.

I’m currently working with my 5th graders on possessive pronouns — “mine”, “yours”, “his”, etc — which you’ll no doubt be shocked to learn is pretty damn boring. When a colleague suggested I try a slide presentation that has proved popular in the past, I was all for it.

It all started innocuously enough. We saw slides with pictures of different animals and their names in English, followed by a brief review of possessive pronouns. The students were suitably bored. A sense of desparation was mounting within me. And then we hit this slide.Korean Poop plop!

It was like I’d won the attention lottery. Suddenly, faces brightened, sleepy eyes became focused, slumped bodies sat up at their desks. All thanks to the hypnotic power of poop.

The slide presentation I used was an adaptation of a popular book called “The Story of The Little Mole Who Knew it was None of His Business” by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch. (It’s hard to tell from their names, but this creative duo is from Germany. See! EVERY culture is obsessed with poop.)

It’s essentially a tale of revenge. Think Quentin Tarentino’s “Kill Bill” with less blood and more animal feces. Our protagonist wakes up one morning to have a log of mysterious parentage uncermoniously dumped on his head. Needless to say, he’s not a happy camper. What follows is his barnyard odyssey for the bastard who did this to him.

Korean Poop pellets

This little mole will have his revenge.

To better fit with our possessive pronoun theme we changed the dialogue to something like this: [Mole] “Hey, is this your poop?” [Rabbit] “That’s not my poop. This is my poop!” It beats asking “Is this your pencil case” for the one thousandth time, anyway.

After the presentation I stood in front of the class and led them in a call and response of “Is this your poop?” “That’s not mine!” “Is this your poop?” “Yes, that’s mine!”

That’s where I’m at in my professional career. Sigh. Look, you do what you have to do. And if I have to build a Trojan horse from poop to help these kids learn something, so be it.

There ya have it, folks, my crappy day. Hopefully you learned a little something and had a laugh about Korea’s poop obsession along the way. If you’d like to share this story with someone, I would appreciate it. And if you have your own story to share, please leave a comment!