The Big Brown Swirl

Poop’s Place in Korean Culture

By Stephen Redeker

If you have not noticed already, the image of a neat pile of poo is iconic in Korea.

There is an admiration for poop in Korea that does not exist as much in Western culture. It starts early in life: “Doggy Poo” is a popular animated children’s show which follows the adventures of a living, breathing, wandering piece of dung that wonders what his purpose is in this world. “Dong Bang” is a franchise of shops that sell cakes shaped like poop that are filled with red bean paste, and Koreans and tourists alike line up in droves to grab a bite of this sweet snack. Some folks even value actual excrement as something useful to our well-being. Historically, feces had some perceived beneficial attributes, which explains much of the attention it still gets these days outside of the bathroom.

Many people use the expression “nature is calling” when the need to visit the toilet arises. This is an appropriate expression, because there is still to this day the principle that pooping is a way for man to give back to nature. Excrement can be helpful as a fertilizer in the soil and can lead to new life in the form of healthy plants and crops. This circulation between man and nature has been interrupted by modern methods of fecal disposal. Books have been written about the selfishness of man who simply flushes away his or her own waste instead of blessing Mother Earth with their precious gift.

Besides being good for nature, poop has often been seen as good for man as well. For those who wake up after a dream that contained poop, they can rest assured that good fortune and wealth is coming their way. It was also widely believed for hundreds of years that poop had healing powers. Various animal and people poo found its way into medicine as a remedy for many health problems. There are still a few medical practitioners today that believe in the healing powers of poop. Dr. Lee Chang Soo makes “ttongsul” (poo alcohol). This traditional Korean rice wine that contains the fermented feces of a human child is actually nine percent alcohol. He claims that it can relieve pain, heal bruises, mend broken bones and help heal patients in half the time it would normally take. Dr. Lee is saddened by the fact that the use of feces is all but extinct in medicinal applications. Most Koreans, and the rest of the world, are unaware that this blend of rice wine even exists, as the practice of brewing it faded after the 1960s. It begs the question: how bad of an ailment would it take for you to give this ancient recipe a sip?

(photo credit: myseoulsearching.com)

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