Korea This Week: September 11-17

In Korea this week: North Korean missile over Japan, skin care on the road, and awkward restroom encounters.


North Korean Missile Launch

On Friday, North Korea launched a giant middle finger ballistic missile that flew over the Japanese Island of Hokkaido, and traveled a total distance of 3,700 km before splashing into the Pacific Ocean. In response, South Korea flipped the bird in return fired a missile off of North Korea’s coast, to demonstrate its readiness to retaliate in the event of an attack from the North.

While the South Korean public remained characteristically blase about the high stakes pissing match, the Japanese, particularly residents of Hokkaido, were not at all happy about it. The launch sparked sirens and emergency phone messages warning citizens to take cover, and also interrupted broadcasting and train schedules all over Hokkaido. “I cannot say that we are used to this,” said one resident quoted in this Japan Times article. “I mean, the missile flew right above our town. It’s not a very comforting thing to hear.”


Kim Jong-eun air-mailing the world a “Fuck you” card.

Must-have beauty items (for those who must have them)

The only items I travel with that could be even loosely described as “beauty products” are hair gel and a toothbrush – and I don’t always remember the toothbrush. Imagine my surprise then to find this Conde Nast Traveler piece on “The Korean Beauty Products We Can’t Travel Without”, listing such travel essentials as ‘gauze peeling wine’, ‘pearlization toner’, and ‘snail repair cream’.

The article notes that Korean products are ideal for travelers because they tend to work quickly and thus save you time on the road. Some readers will no doubt note that travelers can save maximum time by simply not having a 9-step skincare regimen; but if you must have your skin glistening like new-blown glass while you roam the Louvre or the Taj Majal, these products will apparently give you a shot at achieving that.

One takeaway for me was to underline the point that Korean cosmetics, apart from being pretty out-there (snail repair cream?), are very big business; the writer refers to Korean cosmetics as ‘the third pillar of Korean culture around the globe, alongside K-Pop and kimchi’, and she’s probably right.

The other takeaway was that my skincare regimen, which currently consists of washing with “soap” and applying some “aftershave”, is woefully inadequate. Who knew?

A snail leaves a trail of slime where it belongs: anywhere other than my face.



A recent Korea Times article on women cleaners in men’s toilets sparked a bit of discussion in expat circles recently. The article refers to the common practice of middle-aged female janitors cleaning men’s public toilets while the toilet is in use, and claims that for non-Koreans, this is often a cause of embarrassment and “serious mental discomfort”, with one South African commenter going so far as to call it a “violation of human rights”.

Several foreign male residents of Korea weighed in on the popular Facebook group “Every Expat in Korea”, and while many admitted feeling awkward in those situations, many more saw nothing odd or off-putting about it, and no one echoed the South African’s sentiment that a female janitor catching a peripheral glimpse of your willie makes you the next Nelson Mandela.

The article and subsequent discussion, taken together, are a good illustration of the gap that often exists between what foreigners in Korea think about life in Korea, and what the English-language media in Korea thinks they think. Just for the record, I’ve never minded the presence of female janitors in the loo, though it does occasionally bug me when the cleaner, in her rush to get the job done, sloshes the mop over my shoes. Oh well. 

Fourth Street subway station, NYC. Many male residents of my hometown have triumphed over the shyness associated with peeing in front of others.

And how was your week?



  1. Korean skin care is unparalleled in the number of steps you have to do to get the perfect skin. thinking about it is exhausting! but then again, that’s me. so i don’t have flawless skin. the female janitor issue is amusing, oh well… I would look at it more from the perspective of the female cleaner. if men are uneasy about it, just imagine what the cleaner has to go through mentally to get her job done… and earn for the day.

    • I’ve often wondered how the cleaners feel about it. It’s awkward starting up a chat though, and they tend to avoid eye contact.

  2. A 9 step skin care routine? How about one more to round it off to a nice and even number. Who can remember all these steps and who has the time? Snails? Nah, I think I’ll pass and stick to my brown sugar and honey home made scrubs instead – cheap and effective. I like your writing style and would love all my news to be delivered in this clever manner.

  3. Your article is very funny. I like the lacing of wittiness and information you’ve delivered here. I enjoy Korea’s skincare and all but I think there is such excess around it. A few of the products should suffice, not 20 of them, like those articles make out to seem.

    I didn’t know about the female janitors in Korea. I can see how foreigners would freak out about it but they must adapt to their host country, right?

  4. With regard to the janitor situation, if the roles were switched and older male janitors were cleaning in the female bathrooms, despite women using cubicles, the situation would surprise me a little and I wouldn’t feel 100% comfortable. If the janitors were young Korean men, i’d definitely not feel comfortable. I think that age plays a factor here.

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