SUWON, South Korea (Reuters) - Rodin’s Thinker is pondering even harder than usual as he sits astride a toilet at what has been dubbed the world’s first theme park dedicated to the humble restroom - a monument to one South Korean man’s vision.
The park, located about an hour outside of Seoul in the city of Suwon - otherwise known as the home of Samsung Electronics - centers around a toilet-shaped museum building that was once the home of Sim Jae-duck, founder and first president of the World Toilet Association.
Legend has it that Sim, a former Suwon mayor who made his fortune with a metal products business and was dubbed “Mr Toilet,” was born in his impoverished grandmother’s outhouse.
“He is a man whose life literally began in a toilet and ended at a commode-shaped house,” said Lee Yeun-sook, manager of planning at the “Mr Toilet Sim Jae-duck Foundation”.
Sim, who died in 2009 at the age of 70, shot to fame in South Korea when he provided loos for soccer fans when the country hosted the 2002 World Cup.
The organization he founded has as its mission spreading the benefits of hygienic toilets around the world, joining the like-minded World Toilet Organization based in Singapore.
Before Mr.Toilet’s house was donated to Suwon city, visitors could book it for an overnight stay, but at the cost of $50,000 a night - the charge to raise money for a toilet building charity. There were no takers.
Other exhibits at the park include Korean traditional squat toilets, European bedpans, and Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture “Fountain,” a porcelain urinal.
Suwon has since dubbed itself the mecca of toilet culture and has pushed to get toilets recognized as a central part of everyday life. It has funded toilet building programs in developing countries such as the Philippines.
At home, toilet conditions have rapidly improved as South Korean living standards shot from poverty to riches in a generation.
“For our generation, a toilet was a very dirty and smelly place where you never wanted to go,” said Kim Gye-soon, a 52-year-old tourist at the theme park. “But now it is totally different.”
Suwon will continue the life-work of one of its most famous sons by constructing a toilet culture center in 2014 near the current park, which has attracted about 40,000 visitors since it opened in July.
Like many of the best things in life, the toilet museum is free.
“Going to the restroom is as vital as eating. In a sense, nations and governments should work to make sure everyone has an equal access to toilets and feels happiness in there,” said Lee.
Reporting By Jane Chung, editing by Elaine Lies