Museums are often places for quiet reflection, studious observation and stone-faced self-education.

But, at a popular museum in Suwon, South Korea, visitors frequently squat and giggle.

That’s because Mr. Toilet House is dedicated to the history and importance of toilets, and features a number of displays and statues inspired by the time people spend every day taking care of their bodily business.

Approximately 80,000 people, 30 percent of whom are from other countries — including many U.S. servicemembers from nearby Osan Air Base and Camp Humphreys — have passed through the museum since it opened in October 2010 in a converted, toilet-shaped house once owned by the late Sim Jae-duck, also known as “Mr. Toilet.”

As the legend goes, according to museum spokeswoman Anne Lee, Sim’s mother gave birth to him in an outdoor toilet because she believed it was good luck for him to start his life in “a very humble place.”

He grew up to become the mayor of Suwon, and someone passionate about upgrading public toilet facilities there and around the world.

He eventually led a movement to improve health and sanitation around the globe, and was the force behind the formation of the World Toilet Association, which had its first international meeting in Seoul in 2007.

One of the more interesting features inside the house is a large-windowed bathroom in the center, where Lee said Sim used the toilet like a lounge chair, interacting with people in other parts of the house and admiring the outside garden.

Visitors are relieved to find out the room is equipped with a button that clouds up the windows when it is time to answer the call of nature.

Lee said museum officials do not take offense when visitors laugh at many of the displays, because one of the goals of the facility is to take discussion of the water closet out of the closet and into the mainstream.

“For a long time, the public toilet has been thought of as a very dirty, stinky place,” she said.

Sim made it his life’s work, “to send a message to all the people of the world about the importance of the toilet in our daily lives,” Lee said.

Museum officials hope to raise awareness of the fact that 40 percent of the world’s population does not have access to toilet facilities, and millions die every year from waterborne diseases, “because they don’t have any sanitary facilities or clean public toilets,” she said.

On a recent morning, dozens of kindergartners from a nearby school were flush with excitement as they streamed in and out of the museum and around the statues and toilets on display just outside.

They took particular interest in sculptures of a boy using a rope in place of toilet paper, and excrement dropping from the bottom of another bronze young man.

“The poops are so fun,” 5-year-old Kim Tae-yeon said. “Many of the things here are amazing. I learned today that toilets are precious things to us.”

After running from one exhibit to the next, kindergartener Lee Seo-won said, “The shapes of the toilets here are very different from the ones at my home. They’re bigger than ours.”

The highlight of the visit for 5-year-old Yong Su-jeong was the museum itself.

“The white toilet-shaped building — It’s the biggest toilet I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Teacher Kim So Jeung said visiting the museum is worthwhile for the children, despite all the giggling.

“They get to know how our ancestors used bathrooms … in the old days,” she said. “This place is definitely worth visiting.”

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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