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Brian’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 06 Feb 2007

Location: Cultual Undestandings, China

MapBrian: Cultural Learnings of China for Make Benefit Glorious Nation U.S. and A.

Episode 1: The Public Toilet

As westerners we take some very simple things for granted. The western toilet - invented by John Crapper - has evolved into a safe haven. It's place of solitude where one can gather thoughts, hide from a boss, read a magazine, or simply indulge in some 'me-time.' You are probably accustomed to a ventilation fan, maybe a basket of pot pourri, or some soft music and most importantly - simply flushing everything away. And if you're really spoiled you might even have a phone or a tv (see J.W. Marriott).

Well today I bring you the polar opposite. The antithesis of comfort. Desperate times cause for desperate measures and no matter the warnings you receive from friends or fellow travellers sometimes the call of nature is simply too strong. So, what option do you have while walking on city streets miles from the hostel, blocks from the nearest McDonalds or any respectable restaraunt toilet? The only option is the public toilet. Home of the paddy squat. For women this routine act comes naturally during camping trips, long road trips or maybe even Mardi Gras. But for men, this is a muscle group we rarely use.

Entering the public toilet, the tear forming smell of ammonia is overwhelming. The toilets are like cubicles with a trough running along the bottom that "collects" as the water flows. IF the water flows. Unluckier travellers have had a bout with stalagtite-like mounds ominously cresting the edges of the trough like the Azores of the Atlantic. You pick your cubicle style trench slot. Are you upstream or downstream of the mass of cubicles before you? The thought of fecal matter passing below your birds eye view of this new grandest of canyons is too much. You take the first one as trespassing deeper into the olfactory torture chamber would only make things worse, but, it has no doors. Your devious act is only slightly obscured from the passerbys of the street. Its too late to go back now, you body senses how close you are to the toilet and kicks the pressure into over drive. Squatting... the fear of "splash back" is overwhelming... what would you do? Burn your skin off? Yes. 'Thank God for the Hep A shots' you think to yourself. Simply hoping for a "clean break" may be too much to ask for. How about being able to get up? Yes! Simplying being able to stand would be spectacular. But, you have been squatting for several minutes now and your legs have numbed up. A half-hearted attempt at standing and you might fall backwards. Struggling for balance you look for something to hold on to, some support, but what? Every nook, crany and pipe is pockmarked with hundreds, nay thousands, of other human's (hopefully) bodily fluids. You've got to make a move quickly before you legs become too numb. It's a downward spiral now. The point of no return was many mouth-covered breaths ago. Shifting your legs, hands pressing on your knees, like an olympic squatter slowly you come to a stand. Ever so vigilent not to let any body part or article of clothing touch anything. It's the home stretch now. You've come so far, dont make a mistake now!

Toilet paper! Did you bring it? This is a BYOTP establishment, so you must come prepared. Just remember to drop that used TP in the basket, that festering basket overflowing with loathesome fecal excrement. To the excrements credit, at least its on a vehicle of sandpaper-like toilet paper. You can't throw it down the trench! You would set back the Chinese sewer system a decade of decomposition time. Like a game of Jenga you must place your TP on top of that overflowing basket and PRAY it doesn't all come crashing down at your feet. Now run... run towards that fresh smoggy air and breathe life back into your body. You've made it and lost nothing but your dignity. Congratulations!