On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. 1 Corinthians 12:22-24a
Any traveller worth his backpack will have his own share of toilet tales to recount. These are the stories that are humiliating in the extreme at the time, but you dine out on them for years to come.
As a lemming, I have many.
There was this toilet throne in Malaysia - up three flights of stairs - from which you could survey your kingdom. My, that was a classy one. Only problem was, you couldn't lock the door. There is no propping the door shut with your foot from up there. Think about it. Despite appearances, it doesn't flush. You dip water from that box on the left, the mandi, with a scoop and just pour it down. Works pretty well, actually. You wash your hands with mandi water too. Later, you use the same method to bathe. But I digress. We're on toilets here.
Then there was this one. In Vietnam. Now I've used my share of squat loos throughout Asia. Generally they're more hygienic than the sit-on style, and I vastly prefer them. I can't help but wonder whether they've forgotten something here, though... Um, like the holes?
I couldn't bring myself to take a photo of the toilet in Bhutan. The squat one where the pile of...um...er...your know...reached so high that squatting was a physical impossibility. So what do you do, girls? Stand?
Wait! There's more! There was the one in Borneo. The one over the river. Yes, the river. The same one that you showered in. And cooked with water from. And drank. When you scooped water you had to watch for floating...ummm...oh never mind. Yes, there was that one.
Ah, of course. The one in South-west China. There was just a room there. Four walls, a door and a concrete floor. Nothing else. There are times when all you want is a nice clean bush to go behind...
Then there are the toilets in Japan. Some of them - the old Japanese style ones - are the squat type. Pretty okay, most of them, provided you remember to face the plumbing. In most of the rest of Asia you face away. Apart from that, all you need to remember is the toilet paper. Most Westerners find it kinda essential. I do, anyhow, especially after I ran out in Borneo.
I didn't take this photo. I found it here. This nice specimen even has loo paper. In a pretty pink holder. A double-decker variety, no less. The bin is for the used paper. You do not, I repeat, do not flush it down the bowl. Glad it isn't my job to empty the bin.
The other type of toilet in Japan is the Western type. Only it is quite unlike the loo in any Western country I've ever visited. You can catch hubby's video of our toilet here. What WAS he thinking of, videoing the toilet? I am quite aghast!
At least he didn't film someone demonstrating... This is our fifth trip to Japan (I think), but there have been significant advances in Washlets since our last visit.
This model had the following features:
- Automatic, hands-free flushing system
- Sensor-activated lid that automatically lifts as you approach the toilet and lowers as you walk away.
- Soft-close toilet lid that closes automatically after flushing
- Auto flush activated by Sensors or the Simple Touch of a Button
- Gentle Aerated Warm Water
- Front and Rear Washing
- Vibrating spray nozzles
- Pulsating cleansing mode
- Warm air drying with variable temperature setting
- Automatic fan to remove smells
- Sound muffler with variable volume
- Heated seat with temperature control
Despite the advanced features, the toilet is somewhat incomprehensible to poor gaikokujin, since the controls are written only in Japanese kanji characters. It is hard enough sometimes to get the thing to actually flush, let alone wash, condition, dry and curl your bits for you. I am afraid I was known to dart quickly from some public toilets without flushing, only hoping that it was one of the self flushing models available. Another time I left with the sound of a quickly flowing waterfall emanating from the cubicle, the result of too much curious random button pressing.
It seems though that these new-fangled toilets confuse more than just we foreigners. Prize for the fanciest toilet must go to the Okamoto Keiyaku Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kobe, which has three buttons for every function I have seen elsewhere. The instructions - in Japanese only take up two A5 pages and are pinned alongside the wall mounted computer. It was all that I could manage to flush this beauty, but I'm sure the other buttons were not just there to look pretty.
So there you have it.
Amazing what you'll find when you visit A Peaceful Day isn't it?
To raise the tone marginally, I leave you with a literary quote. On toilets. It's from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. More on this book in coming posts. Have a read:
The paper at Monsier Ozu's abode - thick, soft, gentle and delicately perfumed - is there to lavish respect upon a part of the body that, more than any other, is partial to such respect. How much for one roll? I wonder, as I press the middle flush button, which is crossed with two lotus flowers; my tiny bladder, despite its lack of autonomy, can hold a fair amount. One lotus flower seems a bit skimpy, three would be narcissistic.
And then something dreadful happens.
A monstrous racket assails my ears, practically striking me down on the spot. What is terrifying is that I cannot tell where it is coming from. It is not the flush, I cannot even hear the flush, it is coming from above me and right down upon me. My heart is beating wildly... ...Did I press the wrong button, misjudging the amount produced — such presumptuousness, such pride, Renée, two lotus flowers for such a ridiculous contribution — and consequently I am being punished by the earsplitting thunder of divine justice? Am I guilty of overindulging - of luxuriating - in the voluptiousness of the act...? Have my lumpen manual laborer’s fingers, succumbing to the effect of some unconscious wrath, abused the subtle mechanism of the lotus button, thereby unleashing a cataclysm in the plumbing that threatens the entire fourth floor with seismic collapse?…
I am convinced I have gone mad, or have arrived in heaven, because the unholy racket, indistinguishable thus far, now becomes clearer and, unthinkably, sounds not unlike Mozart.
Sounds, in fact, like the Confutatis in Mozart’s Requiem. Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis!
I am hearing beautiful…. voices.
I have gone mad.