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When Nature Calls in Foreign Lands

Copyright 1999 -- story by Jean-Philippe Soule

Thailand is famous for its white sand beaches, plunging cliffs of limestone surrounded by lush rainforests and warm turquoise water. The bay of Phang Nga has quickly become a kayaker’s paradise. Your best friends invite you to join them on their paddling trip around the bay. You’re now paddling the longest stretch from the resort of Krabi to the famous island of Koh Phi Phi. The day breaks with the sun reflecting its orange beams of light in the water. The only ripples are the ones from your paddle strokes. You think you’re in paradise when you start feeling strange movements in your bowels. You shut your mind to it but soon stomach cramps alter your paddling. You remember the delicious spicy food of the previous night and have no choice but to jump in the water…

. . .

During one of my first travels I met a young British couple in Thailand. They had spent a year touring India and recounted to me fantastic tales. Somehow our discussion moved toward the subject of daily necessities. Shocked and horrified, I listened to this charming woman saying, "Now I’m so used to using my left hand that I don’t want to use toilet paper anymore. You feel so much cleaner with water." Even though more than half of the world population has never used any toilet paper, my upbringing and narrow mindedness forbade me from accepting that she could be right.

. . .

Modern toilets, most notably public ones, are built with complex specifications. In the USA, thin disposable paper seat covers were recently replaced by rotating plastic wrapping operated by an electrical engine and a conveniently positioned button. People don’t have to touch anything that has ever been touched by another human being before. In France, public pay-toilets are self-cleaning. Make sure you get out quickly after you close the door a second time or you might be disinfected and cleaned up yourself. When you close the door after use, in addition to standard flushing, the full cabin is washed with pressure jets. If you happen upon the strong smell of urine in a Paris subway, don’t worry it isn’t a leak from the modern toilets. The homeless simply can’t afford to pay the fees.

Japanese public toilets show the technology at its best and their use is free. The seats are heated in cold areas. Toilets come with a full console. You have to read Japanese to make sense of all the possibilities or you could have fun experimenting a little on your own. One of the most utilized features is the sound track. At the push of a button, a flushing sound conveniently covers the sound of your excretions. This feature is important, without it people might know what your business it all about.

. . .

Being sick is another issue most travelers worry about, and for good reason, as most of us get sick eventually. It varies from a little diarrhea to bloody or watery dysentery. In Katmandu I lost twenty pounds in two weeks. Another time in Indonesia, my self-consciousness was pushed beyond its limit. I was on a local bus crossing the long island of Flores driving through terrible roads. The bus was hours late. I was sitting in the last row, holding my stomach as best as I could. Cramps became unbearable and when I felt like I couldnít hold any longer, I discretely told my neighbor to immediately stop the bus. His response wasnít the one I was hoping for. From the rear he screamed loudly to the driver, "Hey the tourist is sick, stop the bus." Before the driver could even touch the brake, the fifty heads were turned back and staring at me. The bus stopped, the rear door opened, and I wasnít able to go farther than two steps before abandoning all decorum and going right on the road. All the people came out of the bus to urinate, forming a half circle all around me as I was relieving myself. To me it was another shameful experience, but to them it didnít seem to be anything out of the ordinary. I was learning to fight my hang-ups the hard way . . .

Jean-Philippe Soule


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