Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Drawing in Translation

I visited Shanghai, China for the first time almost twenty years ago. I ventured to the Far East before being East was "in". Back when travel to China was a bit more difficult and definitely more reasonably priced.

I have traveled to many countries and I am very fascinated by different cultures. Their language. Their food. Their uniqueness. Their souvenirs. And most importantly, their toilets! I am a photo connoisseur of thrones. Toilets, to me, are so much more interesting than ... whether or not your beer was served cold or that you couldn't find any ice cubes in an entire country.

We all have those types of friends, the "ice cube" friend. Ice cube friend dramatically announces, "I was at this great restaurant and I ordered a coke. The waitress showed up with a warm coke. I asked for some ice and the waitress looked at me like I was from another planet." Well, ice cube friend, you are from the U.S. which is close to being other-planet-like. Ice cube friend never received his ice. So he ordered a beer. "The beer was warm, too. Can't put ice in a beer since I need the entire alcohol content. I'll be so glad to get back to the U.S. where there's ice and cool beverages." This ice cube friend probably dons dark socks, too.

Ice cube friend has me sidetracked. I want to discuss the toilet situation beyond the American borders. Do you ever wonder why ice cube friend never discusses any other part of his "vacation"? He must have had a depressing time. There I go again...

Toilets -- I have to admit that America, the U.S. of A, has the BEST plumbing in the entire world, solar system, milky way... 100%. We may not manufacture the best toilets (Japan's heated toilet seats win that contest bums-down!) but we do have the most efficient sewage and plumbing systems.

China's most common toilet is the whole in the ground. Preferably the squatter's cement whole. Flushable with a pail of water. I do prefer the squatting method. Americans (I am including myself here) are a bit lazy ... we "sit" to go to the restroom. Who thought of that anyhow? After witnessing the whole in the ground ... the toilet engineer from America produced a toilet for relaxing, for resting, for making life a whole lot easier. (If any of you have children, then you know there isn't a whole lot of resting going on in the bathroom -- you're lucky if you are even alone!)

One hot blustery afternoon, I am wandering the streets and shops of Shanghai. I have a tendency to drink a lot of water (in any country) therefore I have visited a lot of restrooms in my lifetime on an hourly basis. Luckily, it is very hot and humid in China during this particular summer season. My water consumption is exiting every existing sweat pore at an alarming rapid speed. I can't believe that I can actually "hold it" for a couple of hours longer than usual.

As the day goes on, I find myself in a newly opened department store. Not a street vendor. Not a Chinese person's home. At this time in China, newly does not insinuate newly built, modern, or up-to-date. Just newly opened.

There are five floors in this department store. Five floors of Chinese goods. Five floors accessed by stairs. Five floors of hot, stuffy air.

After browsing the first floor (ground level), I shopped the second floor, I purchased a children's book an the third floor, I avoided the clothing on the fourth floor (at sixty-six inches, I was very tall and short pants were not an option), I arrived on the fifth floor. Oops, I have to use the restroom. I searched the entire floor. I couldn't find one. I didn't see one. Where do the workers go? Where do the shoppers go? I can't possibly be the only one who makes it to the fifth floor and discovers that I gotta go, NOW. The longer I search, the more I have to go. How ironic!

I am getting desperate. I shouldn't have drank those last eight ounces of water. I should have saved them. I approached one Chinese woman to ask where the restroom was located. She panicked because she obviously didn't speak English, nor did she want to. She flew the scene and returned with five other Chinese women. So, I asked again, "where is the restroom?". All six women just stared at me. I then spoke more slowly (not loudly) ... "w-h-e-r-e--i-s--t-h-e--r-e-s-t-r-o-o-m?". OK, the word restroom isn't working. "bathroom?" Still nothing. "Toilet?" Blank stares. "Toy-ee-day", using Japanese pronunciation, and I am running out of time here.

Finally, a new saleswoman approached. She acknowledged me. I again ask, "toilet?". And she encouraged me with more information. Suddenly, a brilliant idea came to me, I would draw a picture. Pictures tell a thousand words. Everyone loves Pictionary. I pulled out my notebook and pen from my backpack. I ripped out a page and drew a "toilet"....
The new saleswoman smiled at me and nodded with understanding. She motioned for me to follow her. Ahhhh! I followed. Down the stairs -- to the first floor. She led me out the door. I was now beginning to wonder where this toilet could possibly be located? Is it in an "outhouse"? Is it behind the building in a mound of dirt? Where am I going?

I continued to follow this woman. I am very trusting, not skeptical. After walking a few feet and then crossing the street, cater-corner from the department store, the saleswoman deposited me. She left me on the street. I looked around. I was very confused. I was standing under a "bus stop" sign. I looked in the direction that the woman walked and realized she was not coming back. I didn't need a bus. I needed a bathroom.
How could my beautifully misinterpreted toilet drawing lead me to a bus stop? My toilet looks nothing like a bus stop. Then again, my toilet looks nothing like a Chinese toilet. It was an American rendition of a toilet. Oops.
Well, I still needed to find a bathroom. So, I just took the bus back to my guesthouse (where I know there is communal bathroom)!

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