Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 February 13-17: New Kid on the (Asian) Toilet

(Posted with permission from Elanor.)

We have been in Sri Lanka for four days now. Steve lived here for nine months while he learned about a Tamil dialect spoken by the fishermen in Negombo, so he is doing just fine. I lived in Beijing for a summer while teaching English as a Second Language as part of a course and practicum work through Brock University and Beijing Normal University, so I, too, am doing just fine.

Elanor, however, is having some culture shock.

During church she was positive everyone was laughing at her, when in reality, many of the children were just excited because they had never had a white friend before. Resulting lesson? People laugh for different reasons - don't assume people are laughing at you!

During breakfast on day two she had a meltdown over the butter she was trying to spread on her toast, because it was cut into pieces that looked like cheese, which she almost ate before we stopped her. Resulting lesson? Food looks different here, so don't assume you know what it is!

During some beach time on day three when her dad was trying to arrange a future boat trip for us with some of the Tamil speaking fishermen, she found herself in the middle of buying several saris, four large carved shells, and a model boat from some beach vendors who did not speak very much English before I could get Steve's attention and have him intervene. Resulting lesson? When someone offers you something, they are probably trying to sell it to you, so just say, "Talk to my dad"!

During our time in Colombo on day four (today), we found ourselves surrounded by tuk tuk drivers on several occasions. It wasn't until we got back to Negombo that I figured out what was going on - every time Elanor saw one waving, she waved back, so she was hailing every tuk tuk we passed. Resulting lesson? Just shake your hand from side to side and say 'No thanks' or 'Shopping now'.

But the worst episode happened at a restaurant bathroom.

Bathrooms are different here in Asia. Back home, there's the tub or shower, the sink and the toilet, maybe a urinal if you are in a men's room. You sit down, do your business, use toilet paper to wipe yourself, wash your hands, and leave.

In larger centres here that attract a lot of tourists, it can often be the same. Our hotel, for example, has a Western three piece bathroom.

It also has a spray nozzle attached to the wall, like a miniature shower head.

Just like in France, where the use of bidets are common, Asian countries use water to clean oneself after going potty. In larger areas, toilet paper is often provided as well. But in more rural or poorer areas? There is no paper. Just a spray nozzle. Or a bucket of water and a dipper.

We had explained this to Elanor. Steve had explained how people go to the 'water closet' here. I had asked her if she understood. "Ye-e-e-esss," was the reply. But when faced with the reality of an outdoor toilet in a small room in the backyard of a restaurant in Chilaw, it was a different story altogether.

After the long bus ride to see the temple yesterday, the time spent at the temple, and the bird watching...it was time for everyone to go. Steve went first to check it out and give us the 'WC situation report' and came back with thumbs up - there was, indeed, a Western toilet. Elanor and I went to the backyard of the restaurant, where she went first while I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

"Are you okay in there?" I called.

"Uh...yeah," came the reply.

And I waited some more.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Uh...no," was the answer.

Then the door opened, and out came Elanor, soaking wet from the waist down, red-faced, and almost in tears.

"What happened?" I exclaimed.

"There was no toilet paper so I was trying to clean myself!" she responded. I sent her into the restaurant, and entered the little room myself.

There was water everywhere. E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.

We finished our lunch and headed back to Negombo. When we got back to the hotel and while her dad was napping, I took her into the bathroom, had her sit on the toilet while wearing her clothes and pretend she was doing her business, and then demonstrated exactly how one uses water when there is no toilet paper.

"Ohhhh!" she said. "I thought you had to do it standing up!" I reiterated that no, you spray while you are sitting down and showed her again.

"But how do you not get your pants wet?" she asked.

"Well, you aim into the toilet before turning it on."

"Ohhhhhh. Well that explains how I got water all over the place."

"You turned it on before you were aiming?"

"Yeah, and the water went all over the floor and the walls and the ceiling. And my pants."

If you are Jewish, now would be an appropriate time to say "Oy vey".

Resulting lesson? Elanor says, "If you are going to take your kids to Asia, make sure you show them how to use the bathroom before you go!" And I say, "Carry toilet paper with you. And have your kids carry toilet paper, too."

But, it could have been worse.... At least it wasn't a squat toilet.