Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I Peed in a Urinal

See, the problem with journalling a trip one day at a time is that you never know what's going to become relevant later.  Like yesterday, I left out the bit about how when we stopped to use the bathroom in the Department store, we had our choice between "sit" toilets and "squat" toilets.  I found this amusing.  As I was entering the stall (of a "sit," thanks very much) I commented aloud to Peggy that I needed to get a picture of the labelled stall doors.  As soon as I shut the stall door to do my business, I saw a sign with a camera and a big red line through it -- apparently, photography in the bathroom was strictly outlawed.

I just want you people to know the lengths I'll go to for you.  After Peg and I washed our hands and were about to leave, I asked her if she thought I could take a picture anyway.  (Another woman had just entered a "squat" toiler, so we were whispering.)  Peg said I could, as long as I was quick about it.  I aimed my camera at the sign on the door saying "squat" and took a picture.

The flash went off!  Holy crap -- it seemed like the entire bathroom was bathed in a lightning strike.  Peg and I ran out of there, giggling all the way.

Now, of course, I didn't tell you about this because I thought I'd just surprise you with the photo (if it came out) when I got back home.  Little did I know that squat toilets would play a part in today's adventure.

I had signed up for a tour of Taroko Gorge.  It's a, er, gorge.  A marble gorge.  Some distance to the south.  The tour of the gorge included a plane flight down there.  I had to meet my little shuttle to the airport at 6:20 in the morning.  (And the hotel buffet breakfast opened at 6:00.  I was standing out there at 5:55, pretty much with my fork poised.)

So.  Dude picks us up in a van and takes us to the airport.  He gives us boarding passes for our flight, and tickets for the trip back -- and tells us that we'll be met by Mr. Su at the other end, who will be our tour guide.  (While we wait for the flight, we sit around talking and discover that an extraordinarily high percentage of us were all from Los Angeles.) 

Anyway (.... you're still waiting for the urinal part, aren't you?) we take our 25 minute flight down to Hualien airport.  We deplane.  We look around the airport.  (Which is freakin' gorgoeus.  It's all marble.  I took pictures.  I even took a picture of the marble bathroom, figuring I was working on a photo essay of johns in Taiwan.)  Eventually, some woman, with a baby strapped on her back, approaches our group.  She speaks no English.  She conveys (via the Chinese speakers among us) that she wants all our return tickets.  I'm skeptical -- why should I hand over my ticket to this stranger?  I have visions of some newspaper report about seven idiots from California who gave some dude in Taipei $150 each and ended up stranded in Hualien with no return tickets. 

Eventually, Mr. Su appears!  We'd been dealing with the Mrs., who would obtain our boarding passes for us while we were on the tour.  OK!  We pile onto the bus and go to...

... a marble factory.  We see these 2-ton (or was it 10-ton?) blocks of marble that they take out of the gorge; then the sheets they cut it in; then the machines they polish it with; and so forth.  (All I can think of is how cool one of those slabs would look as my new shower wall.)  Mr. Su is telling us everything in English, Mandarin, and Japanese.  English is clearly his worst language.  We pick up less than half of what he is saying.  (Later, one woman from California would confide in us that she was doing better understanding his Mandarin -- and she ain't fluent in Mandarin.)

Mr. Su then loads us back on the bus.  We go to ....

... a little roadside stop at the start of the gorge.  They are selling cheap jade bracelets and other trinkets.  Mr. Su tells us not to buy anything here; he'll take us to a place where we can get "good price" later.  Mr. Su will tell us this repeatedly during the trip -- even telling us not to buy anything from the Buddhist monks at the monastary.  (Like monks are gonna rip you off.)

FINALLY, we get back on the bus and on into the gorge.  I can't really tell you much about the gorge, as my comprehension of Mr. Su was pretty sketchy.  But it was beautiful and you'll see the pictures.  The one interesting thing I got from Mr. Su was that the gorge was very narrow -- don't think a V-shape, think two parallel vertical walls.  Because it was so narrow and we were so close to the walls, our perspective was totally out of whack.  At one point, he asked us how tall we thought a nearby cliff wall was.  We guessed something like 200 meters.  The answer was over 1400 meters.  That's like 4/5 of a mile.  Straight up.  Impressive.

There were also some pretty waterfalls cutting through the cliff walls -- and I noted at some point that the whooshing of the water was doing absolutely nothing for those of us who might need a bathroom soon.  Finally, after we'd gotten off the bus and walked for quite a bit, we saw a "Toilets this way" sign, and followed it.

To 5 porta-potties.  We stood around in what wasn't so much a line as a half-circle of people who needed to pee -- but didn't want to get all that close to the smell.  There were two different kinds of porta-potty there -- three were blue and two were yellow.  The door of one of the blue ones opened and I saw, to my horror, a "squat" toilet -- pretty much a ceramic trough sitting in the floor of the unit.  A small girl -- aged about 3 or 4 -- was next in line.  Two adults with her just took down her pants and panties right there in front of us, held the girl from either end, and carried her in there.  I could only imagine what happened next.

In the meantime, one of the yellow ones opened, and a guy walked out.  I saw a urinal in there.  I was next in line.  I looked at it, and looked questioningly at a Chinese girl behind me, who motioned encouragingly in the direction of said facilitiy.

I really, really, really had to pee.  The physics of the situation were a bit of a challenge though.  (What with me wearing pants and all.)  It seemed the only way to properly address the situation involved a particularly uncomfortable balancing act, with my fingers wedged in around both sides of the door (ewww) to keep me from toppling over.  Even then, I have to say that the gods of public toilets were smiling upon me, in that I managed to do the deed and get out of there without peeing on my clothes (or letting them touch the ooky porta-potty floor).

Afterward, people were washing their hands from a rusty water spout emptying into a big plastic basin.  I used anti-bacterial hand wash.  And a lot of it.


dklars said...

Hmmm... perhaps squatting is better suited to , uh, "Ladies" who wear no panties under their short dresses.  That might work! LOL

rgwindland said...

Just think - this is gonna be your once-in-a-lifetime experience that not many other peple have sone, LOL. I saw the same kind of squat toilets in a place in the Italian Alps, but thank goodness (for me) had a regular one too. Rhonda

mom23nca said...

Aren't squatty potties fun?  One day we were travelling by bus (an interesting experience) and were going for 14 hours straight.  We had no choice but to use squatty potties and some were just trenches dug in the ground.  It was dug on a slant and all the urine just flowed down to who knows where.  ICK!!!  But if you gotta go you gotta go.  Well, not totally true - my 10 y/o refused to use squatty potties and that day she held it ALL DAY LONG and we had to race to the bathroom in the hotel when we finally arrived there.  Then she almost refused to use that because it was not flushed.  

ravenlark2 said...

Oh that's just gross....but the gorge sure sounds impressive.
The joys of visiting another country eh?


supra10731 said...

haha!  I can relate.  Check out - it works!  We took the more problems, as we all (girls each of us) can stand at the urinals!