You learn real quick what you can and can’t live with while traveling abroad. I love embracing differences in other cultures relative to my own and reveling in the experience. Usually the basic differences pop up first such as weather, infrastructure, language, etc.
Food is probably one of the most enjoyable subjects to explore abroad. In Uruguay I ate cow intestine, replete with tufts of hay still green between its roasted slices. In Peru, I spat out Ginny pig bones and tried not to think of my brother’s beloved pet Harvey. In Argentina, the wines washed away all doubts about the blessed grape being alive and well outside Napa Valley.
But I’ve decided there’s one thing about home that I miss more than anything else. Something that I can’t bring with me and have found no equal to while traveling thus far in the Philippines–my lovely, bamboo rimmed toilet seat in the solid comfort of my private bathroom, replete with fart fan, and a liberal supply of reading material.
I can squat with the bears and wipe with tree bark in the back country if I have to. I can giggle in the city while a bubbling bidet spritzes my bum and deny having enjoyed it. But I’m not used to half-ply tissue; lidless crappers and non flushing bowls. Sanitation is surprisingly difficult to come by in any public facility that I’ve come across, unless you’re in some high-rise hotel lobby, major airport or Manila based casino. If you do find an air-conditioned facility with all the luxury of home, chances are it’s a forced, first world treatment where a man stands by ready to hand you tissue just outside the stall. Do I tip him? Can I at least wash my hands first? it’s crazy difficult trying to find a place to relax and poop without the pressure of impending spatters from someone or something next to you. Forget Reader’s Digest. You will be in dog-eared purgatory if you think you can finish even a quick sales pamphlet advertising the latest Manila condo project, for surely someone will be knocking, barking, or prodding you to move along or pay rent.
Today, minutes before boarding a small shuttle plane leaving Manila for Western Visayas, I entered the “comfort room” at the Cebu airport. A small child had opted for the one open toilet to pee in rather than using the urinal. The entire room had an occupancy of 3 but standing in the middle of the four walls I realized I could probably high-five everyone in the room simultaneously with one hand without moving. I couldn’t retreat once I entered as someone else entered right behind me, so we both were stuck standing, while those there ahead of us completed their business. I really wanted to sit down if you catch my drift (sorry, bad analogy) but I couldn’t. The boy who’d beat me to the punch bowl stood there happy as you please and proceeded to pee all over the seat like he was writing his name (and his entire family’s name) in the snow … only there wasn’t any snow for at least a million miles, just a simple in-tact toilet which otherwise would have suited me fine. Now I needed surgical gloves and Mr. Clean’s version of a wet vac just to follow the little piss ant, so I decided to forgo the whole business of doing my business altogether.
The flight to Roxas was shall we say, somewhat stuffy.
So I’ve learned a few things. Always carry paper. Each swatch of precious tissue I come across is worth more than the paper the pesos in my pocket are printed on. I’ve yet to use the money here for this purpose but I’ve not ruled it out. A $20 php bill is the smallest paper denomination here (worth less than 50 cents) and although I can buy a cold San Miguel beer at any Mini Mart with one, I’d surely have my way with the thing if I had to.
Psyllium husk is your friend. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details but trust me, one little packet of this heavenly powder a day provides what I can only describe as a religious experience.
So now I’m off to my bride’s little village where plumbing is a concept not yet realized and my camera bag is stuffed with baby wipes.
Speaking of which, I must say farewell for now … I think I have to go.