Just squirming in my seat at a local restaurant in Yangshuo, China. I kept shifting from side to side every few seconds. My hands looked to be folded in my lap but upon closer observation you could tell they were really pressed against my stomach. I was seconds away from breaking out in light perspiration. I couldn't concentrate on what the group around the table was talking about much less the card game that I was in the middle of playing. All I could think about was how bad I needed to go number 2!
The establishment had a couple of restrooms for patrons located on the second floor. They actually weren't very far from where we were sitting but the problem had nothing to do with going the distance. The problem had to do with the style of the toilets in mainland China. At the start of my trip I had flown into Hong Kong where I stayed for 3 days while waiting for my visa to come through. Presumably due to 156 years of colonization by the British, the room in my hostel and nearly every other place I used the facilities in Hong Kong had western toilets, which I'm very much accustomed to. Asian squat toilets, like the ones found throughout all of mainland China are a completely different animal and take a considerable amount of focus and careful execution for a westerner not familiar with the technique.
As luck would have it, the apartment that I rented just minutes from downtown Yangshuo had a very comfortable western toilet. So I did my best (quite successfully I might add) to hold my important business matters until I got home. But on this day, I was in a bad way. Maybe I had one too many dumplings. It could have been the whole chicken I ate with plastic glove-covered hands. It couldn't have been the BBQ pork steamed buns I packed for lunch during my climbing day. It might've been the 4 beers that I had while playing cards that got things moving. It certainly wasn't the soft-serve cone I had from McDonald's (the only place to get ice cream) on my way to the bar. What ever the case, I had to see a man about a horse and neither were going to be waiting for me at my apartment. This was a mobile visit.
Now for those of you that have never seen an Asian toilet, let me use the illustrious brush of vocabulary to paint you a mental Van Gogh of my nightmare. Picture a recessed rectangle in the floor of the bathroom. Take one end of it and pinch it just a smidge so that it looks tapered on one end. Make a circle as big as you can with your hands and cut out a hole about the same size on the wider end and make the ground slope a little so that the liquids can run down into the hole. That's your basic Asian squat toilet. Upgrades? You bet! Some have little cutouts in the shape of feet near the edges for precision. Deluxe models may have a handrail available if the toilet is established near a corner, but all across the board (as the name implies) you have to squat. There is no seat on which to vacation those rosy cheeks while you ponder life's mysteries at your leisure.
Oh so you crossfit and squats are no problem? Yes, I can hear your judgment. Well the joke's on you because holding a squat for as long as it takes you to release the chocolate hostage is but one of your problems. Ok, so you walk into the stall, you assess the scene of the crime, you align yourself with the target but you can't engage the enemy until you decide what you're going to do with your pants. Obviously you're going to drop your trousers but how far? If you go all the way, there's a good chance that the bottom of your pant legs will be soaking up a puddle of wee wee from the last westerner with bad aim. You can go George Costanza-style and take them completely off but most places don't have a hook so where do you put them? If you pick the first option and you can manage to keep them off the floor you still have to be careful with your aim while you and John duke it out and then there's the question of what do if number 1 wants to follow. Squat and tuck or stand and about face? Oh, did I mention that most restrooms in China are BYOTP? Who wants to walk around all day with a pocket full of double quilted Charmin?
All my attempts to avoid making a grumpy were in vain. No amount of squirming, wishing, praying, or Lamaze breathing was going to deflect the inevitable. When it felt like I'd reached the point of no return, I bolted upright with the quickness of a rake when you step on the business end and I made my way to the staircase leading to the bathroom on the second floor. I can't really say I walked over. It was more like a tenuous cross between a clenched shuffle and a mozy. Every step up was like being in front of a ticking bomb with a pair of wire snips trying to decide whether to cut the red wire or the blue. When I finally reached the top of the stairs I was faced with two closed doors. My heart sank. If it had hands I imagined it would've lightly rested a finger on my bowels in a pushing gesture that said "dare me?".
I tried the first door and it opened with what I imagined to be a glowing flood of white light emanating from the frame, bestowing early forgiveness for my soon-to-come transgressions. I shuffled in, closed the door, and reach for my belt in a beautifully coordinated movement of perfection. And then, the last remaining neuron in the thinking part of my brain fired a hail Mary that screamed "CHECK FOR TOILET PAPER!" Of course there was none. Cruel world.
I rip open the door step out and try the next room. Open! There's toilet paper! And then I look at the squat toilet. There, on the shallow end of this pee-stained porcelain nightmare is a fecal delinquency of elephantine proportions. Oh the horror! Someone (presumably a westerner) had most definitely done it wrong. Oddly enough, the trauma from the scene of the crime had temporarily overridden my need to go so I could deal with the more immediate threat of embarassment. What if there was someone else waiting to use the toilet? No doubt they would be forced to think that the nightmare on Elm street was of my own volition. Yangshuo is a pretty small place. I couldn't very well be running around crushing limestone while everyone murmured about my inability to properly use the toilet. I had to get out fast and undetected!
I cracked the door open enough to spy into the little loft. Convinced no one was waiting for the stall, I dashed out, slammed the door behind me and flew down the stairs hoping I didn't run into anyone on the way. I ran out of the bar (forgetting to pay my tab) and flagged down the first motor-bike taxi I saw. I gave him an extra 10 yuan to get me to my apartment at top speed. After 4 flights of stairs I reached my front door, my bowels already anticipating the relief just beyond the door. I reached the bathroom, ripped off the lower half of my clothing and then....
There are no words in the human language to describe the comfort of my own bathroom on that tempestuous evening. I never did learn to properly use the squat toilet. I just made sure I had plenty of TP in my climbing pack at all times and a Costco-sized bottle of Imodium readily accessible. Below are a few photos from some of the epic climbing I did in Yangshuo.