Across Continents

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Toilet humour

November 24th, 2011

Ken stops for a short break on his way into San Francisco… Not normally one to camp around toilets…

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Braving the “Elements”

December 3rd, 2010

Fading fast. More coffee. Another Starbucks. But now in Hong Kong. Not sure where exactly. Somewhere in the centre. “Elements” shopping centre. Busying itself preparing for Christmas. Ending up here because it was directly above the Kowloon Bus Station where I’d been dropped off.

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I doubt you could construct a more perfect shopping centre. Offered complimentary mints at the concierge’s desk as I sought, successfully, to acquire a map. Public toilets the best I’d seen. Full stop. Ever. Automated soap dispensers at each basin, yielding a small, neat dollop of foam. Had a few goes.

Hong Kong wasn’t China. Strictly speaking it is, but in truth it seems very different. A defacto separate nation. It’s not just that they drive on the left or use a different currency. Or there’s a much wider, albeit far from universal, use of English. Subtle things. Three pin plugs. As in the UK. Or Malta. And cash machines that insist you remove your card before they give you your money.

The choice of shops in “Elements” intriguing. Less of the international names you might find in Chinese equivalents, the sort that sell you opulence. Gaudy symbols of wealth. More the sorts of places you might actually want to pop in, picking up more everyday items. The measure of a more developed society. Albeit at a price. Hong Kong isn’t cheap.

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Toilet tips

June 4th, 2010

Toilet

On the train from Atyrau to Kyzylorda there was invariably a wait for the squat toilet at the end of the carriage. But not for the Western style porcelain affair at the other end. I seemed to be the only user, discretely placing a small tear in the roll of unusually soft toilet paper to see if anyone else made use of it. It appeared not.

Squat toilets aren’t anything new on this expedition, commonplace in France and again in the old Eastern Bloc countries, Turkey and the Caucasus. Definitely never been my first choice of lavatory, so why their popularity? I suspect the answer is the very reason, ironically, I’m not a huge fan. Hygiene. Except for where you put your feet, no contact with where someone else has been before you. Provided you can cope with the squatting position, anatomically probably quite good, doesn’t sound such a bad idea. Except that some designs are susceptible to being blocked by paper, so you have to pop that in an adjacent bin.

Out in the villages, in more remote places, it’s the pit toilet. Same idea as the squat type, but without the water flush. Filling, if the guide books are to be believed, Western travellers with absolute dread, especially in hot climates. Bit harsh? I think so. For one thing, local people have used them for centuries, and I don’t suppose the old outside toilet down the end of an English garden was that much more attractive. No, like most things, some are truly terrible, many are not. Just like the Western style ones.

And what, you may ask, is a decent pit toilet? A stone built building helps keep the inside cool, less fragrant. Small windows, without glass, also help the air inside from getting stuffy, especially in hot climates. And, if all is working properly, natural biological processes render human waste relatively odourless. Which means no dropping paper into the pit. That normally goes into a metal receptacle for burning.

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