It took me exactly 27 days for me to attempt the China bathrooms. From what I’ve seen of China’s WC’s, well there is a good reason I’ve been dehydrated and only drinking liquids at night. Which is unfortunate, as hot tea sounds delightful on all of these below freezing days. But hot water, hot tea or hot coffee means bathrooms and you try squatting over a hole in the ground surrounded by the cold open air as almost everything that is not 4-5 starts in China is open and without heat, then removing the layers of clothing on your bottom half while dangling 12 lbs of cameras from your neck and 15 lbs of gear on your back while holding wipes in your mouth because even though China invented paper it sure does not believe in providing it. Not napkins in restaurants and certainly not TP in washrooms. Even if my bottom could bare the cold and I could balance ever so gracefully over this shocking hole there is still the fun part of aiming. The last time I checked I did not have that capability…so now that you have a lovely visual allow me to share what brought on the sudden change of heart…
I was visiting Famen Si for the second time and just like Mu Tian Yu (the great wall) it too was at least an hour drive and not easily accessible by public transportation. Wu, my driver and now friend, looked out for me and was instantly someone I knew I could trust and that quickly became a friend. I wanted to show him Famen Si as I had missed seeing the inside the day before for I was too busy taking photographs of the outside that they closed the temple before I could go in. He declined so that he could nap after the 3-hour drive from the sunrise I wanted to catch at the mountain. My poor drivers really have to work. I mean a 5 am call time is normal to me, but it really is a lot to ask from my drivers; which is why I always make sure they are tipped and fed well. It was a unique and truly beautiful temple so I had to go back.
I was photographing different angles of Buddha when I noticed a monk watching me. I find peace in a lot of what I do, in photography in temples, in life and I know at this particular moment I was peace. I noticed him watching me as I moved about this sparkling temple with grand doors, ceilings and decorations. It was like a scene from Hero crossed with a golden Buddha and a magnificent palace; stunning, grand and picturesque! I made my way through the temple photographing the ornate Buddha tiled walls in white and gold, the different forms of Buddha, the sitting cushions and there it was, the photo of the day. A blanket covered the shoulders of monk hunched over a heater that faced a wall illuminating his hands and face. This was a moment that I had to capture, with or without consent. So much so that I ran out of memory. It was when I was changing my digital memory from my padlocked backpack that has traveled the world with me that the monk that had been following me tapped me on the back and handed me a book. Of course it was in Chinese and completely illegible to me as I am absolutely not proficient in the characters of Buddhist prayers. I don’t think I got that far in Rosettastone. LOL I of course said xiéxié and he replied with you’re welcome. I have known many monks and I know that if they stay around they probably know a bit of English if they respond in English and leave they probably only know a few phrases but with monks it could be different so him responding in English and leaving could mean either he knows English and is just shy or he doesn’t know much English and is still shy. It was the latter. I tried to ask him what the book was about and he led me to a group of girls to interpret.
They were wonderful and helped me with what they could. The monk requested that I select a red rolled piece of paper so I did. He sat down and motioned for me to do the same and with complete enthusiasm I was now doing one of the things that I so hoped to do, I was painting calligraphy with the assisted guidance of the monk that followed me around the Famen temple. It was joyous, educational and peaceful…even with all of the spectators watching the lao wai attempting to paint their beautiful language. As a side note, I showed the familiar workers at my hotel and one of them, who was particularly sweet, said it was beautiful and he could read it. Even though so many others attempted and had a difficult time making out my childish attempt at this art form. I was and am proud of my first attempt at Chinese calligraphy.
The girls gave me gifts, Ren, the monk, guided every character by painting right beside me and I was in love with the moment.
The girls asked me to dinner and explaining that I would not eat without my driver they assured me that was fine and that while they closed up that I should go with Ren.
We walked along the statues of Famen, you would think this was just a brief walk, but this was a new temple and grand, this walk was over an hour. I read stories of Buddha, devotion to Buddha and I breathed…In and out and deeply.
Ren was excited that my driver spoke English and Chinese, as he was the perfect interpreter…. for me! Wu’s loyalty was to me. We had become friends and he watched out for me as if I was his little sister. I discovered that the girls would not be joining us for dinner and I told Wu that I would not be going to dinner without him and he explained that we were both invited.
Dinner…I enjoy local dishes, healthy dishes, delicious dishes but I was not choosing here. I was invited to dinner and I am supposed to go with the flow, so I did.
Ren ordered all of the dishes, after making sure that I liked spicy and that I ate pork. I didn’t particularly enjoy the taste of the greasy food that sat before me, but I did enjoy the company the conversation of politics and religion (two things that I explained that you should not talk about at the dinner table. LOL) and I enjoyed the hot tea. The tea kept coming, it off set the greasy food so nicely and oh the warmth…unlike many of the establishments that I’ve eaten at, this restaurant had doors, but it was not enough to keep the cold from cutting through your body to the bone. That tea was an absolute pleasure to my body, but my bladder was screaming. I am usually exquisite at holding off until I am “home” but with an hour drive, the goodbyes that I knew would follow dinner and with the conversation still in play I made the decision to bite the bullet and just do it. I was going to go to the public WC of a local restaurant.
Did I mention that I adore Wu? He knew from a previous conversation that I had never used the washroom in China and he knew what a washroom in an establishment such as this one would look like and he worried. I do not trust many people when I travel, but I trust Wu. Wholeheartedly actually! I left my camera bag in his hands. It contained all of my money that was not strapped to my body, 1 of my credit cards, 2 camera bodies and 4 lenses. I trust Wu! I left him with my livelihood and headed to the local washroom.
Assessing the situation I had put myself in I decided that I really should not have had ANY tea! Bracing myself against the two walls on either side of me I pulled my pants down to my ankles, perhaps a bit dramatic, but this was my first experience in squatting and well, I squatted. “As I attempted to pee I hear a voice, Jessica, are you okay? I worry about you. I know what toilets look like at places like this.” As if this wasn’t difficult enough, now I had to talk and pee…appreciative of the caring nature of my driver I replied uncomfortably and graciously “Wu, you are wonderful, thank you. I will be ok.”
I balanced, I squatted, I peed…. and I hoped to never have to do that again!
I should have been concerned that there was no sink to wash your hands. I mean this was the ONLY stall in the restaurant serving my food, but I had my hand wipes as well as my bathroom wipes and I was set. I didn’t want to pay any mind to the unsanitary food I ate on this trip. I’m not in America, I’m experiencing and well, if I think too much it will eat me alive!
I made it through my first bathroom experience…and I even did it again. Of course the second time involved alcohol as there is NO way that I was doing that again; at least not without a drink in me.
Traveling abroad brings so many amazing experiences, but it also takes you out of your comfort zone….
You cannot grow in comfort; it’s the experiences that take you out of your comfort zone that allow you to grow, to flourish and to, well…. PEE!