Our tour guide is a handsome young Chinese man and he sounded more like a scholar in History or English instead of what he is. In a small bus to see the Ming Tombs, after the Great Wall of China, he introduced himself as Liu.
“Call me Leo, not loo.” He laughed. Then he proceeded to tell us that Chinese toilets are ranked according to 4 stars, 3 stars, 2 stars and we laughed. In 1978 I had the starless loo experience of a hole in the ground. 1978 was my first trip to China, long before mass tourism hit China. The toilet was simply a row of holes dug in the ground. The stench choked me. I gagged. As I squatted over one hole, a woman came and squatted beside me in another, opened her umbrella (loo roof was leaking) and started chatting. “Cong nali lai?” apparently oblivious to the fact that I had a wad of tissue over my nose and mouth, as I muffled an answer for the umpteenth time : Australia. In the two weeks in China, everywhere we went, they asked: where are you from? I really did not care to chat while squatting over this hole in the ground that passed for a toilet, but the ingrained politeness of being a guest in China demanded that I answered.
It was a starless toilet but a five star experience. Not many from Australia would have had an experience like that.
The Chinese woman chatted merrily away grateful that she could practise her English. We discussed the English language, how difficult the tenses are. So many different sounds for the same word, to go, went, is going, have gone, have been…. “In Chinese, it is simply qui,” she said with a big smile on her chubby face. I did not for one second forget the stench of what was in the holes in the ground. We both got out of the toilet and I walked away as fast as I could. Years later when I went back to China as she prepared for the Olympic Games, the public toilets were a million years away from the holes in the ground.
Chinese toilets, whether they are in China or Malaysia, always make me think lovingly of Australia. There are so many good things that I miss in Oz, now that I have been away for so long but foremost in my mind is her beautifully clean toilets which I do not have to pay for. The country that beats Australia for its clean toilets is Switzerland but over there the Swiss make you pay for it. In Malaysia, we have to pay for the use of the toilets, whether they are clean or not!
You are probably wondering why I am talking about toilets. I spent a lot of time thinking about toilets. They are very important places for a global nomad like me, yet most people take them for granted until a full bladder or a bad meal signals the need for a toilet. Travellers are very appreciative of clean toilets. In Bangkok I was told that some Thai people carried chamber pots in their cars before 1997 when traffic jams were horrendous. After the financial bubble burst in 1997, cars were significantly reduced and many desperate bladders were relieved!
Another loo story that always fascinated me was the one our ACCS teachers use to teach the number six in Mandarin in Book 1, Lesson 1.
Loos are a great topic for me to examine our attitude that takes things and blessings for granted. Most of us take for granted our loos especially in a modern city or country like Australia. We also take for granted our bodies. Each morning we climb out of beds, we grope our way to our loo. Just think for a moment that there is no loo. How many of us are grateful each day for our loo?
We thank God each day for our blessings but how many say something like this: thank you Lord for our ability to go to the loo to do our ablutions. Not many. We are grateful for good health, prosperity etc but a loo? Until we cannot do it on that day! Ah….. let us be grateful for our loos, clean and readily available.
Sometimes when some misguided people seek my spiritual counsel, I suggest that they let each day be filled with the three G’s – ask for Grace in the morning as soon as you open your eyes, throughout the day think of the second G and let that be your own God or Guru and the third G is for gratitude when the day is done and you are about to close your eyes, be grateful that you were able to go to the loo and now as you lay your body on the bed, be grateful that it is still healthy and you can sleep at last!
The 3 G’s – Grace, God and Gratitude.
In the Chinese language and culture, we even have a special character, a word to refer to this sense of gratitude. May all of us increase this sense of gratitude for the things we take for granted: parents, family, and our body/health/wealth, which are somewhat all related to loo’s.