Note to self: Bring snacks from home when travelling through China so as to avoid roadside diners when hungry.
Author: Jakob Brunnbauer
Date: December probably, 2010
Location: A large bus terminal somewhere in either the Fujian, Jiangxi or Zhejiang province, China.
I shall begin this exordium with a slight disclaimer: As I retell this story, some six years after the event, the memory of the exact location and time escapes me. However, the memory of the event itself, the smells, the sights and the horrors are still fresh in my mind, as if the nightmare took place not last night.
At the time of this event my friend J Diggity and I had been travelling through mainland China for a few weeks. Due to our extremely tight budget we were living very cheap and fairly rough. Held up at a bus station, waiting for the next death machine to take us to Nanjing (I believe), we decided to grab some beers and maybe a bit of food. It’s worth noting that after a week or so of travel through rural China, eating cheap in order to save pennies, my stomach and anus had seen better days. In fact, I can sum up my first trip to China with this simple Haiku:
Running to the loo
Blowing open my rectum
Running from the loo
Yes, during my time in China I believe I spent most of my time running to, sitting on or running away from a toilet.
The bus station “restaurant”, one of many, consisted of a few plastic chairs and tables scattered about a small concrete shack with an open front that looks out at all the busses coming and going. A large wok and several other pots rest on top of a gas burner off to the side and a counter towards the back is stacked with chips, lollies and other snacks. Behind the counter was a fridge filled with beer and soft drinks. J Diggity and I dropped our backpacks, pulled out the flimsy chairs, sat and asked for the menu. Learning from my past gastronomic experiences, and seeing as I had a long bus ride ahead of me, I decided to order vegetables. No suspicious meat for me! This trip was, of course, during the time before I had become a vegetarian. J Diggity ordered the same as me, noodles and vegetables. We quaffed several Tsing Tao’s (A popular beer in China), scoffed our food and waited for the bus to arrive. The dish was splendid. Wok fried noodles with a delicious array of green beans, julienned carrots, thinly sliced and caramelised shallots, bok choy, fried tofu and egg all seasoned in soy sauce and sesame oil with just a hint of chilli to give it that nice bite and garnished with a drop of lime juice. Delicious yet suspiciously auspicious for a cheap road side China diner meal. Perhaps too delicious?
An hour or so had passed and I could feel my urethral dam begin to crack, no longer able hold back the contents of the bursting weir that is my bladder. Time to open the shaft and let the mighty yellow river flow. I finished the rest of my beer, stood and asked directions to the toilet. Towards the back I headed, as sceptical as ever. What filthy mystery awaits me this time? I opened the door to the side of the shack and entered the dark and gloomy room. Like most public toilets the smell was insufferable, however in China most street side toilets are perturbingly so much more pungent. I took a deep breath before closing the door and prayed I could empty myself before running out of breath. The toilet in question was the classic porcelain hole in the ground designed for the casual squatter. Fortunately being male I needed not squat, which results in suspending my delicates mere inches above the gateway to hell. I could happily splash about from a standing position. I pity the women who must suffer the consequences of lowering themselves onto the typical Asian hole in the ground toilet. The splash back alone must be a fear provoking and sickening experience.
As I point the pink pistol at the porcelain firing range my eyes start to adjust. There is little to no light in this dank room of despair and the only thought running through my head was “please finish before your eyes adjust… or you run out of breath.” Sadly both my wishes were denied. As usual prolonging my inevitable discharge meant I had to spend more time in the place which I loathe the most. I ran out of breath and had to inhale. A mistake I’m sure. The rancid smell of the vile enclosure almost had me instantly regurgitating my just eaten meal. I fear a lesser man may have passed out, or perhaps even died on the spot. I study the room. Something is not right, this is not a normal smell. I look down and see a waste paper basket next to the putrid porcelain pit. It’s common in many places where plumbing is subpar to have a separate bin for toilet paper and whatnot so as to avoid clogging the thin and inadequate system below. Usually, in fact always, at least always until now, the bin which to dispose of the shit stained paper has a lid or is at the very least sealed. Not here. Here they thought fit to have mesh trash paper basket instead, similar to one you would find in an office or workplace. So right next to the toilet hole was a mesh bin overflowing with shitty toilet paper and, like a disturbing cherry on top of a cupcake made of soggy paper and human faeces, two well used tampons rest on top, the crimson blood from which stained the turd covered paper directly below. It took all the strength inside me to supress the rising vomit. Yet as I forcibly finished up, I could still smell something off, something more off then even that previously described. My eyes, now mostly adjusted to the dark, started to wander. A mistake I’m sure. Out of sight out of mind is a truth most often underappreciated. Something thick was clogging my nose, an unmistakable smell, the smell of raw meat. I turn my head and notice a shelf to the side. Now before I continue I must mention that the room I was in was no larger than a pantry, only a floor space of two square meters if that. I turn my head and right next to my face are two large chunks of meat sitting in a small pan, they looked like livers, probably from a cow, given their size. As I leaned back to get a broader picture it dawned on me that I was in the pantry. The shelf was full of vegetables, spinach, potatoes, different cuts of meat, stocks, noodles, condiments and more. Because, due to what I can only assume was a lack of space in this tiny bus terminal snack bar, those in charge had decided to store all their food in the revolting toilet. This included raw meat and of course all the ingredients that must have been in the dish I just ate. Right next to the blood soaked tampons nesting on top of the rancid, shit filled paper bin, right next to the porcelain toilet hole with full turds still clinging to its insides, right next to the piss and fluoro green phlegm stained concrete, right next to the cigarette butts and God knows what other atrocities: they store the restaurants food! I backed out of the room so fast I think my member was still dangling out.
I tried to explain to J Diggerty the situation but being his cool, casual self I imagine he just shrugged it off. If only he had seen what I had seen. It is truly saddening how certain levels of hygiene, common sense and basic education regarding health simply don’t exist in certain environments. The common ignorance regarding health and safety with food in China does not stem from an antiquated nor ancient train of thought. It comes from a modern, industrialised world. Or should I say is it doesn’t exist due to this world. Although I get to tell an amusing story it does still sadden me that in many places something as simple as hygiene education does not exist, or can’t afford to exist. Maybe people do know but cannot execute what needs to be done due to not having enough money. Funnily enough despite eating toilet food I did not get sick this time around. My arsehole remained, at least momentarily, unfractured, and my bowls firm. To this day I am still blown away by what I saw in that toilet. Back home I even get a bit funny about my toothbrush being in the same room as toilet which is why I keep it in my room. I am by no means a germaphobe I simply believe that food, or digestibles, should not be in the same room as poo. How could they store their meat next to shit and blood soaked tampons!?
My first trip to China was a bewilderment to me. So dazzling yet so filthy. Oh China, how I long to see you again. To have you clutch me in your exquisite yet putrid arms but one more time. My ugly mistress, my smutty angel, my decaying rose. You have so much beauty yet so much grot. I pine for you my gorgeous grub.
Jakob XP Brunnbauer