Now, my mother’s good humor over most of her visit is all the more impressive because of two things. First, the woman simply cannot stay upright. I don’t know if it’s an inner ear problem or what, but apparently she considers any venture wasted if she doesn’t fall down or collapse in a heap at some point. She does this at her home, she does it hiking in the Colorado mountains (recently breaking her arm), and she does it on vacation, too. She didn’t get through her first day here in Malaysia without taking a tumble. For reasons that I can only guess, most rooms and halls and such here are a little step up from their adjoining common spaces. My guess is that it’s to keep rainwater from going into people’s homes, etc. During really heavy rains here, the corridors of the condo buildings (which are covered, semi-interior halls, but still exposed to the elements at points) get very wet. Therefore, there’s a little step up to get into my condo, probably about two inches. Well, that’s all it took. We were heading out to go to KLCC or something, and she took that tiny step down into the hallway and just fell spectacularly. Now, at the moment, of course, it wasn’t funny… Mom went sprawling and all her various sundries were littered around her and until we figured out that she was completely okay, it didn’t really strike me as humorous. But only until it was determined that she wasn’t hurt. THEN it was funny as hell and I chuckled about it almost every time we left the condo from that point on.
Most unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, but one of my friends gallantly agreed to recreate the scene for me so I could photograph it for posterity. Awesome. You definitely want to click and enlarge this one for the full effect.
In the spirit of self-deprecation, any fall which doesn’t really result in injury has the potential to be funny, including my own. A couple of Christmases ago, Mom and I were driving away from my house and heading down to Colorado Springs for Christmas dinner with our good friends and I realized I had forgotten something, so I went back into the house, got what I had forgotten and sprinted back out. Well, to my misfortune, we had had a good bit of snow and some of it had iced over and I just went flying. I wasn’t amused at the moment, but within minutes, since I wasn’t terribly hurt, I was laughing at what it must have looked like, kind of replaying it in my head in slow motion. Happily, no one was present with a camera and a blog.
Within another couple of days, though, she fell again, this time somehow failing to negotiate a huge curb (seriously, like six or seven inches high). She went down in a heap, landing squarely on one knee, but this time, on a metal rain grate. That one wasn’t funny, and it’s a wonder she didn’t wind up bleeding from it. Her knee is still sore, though, nearly a month on. Naturally, being the compassionate and loving son I am, I stood there haranguing her, just happily adding insult to injury: “What’s wrong with you, woman? Can’t you even walk?? How could you not see that giant curb?? Quick! Get up! People are coming!” Apart from not breaking the skin on her knee (or breaking the knee itself), it’s also astounding that she didn’t smash her camera into a dozen pieces. It was in her hand and when she fell, she landed on two things: her knee and the camera in her outstretched hand. That was a true blessing found in a disaster, because even though the fall was bad, falling and destroying your camera on day two of a three-week trip to Asia would have been far worse.
The second thing that challenged my mom, besides walking, was the thing every Westerner visiting Asia dreads: the squat toilet. Men are lucky indeed… perhaps as few as only 15% of our visits to the bathroom necessitate sitting. Women get to do it every single time. Now, in truth, some of these squat toilets are not that bad. But more than a few are. Malaysia’s are generally better than some others I’ve had the horror of experiencing, but that’s not really saying much. Even the cleanest of squat toilets, as seen in one of these pictures, will usually elicit something along the lines of, “What am supposed to do with that?” from an uninitiated Westerner. The really bad ones just set them on an immediate U-turn, usually muttering, “I think I’ll wait,” or, “I damn well don’t have to go that bad,” or some variant thereof.
In the run-up to the Olympics in Beijing last year, one of the great tasks beset upon China was, quite honestly, outfitting the venues with a certain percentage of Western toilets so as not to traumatize the hordes of visitors. One night, I was at home (back in Denver) and was chatting online with a friend of mine and we were talking about the upcoming Olympics and somehow started talking about the squat toilet and did some web surfing to that end. We both, at our respective computers, landed on this website where, in side-splittingly funny fashion, a New Yorker by the name of Brian Sack wrote a hysterical diatribe in the form of a “how-to” guide for Westerners in China (or anywhere) who find themselves confronting these unfamiliar toilets. I offer a portion of the guide here, edited for length, but with full credit going to the author and his website, www.banterist.com. Here we go… a primer on using the squat toilet:
Rule One: Exhaust all other possibilities.
If you are truly in need and condemned to use the squat toilet, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are several thousand miles from friends and family. No one has to know.
Proceed as follows:
Most stalls do not have toilet paper. This is the best time to realize this. Either take paper from the general dispenser in the bathroom area or preferably bring your own as it will be made of tissue and not plywood Carpaccio.
Approach the squat toilet apprehensively and make sure it's not covered in stool. If it is covered in stool, choose another stall. If another stall is not available, accept the cards that have been dealt you.
Close the door to the stall, knowing full well the handle has more germs on it than the entire population of Botswana.
Place your feet on the appropriate foot grids, assuming they are not covered in stool. If they are covered in stool, place your feet on the least fouled space you can find, being careful to maintain balance.
Unfasten and drop your trousers and underpants, making sure that they do not make contact with the urine and stool-covered surface area.
Grimace and ask yourself if a country with such a toilet can or should ever be a superpower.
Assume a squatting position like a competitive ski jumper. This is a good time to pretend you're not a miserable tourist with your pants around your ankles, squatting over a barbaric poo hole.
Use your right hand to prevent the soiling of your trousers and underpants by holding them off the ground and pushing them forward, away from any Danger Zone.
In your left hand should be the assortment of paper/wipes/anti-bacterial sheets you intend to use after you are finished with your production. Be sure not to drop any of the objects in your left hand as they will be rendered horribly irretrievable should you do so.
If you are able to maintain balance for several seconds, you are ready to begin bowel evacuation. At this point the bulk of your focus should be towards the quick evacuation of your bowels without soiling your clothing, missing your mark or—God forbid—losing your balance and falling.
After you have completed your bowel evacuation, DO NOT STAND UP. Remain squatting and miserable.
Continue using your right hand to prevent contact of your trousers/underpants with urine/stool. Place your tissues and wipes in your left hand on top of your underwear/trousers and select the items you need for wiping.
Wipe and curse culture simultaneously, all the while maintaining the squatting position.
Once sufficiently wiped, humiliated and traumatized, you may stand and re-underpant and re-trouser yourself. This is a good time to reflect on your life and also a good time to try blacking out these last ten minutes—like a freshly-sodomized felon might do.
The filth-covered flush button is behind you and may or may not work.
Open the door to the stall, again knowing the handle has more germs on it than a decade of scrapings from Paris Hilton's tongue.
Exit the stall and never, ever, ever get yourself into a situation where you have to do that again. But first, wash your hands until they bleed.
So there you have it. Another funny (and frankly educational) dissertation on the nuances of using a squat toilet can be found here. Read it before you travel abroad. The one found here, at Wikihow, is a bit more clinical and even includes a video. You may require a wee bit of therapy after visiting this site, but it’s definitely informative. Unfortunately, I didn’t impart this wisdom to my poor mother prior to her visit, but after the horror of her first squat toilet visit, she did some research online and gained a bit of insight which made the rest of her visit a bit more tolerable.
Oh, and she didn’t fall anymore, either!
One more picture just because we all need a bit more laughter in our lives…