While I'm in New Mexico soaking up all things "America" I didn't want to leave this space hanging, so I gathered some pretty top-notch bloggers to strut their stuff. Today's post is from DixieChick! She blogs over at Southern Tales and I've had the pleasure of knowing her for several years. If you've ever been curious about life in the deep south then you must check out her blog—she's hilarious and tells everything exactly like it is.
As a proud guest blogger for the always awesome Jessica, I’ll start by introducing myself. In blog-land I go by the name of DixieChick, and I started blogging back in 2008 when the realization that the Air Force had really moved us to very rural Georgia finally started to sink in. I’m Dutch by birth, American by choice, and work as a professor at an undisclosed university in Georgia. I also love to travel and am absolutely not squeamish, two facts which are very important to this particular post.
As a self-appointed globetrotter, you can imagine how thrilled I was when my university asked me to be a part of this year’s study abroad program. Travel and Dixiechick is a winning combination. When I realized where I would be headed, I was almost beyond excited: China.
Having backpacked throughout South-East Asia when I was in college (it was the “in” thing to do among Dutch college students in the 1990s), China was always the pie in the sky. It was the vast, unexplored country filled with historical and cultural riches that was always just too far to hop over to, or just too expensive to fit within a poor student’s shoestring budget. So getting the opportunity to go, albeit as an assistant coordinator who was also expected to teach three classes, felt like a long-overdue chance to finally see what I had been missing out on.
Now maybe it’s because I’m obviously older than I was when I was in college. Maybe it’s because I’ve since grown accustomed to my comfortable, American lifestyle. Or maybe it’s because I really should just learn how to quilt and make bread and stay home. But if you were to ask me what I thought about China, chances are that the second or third thing out of my mouth (right after I briefly mention the temples and other awesome sites) is always the bathrooms, and/or Chinese hygiene in general. In fact, I’m more likely to mention the roach-infested trash can filled with everyone’s toilet paper on our form floor than our trip to the Great Wall. As someone who used to think nothing of riding an elephant into the jungle, going days without showering, and who thought that spending 36 hours on a sleeper train was the epitome of luxury, I’m not sure what happened. I came up with two reasons why I went from an adventurous happy-go-lucky backpacker to the woman whose first shopping trip involves the purchase a bottle of bleach. One: I’m unnaturally obsessed with bathrooms, and two: Chinese bathrooms are really disgusting. Unfortunately, both have something going for them.
You see, I really do have a thing for clean bathrooms. I’m sure everyone likes having a clean bathroom, but I just plain love it. I love nothing better than sitting on a shiny clean toilet seat, using a shower where the fixtures are shining, and sitting in a pristine white tub. I love it. Seriously. Whenever we check into a hotel, husband-dear will be the first to check out the firmness of the mattress and the pillows, and I will be the one in the bathroom looking at the toilet seat. I will also be the person who, if a bathroom is particularly disgusting will just not go, or pick out a nice-sized bush outside.
But having travelled all over the world, and lived in four countries, three states, and about sixteen different locations, I have learned that imposing one’s norms about cleanliness on other people used doesn’t go any place nice. I mean, after having lived in Germany, where most Germans decried my bathroom and my house in general as just not clean (“what do you mean you do not clean your windows every week?”), I know better. So I know that not every culture uses toilet paper, for instance. In Thailand, all bathrooms are outfitted with a hose, and if they’re a little less high-tech, with a bucket of water and a little scoop. I’ve even heard this is a lot healthier than toilet paper. I know that some countries (e.g., France and Thailand again) insist that squatting toilets are the way to go because they’re cleaner, which is mostly true, while in other countries, the amount of water used to flush is so sparse, courtesy flushes are the only way to prevent real embarrassment (all of Europe, pretty much). So when I left for China, I thought I was prepared. I realized I would need to bring my own toilet paper (check), and better work on my squat for all those hovering toilets I was bound to encounter (check).
But in spite of all of that, Chinese bathrooms really managed to edge me out of my comfort zone. While I managed to keep my own bathroom clean, thanks to the awesomeness that is bleach, there were many occasions when we’d be away, and had to rely on public restrooms. And that’s where I really learned what it meant to “hold it”. For one thing, in China, although people do use toilet paper, they know to never flush it down the toilet, because the pipes can’t handle it. That’s fine. It was the same in Thailand, so I was prepared for the little trash can full of used toilet paper. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the fact that in some public restrooms this little can didn’t get cleaned as often as it could, and so used toilet paper would be spilling over the edge of the can and on to the floor, allowing everyone to inspect what previous occupants had been up to.
Then there was the fact that using a squatting toilet can be fairly difficult when one is wearing long pants, or one’s knees are no longer as flexible as they once were. Subsequently, the bathroom didn’t smell as awesome or sport floors that were as un-sticky as they could have been. Knowing all of that, you can imagine that there were times when going to the bathroom involved an interesting acrobatic act where you clutched your purse over your shoulder lest it touch the floor, put your little charmin-to-go container in your mouth as you needed your hands to manage your shorts, and prayed to the heavens above none of your extremities would touch anything in the cubicle. You can also imagine, I’m sure, that there were times when you’d take one look in the bathroom and decide that you really didn’t have to go that bad.
Now I don’t want you to think that my trip to China centered on nothing but public restrooms, because it didn’t. It was an absolutely amazing experience, one that opened my eyes to a whole other culture, a whole new set of norms, values, and ways of looking at the world, and one that I would love to repeat. But I just can’t help but wonder if perhaps it’s time for me to retire my traveling boots. I mean when the best part of coming home is being able to sink down on to your own toilet seat with a satisfactory sigh, isn’t it time to find a new hobby?