Thursday, November 06, 2014


One does not often think about bathrooms, especially if one has obeyed the instructions of one's parents and made use of the facilities before leaving the house. And women, particularly, tend to clench and hold rather than visiting dark and frightening bathrooms they do not know.
Some women abstain from soft drinks, caffeinated beverages, milk shakes, cheap beer, and soup, for fear that the bladder might demand attention.
If you ever wondered why some of them have a pained look on their faces, now you know. It took me a while to realize why I kept seeing women looking frantic whenever I was out and about smoking my pipe, but I feel better about it these days; it's just the way they are.
They would rather visit a clean bathroom in a howling pack of like minded individuals than make full use of their smoke break.

As there are so few sanitary facilities in the city, fewer of them smoke.

This is entirely logical.

I do not often think about the porcelain places. But when I do, I am likely to be in Chinatown. Where the toilet is for customers only.
I am a customer.

Where's the toilet?

Sai sou gan hai pin dou?

It's through the kitchen at the back around the corner.

Of course, it helps if you understand the response. If you don't speak Cantonese, try Mandarin: 廁所在哪兒?"Cèsuǒ zài nǎ'r? ....."
It's still through the kitchen at the back around the corner, but this time in Mandarin.

If you're really desperate, try saying "唔該老板,有冇廁所啊嗎,我好急!"

A few days ago I decided to wash my hands before enjoying my flaky pastry and hot cup of milk-tea. While doing so I noticed that someone had written on the wall above the toilet.
To my surprise, it was something I knew by heart.

月落烏啼霜满天,江楓漁火對愁眠 ...

What kind of person scrawls two lines from an ancient poem on a crapper wall? It's baffling. There is no context for the verse in question either. 'The moon goes down, a crow caws, frost fills the sky; river maples and fisher lights match the worried drowse....'  If any poem needed enscribing above a toilet bowl, surely there are others?
Yes, I realize that that is the one poem that probably everyone knows, having been forced to learn it in school, and it is one of the very first verses in the collection Three Hundred Poems of T'ang. If you were to ask me for an example of T'ang era quatrains, it would be the most likely one you would get. I memorized it half a lifetime ago. "Yuet lok, wu tai, seung mun tin; gong fung yu fo deui sau min ..."

But why that poem? And why there?

A quandary.

Other than that, it was an unremarkable crapper. If you go down the hallway to the kitchen, turn right and take the passage beyond the cooking range, it will be on your left. It's dark, use a match to find the light switch. The single window opens onto a small airwell in between the buildings. It is peaceful and quiet in the very centre of the block, the sound of the mahjong parlours in the alleyway on the other side does not penetrate.
Very old-fashioned, very atmospheric.
It is a timeless crapper.
Quite dreamy.

A different toilet elsewhere is down the stairs to the right, across the basement and up three steps. Men to the left, women to the right.
A very innocent Chinatown dungeon.
Also quiet. And clean.

Yet another one that I am familiar with is a narrow airles cube beyond a broom closet, with the noisiest fan you've ever heard. I'm sure the entire building shakes whenever someone has an urgent affair.

Night Mooring At Maple Bridge (楓橋夜泊 'fung kiu yeh pok') was written by Zhang Ji (張繼 'jeung kai') sometime during the mid eighth century, during a layover outside Suzhou (蘇州 'sou jau'). It was written after being woken from a fitfull sleep by distant clamorous temple bells. The wall upon which it was quickly penned was probably a similar off-white, but that is the only thing the Chinatown toilet and the dead poet's bedchamber have in common, and the bakery closes at six, so the very idea that someone was inspired by the marking of a late hour at Saint Mary's Cathedral on Grant and California three blocks away is rather extremely unlikely. Unless one of the owners had been out drinking, decided to proactively use the loo at his own establishment before heading home, and the clock struck just as he pulled out a pen.
I'm not going to ask.

Yuet lok, wu tai, seung mun tin; Gong fung yu fo deui sau min;
Gu sou seng ngoi hon saan ji; Ye pun jung seng dou haak suen.

Moon fall crow caw frost fill sky, river maple fisher fire match melancholy drowse.
Familar lichen city outside cold mountain court, night middle bell sound towards guest boat.

Suzhou is a very wet city.
Perhaps that's why.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Guatemala said...

You might find this interesting:

The back of the hill said...

Abrogate wakf control.

Those swine should have no input whatsoever.

poetically amphibious said...

Many years ago, above the trough in the men's room at the Edinburgh Castle: "This Is My Least Favorite Part Of Texas". No idea what that means, but I find it strangely evocative.

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