I ask myself that question a lot these days. Is it the relentless schedule of the job? Is it the twenty-four/seven on-call schedule for three months at a time. Is it the hundreds of miles away from a real hospital or a Starbucks? Or is it the responsibility for the well-being of fifteen thousand humans on this remote island, blah blah blah.........?
It wasn't always this way for me. It used to be light and fun and somewhat aimless. These overseas jobs used to just be about the road-- the travel, the experiences and the good times in bad situations. I tend to enjoy some fairly exotic roads. There's a lot of guys like me out there. We often end up in the same places and share stories about roads we haven't yet seen. Then we make trips to see them. We also share a lot of tips--survival tips, food tips, beer tips, shelter tips and, equally important, bathroom tips. This last item comes up a lot. As civilized members of previously civilized societies we tend to focus on our comforts as much as our needs. These important bathroom tips tend to satisfy aspects of both comfort and need.
I was always a guy who would rather submit to three hours of intense abdominal discomfort waiting to use my own bathroom rather than use the rest-stops on the New Jersey Turnpike. Any bathroom that you can smell outside in a snow storm seemed like a bad place to use. Thus a trip to remote central Tibet was a shock to the senses in so many ways. On the positive side it did teach me the wondrous experience of relieving myself in the midst of panoramic, idyllic views of enormous proportion. Also to carry extra underwear. When arriving in China on the long, arduous trip to the Szechuan Province and ultimately the Tibetan Plateau, one learns an important lesson quickly: never use a Chinese bathroom. Never ever. To call them bathrooms is a bit of a stretch. Mostly they are cement shacks with slats- not holes--cut through the floor usually over some form of running water. Also for your comfort there are no doors and certainly no seats. The presence of a white person attempting a painful squatting position over a couple of wooden slats routinely draws a crowd. And the crowds like to point and discuss. This is a highly predictable scenario. Two times was enough for me. White people have almost no chance of taking a nice, quiet, private restroom ablution in China. You walk into the shitter and suddenly you are a Kardashian.
I'll say this too about the Chinese: If their aim in the bathroom is indicative of their military's ability to aim we should not hesitate in going to war with them.
|Chinese Toilet: Deluxe Edition from the|
Beijing Ritz Carlton
The discomfort of the novice squattor is one thing. The physiologic effects at an altitude of fourteen thousand plus feet in mountainous Tibet is yet another. A novice dropping down rapidly for any extended period of time in a squat will likely lose consciousness from the blood supply being sequestered in the legs. This novice might find himself disoriented and waking up on his back in his own feces. This is not unprecedented. When the dizziness starts, no matter what stage you are at in defecation, you stand up or bear the consequences.
I found these toilet anxieties a bit sad. While getting in and getting out of the bathroom quickly is actually physiologically desirable (decreased incidence of diseases of the "civilized": hemmorhoids, Diverticulosis, Diverticulitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome), it does cut into the quiet moments of reflection and "me time" that Westerners have fought for dearly and grown to appreciate. Squatting has also indirectly resulted in greater battery life in my Ipad.
|Some should never squat.|
|Don't even think about |
asking for this
If you've ever been on safari or even in a safari park you know that its more fun to watch an exotic animal actually do something rather than sit around. In central Tibet, high up on the Nakchu plateau, we were those exotic animals. Who could blame our Tibetan hosts? When you live in the middle of nowhere and something resembling a ghost rolls up unannounced you are going to follow that ghost around and see what it is up to. When Dr. Ken's dump truck came upon that time for its scheduled unloading he started to walk begrudgingly up the road to the simple wooden shack set up for such matters. Approximately twenty Tibetans got in line and followed him to the shack. Did I mention that there is no door on the shack? He turned to find the line of followers. He stopped. They stopped. He started off again. They did the same. I stood watching. I wanted to see how this was going to organically turn out. He walked over to me.
"Don't involve me in your drama," I said.
"You see what's happening?"
"Yeah. It's hilarious. You are the Pied Piper of Shitting."
"I have to do something. The Immodium wore off half an hour ago. I can't do surgery like this."
"We need transport," I said
|Tibetan Shit Chasing Cavalry|
in high gear.
Off we went in the Landcruiser across the tundra. There were no roads out there. Dr. Ken looked relieved until he looked out the back window of the car. There on horseback, in full gallop, were three hard-core followers tracking us.
"This is unbelievable," said Dr. Ken.
"On the positive side," I said, "its only three of them and no women or children. No big deal shitting in front of three dudes, right?"
He slapped the driver on the shoulder and gave him the hand signal for accelerating.
"Punch it Starsky!"
The Landcruiser had more horse than the Tibetan ponies could muster and we were finally free of the throng in a cloud of dust.
|Yak poop wall. Excellent spacing.|
"All good my friend?" I asked.
"If anyone goes back there they are going to think one of the Yaks is very, very sick." said Dr. Ken.
Good times in Tibet. Memorable times for sure. That was nearly fifteen years ago and since then I've worked in every country in Southeast Asia and all the way out to Papua New Guinea. I'm vocally proud of my squatting prowess by now. And even though I work in a place approaching a Western standard of living, I still visit the Squattie once a fortnight just to keep my skills up and my heels flat. Keeping your skills sharp is important. I give that advice to everyone. After all, you never know where you may end up next.
|The Road: One seat, one beer, no waiting.............................|