Friday, 27 June 2014

A Number Two in Taiwan

It was heart-rending. The stereotypical goodbye at the airport where you both hug, kiss, hug again, say goodbye; you then both turn around at the exact same moment and wave for one last time. Then she's gone. I drove home to The Police (I mean the band... I hadn't been robbed or anything - that would've been a disaster) and whilst singing along to Roxanne and changing the name to Ross Kemp to lighten my mood,  I knew I had to follow her. I knew I had to go to Taiwan.

Now, I'm not much of a traveler. Think of me as more of a Walter Mitty, type of guy. Don't get me wrong, I don't daydream my life away, but having said that, I don't go wrestling with sharks and jumping out of helicopters either, but at the age of 30, I had left the UK once. 


...and that was 16 years ago on an all inclusive holiday to Minorca with my parents and younger sister. I drank a lot of free strawberry milkshakes, kicked some Spaniard's ass at pool and got sun-burnt. 

It was fun.

Other than that, the UK has been my humble abode. My experience of foreign cultures, especially the East, came from my love of Kung Fu films and the occasional documentary on National Geographic. Trying to find a particular place on a globe is like a cruel game of Where's Wally. The globe would be covered with thousands of Wally's and the real one wouldn't be wearing thick-rimmed glasses.

My girlfriend was aware of this. When we first met (before we were dating) I asked her where she was from.

'Taiwan,' she said.

'Where in China is that?' I replied with a legitimate frown.

'It's not in China, it's a little island between China and Japan.'

I laughed at her and accused her of making it up.

A quick word of advice for the guys reading this - don't do that. Especially when you have as much knowledge of the world as an undercooked cod. If you do say it, expect the look that says your life is about to end within the next five seconds... and I wish you all the best.

Carrying on...

I booked my plane ticket (the first one I had ever booked) and looked forward to my little Formosan adventure. I decided it would be wise to do as much research as I possibly could about the land I was heading to. I read books on Taiwan, watched Taiwanese films, joined an English/Mandarin group in my hometown and started having Mandarin lessons on Skype with my girlfriend's sister, who just so happened to be a qualified Mandarin teacher living in Spain! Hey presto!

Having done all of that, and conversing with my girlfriend everyday, not one person, nor book, nor film, mentioned to me the issue of the toilet.

That's right... The Toilet

I will explain.

All was well. It was my first full day on the island (which isn't in China) and we were at an art exhibition. The most noticeable thing out of the ordinary was me, being the only westerner in the building. Having being introduced to an authentic Taiwanese breakfast and a morning coffee, my stomach started to rumble. 

Not a problem. 

We had just walked past some toilets. 

'I'm just going to pop to the toilet, love,' I said, calmly, not aware of the challenge that lay around the corner.

The bathroom was immaculate. It were super clean. The air was perfumed and the marble floors seemed to contain a million and one stars.

I was a happy man... then I opened the cubicle door.

Oh, that feeling.

I would've been less shocked if I had walked in on Bruce Lee who had, for some reason, forgot to lock the door.

'Oh, Brucey,' I would've said. 'I'm sorry, but the fault is all yours. And, I hope I'm not being rude, but I thought you were dead.'

He would've been a bit embarrassed, but I wouldn't have rocked the boat any further just in case he said, "Over there, on that island, with meee." To which I would've apologised profusely and left him to it.   

'What the &^$(*!' I said to myself. 'What kind of toilet is that!?'

I don't want to give the impression that it was something disgusting. On the contrary, like I've said, everything was pristine.

How can I explain this? Let us just say that it was like an elongated toilet that was flush with the floor (no pun intended).

I started to panic. I started to sweat. 

'What do I do?'

I couldn't go running back to my girlfriend whilst busting for a download and ask her for instructions.

'Love, how do you use the toilet?'

'Follow me, I'll show you.'

On a planet where pride doesn't exist, this might have been an OK scenario, but there was no way I was going to ask her how to use the toilet.

I couldn't ring her either because there was no wifi and I didn't have a local sim card.

I had to do this alone and I had do it there and then.

I felt that if I succeeded (the word IF being a super dangerous word in this predicament) then it would be a pure coming-of-age victory. It would be like when the Aborigines went headhunting - if you got a head you were a man! 

But this was much worse.

I prepared myself. 

Shorts came down... underwear followed. 

I began to squat but my shorts were getting in the way.

I changed positions and ended up doing what felt like a crab over this god-damn-bucket-thing!

I finally got into a position where I felt like I could, you know... go. 

So I did.

I was proud of myself, even though my arms were straining and...

Oh, wait... where the hell's the toilet roll!

OK, now the panic really kicked in.

My head was looking around like an owl having an anxiety attack.

What if they didn't use toilet roll here? I thought. What if there's another way of doing your business in Taiwan? What if I've been to the toilet in a place where I shouldn't have gone!? 


I turned my head 180 degrees and there it was. 

My savior. 

Loo roll, I love you. 

But then I had to reach for the swine. 

My right hand supported my crab-like posture whilst my left hand reached over my right shoulder and got the goods. It was as if I had decided to have a dirty game of Twister all by myself. 

But now the finishing line was in full view.

A few minutes later I walked out of the cubicle like a new man. I was proud of myself, yet still confused as to why they would encourage such a treacherous method of going to the toilet.

I found my girlfriend innocently looking up at a painting. I stood beside her, glanced at the painting and then explained my ordeal.

Needless to say, she thought the whole thing was hilarious and couldn't wait to tell her parents who I hadn't met yet.

'I didn't think to tell you,' she said, apologetically. 'It's just normal for us.'

'But why have the toilet roll there?' I said, pointing over my shoulder.

'What?' she frowned. 

'The loo roll was behind me.'

'You were facing the wrong way!'


I found Wally. He was squatting on an island in between China and Japan.


A Quick Guide to the Art of Squatting

Later on that day, and with the ordeal still fresh in my mind, I asked my girlfriend about squatting.

'What's the best way to do it?' I asked her whilst in the tube station.

'Imagine sitting on the bottom step... or on a curb,' she said. 'It's comfortable and it's natural.'


'Show me how you squat,' she said.


'Show me how you squat.'

'You want me to pretend I'm on the toilet? Here? Now?'

She giggled. 'Why not?'

I looked around. 'For starters, there're people... everywhere.'

She looked at me with a smile that said 'so what'.

So I squatted there and then in the tube station as if I was taking a number.

Did people look at me?

Damn right they did.

Did they mutter, 'Weird westerner' under their breath?

Most likely.

But now I know how to squat: pretend you're sitting on a curb.

I did it for you. Now you don't have to go through what I went through. I'm saving you from the pain and the anguish and the mental pressure. 

So go! 

Squat away!