Taking advantage of the time off from work I decided to leave the secret town of Nakhon Si Thammarat and head north past Khanom to Thailand’s premier island destination, Koh Samui. I saddled up on the Blue Dragon just after noon and headed north on the 401, but the trip to Koh Samui nearly began in disaster before I even got out of Nakhon.
I decided to eat lunch before heading out and thank God I chose the restaurant next door to my apartment. Right in the middle of lunch it felt like lightning struck my abdomen. It came so suddenly I was incredibly lucky to be sitting only a hundred feet from the elevator to my room. Just minutes from disaster I quickly got up and scampered to the elevator like a wounded dog. After successfully taking the Browns to the Super Bowl I set out for Koh Samui and thought nothing of my mini emergency at the restaurant. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t out of the woods. While waiting at a traffic light lightning struck again. I felt my stomach clinch like an angry fist and I feared my worst nightmare was coming true.
My biggest fear use to be not death, but old age. Since moving to Thailand 4 months ago, over active bowels are now what I fear most, or more specifically, over active bowels with only one of those dreaded hole in the ground toilets around to service my needs. Thailand is a modernized country still in the grips of old world technology. There are plenty of modern day toilets to be found in hotels occupied by tourists but most other places feature a simple porcelain hole in the ground. I’ve yet to use such draconian facilities but my first experience with them happened last year during my first trip to Thailand.
Luckily the night before I left for Thailand for the first time in October of 2012, I visited a friend who had just come back from a 6 month study abroad program in Bangkok. Among other things she explained how the toilets work, or the lack of working parts for that matter. Rather than sitting on the throne you have to stand over a hole. After doing your business you find the bucket of fresh water nearby and grab the small pail floating inside the bucket. Finally, you use the pail to pour water down the hole. Rather than a tank emptying its contents and refilling itself, the user flushes the toilet in a more manual, rudimentary manner. Unfortunately for the friend I traveled to Thailand with, the importance of explaining this process to him didn’t dawn on me until it was too late.
It was just our second night in Bangkok and we were eating dinner with some friends we met earlier that day. The locale was an outdoor market with various stands offering traditional Thai cuisine. The restrooms were located nearby and a lady charged 5 baht per entry. The restrooms offered a far different experience than your typical western facility. A dual purpose trough served as urinals as well as a toad ecosystem. Holes in the ground served as toilets. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have to drop a deuce in there, but right in the middle of dinner my friend felt a prairie dog bobbing in and out of its hole begging to be set free.
He paid the 5 baht fee and entered the restroom. Confused by the setup, he first decided to lock the bathroom door; not to an individual stall, but the door to the entire bathroom. This made the bathroom attendant outside very angry. Next, he looked behind the curtain and spotted the hole in the ground. After viewing the setup with contempt he decided to release the kraken straight into the trough. Now my friend was in serious trouble. Not only did the trough not provide adequate means for disposing of the mud torpedo, but the lady outside was pounding on the door demanding (in Thai) that he open it. Unsure of the best course of action, he succumbed to panic and hastily decided to use his bare hand to scoop out the excrement from the trough and toss it into one of the buckets of fresh water!
Meanwhile, I was at our table enjoying dinner with our friends. After a short period of time had passed my friend returned, sat back down in his seat, and said to us, “Man that lady is really mad.” The story he told brought me to tears I was laughing so hard. It was one of those laughs that hit you so hard you can’t even breathe. I was amazed he was brave enough to grab poop with his own bare hand. Not only that, but of all the places he could’ve tossed it he chose the bucket of clean water! I would be struck by random uncontrollable bouts of laughter for the next 6 months every time I happened to think about that night. Unfortunately though, that event has manifested itself into a very real fear that I have now.
I’d been struck by that gut clenching pain before. Having come down with traveler’s diarrhea twice while in Thailand my fear is that I’ll be caught in a place where the only facility available does not offer the traditional toilet I’m so accustomed to. I’ve never had to stand over a hole in the ground. Even with an above average ability to spatially reason how processes in motion will play out, I just can’t figure this particular situation out. I can’t figure out the intricacies and body mechanics required to hygienically drop brown napalm over such precise coordinates. These to me are unanswerable questions:
- Am I supposed to take my pants completely off?
- If I leave my pants on how much debris could get on them?
- If I take my pants off will there be a place to hang them or do I throw them over my shoulder?
- If I throw them over my shoulder what is the likelihood the contents of my pockets will spill out and fall into the hole?
- Do I stand directly over the hole?
- If I’m standing directly over the hole how far apart should my feet be spread?
- Do I stand in front of the hole and assume a squatting position?
- If I’m squatting, how many degrees of squat do I take?
- Should I go 90 or go as low to the ground as possible?
- If I go too low what are the chances I fall backwards?
- How difficult is it to be accurate?
- Is there any chance of taking out a leg or a foot?
- When you spray water the coverage area gets larger the further the distance it travels, so how risky is a stool that is more of a liquid consistency?
- If it’s rock solid what is the potential of splash back?
- What if there is no toilet paper available?
- What if the bum gun has low water pressure?
- If the bum gun has high water pressure wouldn’t the ricochet be catastrophic?
- What’s the learning curve?
- How many tries does it take before you get good?
These are very serious questions that I wish I had answers to, but I know knowing is not enough. There’s still the painful learning curve that has to be suffered through and soon enough I would learn.
The gas station was just a few kilometers away and I knew I my nightmare was about to become a reality. My hands started to shake and I began sweating profusely. Anxiety and fear blended with the stomach pain that had now traveled down my intestines and was rapidly approaching the event horizon. As in the wild cosmic frontier we call space, once an object crosses the event horizon into a black hole total destruction is the only outcome. I just hoped I would make it in time to destroy the bathroom and not the Blue Dragon.
I made it to the gas station without mishap and glided over to the restroom. I was trying to come to grips with my demise like a death row inmate on execution day when a small blue sign caught my eye. It was the sign for a restroom designated for handicap people. I opened the mystery door and my eyes fell onto magical a scene. It was like the Pearle Gates had opened, clouds begun to roll out, and a beam of light illuminated a fantastical land. There it was, inviting me to bequeath it with a golden surprise; a spotless restroom with a normal toilet. There is a God!
It felt like I was in there for days, the violent pyroclastic flow left me bewildered for nearly 15 minutes after exiting the restroom but I survived. My worst nightmare almost occurred but I avoided it like those contestants avoiding tennis balls being fired from those brutal American Gladiators; well, avoided it for the time being.
About 20 minutes later I arrived that the Raja Ferry port in the town of Don Sak with perfect timing. I paid 200 baht and rode right onto the ferry. We set sail immediately for Koh Samui and I collapsed into a large chair. I tried to stay motionless for the entire hour and a half ride. I thought, if I really did contract another episode of traveler’s diarrhea it would be good to slow my metabolism down. I thought the restroom at the gas station was going to be bad but the notion having to go on the boat was inconceivable. Thankfully, everything turned out to be fine. I checked in to the Verticolor Hotel on Chaweng Beach around 7:30. I was officially settled in and decided to take it easy that night. I had plenty of time to conquer Koh Samui. Tomorrow let the adventures begin!