Culture shock

By Slow Dad - May 08, 2017

Despite possessing the infinite wisdom of a second year university student, I learned the hard way that I did not in fact know everything.
I like to think of myself as being (mostly) open minded and somewhat worldly.

By the time I was 19 I’d travelled solo half way around the world, through more than a dozen countries.

I used to be able to order a beer and say I love you (when you think about it, this is all the language skills you really need for a fun night out) in eight different languages.

Being able to order a beer and say I love you in the local language is really all you need for a fun night out just about anywhere
There have been very few times when I can honestly say I’ve suffered from culture shock.

There she blows!

The first time was when I arrived in the middle of the night at a youth hostel with million dollar views over Hong Kong island. After dumping my backpack in a dormitory I shared with over 20 snoring fellow travellers, I headed across the garden in search of the gents to answer the rather pressing call of nature.

Million dollar views for a ten dollar price tag

Eventually I found it. Or rather through a process of elimination I arrived at what must have been the bathroom... only it didn’t look like any bathroom I’d ever seen before. There were no stalls. That alone would have been surprising had it not been for the fact that there WERE NO TOILETS!

This is not what I expected to find while looking for the toilet

Now I’m not too big a man to admit that I was perplexed by this. There were what appeared to be a bunch of hand basins set into the floor. For a minute or two I scratched my head in bewilderment, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the logistics involved in how a person would go about making a deposit using such an exotic apparatus.

Did you face forwards or backwards? Were you supposed to stand, squat or sit? How the hell were you supposed to keep your balance whilst doing the paper work? Come to think of it, where the hell was the toilet paper? How does it flush?

Ordinarily I may have given up and held off until I could either ask someone smarter than me, or failing that watch someone else using the thing. This was not an ordinary time, the mystery meat curry from the aeroplane was determined to make a reappearance, and by the unsettling noises and smells emerging from my stomach that reappearance was likely to be imminent, explosive, potentially combustible, and quite likely to see me turned inside out.

I straddled the basin as an thunderous buttock wobbling eruption echoed around the thankfully deserted toilet block.

The hole was in front of me. I quickly judged the angles and weighed up the logistics.

Oh no! I was facing the wrong way.

As dainty as a rugby player in a tutu

I attempted a rapid pirouette, like we used to do when playing hopscotch as kids.

I wish I could tell you it was elegant, graceful, and perfectly executed.

It was not.

My left foot hit the raised foot space. My right foot overshot, hitting the rim of the basin and skidding across the wet tiled floor until my toes painfully connected with the wall.

I lost my balance, toppling backwards as I desperately grasped for the only handhold available… the pipe connecting the raised cistern with the concealed outlet at the top of the basin.

An unholy groaning sound emanated ominously from the very depths of my bowels.

No matter how much panicked pucker factor I applied to my already straining sphincter, that evil curry came exploding outwards like some devious seven year old pouring a chocolate thick shake into a spinning electric fan.

As I fell wave after wave sprayed out, a torrential fire hose accompanied by the magnified sounds of a rapidly deflating balloon.

Just before my backside landed in the basin I caught a handhold on the pipe.

Unfortunately that just served to pivot my still plummeting body, so that my very own Willy Wonka inspired chocolate waterfall rapidly transitioned from the vertical to horizontal plains with all the elegance and spray of an Olympic slalom skier carving up the slopes.

Around the same time that I caught my balance, I was finally empty... both physically and spiritually. In fact it is fair to say at the time I doubted whether I would ever be the same again.

The job's not over until the paperwork's done

I carefully righted myself and glanced around in an increasing panic for the toilet paper. Where the hell was the toilet paper?
The job's not over until the paperwork's done
There was none.

There was however a bucket of water.

I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly I was supposed to do with this, but I certainly couldn’t leave the bathroom looking like it had been on the receiving end of an impressionist masterpiece finger painted by a hyperactive birthday cake powered two year old.

Nor was I willing to do the "runny bum run" (probably more of a shuffle in this case) out to the shower block I had earlier spied across the courtyard.

Much water and splashing was applied to myself and surrounds, before I very gingerly crawled onto my bunk, eternally grateful for the small mercy that thankfully nobody had been watching my misadventures. I was soon lulled to sleep by a combination of jet lag, exhaustion and the strangely reassuring serenade produced by the slightly syncopated chorus of snoring backpackers.

So what?

After that I had a great time during my first visit to Hong Kong, having learned the infinitely valuable yet incredibly humbling lesson that despite possessing the infinite wisdom of a second year university student I did not in fact know everything.

  • Share:

You Might Also Like


  1. Haha, it was a shock for me when I came across those kinds of toilets as a teenager during my first visit to HK and that's after family had warned me beforehand! I've seen worse, ie no porcelain, just concrete! Some people are so used to these kinds of toilets that they don't know how to use regular toilets, ie they squat on the bowl, leaving footprints on the seat, hence I have seen signs telling people not to, both in HK and in the UK too!

  2. Thanks Weenie. I saw those signs last year in Dubai, up until then I must admit I'd wondered what the hell people were doing to end up with front facing footprints on the seat.

  3. Wow awesome story and one that I didn't realize we still had out in the world. Weird thinking that we don't all share what constitutes as normal toilets these days. Hilarious read even though it was probably a less than funny experience at the time!

  4. Thanks for the kind words Derek. I must admit I couldn't help but laugh at the time about how ridiculous I must have looked... and it could have been much worse!