Monday, October 30, 2006

I'm not looking forward to everything I may encounter in Thailand

This is a post about toilets, so you can stop reading now if you are squeamish.

I've never traveled in Asia and, because this is a packaged tour (thus hasn't required a lot of advance preparation on my part), there is a lot about traveling in Asia that I don't know about. One of those mysteries is the squat toilet. What is it and why is it such a big deal?

For better or worse, I'll be staying in Western hotels with Western-style facilities, so this isn't a big concern, but I do suspect that along the way I will encounter a few more traditional facilities -- so I've been doing my research. (It is truly amazing what one can find on the web.)

This article -- part of a group of articles written for and by women -- is from a great site called Tales of Asia:

A Female Perspective on Toilets (October 2003):

As you said, this shouldn't be too foreign to anyone who's squatted in the woods while camping. Anyone overly squeamish probably shouldn't be in south east Asia.

First of all, with regards to dropping your pants, I drop mine to my knees. However, that said, I also squat as far down as possible so that crotch level is below knee level. I also scrunch my pants together so they’re bunched up at the knee. This keeps the pants out of the line of fire. This part is much easier if you’re wearing a sarong and can just pull it up around your waist.

The uninitiated should also note that the bowl part of a squat toilet is much shallower than it is on western toilets. This shallowness, as well as the fact that there is no water in the bowl, results with a much greater splatter effect while peeing. It is likely that you will get pee sprayed on to your feet and ankles. You may also get splash-back to your nether regions. This is why you should get immunized against Hepatitis before going to Asia. You can try positioning yourself closer to or further away from the hole to see if this decreases the splattering. You can also try putting your bum up higher. This will result in a better angle & trajectory, however, now you’re a lot farther away, so the increased pressure will mean increased splatter. Now if you have your bum up and you can hit the target exactly, there won’t be any splatter. But, if you’re travelling around a lot, you’ll never have the opportunity to figure out the optimal position for each toilet you encounter.

As girls, we’re not accustomed to thinking about what it is we’re going to do when we go to the toilet. Unlike guys, we’re always in the same position when using the toilet, so it makes no difference. But when using a squat toilet, you will start to think about it because it could affect how you squat.

Now for the toilet paper issue. When I first got to Asia, I always had a small plastic bag with a half roll of toilet paper and a sandwich bag of soap with me wherever I went. After I’d been travelling for a couple of months, I didn’t bother with the toilet paper. With my right hand; I poured using the water scoop, and with my left hand I wiped. And then very carefully washed my hands. I mostly ate with utensils, so I wasn’t overly concerned about which hand I was eating with. It worked fine and I never got sick.

A couple of pointers; when you’re pouring the water, you need to lean forward or backward a bit so you can hit the target you’re aiming for. Also, you don’t have to wipe nearly as much as you do with toilet paper because the water pressure does most of the work for you. Next, I always put my sandwich bag with soap in my right pocket. This way I could get to the bag easily with my right (clean hand), peel back the bag and grab the soap with my left hand. When washing your hands, odds are you will be squatting on the bathroom floor as it is quite unlikely that there will be a sink. Squatting will minimize the splattering water as well. To get the last of the soap off your hands, don’t hold the handle of the scoop (it will probably have soap suds on it), hold the side of the scoop and pour the water towards you and over the hand holding the scoop.

The butt sprayers are a lot easier to use. You should give them a test spray first. Some of the best water pressure in Asia seems to be reserved for these sprayers, and you could be in for quite a surprise if you don’t do a test first.

As for the hi-risers, I liked them better because there is much less splatter.

My biggest piece of advice is to NEVER use the water scoop while using a western toilet! I can almost guarantee you will get water on the toilet seat and on your pants. Either use the butt sprayer, or use toilet paper.

Many times while I was in Asia, I wished that I was a guy so that I didn’t have to get as close to the toilet facilities as one does as a girl. The biggest annoyance, is when there’s no place to hang your daypack, and you have to go through the above routine while reaching around the pack on your back.

Somehow, I still can't quite imagine it.

Looking forward to the delights of Thailand

A huge flower show is scheduled to open in Chiang Mai shortly before we arrive. I ordered my tickets tonight.

The Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006 -- International Horticultural Exposition for His Majesty the King sounds like it will be amazing with:
  • The International Gardens: This area is allocated for exhibitions of national blossoms, blooms, and horticulture as well as the cultural arts and architecture of 30 countries from around the world. Each garden will reflect a historic diplomatic, cultural and trade ties between nations, people or, where possible, royal families of the two countries.
  • THAI TROPICAL GARDEN - The Way of Life: Encompassing an area of over a hundred thousands square meters, the “Thai Tropical Garden” is a colossal classroom that showcases the vast diversity in the way of life of tropical lands. Visitors will be able to witness first-hand an extensive variety of tropical horticulture encompassing fruits, plants, flowers and herbs.

  • THE ROYAL PAVILION - The Way of Light: The majestic Royal Pavilion, constructed in the exquisite Lanna architectural style, is located right in the heart of the event site. Inside, visitors will be held in awe by the countless ways in which the lives of the people have been positively affected by His Majesty the King’s works and dedication.
And, the reason I have purchased tickets in advance:
  • ORCHID PAVILION - Orchids of The World, A magnificent showcase of 50,000 orchid plants representing nearly 10,000 orchid species: This spectacular and unprecedented display of orchids from around the world will showcase Thailand's potential as a global orchid centre. Over 50,000 orchid plants representing nearly 10,000 different native species, hybrid varieties, new as well as rare orchids will be on display.

    The Orchids of the World expo at the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006 International Horticultural Exposition is designed to demonstrate Thailand’s potential for being the orchid capital of the world, to promote the growth and development of the orchid industry; promote greater awareness of technological advances in orchid cultivation and production; and highlight Thailand’s success in Research and Development initiatives related to orchid cultivation and production.

    The Orchid Pavilion is being built on an area of 6,400 square metres to house a special exhibition of orchids, presented under the ‘Orchids of the World’ theme.

    Orchid Park
    The Orchid Park is the largest of its kind ever created in Thailand. It has been specially designed to showcase a wide variety of exquisite orchids in surroundings that emulate closely their natural habitats.

    With the orchid exhibition lasting a full 92 days, the organizers have planned weekly orchid competitions. These include natural orchid gardens; landscaped orchid gardens featuring the innovative or imaginative use of orchids; potted orchids; and cut flowers. Beyond the aesthetic appeal, entries will be judged in accordance with internationally-recognized standards. This is the first time that international standards will be applied to judging orchids in Thailand.

Best of all, at $3 a ticket, I can return each day while we are in Chiang Mai. . . or, if I get tired of orchids, I can just give away my extra tickets.

This is going to be so much fun!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Egyptian Dreams

Several years ago my high school English teacher (my favorite high school teacher) offered me the opportunity to join a tour she was taking to Cuba.

I've always wanted to go to Cuba, always wanted to travel with Drake, and the tour was reasonably affordable (more than I was used to spending, but not outside my ability to pay). But the tour was scheduled during the legislative session, so Lane -- who also has an interest in seeing Cuba -- couldn't go. I agonized for months whether or not to go on my own. Then, a few days after 9/11, I went to Sweden with my usual traveling partner K and her family (without Lane). That trip was hard. It wasn't a bad trip, but along with the inescapably sad Zeitgeist of 9/11, I broke my camera the first day, the weather was dreary, my language skills were inadequate, finding hotels was a chore, everything was expensive, and most of the scenery looked exactly like Minnesota -- only with red or ocher farm houses. I really wasn't happy until Lane joined me for the final week.

I swore I would never take another major trip without him.

So I came back and told Drake that I would not go to Cuba.

Heck, soon the travel ban would be lifted and Lane and I could go to Cuba together. (This was the Clinton administration, back when the world seemed to hold more possibilities than today.) It wasn't much more than a year later when travel to Cuba went from difficult to impossible. I can't even imagine when we'll be able to go there now.

Back to Egypt.

A few months ago I got an alumni email from the college where I got my undergrad degree. It was promoting a trip to Egypt with one of my favorite professors.

You may remember that Lane and I almost booked a tour to Egypt for this fall instead of the Thailand trip. Here was our chance.

Except. . .

. . . the tour is scheduled for February. During the legislative session. When Lane cannot go.

I've been agonizing over this since the day I saw the announcement, probably a couple of months now. Lane says to go -- I've always enjoyed this professor and the tour focuses on aspects of Egypt (mostly religion) that are of little interest to him. He tells me I will have fun. I pepper the travel agent with questions trying to decide. I try to think of it as a scouting trip for a future vacation for Lane and I. I try to think of friends who might join me. (I had a fabulous time in Ireland with Michele and my trip to Portugal with K and her folks still ranks as one of the best trips I've ever taken.) But every time I decide I'm going to do it, I start think about being in a strange city or visiting a remarkable museum or snorkeling in the red sea without Lane there to share it with me and I start to cry. I really don't want to go without him.

But Cuba still haunts the back of my mind. I should have gone.

Today the travel agent sent me a note. He is off to Homecoming to recruit more participants. He wants to know: Am I going or not?

I'm going.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Touring Madeline Island

We leave the festival early to spend some time touring Madeline Island.

We pick up the car at the ferry landing, put the top down, and head out on North Shore Road.

We stop at Big Bay Town Park where we have the options of walking along the lake or through the woods along the marsh.

It is stunningly beautiful.

By now it is late in the day and the sun is low in the sky.

Time to head back to the cabin to see how the apples in the yard are doing,

admire a few more brightly colored leaves,

consider their bright reflection in the water,

and then join the others on the deck to watch the light in the marsh fade with the day.

Morning on Madeline Island

It was dark when we arrived at the cabin last night, although the full moon illuminated the lake beyond my window. In the morning the view of the lake was clear and lovely, but more surprising was the creek and marsh that embraced the yard.

Wow! What a great view.

We lounge around in the cabin for awhile, visiting and lingering over breakfast, and fussing over Craig's dog when he isn't monopolizing her himself.

After breakfast, several of us take a walk along the lake shore. Despite a stiff breeze, the lake is peaceful today and the sun is warm.

The cabin we are staying at is large, but sort of a mishmash. A handyman's special that wasn't quite fully thought out or completed.

We suspect the remains of a boat sitting nearby in the woods belongs to the same owner.

Another house on the property is quaint on the outside (with cheery sunflowers) and incomplete on the inside. It looks like summer.

Soon it is time to head into Bayfield for Apple Fest.

From the ferry I have a good view back to the quaint shops and houses of La Pointe.

It is a busy weekend for the Madeline Island ferries!

From the top deck of the ferry we have lovely views of Bayfield and the festive crowd we will soon join.

What a lovely morning!

Friday, October 6, 2006

On the Road to Bayfield

Last week we were invited to join friends up in Bayfield for the weekend, so today I have taken the day off work and we made a leisurely trip up through Wisconsin up to the south shore of Lake Superior.

It was a glorious journey.