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Monday, 21 November 2011


 David Farnsworth brings us his promised insight into Provincial China today - with this comprehensive account of his recent visit and bike tour there.

Yes. It’s important to write about visits before they fade. It’s been a bit over three weeks since I returned. My Chinese/Australian friend has instructed me not to be negative, but rather positive. I shall try. I guess if she were writing about Australia, I would prefer her impressions of Australia to concentrate on the positive.

And of course, as I mentioned in my last blog, Culture Shock is an issue, as is the health after being on the move for 30 hours getting ‘home’.

Three weeks in another town
My latest escapade involved three weeks in Weifang, which is a large city in Shandong Province, one of the wealthier provinces. Anhui, adjacent, is relatively poor, I believe. The pollution was the worst I have seen it since I started coming here in 2002. Eighteen days of it. Then the winds blew and the pollution disappeared. My Chinese friend, Kathy assured me it had gone to Australia. I keep mentioning the lack of water birds on all the expanses of water I pass. She assures me they are having a holiday in Australia. I went to Lake Wendouree in Ballarat and took some photographs to send her to show her how at home her birds are here.

Views from the train 
On the train to Jinan (Provincial capital) I guessed that three-quarters of the smoke stacks were not working. I assume that the smaller factories have been closed down.
Certainly alternative methods of power generation are visible. In Shandong, almost every apartment has solar power. I would guess they are far cheaper than those sold here. Here in Weifang, they are placed on footpaths for sale, along with things like water melons.
And the tree planting along the freeways is far more ambitious and advanced than our sporadic efforts. One of the student text books referred to these plantations as The Great Green Wall.
A previous mayor of the city undertook an amazing beautification campaign, where flowering fruit trees, forsythias, lilacs and magnolias are everywhere. My friend Kathy assures me that the magnolia was the Mayor’s favourite. Chinese gardens rely heavily on large rocks and water. Trees are cared for. I saw a large tree in the middle of a road, protected by concrete barriers.

How people live and what they earn
In the last nine years there has been a rapid improvement in the wealth / living conditions of the middle class. (I don’t really get to see the poor or the rural people.) Most middle class now have an apartment and a modern car. (German, American, French are being produced for the Chinese market as well as a large variety and number of Chinese designs.) A small electric car is available here for the equivalent of $1,000.
In the ‘old days’ I would see women collecting coal which had fallen from trucks or men rummaging through construction rubbish, collecting wire and bricks. Not anymore.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Squatting and Toilets - continued...

Our editor, Dan Mills, can't resist adding to David Farnsworth's article about the traditional "squat" toilet. Here is his expressive commentary:

The invention of the "water closet" - one of the saddest examples of so-called human ingenuity -  is probably responsible for most malfunctions of the lower intestine in countries that consider themselves advanced.  

When defecating, the body is designed to squat. This straightens the colon, supports the abdominal wall and facilitates evacuation.  

Do you really imagine that traditional man constructed some kind of seat before he took a bog?

Sensibly, Eastern nations and some European nations - even until recently in areas not yet Westernised - accepted the hole in the floor with places each side for the feet that is the basis of the "squat" or "squatting" toilet.  This can still be found - thankfully - in some modern airports in the Middle East. One example: Dubai. And in some provincial European cities. Years ago, in Chartres, I found one in a local restaurant. 

The squat toilet has its disadvantages. There is the need to remove trousers to avoid fouling articles of clothing - a small price to pay for allowing the body its natural position.  And the floor toilet is less accommodating than the raised seat. 

But,  if you have two neurons to rub together, the advantage should be obvious . 

The floor toilet allows the body to function correctly - free of the damaging lazy ease that we are conditioned to accept.

So how do we counteract the evil seat of ease and constipation? 

How to use a "water closet" sensibly:

The simple way to avoid this effete scourge is to squat on top of the seat. Again, this involves removing clothing if you are male. And it requires bare feet. But if you visit the can in the morning - clothing and footwear are not an issue.

Admittedly, squatting on a Western configuration toilet may not be simple for those past ninety or obese. For others, it's a doddle.

Simply plant the feet either side of the  seat and you will be delighted to find that elimination progress with a facility you never thought possible. Even compulsively efficient types will barely have time to file their toenails.

The Western Toilet needs to go! Pass it on!

Surely you've noticed the trend?

While the East has become obsessed with motor cars, iPods, fast foods and luxury, the jaded West has been rediscovering what Eastern nations have so readily discarded - from Zen Vedanta and Tai Chi, to acupuncture and traditional remedies. 

And it's high time we rediscovered natural elimination!

This message needs to filter into communal consciousness.  If  it gathers adherents and goes viral -  humanity will be served. But if you, at least, hear and understand, it will not have been in vain.

Stamp out Western Toilets!

To be precise - stamp on them. You'll soon get used to it. And it's a small price to pay for better health.

Addendum: The euphemism plague:

It's  impossible to leave this subject without mentioning the endless labels for the bog hole. In polite English society, "toilet" is considered common and the term "lavatory" favoured - a word even more absurd. 

Then there is "loo", "latrine", "privy", "jakes", "comfort station", "W.C.", "convenience", "thunderbox" and so on. It's a sad list of evasions. As are the jocular expressions for eliminating the body's waste: "Watering the horse", "Emptying the bilge", "Pointing the Peter at the porcelain"...  I'll spare you the jocular terms for defecation, though the nautical "Crimp off a length," deserves mention.

Curious, isn't it, that there is no standard term for the bog-hole?

In an era where the "F" and "C" word issue from the petal mouths of infants, our impolite society still dances around the labels for the loo.

Yes, Buzzword is ready to take suggestions for a standard term.

All comments welcome.


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Squat toilets - an explication

We asked world-tripping poet, David Farnsworth, to write a post for the blog about his latest jaunt in China. We expected a deeply considered piece about psychological perspectives among the Sino-proletariat. Instead, we received this erratic study of international toilets with the comment: "As is my practice, this piece is mainly unedited and written after a considerable intake of red wine. It works for me. It may not work for you." 
David promises to send the expected article as soon as his fine madness subsides.

Like Pam Scott, I, too, suffer Culture Shock. 

For me Culture Shock mostly occurs when I return to Australia. It can even happen after as little a time as three weeks in China (Weifang, Shandong).

For me, Culture Shock is mainly related to people.  I should avoid supermarkets for a few weeks on my return. My own supermarket in Sebastopol Victoria is invariably dirtier (externally) than the one I patronize in Weifang. Inside they are both clean.

My greatest shock and embarrassment is reserved for the airports. 

For instance, Adelaide is primitive, Third World material. Take the toilets. (At the age of 73, I visit many toilets in a four hour period.) In Adelaide,  I swallowed four tablets with water from a tap. And yes, you couldn’t do this in Qingdao (Shandong). But then they do have a drink station with paper cups outside the toilet.

I remember the shock and disbelief of Chinese students faced with buying a bottle of water at Adelaide and bucking at the price($4.00). In China it would cost less than 25 cents. 


Pity that at another basin, the cold water tap didn’t work. It would’ve been the same if I were cleaning my teeth. Do you clean your teeth in warm water?

At Tullamarine, when disembarking, there was a women’s toilet, but no male toilet! The male toilet was hidden around a corner 100 meters away! And the floor felt sticky to my feet. (You know how urine on a floor feels!). There was a chart/ log on the door assuring me when the toilet was last cleaned. I didn’t bother to check. I let my shoes do the checking...

In Qingdao and Hong Kong Airports, the many and conveniently placed toilets all had their own toilet attendant... I assume/guess they had pride in their toilets which were all immaculate.

In the early forties and fifties in Ballarat, all the Public Toilets  had attendants (full time). The toilets were - from memory - always clean. Okay, there’s a cost involved in this. But I assume the expenditure would be minimal. (Car park charges, flight charges, rents.)

Culture Shock? 

The people... Their visages squeezed like a prune, disdainful of others. They are not amused. They are never amused. Unhappy, I might have said.

In China, bus drivers lift up bags into the bus... Here you do your own lifting. I’ve been home a week. I expect the worst is yet to come.

Oh yes. Toilets. (Speak to any traveller and this will probably be an item they mention.)

Squat toilets?  

Well Tullamarine does not have squat toilets. (That is the floor hole, with footprints.) Which is a shame for the people of the Southern Mediterranean.

(In my youth. I was amazed that some people felt it necessary to stand on the western toilets and aim.) Also for the Pacific Islands, South East Asia and China.  It’s a ‘small’ thing but, if we are eager to encourage tourists, I imagine the odd squat toilet should be made available at our international airports.

As a foreigner in China, I am frequently delighted by the availability of western toilets.

Of course,  there are now many middle-class Chinese who have Western toilets in their homes. But what about people from the country?

Buzzword Books has now published David's iconoclastic anthology of world-spanning poems MIDDLE KINGDOM.Check the link on the right.