The Under Side of China

I invite you to imagine diarrhea in a squat toilet.

Yes … yes … really soak that image in. Here you are: pants around your ankles, trying to stay upright, to your right sits a small wastepaper basket full of used toilet paper, in front of you—where in America there would be a locked door—lies a doorless doorway, inviting any and all spectators to marvel at the yoga-like pose you have struck, preparing yourself for a fecal Cirque du Soleil, knowing that if you stand upright the midget stall that you are squatting in will expose you from the waist up … wondering—praying—that perhaps there is a god and that it will make this end quickly, knowing that not your time at Catholic school, not the doomsday prophecies, not the threat of hellfire and brimstone nor even the promise of sweet bliss in the afterlife has brought you this close to prayer for the benevolence of an all-powerful being, or a sinister malevolent bastard, a prayer that you know is ignored when the episode begins, your stomach seizing, a fire in your loins to make Humbert Humbert swear celibacy as your intestines uncoil and down comes the sludge of yesterday’s meals, meals you so enjoyed the first time around, great slapping sounds against the porcelain hole seven inches below your cheeks, and it stops but this is no reprieve because you know from the continued stabbing pain in you stomach that makes you clutch your slightly pudgy midsection as though it were a lost and hungry baby—sh, sh, please don’t cry, everything will be OK, we just need to get through this, we’re almost through this … lying, lying to yourself because it is your only comfort—this is the last time, this has to be the last time—checking your balance as you begin to tip backwards, and here comes the second wave and is it better than the first?—there has never been a more ridiculous question because there was no first, no first you dare recall, the current escapade having brought you to the Buddha’s eternal now—there is only now—there is only now—there is only now … and for the moment, the pain subsides, and you dare to hope that it is over, dabbing at the sweat across your brow, wondering if the knife will once more slide into your gut, standing and glancing down, all parts of your brain screaming for you not to—don’t look, you don’t want to see, you don’t want to know—but your body is in the grip of some primal reaction, your spinal cord bending your head to the porcelain hole below you—the same reflex that pulls your eyes to a five-car-pile-up, hoping—are you hoping?—for blood, a severed limb, any grisly detail to make the image worthy of retelling, and there below you is your prize—a ripe mound of human shit, piled probably on top of some other mound of human shit, the previous tenant having not flushed the toilet, and you don’t blame him, because you know one push of the germ-infested button behind you will send a high-powered jet of water shooting from the spout, hitting your prize mound like a liquid sledgehammer and sending microscopic fecal particles hurtling through the damp and dirty Dome of Defecation that is your urgent pleasure to grace with you business … with no toilet paper, never any toilet paper but that doesn’t stop you from looking, but experience has taught you and you have brought a traveler’s packet of toilet paper with you, bringing it out now and hoping that the four-to-six small pieces of toilet tissue in the resealable traveler’s pouch—for your convenience—will be enough to cleanse this experience from your tired and aching carcass….

I have been in China for one month. This has been my experience for the last three weeks. I just finished the last dose of my traveler’s diarrhea medicine. We’ll see where that gets me.

The honeymoon, China, is long since over.

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