Warning: the following blog entry contains references to poop. Not German dungeon porn poop, but not tidy little pre-solid-food baby doodies either. If you think this will bother you, go read something else.
The Great Equalizer.
I’m generally okay with myself in terms of self-image. Some might say overly so. But when those days come where I think too much about how I probably won’t ever be Anthony Bourdain or David Quammen, it helps to know that those guys also poop. Because of their chosen profession — part-time adventure travel writers — it’s likely they’ve had experiences much like the one I’m about to relate.
We’ve been in Melaka about a month and a half now, and up until this point the food has been reasonably tame. Spicy sometimes, greasy sometimes, occasionally confusing, but overall nothing we can’t handle. We’re especially fond of chicken satay with peanut sauce, roti with eggs and the shaved ice with mangoes on it. The food in Melaka is astonishingly good and comes in many varieties. I’ll be blogging about that in detail later on, but for today just know we’re eating a lot of delicious stuff.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to a “steamboat” restaurant. This is where they put a pot of boiling broth in front of you, then you order a bunch of raw meats and veggies which you dip in the broth to cook. Sort of a cross between fondue and Mongolian barbecue. It was quite yummy, and we were told there were two varieties: savory and spicy.
Fast forward a week and a half. I’ve been training at a local MMA gym run by the talented pro fighter Mohd “The Underdog” Fouzein for long enough for him to learn a bit about my history. I show up for takedowns class and he asks me to coach his fighters.
I did not come all the way to Malaysia to not teach a bunch of MMA fighters how to run double-legs, Russian ties and fireman’s throws, so I gave a humble assent and jumped out on the mat. The class was receptive and enthusiastic, and went well until I dropped a bantamweight on my foot. The foot in question was tensed on the mat, the toes curled, and the landing…smarted.
It wasn’t quite as bad as the photo on the right, and it’s not like I didn’t finish teaching class, but yeah…it’s sprained…pretty badly.
You’re wondering how this could possibly be related to poop.
Although we like to try different restaurants while we’re here, we unanimously decided to go back to that steamboat place. We ordered the spicy, and in the process found out there were three levels of soup…not two as we had originally been told. DJ and I ordered the spicy, figuring it was the same as the last time.
This turned out to be a tactical error.
I’m not saying the soup was worse than being pepper-sprayed in the face. I am saying that it was worse than standing a bit downwind from people being pepper-sprayed in the face. We’re talking chemical burns. We’re talking about running across the street to the Starbucks on the corner (Of course they have Starbucks in Malaysia. Don’t be an idiot.) to order a single glass of milk for medicinal purposes. We’re talking noses and eyes streaming, DJ going half-anaphylactic, weapons-grade spicy. But we powered through, with the help of the milk, and headed to the car to go home.
Bev was only beginning to pull out into the road when my stomach sent up its first warning: a long, cramping rumble that warned of immediate emergency evacuations in local hazard zones. I said to my wife, “How long til we can be home?”
She recognized the voice tone and, because the answer was basically “Have you seen this traffic? Do you want the ETA in years or decades?” she pulled into a gas station.
The last time I lived abroad was in Japan, a country with a full spectrum of toilet options. On one side you have a full-service Captain Kirk throne with a frankly intimidating control panel that activates everything from sound effects, to a bidet, to a tiny elf who pops out and blow-dries your nethers. On the other there is, as Dave Barry says so well, “a hole in the ground where somebody forgot to put a toilet.”
Malaysia runs toward the bottom end of that spectrum. At the gas station in question, it was a fully plumbed, porcelain-lined hole in the ground where somebody forgot to put a toilet.
Lesser men might have panicked in such a situation. I was faced with what expats sometimes call a “squatty potty.” I had one badly sprained ankle. A hazmat-spicy hellbrew was eating through my gastric system like Sherman through Atlanta (only with slightly more burning and infinitely fewer freed slaves). I did not. I found a stub of plumbing on which to hang my clothing, made sure the door was locked, and went to work.
When using one of these ground-level potties, you squat down like you’re doing a duck walk. This is so common that — and (to again quote Grandmaster Barry) I am not making this up — they run radio ads in Melaka warning people from the countryside not to squat on Western toilets because of the falling hazard. Think about that for a moment: enough people get hurt doing that every year that somebody decided to make a PSA.
That position, though precarious when perched on a sliding western toilet lid, is pretty stable on solid ground when you’re a reasonably athletic person. It is not, however, friendly toward sprained ankles.
So there I was, leaning naked against one wall of the restroom, favoring my newly reinjured ankle, while effluvium hot enough to melt the One Ring issued forth from me with the power of a fire hose and none of the accuracy.
This went on for a surprisingly long time, during which I could only balance as best I could and suffer through karmic retribution I knew not how I had earned.
And the whole time, a little voice in the back of my head just kept repeating “I am sooooo gonna blog about this.”