Sunday, 29 June 2014



STOP! I’m about to write a blog on an unpleasant, stomach-turning topic that is better off left unread. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll click off this post right now and log onto You Tube instead, or play a game or two of Solitaire. I’m not joking around.

Bloody hell! Are you still here? OK, but don’t say you weren’t warned. Today’s topic is dunnies and the squitters. First off, dunnies. Or Asian dunnies to be exact. Public toilets in Asia are few and far between. Far fewer that what you get in the West. Now this may seem of little consequence, but if you’ve got a dose of the squitters, it’s of paramount importance. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Public toilets in Asia are best described as basic. That’s Basic with a capital B. Some have real Western-style bowls that you can actually sit down on. Count yourself lucky if you come across one of these. The toilet seat, if there is one, probably has shoe-prints on it, as Asians are accustomed to half-standing while doing their business. That’s all very well if it’s just Number Ones you’re about to engage in, but a bit off-putting if you have Number Twos in mind. Some modern Asian toilets have diagrams on the walls to explain that you don’t stand, but sit on the seat, but these seem to go largely ignored.

Toilet bowls are a rare luxury. It’s far more likely that you’ll find a squatter (a hole in the toilet floor) in which to deposit your excreta. There’s no flush button – just a bucket of water and a dipper with which to sluice away the bowel motion. There is, of course, no toilet paper. You’re expected to use the dipper to splash water onto your posterior and thus wash away any vestiges of poo. A word of advice here. If that is the set-up in the toilet cubicle you are currently visiting, remove all clothing from the lower half of your body. Otherwise you’re going to end up with very wet trous; a decided embarrassment when you emerge into the sunlight. And while I’m on the subject, these holes in the floor are not a pretty sight to see. They’re often clogged with the evidence of the last five people to visit the facility. No, not pleasant at all.
Are you feeling nauseated yet? I warned you, didn’t I? And here’s another word of warning. This blog is about to get even more basic.

The squitters. The trots, the runs, Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge, diaria, diorhea, diarhea, diahorrea, (if you know how to spell that goddamn word, let me know), the shits.  Words that will have a special resonance for Western visitors to Asia. Because this is the ailment a Westerner is most likely to be hit with soon after arrival. Some say it’s because of the unfamiliar food, some blame the spiciness of the food, some say it’s the body’s reaction to the hot climate. (A doctor back home once told me it’s none of those things. His theory was that it is the different mineral content of the drinking water that causes it.) Whatever the cause, it’s a given that you’ll come down with the shits some time during your visit to an Asian country. So, what to do when it happens? Take Imodium or Loperamide; both of them very effective in relieving the symptoms of diahorria. They don’t actually cure you; they just make life more bearable while you wait for your body to recover of its own accord.

Now let’s discuss a variation of the squitters that I’m all too familiar with. (And it’s not too late to switch to a game of Solitaire, by the way.) When you have the shits you’re running to the toilet six times a day. But when you have tropical spru, you’re making a bee-line to the toilet just three times a day. This elusive disease, tropical spru, is also known as PIMS or Post Infective Malabsorption Syndrome. The symptoms are thrice-daily visitations to the WC, with a thirty-second warning beforehand. Not nice. But here’s a funny thing: most doctors have never heard of it. And stool and blood tests don’t detect it. “Doctor, Doctor, I’ve got the shits!” “No you haven’t.” Yes I have.” No…” Because of this quandary, I suffered from PIMS for over a year, taking intermittent doses of Imodium but never actually getting cured. When I finally did find a doctor familiar with the disease, I was, to put it mildly, most relieved. Ecstatic, even. Solid shits at last! Hallelujah! It had taken a month of daily dosages of Tetracycline and Folic Acid, but it had done the trick. I’ve mentioned this disease because if you are unfortunate enough to contract it, you’ll have some idea of how to get shot of it.

Well, that’s it. Unsettling? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes, to say the least. But, something that may just mean the difference between months of discomfort, and good health. And on that upbeat note I’ll sign off, with a promise that my next blog post will on a nice, wholesome, family-oriented topic.


In my new book, EFL minus the B.S. (now on Amazon) I have touched on this theme, along with many others. In the book you’ll find answers to these questions: How can I get an overseas English-teaching job? Why in the hell would I want to get an overseas teaching job? How can I survive that job once I’ve got it?

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