(Before we get stuck into the guts of the post, I feel it is my duty to inform you that the title does not contain a typo. It really is about poo.)
Last year, during a perfectly normal workday in my perfectly normal (somewhat fancy) corporate office, after a perfectly normal birthday/farewell/fundraiser/cake day/celebratory afternoon tea, a series of rather imperfect and (according to me) abnormal events took place.
I ate too many of whatever was on offer (normal). Felt sluggish (normal). Whinged about it (normal). Received an offer of salvation (it begins …).
“Well I have a tea…” said my colleague.
“It helps with digestion and [reading from the label] clears the intestine for weight loss.”
He said this with all the assurance of a travelling quack. I wasn’t listening to his words, but by gum he sounded convincing. Sold! I’ll take three! Monorail!
(In retrospect I now see he thought he was smirking with me, not at me. All functioning cogs in my body were devoted to digesting and finding somewhere to store said treats. Little room was left for thoughts.)
– exeunt –
The next morning involved me barging in, hurling abuse at the guy, who just sat and grinned like the Cheshire bloody Cat, feigning innocence.
“Why did you not tell me you were giving me a POWERFUL FUCKING LAXATIVE?”
“Well what did you think it was?” he cackled.
What did I think it was? I thought it was a magic tea that would make me magically (and neatly) no longer feel as if I was pregnant with Willie Wonka’s entire chocolate factory.
What I absolutely did not think it was, was the very thing that it absolutely was: a tool of Satan intended to punish me for everything evil and nasty within me, by implanting a set of burning, spiky forceps in my innards to forcefully exorcise it from my system.
A desk neighbor overheard our heated exchange, and offered her sympathies.
“Ballerina tea? Oh yeah that hurts.”
“Nah not that one, but similar,” the original vendor informed her.
Anyway. By the end of the morning, word of my Night in Hell Featuring Bowels spread rapidly through the office, and I started receiving visitors who either wanted to laugh in my face or offer condolences or both.
“You poor thing. I’ve tried that stuff”
“It’s like eating bad prawns.”
“It’s like Bali Belly.”
“How did you not know! It’s like … a tsunami!”
And everyone – actually literally everyone – who spoke to me offered me their own diarrhea stories. That was my consolation prize.
So what was unusual about this situation? Was it that I, as a lady and therefore alumnus of the University of Celebrity Weight Loss Techniques, hadn’t heard of this shit-five-kilos-in-ten-minutes tea?
Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s that this tea exists in the first place and is marketed as a legitimate weight loss technique. (Verily I tell you: it is not.)
But what I find to be the most unusual, the unicorn of this situation if you will, is the fact that we – upwardly mobile young professionals with Strawberry Net memberships, manicures and/or carefully trimmed facial hair and iPhones – were talking about poo – our own no less – in the first place.
(I nearly wrote “poonicorn of this shituation”, but I didn’t because *cough* puns are lame and toilet humour is for dickheads, but I decided to let you know about it anyway because *ahem* BRILLIANT.)
How your bowels are faring is usually not up there with the weather and what’s been happening on The Bachelor. Normally having this in your conversational arsenal is a sure-fire way to repel you some friend.
Even MS Word doesn’t want to know – it knew I meant diarrhea when I originally wrote dihorreah. but seems it’ll be darned before it suggests the use of that word in its document.
Talking about number-twoing is a social faux pas that doesn’t really need explaining to anyone. It’s just ingrained. One might feel free to discuss their mouth ulcer situation or discretely ask for a tampon, but one does not discuss their poo with too many people. One may allude to it perhaps, by saying one has a ‘stomach bug’ (this why-I-didn’t-come-to-pilates reason would likely earn you a look of equal parts sympathy for your ailment, and gratitude for not going into detail), but that’s as far as it goes.
And you know what? I don’t really have a problem with that. I’m sure I speak for most when I say people usually Do Not Want To Hear About other people’s business-end business. As a general rule, I sure don’t. I mean, if you have some crazy (literal) shit going on, and you’re worried or – even better – amused, then sure, absolutely tell me. I’m not that squeamish. I’ll nod in concern/laugh/Google symptoms as appropriate. Likewise I won’t feel too embarrassed to tell you a similar story. Everyone poops. It’s normal. But rightly or wrongly (but probably rightly), human beings don’t like things with an adverse smell. That’s just the way it is. Even coming out of cute things. Even puppies. Even your baby.
Here is the thing about poo:
Talking about your own poo on home soil may be Just Not Done. As soon as you get your passport stamped, though, it receives diplomatic immunity.
When dealing with foreign travel, the whole “what is appropriate” thing is flipped on its head, and conversation as an art form changes from a witty Warhol or a clever Da Vinci, into preschool finger painting. Actually, it becomes monkeys flinging their own shit at a wall.
Notwithstanding the odd mugging, travel is generally wonderful. It means eating new food, looking at new things, and meeting net people. It generally means a loss of inhibitions.
Unfortunately, though, the bowels seem to also be 100% on board with the freedom and *ahem* looseness that comes with foreign travel.
Travel and bowels have a turbulent relationship. Sometimes this is because of divergent sanitation standards, and sometimes it’s just because you aren’t used to eating that particular part of an animal.
Whatever it is, my bowels and I have gone through stool thick and thin together in foreign lands. I love them when, against all odds, they behave even after I ate an unwashed apple I dropped on the floor of a Vietnamese sleeper train with no toilet. I hate them when I sanitised my hands one hundred times during the day, never once ordered a drink with ice, am in Japan for god’s sake, and ate nothing but a KitKat for breakfast, yet still find myself giving a (self-deodorising, heated) toilet a long baptism.
Bowels can see you’ve taken time off from your regular day-to-day business, and figure they might as well do the same.
In short, Bowels Abroad are your frenemies.
And how do we deal with frenemies?
We gossip about them. We bitch. We marvel at their gall. Sometimes with people we’ve just met.
I’ve talked actual shit all over the world with the unlikeliest people. With close friends, new friends, old people, young people, delicate people, conservative people, liberal people, funny people, boring people, people related to me*, people dating me, and people flirting with me. I kid you not: the term ‘muddy butt’ was once (albeit unsuccessfully) used as part of a flirtatious exchange.
Think about it. Travel brings about a false sense of intimacy with people. Travel together. Eat together. Sleep together. Sometimes even sleep together. Get lost together. Get mugged together. Get drunk together. Sweat together. Get sick together. Butcher a language together. So why not poo together? Or at least talk about poo together.
When all else is strange and new, at least we know we can fall back on talking about our most basic of human functions. It’s comforting to know that someone else in my hostel’s bowels are evacuating faster than JFK International after someone uttered ‘bomb’.
Right now, the opposite seems to be the case, for I’m in a country where the national dish seems to be starch. In the form of cassava, taro, yams, and other things I know only as “potato”. I don’t hate it, going down. I could do without it being mixed with noodles and heaped atop white rice with a side of bread, but hey, it’s polite to eat what’s on your plate, and it ain’t half bad. I could also do without the constipation that ensues several hours later, sometimes lasting for days.
If I was at home, I would keep my mouth shut, and silently hope … that other section … would open eventually. For it is not apropos to discuss matters most foul in polite society.
But I am abroad, darling, and hence am free to talk about this with my companions, and know I am not alone.
Lucky for all of us, I know of a tea …
My conclusion is thus:
On foreign soil, people WANT to talk about their poo. On home turf, what are you, three? Gross.
*Never ever, ever, ever my father, though, as this is the very same man who once tried to blame his fart on a frog. In Hong Kong. Indoors. On the 30-somethingth storey of a high rise. (Love you, Dad.)