Sunday, January 16, 2011

Report #15

There are some stories that must be told:

My toilet seat broke the other day. Without getting to graphic, there are those who stand and cleanse and those who take care of the job while sitting. I fall into the latter category, which requires some weight shifting. And with that said, ‘Snap’, my plastic toilet seat cracked underneath me, and a big fragment of the seat fell into the toilet.

Now, my toilet is not like others. There really isn’t any water in it, except way down the hole, past where the eye can see. It flushes like regular toilets, swishing water across the bowl and making everything disappear. This design has its advantages and disadvantages. For one thing you have act fast on the courtesy flush, otherwise your small bathroom quickly turns into an outhouse at summer camp. The only advantage of the waterless bowl is there is never, ever any back splashing, which easily outweighs any disadvantages.

This could have been worse with a conventional toilet; it might have even clogged it. When the chunk of seat when down the hole I was in the safe zone in terms of the flushing sequence, just paper, which I tried to flush past with limited success. The fragment was too big to flush down, and even though it was far enough down the hole that I couldn’t really see it, there is no doubt it would cause future problems. So, with rubber kitchen gloves on, I went in and pulled out what looked like a white jellyfish. That was my first gross encounter.

The seat was still usable, although with the big chunk missing it gained the ability to bite and gnaw at your thigh like a lobster. To my disappointment, Carefour didn’t carry toilet seats. The only other place I knew would have it was taobao, the Chinese eBay, but this required the help of a Chinese person.

“Ying, I need a new toilet seat.”
“What? Why?”
“I broke it.”
“How did you break a toilet seat?” she asked.
“It just broke.” I said, trying to avoid going into details about the two different camps.
“But what size, there are probably different sizes?” she said. I was afraid of this. “You should probably measure it.” She suggested.
“Okay, well maybe you can just look on taobao and see if they are different sizes.” I pleaded.

Two weeks went by and the lobster claw pinched me many times, and never followed up with Ying. I also never got around to measuring my toilet seat, and even I had remembered to bring a tape measure home, the seat mounting screws were hidden from the top. And that’s what is really important when it comes to toilet seats, the seat mounting screws.

My apartment has been very reliable, but lately the bathroom is cursed. The next thing that went in the bathroom was the fluorescent light. This seemed easier to deal with. I pulled the cover off the ceiling fixture and unplugged the compact tube. It looked advanced but it seemed like something Carrefour would have in their aisle of light bulbs, but they didn’t. I had gone back to Carrefour for a second time that day on a return visit to stock up on Chinese candy to bring home when I head back to the States at the end of the month. I had my granny cart loaded with bags full of little candies from the bulk section. There are a lot of souvenirs one can bring home in trying to sum up a culture, but for some reason I think candy does a good a job, especially for kids.

On my way home with the granny cart in tow, I paid special attention to the strip of stores across from where I live. I see people out there making vinyl windows from scratch, and welding window cages for apartment buildings. In their tiny square storefronts you can see building materials like large looms of wire, PVC pipe, and bags of sand. I never really considered this strip of little stores to be hardware stores; it seemed more serious like a lumberyard where only professionals are allowed. I walked slowly past each glass window, peering in for clues that might lead to a D2 light bulb or better yet, a toilet seat. I went inside one of them that had lots of electrical wire. There were two women and two children behind the counter, lounging on a day bed. This is common to see in small stores, which double as the family’s apartment as well. I pulled out the D2 light bulb.

“Je ge Ni yo, ma?” I asked (do you have this?)
“yo” she replied (have)…this is a funny thing in Chinese, where you can just answer with the verb.
The store lady said more things in Chinese, of which the only thing I caught was something about ‘cheaper’. She pulled out three different brands of D2 light bulbs each a different price. I went with the middle of the road one. Next, I was going to try for a toilet seat. I didn’t see any in the store, which is no bigger than 8x12 feet. I waved my hand in the air for a pen as I gestured in a scribbling motion. This took longer than it should’ve, and finally they understood. While my mandarin is slowly improving, my ability to sketch thumbnails pic-tionary style has increase three-fold. I drew a toilet seat, which was easily understood judging by the eight-year old boy’s hysterical laughs. Actually, they were all laughing. The lady went in the back of the store and fished out new seat. I opened the box to check the seat mounting screws and was relieved to discover that they were universal, adjustable in fact. Twelve dollars later I was in business.

As I was leaving I realized that I had in my granny cart what was the equivalent to pirates treasure for kids, candy. I pulled out a bag and turned to the little boy and offered him a couple pieces. He declined in an almost automatic way. When the two ladies saw the candy they encouraged him. His older sister, probably ten, came running from the day bed behind the counter and gladly took some. I unrolled the bag and let them take their pick…. and he slowly took one, two, three, then four…the mothers were laughing and I could tell they seemed a little embarrassed, but it was funny.

Back home, I put in the light bulb and once again could see in my bathroom. I carefully put on my rubber gloves. Just when you think you’ve cleaned your apartment from top to bottom and all things disgusting are gone, you remove a toilet seat. I was careful to keep one sanitary hand for tearing off sheets of paper towel and administering spray cleaner. I scrubbed through the nastiest, gummy brown rectangle that was the extents of the toilet seat hinge. I felt clean and fresh putting the new seat on the now, completely white porcelain rim. I disposed of the old seat in the empty box, treating like evidence from a crime scene. My rubber gloves were retired after that episode, which concludes my second gross encounter.

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