Asia / Europe / Travel Piece

Bowel Movements & Cash Flow

And now a tasteful blog…

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Travel takes you out of your comfortable daily routines; routines you take for granted. When you’re in your comfort zone, other things start buzzing around in your head; errands to juggle, who let the cat out, and the fact that nobody is coming to your party. Travel replaces these thoughts with a huge importance placed on the daily routines: get up, take a shower, get dressed, find something to eat. This last task is crucial when every day you face the challenge of finding something new to eat – new, so you don’t exist purely on kebabs, or sandwiches (depending what country you’re in). If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen where you are, then things are easier. If not, regulating what goes in and how it comes out can become a preoccupation.

Well, it’s a preoccupation of mine.

Before I went to Japan a couple of friends told me that I should watch out for constipation: that the rice and lack of fibrous meals had left them ‘stuck’. Along with a great meal and enough exercise every day, I do like a regular bowel movement. They’re all I ask for, because these are all things I can control. So it was I left Australia with “Constant Vigilance” as my motto, and dared Japan to block my system. There’s nothing worse than when all you can remember about a place is the constant desire for a toilet.

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My first time in a developing country was Egypt when I was 18. I had, of course, been warned about drinking the tap water and how bottled water would become my best friend. And yet, in my naivety, I derisively snorted at using bottled water on my toothbrush, and got diarrhoea in Aswan (on the day I went to the dam… oh the irony). I’m glad to say that as soon as I recovered (on those ‘magic’ tablets they seem to have in all developing countries which are never available at home) I ate a street-vendor’s falafel, and it was the best chickpea patty I’ve ever tasted. It also left my insides high (in a good way) and dry (in a good way).

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I’m also happy to say that’s my only tale of travel-squirts. However, in China three years later, I discovered the downside of finding the salty snack of dried broad beans delicious. This time – aptly – I was bloated like a heavily pregnant cow, lying on my side on the bed in the ship floating up the River Yangtze to the Three Gorges Dam. Having learnt my lesson, I drank a small child’s weight in water and ate around the rice for the next couple of days. It was the day we drove back to see the dam up close that we had movement at the station. All I could think to ask anyone about the dam was whether there were ‘facilities’ anywhere nearby. As soon as I reached the toilet, all systems were go, but it wasn’t until I was about to relax that I noticed there wasn’t any toilet paper. Like a scared cat darting away from a sudden loud noise, I ran to the tour guide and asked her if she had any, but all she could give me were two Wet-ones.

I don’t know about you, but I have toilet paper paranoia. I can’t sit down if it seems like the roll will run out while I’m there. It’s scary to think of leaving the cubicle unwiped. Maybe it’s my anal-retentiveness, but I don’t do ‘dregs’.

So there I sat, extremely happy on the one hand to be ‘shifting units’, but nervously ripping the wet ones into sheets large enough to do their job properly.

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A week later in a Beijing hotel – and back to a very well-oiled machine of a digestive system – I flushed. Usually this action is the right thing to do after a decent bog, but this time, my ‘leavings’ started floating up towards me. I gazed at the situation for what seemed like a few minutes, but it could only have been a few seconds because I reacted quickly. Looking around the bathroom, I spotted the shower caps and ripped open a packet. Water had started flowing out of the bowl by this stage, and with a screwed up face, and a fatwa on Chinese plumbing, I picked up the substantial logs, like a dog-owner in a park, and with a horror-stricken face backed away from the flooding toilet.

I opened the other shower cap and double-bagged the unwanted house guests, and wondered what to do. I couldn’t put it in our rubbish bin. Imagine having that in the back of your mind the whole time. No: I had to dispose of the evidence, and quickly, not to mention stealthily.

I poked my head out of our room into the corridor and saw that, mercifully, the cleaning lady’s trolley was sitting at the end of it. I ran to it with sheer intent. I found the bin and dumped the plastic parcel, placing some scrunched up paper towel over it to hide its shit-eating grin. I’m sure it was laughing the whole time. But no one saw me! I ran back to the room and closed the door. My friend, and travel-partner, Chris, called from his bed, asking if everything was alright, and I said, “Just dealing with some shit…” and made for the bathroom to wash my hands about ten times.

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So everyday in Japan I made sure I got a balanced diet: fruit and Aloe Vera yoghurt and maybe some inari for breakfast, and then only one more meal with rice for the rest of the day. I was so good that the best bowel movements of my life occurred. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a ‘touch down’ but I will illustrate its meaning by adding: ‘foot-long’. You know you’re doing something right, too, if your grand finale only requires a couple of wipes.

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It was with mixed emotions that I left London: I was excited to be moving on, to see new places, and yet I had started setting up an imaginary life there already. It’s tough saying goodbye to international friends and family – you really don’t know when you’ll see them again. But something heavier was weighing on me. I was constipated. Too many cheap egg and cress sandwiches and not enough water or fresh veggies. Damn.

Dan and I made our way to Copenhagen on a cheap flight with Norwegian Air. It was fun to be travelling with someone, and we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed arriving in the Danish capital. We’d both heard a lot about the place – the bikes, the designers, the good genes/jeans. We found our hostel and skipped outside to explore, though the whole time I reminded him that I was backed up and needed to lay off the baked goods until things were running smoothly. I’m sure Dan delighted in this forced intimacy, but he took it in good grace, and soon enough we both kept updating each other on the outs and outs of each toilet break. I told him that in some cultures they ask you how you’re crapping, instead of the standard “How are you?”

It was only 48 hours later that I’d managed to get things back to relative normalcy – the inspiration came from bakery windows filled with glistening gold and brown rolls and pastries: it would be insane not to try a danish in Denmark (though its Danish name alludes me now). However, those hours were filled with fretting and ridiculous amounts of hydration.

I worried not only about the blockade, but also the haemorrhaging of money that seemed to have started. It had already begun in England, of course, but I wasn’t prepared for just how expensive Scandinavia would be. Actually, I did have ample warning – it just didn’t feel nice paying double for almost everything.

Worrying about money is a pastime for me and many of my friends. In Denmark I worried that the country would take away half my savings. Though, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, either. Sometimes I would do the conversion from Kroner to Australian Dollar and realise I wouldn’t be paying any more than I would in Australia. Which I suppose is the rub with travel: when you’re not earning anything, anytime you spend, you want to pay less than you would if you’d stayed at home.

I decided to relax. All I had to do was keep a watchful eye on what went out.

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I decided to relax. All I had to do was keep a watchful eye on what went in.

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