16 March 2011

Washiki What?!

Have you ever heard of a squat toilet?  No?  Well, if you've ever traveled around the Middle East, Asia or Japan you may have encountered one of these curious restroom wonders.  Though it can be distressing to suddenly discover a squat toilet to be your only option, there really is nothing to be afraid of.

A squat toilet (alaturka, kakkoos, washiki, etc.) is a toilet used by squatting rather than sitting.  Instead of a raised bowl, the user must carefully squat over what is essentially a porcelain (or concrete or stainless steel or dirt) hole-in-the-ground to do their business.  Scared?  You shouldn't be.  They're surprisingly easy to use and are actually pretty practical.  Without going into too much detail, I will say that to properly use one, you face the wall (or flushing mechanism) and scoot as far forward as you comfortably can.  For first timers and those with slight mobility issues, it is often recommended you grab hold of the plumbing at the front to prevent yourself from "falling in".

Though some would say the initial awkwardness of using a squat toilet well outweighs the practicality, I don't agree.  Not only are they easier to keep clean than a bowl toilet, they are easier to repair and much more sanitary (as you're not sitting on a shared surface).  There are other health benefits to squatting as well, but I'm not about to go there.

Oh, and don't underestimate the water pressure of these babies.  They'll do their job just fine and do it without using as much water as a bowl toilet.  How's that for practicality?

Image property of http://www.mrsranneypoole.com/japan-osaki

Anyway, the idea for the squat toilet is one that most likely evolved from a unique drainage system that was created in Nara, Japan sometime between 710 and 784 A.D.  Essentially, a long 4 to 6 inch wide (10 to 15 cm) drainage ditch was dug through the town which was thin enough for people to squat over with one foot on either side to easily take care of things.  Lucky for you, the technology developed over time into something much more private and sanitary.  So next time you see one of these "urinals-in-the-floor" put on your "I've got this" face and own it!  If nothing else you'll have an interesting conversation starter for the rest of your life.

Remember, just because it's different doesn't mean it's scary.  Breathe, relax and you'll be just fine.


12 March 2011

The Culture Cure

Maybe I'm a little odd (I don't know many who would dispute that statement), but there is one big thing I've often wondered: Why do people experience culture shock?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture shock as "a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation."  It's all too easy to watch TV shows or read magazine articles (with lots and lots of pretty pictures) and say, "Well, that looks like a lovely and inviting place, I'll take my next holiday there!"  But, when you arrive at this exotic destination, you're suddenly feeling very weak-kneed and stomachy; madly clutching at your "hidden" money pouch every few seconds.

I understand these symptoms are probably the most extreme (but you know some of you have done this) yet I wonder if with "adequate preparation" there might be a cure for the madness.

I'm sure lofty philosophers and intrepid world travelers alike could come up with countless reasons for a culture shock experience, but I believe there are only two reasons that have the most influence on causing people to become fearful or hesitant.  First off I need to say that I do not believe a difference in language is a legitimate barrier.  There are not many places in this world where people don't know the implication of the word "No", and I think you'd be very hard-pressed indeed to find a place where the people don't know the meaning behind a smile.  There will always be people to help, especially if you make the tiniest of efforts with their language and remember to be responsible and safe.  Now, what I believe to be the two main causes for a traveler's trepidation are: 1. an almost unrecognizable array of food options and 2. confusion incited by being largely unfamiliar with the traditional, or oftentimes historic or archaic architecture and design.

Unfortunately for you (and my stomach) this blog will not be about different culinary wonders from around the world (since the Cooking Channel and the Travel Channel have pretty much got that covered), but rather about the different and seemingly strange designs that define the cultures so different from our own.  This will be an effort to help you become "adequately prepared" in order to see if the symptoms of culture shock can be eased or possibly eradicated simply by gaining a greater understanding of why the members of these different cultures make the unique design decisions they do.

So welcome to my blog.  I hope that even if you don't feel like what I'm doing serves a greater purpose, you will at least learn something about a people very different from yourself.  After all, the world is not as big as we've been led to believe.