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Shit Happens

January 16, 2011

I know this is bound to offend someone, but I’m being literal. I can’t think of any other way to sum up the attitude I’m about to describe that comes from living in Asia. I’m also pretty sure that it was shortly after Forrest Gump returned from ‘Nam that he coined this phrase. Blame it on him.

If you can’t handle bathroom talk, don’t read this. I’m warning you.

I can’t say whether it is was nature, nurture, or just trying to be a good southern lady, but I grew up fiercely private about my bodily functions. Farting in public, or in the presence of any another human, was totally out of the question. Mortal humiliation would ensue. If I ever was having stomach problems desperate enough to require treatment, my mother was the only person I might discuss it with – and then only in whispers.

As I grew older and found myself in a trusting adult relationship, I let some of my barriers down. I found that I wasn’t going to be teased if I admitted that I needed some time in the bathroom. It wasn’t funny to him. It was just life. A part of life that, if suppressed, can cause great pain and make you miserable. Plus, I wasn’t going to be one of those girls who can’t go to the bathroom at their boyfriend’s houses.

In March, Jamie and I visited our friend, Adam, who has been living in Bangkok for a couple years. He told us that in Thailand what happens in the stomach and below is no private affair. Thai people also seem to understand that it is a part of life that no one is immune to. Not even girls! He will greet a co-worker in the morning, asking how he is, and the man will honestly reply “Not so good. I had diarrhea last night.”

I was amused and admired their openness, but was still fairly uncomfortable. Then, traveling with Jamie for ten days, staying together in hostels where the bathroom is five feet from the bed, we had to be able to be honest with each other if the bathroom was off limits for a while. More barriers were being torn down.

Fast forward six months and I’m living in Vietnam – a land of interesting, and often unidentified foods. Of streetside stands where dishes are somehow washed and rinsed in the same bucket. Where frying oil is probably not replaced as often as one would like, and refrigeration is a luxury instead of a necessity.

One of the first (and, for me, biggest) adjustments was the open discussion of bodily functions. It’s evidently a requirement of living in Asia. If you take thirty-five people, uproot them from their normal foods and habits, and move them to a third-world country, intestinal issues will abound. We lived in hotel rooms – confined spaces where bathroom noises are amplified. Sitting at dinner, pretending to enjoy your entrée when you haven’t gone to the bathroom for a week is too much to ask of anyone – just as it is impossible to relax and enjoy an evening with friends when you are always keeping one eye out for a bathroom, wondering if it’s unladylike to sprint to it, and whether they actually have any toilet paper in there. (Though those sprayers next to the toilet are there for a reason.)

When we hadn’t seen one of our comrades for several days and they returned, faces pale and cheeks slack, it was their moral obligation to tell us the offending food and restaurant. Then, out of sympathy and fear for our own futures, we listened to their tales of agony – the number of hours they spent doing the “I can’t decide which end it’s coming out of” dance.

Boy are we having a great time!

Thankfully (knock on wood), Jonathan and I have remained fairly unscathed. I’ve definitely had more stomach problems than he has, but no full on food poisoning. No days spent kneeling before the porcelain god. But, I’ve had my share of embarrassing conversations. Just saying your stomach hurts doesn’t fly here. These are things I would have never dreamed of sharing before, but now everyone talks about it. No one is immune to it. Like I said, shit (and that might be too pretty a word for it) happens. Sometimes it happens a lot.

After we settled into our apartment here, we were able to enjoy cooking for ourselves. It was always nice to know where the food came from, that it had been washed, that the meat, if any, had been frozen until I cooked it… The little things we take for granted. There were still times when restaurant food would make me feel like my body was housing Mount St. Helens, but, as long as I was eating at home, I was fine.

Until recently…

I commented to Jonathan several times this week that it seemed no matter what I ate my stomach hated me. Nothing could appease it. We were eating variations of vegetables and rice, so I couldn’t imagine what I had cooked, three days in a row, that made me so uncomfortable.

Yesterday afternoon two of our friends came over. We were examining their wounds and bandages from a motorbike wreck they had when the subject of stomachs came up. This is when Jonathan, cheekily, revealed that he had been experimenting with making ice cubes with water straight from the sink! He seems to think, and I agree with him on certain levels, that allergies and weak stomachs are a product of nurture – not nature. But, the locals boil the water! In my mind, this takes it out of the “weak foreigner” category, and puts it into the “unsanitary water/ good common sense” category.

Here is Jonathan’s partner in crime. Doesn’t it have an evil grimace?



Since I’ve been living in Asia for over four months, I had no problem describing to our chuckling friends exactly what his unpurified ice cubes had done to my stomach, though, I will spare you the details (I haven’t lost all my manners.) He didn’t suffer any adverse effects, so he still isn’t convinced that drinking straight tap water is a bad idea. He wants to continue the experiments, some days using purified and sometimes tap, until we find out the truth. Since when did my intestines become part of a science experiment?

I’m collecting revenge ideas if you have any. Meat from the late afternoon market? Rocks in the rice? Eye drops in his coffee? Also, why some people are so closed up (no pun intended) about what goes on in their bodies? Is this nature or nurture?

Currently reading: “We Are Not Alone–Writers and Social Media” by Kristen Lamb

12 Comments leave one →
  1. karen permalink
    January 16, 2011 12:03

    No offense taken here, girl!!!
    I would not drink iced drinks at your house though until you make the ice, if I were you!!
    I always remember a piece of advice your Momma gave me once….having a “stomach” problem…she told me to lay on my left side, to feel a little relief. It has been good information for me, many a time!!

    I don’t remember us whispering about it though!!

    • January 16, 2011 22:11

      Ah, thanks for the tip. I will have to keep that in mind next time I’m suffering. There’s no more whispering here either 🙂

      I’m going to go dump the ice trays now.

  2. Frank Holby permalink
    January 16, 2011 13:38

    When you were a wee child — before you’d started kindergarten but already able to read, the two of us were driving up Sylvan Road toward Atlanta. We came up behind a car stopped at a traffic light. On that car’s bumper was a sign that read “$#!? happens.” I dreaded what I knew was coming. You peered through the windshield and, with a deliberate reliance on your phonics skills, perfectly pronounced the phrase. At the time I felt horrible — almost as though the pure innocence of your tongue had been compromised. Now I know that was true. But it’s just one blog. But please, keep “Sweet dreams and flying machines” as your handle. Don’t change it to “$#!? happens.”

    • January 16, 2011 22:33

      Don’t worry, Daddy. In spite of this phrase evidently being so deeply ingrained in my mind, this is a one time use. I will continue to write about sweet dreams, flying machines, and hopefully things more pleasant than what is going on in our intestines.

      Thank you for the comment. I love hearing what you have to say about my writing. Weren’t you proud that I could read at such a young age?

  3. Charity permalink
    January 16, 2011 17:54

    My brother and sisters are trying to break down my barriers… but I refuse to give in! I’m a lady (haha!) and some things should remain a mystery! hahaha! 🙂

    PS. Just punch J in the junk and when he says “Why?!?”… you can say “You know why!”

    PSS. I’m kidding Jonathan! I don’t really think Grace should do that. It’s just a fun movie quote. 🙂

    • January 16, 2011 22:38

      Is that why every time Josh gets on your fb he puts a comment about you going to the bathroom? When you come over here we’ll have you talking about it within 24 hours of getting off the plane (spending that much time on the plane will get you really constipated ;-).)

      I punched him before I read the PSS. Oops 😉

  4. Peter permalink
    January 16, 2011 22:59

    This post was written gracefully but, I hate it when people overshare about all their bodily functions and then, seeing my disgust, brush it off with, “What? Everybody does it!” Yeah, thanks for reminding me… But I still don’t care how big your turds were.

  5. Kari permalink
    January 18, 2011 05:18

    Well said!

  6. Debbie Tran permalink
    January 29, 2011 06:52

    I’m going to shake my head in disapproval at Jonathan when I get there. I’m here working on a safe water project, for god’s sake! (Although I will admit that my bout with food poisoning left me feeling light as a feather, so he may be on to something.)

  7. June 20, 2011 05:29

    I just read this post. When you were talking about it, I thought it was going to be much worse. It’s really quite decorous, actually.

    We are very very happy that our current apartment has two bathrooms.

    The locals are not actually immune to coliform bacteria and giardia. Which is why they don’t drink water (or ice!) out of the tap, either.

    Punishment is obvious – if he persists then you should submit to his whims and take away the toilet paper. The locals don’t use it, after all.


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