I recently discovered the VICE video series on YouTube. I like this series, which features off-the-beaten-path travel and other strange, yet fascinating topics. I watched a few videos from the VICE channel consecutively the other night before realizing how much time had passed. This video features Slab City. Residents call it the “last free place in America”. The land does actually belong to someone – well, an organization for teachers – but these folks have moved in and called the land home. Filled with hippies, veterans, drug addicts and more, Slab City isn’t your everyday California destination.
There’s a lot happening in this photo: some street art, an intriguing flavor of popsicle, cool sneakers, flammable substances near a lit cigarette, the Asian art of effortless squatting. Overall it’s a very interesting street scene, captured by Flickr user marisoleta in Taipei, Taiwan. Looking at more of her photos, it seems like a fun destination, full of temples, tall buildings, and weird foods we all love to photograph on our travels. It’s always great when a travel photo makes us want to learn more about a place.
I know squats are good for me. They’re assigned in most aerobic workouts and they’re apparently my ticket to a more shapely behind. Still, I had forgotten that I’d be practicing this movement several times a day in China.
In 2001, Lyndell and I spent five days in Hong Kong on a stopover from Sydney to Toronto. That was my first introduction to the “squat-and-pee” style latrines in Asian countries. I didn’t mind them then and I don’t mind them now.
My knees mind them.
I’m hoping that after three months of this activity, I will no longer hear the crunch of my cartilage against bone as I squat to relieve my jasmine-tea-filled bladder.
Urinating in this position is actually healthier for your body than the western toilet. I learned this many years ago and understood squatting to be better for the bladder’s optimal drainage versus sitting which doesn’t enable one’s bladder to fully empty itself. This then puts more strain on the body to relieve itself more regularly, hence keeping this organ working overtime on a perpetual basis. (This company bases its whole product on these findings. Check out this image for a good laugh!)
I must say that they take some getting used to, however. Remembering to bring your own toilet paper is a must and no paper is deposited into the holes but instead is placed in the uncovered wastebasket provided. Sometimes this can be a smelly collection and I’ve found that holding one’s breath is the best solution. All in all, I’m then working my squats AND my lungs. Surely that’s exercise!
My room at the university and most modern hotels and shopping centres also offer western-style toilets. As Beijing continues to grow and accommodate travellers, more and more western-style toilets are available. Still, the toilet paper rule applies. In this way, they are keeping miles and miles of sewers free of foreign material and just filled with organic waste.
Now if Beijing would only start a humanure project! With this massive population, I’m sure the city’s many coal-driven energy systems could be replaced by the methane, combustion or fertilization possible via human waste.