Abecedarium

I wrote this piece at Esalen in June 2019. The cue is to write one sentence sequentially from A-Z. We are allowed to skip one and one must be one word. This is not edited except for a hyphen or two. (Really going for the China toilet posts of late.)

Almost nothing could have prepared us for the stench. Because we are in a third-tier city in Western China, the western toilet is not commonplace, and the only way we are going to relieve ourselves is if we use the toilets everyone uses. China does not have the same hygiene standards we enjoy in the West. Despite the odiferous fumes emanating from the small brick building, in we go, we of short bladder stamina, to use the toilets. Evidently this room of squat toilets was meant for several hundred children. Feet begin to squish squish on the pee as we walk toward the stalls. Goddamnit, there are no doors on the stalls. However badly we are grossed out in the bathroom, we have to go. In the non-stalls we squat and a little bit of urine splashes up on our shoes and ankles. Just about every expat carries tissues and hand wipes in our purses – it’s a thing. Killing germs is necessary after that. Lastly, we exit and join the children, teachers and Principal in the courtyard who perform a perfectly choreographed dance. Many of these children have never seen Westerners and stare at our hair and eyes. Not only do the children perform a dance for us, some of the teachers join in. Only when we look into the classroom, are there paintings of Mao, Lenin, and Stalin. Present and accounted for are Communist leaders, one of them responsible for 50 million deaths. Quickly we give each of the children a notion like some pencils or stickers. Really, they look at us like “is this all you got?” Still in a matter of time, this 10-million-person city, so far from the more sophisticated cities, will have skyscrapers and a metro. The growth in China is boundless. Unbelievable! Visiting this school, we can see Versace and Cartier billboards over the river juxtaposing rich and poor. We go to restaurants with nicotine sludge drips down the wall and again the squish-squish on the floors. Xenophobia exists but I would say the experience of curiosity eclipses it by far. Years later, the sensory recollections remind me how much I miss it.

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