CONTENT WARNING: This post contains a detailed account of a man taking a shit on a tile. If you are sensitive to toilet humour, this post may not be for you. You have been warned.
On our journey across the north of Vietnam Donna and I found ourselves in Tinh Tuc, a small mining town about 142km from Cao Bang. The area is typified by an abundance of the iconic limestone karst that is so common in this part of the world; the road that leads down from Meo Vac is truly stunning, carving a dramatic path around peaks of karst, down into the valley at a rate of knots opening up into a long, narrow straight that leads directly into the town. The only blemish on this otherwise unspoiled lush greenery is the rather unfortunate open mine that dominates the landscape as you approach from the north.
The mine is old, ugly and empty. The town is sparse as a consequence. Squat, concrete state housing, built in the 70’s to serve the mine lines both sides of the road, webbed with colourful bunting, a hangover from the recent Independence Day celebrations. At the far end of the town is a plaza with a giant sized bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh looking out across the valley. There is a lady selling meat at a small table (a butchers), there’s a restaurant serving rice and mystery meat and there’s a hair salon. There is no hotel. Just a single street with these handful of businesses to serve the remaining local community (the young and the men having left to seek work elsewhere since the mine fell silent).
It is in this forlorn place that we find ourselves at 5pm on a Friday evening. The glamorous life of a vagabond indeed. Donna, rather brilliantly, manages to find a charming old lady offering us a night in her ‘homestay’. At just 80,000VND ($4) and with no alternative we are relieved and thrilled that we’ve scored a bed for the night. We park the bikes in the nice lady’s front room, take a bag fro each and follow down an external staircase to a row of concrete rooms. A simple affair of bed with a mosquito net, basic wooden cupboard and a string of rope to close the door. There are no windows, no electrical devices and the toilet is outside.
Allow me to explain the toilet situation, since Donna has been given very clear instructions for the use of this lavatory (I was getting a torch from the bike), so I’ll outline them now. The path outside the room leads to a plastic curtain with a tropical wooded scene adorning the front, behind the curtain is a trough that leads back alongside the path, this explained the old lady, we can piss in. There’s a large water barrel we can use for a wash or if we’re feeling adventurous and ‘shower’ using a small plastic bowl with an inviting comfort grip handle. We are also to use this equipment to pour water into the rough to ‘flush’. A second curtain divides the washroom area from the toilet. The toilet is a tile. If we have to shit, we shit on the tile. Next to the tile is a small pointing trowel; a very small, thin, narrow trowel. Behind the tile there are some industrial sacks, the kind that you carry sand in; should we take a shit we have to scoop it up with a the trowel and throw it under the sacks. Seems reasonable enough, we don’t bother to look under the sacks, assuming that it’ll be a pile of shit.
Exhausted from a long day riding through the mountains we grab a brief meal at the neighbouring restaurant and retire to bed to watch a film. We put on “Grand Budapest Hotel’, one of my favourites. Relaxing into the firm bamboo bed, surrounded by the pungent scent of mosquito repellent, we’re feeling content that we’ve spent another splendid day seeing the best of north Vietnam. It was at this point that I realise that I’m going to need to use the ’tile’. For the first time in three months I have a dodgy stomach.
I step outside in noting but my head torch and head for the curtain. The trowel is in place and the white tile with the blue pattern shines peacefully in the bright moonlight. I squat and cut loose. I won’t go into any more detail than is necessary but this was not a textbook stool. The large tile is covered with shit. I picked up the water bowl, cleaned myself and then I reached for the trowel. I take scoop of shit from the tile and reach over to lift the sack, expecting to simply throw the shit int a cesspit. But there is no cesspit. THERE’S A PERFECTLY GOOD TOILET. A FUCKING TOILET, RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME.
I’m very confused at this discovery. Why am I standing stark bollock naked holding a trowel of my own shit that is dripping onto this fabulous pearly white, seemingly brand new toilet? How has this happened? HOW! I trowel the mountain of shit into the actual toilet and clean up the mess on the tile. I wash my hands, apply a liberal dose of anti bac and walk back to the room. I want answers, I want them now. But of course, Donna didn’t know about the toilet either, she’s as shocked as me, except she hasn’t just shat on a tile or scooped up shit with a trowel, Donna is in bed laughing hysterically at the story I’ve just told her.