When you first touch down in a new country it’s all so exciting and new and you can’t wait to explore. Take my recent trip to Japan – I could not have been more thrilled and I hadn’t even left the airport yet.
It was the toilet that did it. Not only did the walls talk to me as I walked towards the bathroom, but the door slid back instead of opening in or out – amazing, just like those paper screen doors I’d seen on Memoirs of a Geisha, sort of.
The toilet itself had a mission control panel (perhaps not the official name for it) and when I went for a wee, much to my alarm, I suddenly heard the sound of running water coming from behind me. This, I later found out, is a nifty little audio function designed to disguise my own 'organic' sound effects and protect my modesty. I’m not sure how it would fare with a number two though. Perhaps they have a different sound for that – like a landslide rather than a waterfall.
These are the thoughts which ran through my head as I studied the other buttons, which helpfully had English translations to explain their use: “Equipment to cleansing the buttocks with warm water.” I declined. In truth, the idea of public toilet water coming into contact with my nether regions was a little alarming, however spotless the facilities. But I was fascinated to see how intricate the operation is: “The angle of cleansing water coming in contact with the buttocks is adjustable.” Admirable.
Sadly, these are the kind of things that excite me, often as much as top Trip Advisor-rated attractions. I’ve nothing against visiting these, or getting a tour guide - I had several fantastic ones in Japan who opened my eyes to all kinds of amazing facts about the country and its people. But there’s something to be said for the everyday experiences in a new destination. There's nothing like a leisurely poke around the supermarket to excite the senses, especially if you find some green tea-flavoured Kit Kats in the process.
I love a 7/11 - discovering what the Fanta du jour is in that particular country (melon in Japan, grape in Thailand), buying some weird crisps to enjoy with a beer later – the lime flavoured ones I got in Colombia went very well with guacamole – and perhaps purchasing a hot bun or cake with an indiscernible filling. It doesn’t matter if it tastes like toilet duck or has the consistency of shredded lino - it's all a cultural experience and one to savour.
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