Monday, March 01, 2010

Thailand II: Third Toilet

Thailand's a Third World country. By some definition of Third World. But who even knows what that means, anyway? India's a Third World country, too, but would you rather be reborn as an average Indian or an average Thai? This one's easy folks. Way easy. So since Third World doesn't really mean much these days, I've decided we desperately need a new way to classify countries.

To those foreign readers in the First World who are used to thinking of themselves at the top of the heap, be prepared to be offended. To those Americans whose idea of international travel is to stay in five-star resorts that could be anywhere, you'll have no idea what I'm talking about. As in, "we stayed at the Ritz Bali for a week. I thought the Indonesians were very advanced . . ."

The following refers to what you can expect in public places, restaurants, and the median home. This scientific analysis involved one person traveling to geographically clustered destinations, non-randomly sampling the facilities, and reconstructing the data based on memories ranging from one hour to fifteen years old.
First Toilet: A 99+% certainty that toilet paper can be flushed without damaging the system. Guaranteed porcelain seating. Seats even at truck stops and train stations.

The United States sits atop the world in a class by itself. There's a reason they say American Standard on them. That means something. The First Toilet has a few defining characteristics: You can really only be certain of such luxury in the US and fifty miles or less into Canada.

I know some of our American readers are going through their life experiences and recalling some horror at a gas station or bus stop at some point in their life. But venture down the list a bit and be thankful for what we have here.

First toilet countries: US, Near Canada

Second Toilet: You're pretty safe here. Risk of disease is very low and things are likely to be clean, but you're only 90% guaranteed flush-able paper and less than 100% guaranteed a seat.

You arrive on the overnight train to Paris at 7am and the toxins from your three days in Amsterdam have finally caught up to you. You head straight for the first decent-looking café, order a drink and head right to the toilette. The closet size enclosure is clean all right, but there's no actual toilet. Just two foot pads and a hole in the spotless floor.

This is Paris!! In France! This is decidedly First World, they were once an undeniable super-power, and some people even now consider them friendly rivals with the US for the title of Greatest Nation on Earth. Yet at a café in their capital city you might actually have to squat to use the toilet! You might actually be able to perform, but there is this nagging shred of doubt in your mind. What if this isn't the toilet, after all? I mean really, what happens then? So you realize the nearby Musée D'Orsay is about to open, buy your ticket and head for the porcelain bliss of a hermetically sealed one-shooter on the first floor. The Monets never looked so good.

Second Toilet countries: France, Holland, UK, Ireland, Italy, Israel

Third Toilet: There's nothing pleasant about your average experience, but you're 90% successful and safe. You might have to shell out a few baht for entry at the bus station in Thailand, but if that keeps traffic to a minimum and pays for cleaning, you're more than happy to pay. It doesn't smell great and you're not inspired to crack open the paper, but you always leave in better shape than you came in. So despite the low GDP per capita, Thailand, perhaps through reliance on a booming tourist industry, actually maintains decent rest rooms. Even on the train itself, with things shaking around, a post-mystery soup trip to the can is uneventful, clean, and safe. What a country!

Third Toilet countries: Thailand, Ecuador, Greece

Fourth Toilet: You won't die, but you're willing to take a 10% or more chance of catastrophe rather the use the toilet found in the train station of the capital city.

You were out the night before in Madrid and are catching the morning train to Toledo (why again?). You and your brother make a desperate run to the train station facilities before your train departs as last night's Sangria and sausage are on the move. You put your pesetas in the coin-operated door. You brother says "Mine's broken." You open the door to your stall to see a seatless bowl covered in grime and paper. You consider how it might be done and nothing seems remotely acceptable. "Mine's broken, too," you say. You have no choice but to battle it out and hope the commode on the train is marginally better (which it is, thankfully).

Here we have a full-fledged Fourth Toilet country right in Western Europe. Wonderful country, great food, nice people, delicious wine, but the European Union needs to stop worrying so much about deficits and GDP per capita and start refusing entry to countries that can't maintain decent commodes.

Fourth Toilet countries: Spain, China

Fifth Toilet: The lowest designation refers only to those benighted places where proper precautions are necessary to ensure that you don't actually catch hepatitis or worse from going to the bathroom.

You're on a twelve-hour train ride in a second-class coach in India. Things are rolling around and you have to bite the bullet. The tiny compartment in the rear consists of a small hole, a filthy tin cup on a chain, and a rusty faucet.

Now suppose you manage to get the job done despite all the shaking and having nothing to hold on to. You still wonder how exactly you're supposed to make yourself more clean by filling up that nasty tin cup and splashing plague water around your nether regions. There's just no way.

Or take the public restroom at the train station. Mostly out of respect for the next person who might shake your hand, I believe you should wash with soap and water after handling your penis in the process of urinating. But what if your penis is the cleanest thing in the entire bathroom? What if there's a legitimate chance that your hands get dirty and diseased from touching the faucet and paper towel dispenser (was there one? You might be making up the dispenser).

Look, with all due respect there are probably filthier countries on the planet — this reporter just hasn't been there yet.

Fifth Toilet countries: India

All categorizations are subject to review. Please share your stories if you think any country has been rated too high . . .

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