2013. 7 years ago. I traveled to a Tibetan village called Yubeng with a group of Chinese backpackers. Reason I was on this excursion is that an ex-colleague read about the place online and told me to check it out. Apparently, buried deep in the Western end of Yunnan province and bordering Tibet, Yubeng was one of the few “untouched” destinations in the region.
To get there, it took an overnight trip from the next big town. There are no direct road connections, so on the following morning, we had to embark on a tiring half day hike carrying our daypacks. True enough, it was all worth it as the village was picturesque. Situated deep in the valley, the village was flanked by green fields, rolling hills and ice-capped mountains. It was serene and peaceful. The houses were a mixture of concrete Tibetan-style buildings and wooden farmhouses. Many had a large compound where horses and donkeys fed on grass. The village only had electricity the year before and Internet access? Only Edge. It was as isolated from civilization as it gets in China.
Our group settled on a cheap lodging – a basic 2-wooden hostel. Amenities were basic – each room had 2 single beds without en-suite toilets. There are no showers, only a nearby wooden shack to conduct your business. The wooden shack was not unlike an oversized chicken coop, I doubt there was any plumbing. Not exactly good news because as night falls, the temperature at such high elevation could plummet to sub-zero levels. But hey, it’s cheap and beds came with electric heaters.
My new friends decided to call it a day and rest in anticipation of the following day’s full day hike. It was only mid-afternoon, so I took a stroll. I stopped by a small hut and helped myself to some cup noodles and butter tea – a Tibetan hot beverage made with yak butter. An acquired taste.
The Sun was starting to set as I walked back when I felt a familiar sensation rushing into my midsection, accumulating in a sharp pain in my stomach. I was having a bad case of diarrhea. It was the level-99 type of stomach ache where you have to hold onto your butt cheeks to stop yourself from unloading.
I came to a halt, trying to hold it in. I looked around. The houses were empty. I pondered if I should knock on one of them and ask to use the toilet (Interestingly, I later did this to a random household at Mandalay, Myanmar but that’s a story for another day). The hostel was still a distance away. I decided against it and powered back to base. Every few minutes, I had to pause and let the pain subside before walking again. It was a torturing 15-minutes.
Imagine my horror when I arrive at the hostel compound, only to find another fellow traveler entering the wooden shack. Tough time calls for tough measures. As I stood by the mini stairs leading into the shack, I swallowed my pride and called out,
“请问有没有人?” (Is there anyone in there?)
There was a pause, and then from deep inside reverberated a voice,
I felt cold sweat building up underneath my fleece. I’m not sure if I can hold it any longer.
“没事，你可以进来！” (No worries, you can enter!)
Before his words and the consequences of what was about to happen sink in, I let myself into the male section. It was dimly lit and bare. No stalls, no dividers, no furniture. Literally, bare. On the wooden floor were three holes – separated about a metre from each other – where patrons relieve themselves. I was right, there was no plumbing and everything goes to the ground below it. I spotted the traveller earlier occupying the hole furthest away from me. He was in an Asian squat position while minding his own business on his phone, oblivious to my presence.
Now, you should be aware that urinal etiquette dictates that you should always pick the urinal further away from an occupied one, often leaving the one in between idle. However, the first hole was significantly smaller than the rest. When you have diarrhea, you don’t want to risk missing your hole and making a mess. I took the spot right next to him.
I got into an Asian squat and proceeded with my business. Do you know how sometimes during diarrhea, your butt makes some embarrassing farting noises? Yup, it happened to me then.
And I felt bad.
“不好意识，我肚子痛” (I’m sorry, I’m having a stomach ache)
“哦，是吃错东西吗？没关系” (Oh is it diarrhea? It’s ok)
My brain probably short circuited, because for the life of me, I couldn’t comprehend why I decided to do some small talk.
“你是那里来的啊？” (So, where are you from?)
“喔，那你明白广东话吗？” (Oh, so you know Cantonese?)
“一点点，你也是广州人吗？” (Just a bit, you’re from Guangzhou too?)
“不不，我是马来西亚人” (No no, I’m from Malaysia)
“喔，我很想去马来西亚玩” (Oh that’s nice, I would love to visit Malaysia one day)
Followed by silence. Silence bliss. Bliss because the sharp pain I felt earlier was all gone. My fellow comrade then wrapped up his business and took his leave.
“我先走，你慢慢来啊” (I make my move first, you take it slowly.)
“好的,再见！” (See you!)
Only once he left, it dawned to me that I was sharing a conversation with another fellow stranger, while being butt-naked on a squat. Once I decided I had unloaded everything, I returned to my room and called it a day.
The following morning as I prepared for the hike, I spotted the Guangzhou traveler already embarking on his own hike. He noticed me and waved at me. I waved back. I guess, it’s comforting to know, somewhere in Guangzhou, China, is a man I have one took a shit with. It was an intimate experience that I share with no one else and I have absolutely no plans on sharing either.
Moral of the story? Always fork out a little more for ensuite and plumbing.