Monday, March 7, 2011

Fear the Bathroom!

As a kid, I was a cookie-peddling, patch-earning, sash-sporting Girl Scout. Made it through a few years as a Brownie and a year (I think) as a Junior Girl Scout. The other girls always outsold me, mainly because I didn't care if I got that crappy stuffed lion in the Girl Scout uniform for selling 500 boxes of Thin Mints. However, I did attend the occasional troop "camping trip" at Camp Shawano. I call it "camping" because we always stayed in cabins. Not all cabins were alike, though. Bird's Nest was very nice with indoor bathrooms and a cute web layout. The big cabin was fully equipped with all modern amenities including bunk beds and giant kitchens. However, my first camping excursion as a young Brownie was to the Jack Frost cabin - the most bare-bones facility available. I remember 3 distinct things from that trip: 1) We stayed in the heatless cabin on the coldest night of the year. The building is appropriately dubbed. 2) My troop leader thought it was super clever to have us use our outdoor girl scout "skills" to find breakfast. This entailed a bunch of short 3rd graders jumping to snatch mini cereal boxes off of tree branches. Yeah, she tied them up there and made us hunt for Fruit Loops. 3) Latrines. I hate latrines. They smell like Porta-Potties except worse because they never move. They smell of stale urine and feces-ridden dirt. It was awful. That smell is so distinct and so horrid I've done my best to avoid it. I've been successful in this attempt, until Korea.

Fresh, hand-picked Corn Pops

Koreans don't drink water in the quantity that Westerners do. At home, I drink a lot of water and I'm used to having my super-sized water glass refilled about 7 times when I eat out. In Korea, however, we are given cups that belong in a Play-Skool kitchen that are hardly ever refilled and requests for such refills are looked at as somewhat strange. Anyhow, I keep a 2 liter water bottle on my desk at school. I also enjoy a few cups of coffee in the morning to get me started. Both of these habits force me to do the one thing I dread most in the day: use the school bathroom.

The first time I stepped into the bathroom nearest my classroom my nose twitched and my brain sent messages to me saying "ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!" Why was the message so urgent? So dire? Then I remembered. I harkoned back to that day at Camp Shawano. That cold, cold day on the outskirts of Lexington after I had hunted down my tiny box of sugary cereal. And then breakfast ended and I had to do the unthinkable: go to the latrine.

I returned to the present gagging, and reluctantly opened the stall door, praying that I could just hold it until I got home. But home was six hours away. Too long. Far too long. So I sucked it up and choked through the ordeal, hoping I could make the one last fresh breath I took outside last longer. It couldn't and was forced to breathe in the stale, putrid air emanating from the pink-tiled room. It seemed like an eternity but once it was over, I bolted out the door and washed my hands in the sink outside of my classroom. Thank the gods for that extra sink.

The smell is the worst part. I thought. The school bathroom and I became acquainted back in August, when the air was still humid and suffocatingly hot. The situation got even worse as winter descended upon Chosen. Then the time came when I was forced to used the bathroom in winter. And then, the days of Jack Frost revisited me, not just that wretched smell but the cold. Oh the cold! Once again, I shot back in time to that long-haired girl nestled in a thin Ariel sleeping bag on the cold, hard floor of that damned cabin. One juice box too many forced her from the little warmth she gleaned from her Disney burrow, out into the freezing cold air to the wooden outhouse, that stupid latrine.

And I was back in the Daesung restroom, trying in vain to not breath in the toxic-smelling air. I could see my breath as I exhaled. How could a room inside be so cold? Now this dreaded experience not only required jumping into the dreaded odor but entering into a meat locker. These tribulations now make me watch my water with Arrakeen precision, as every sip pushes me closer and closer to that dreaded, freezing cold latrine. Unfortunately today was a day when I didn't watch the water closely enough (I'd be a terrible Fremen) and had to venture into the arctic realm that is the Korean school bathroom.

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