Category Archives: travel

JetLag RocknRoll: The Video Travel Guide Series

I’ve been so wrapped up in multiple projects that I forgot to update this blog with JetLag RocknRoll’s latest incarnation! Years ago I attempted to produce online travel guides with wanderlustful rocknroll aficionados in mind but writing each listing was incredibly time consuming and a bit too ambitious for just one person. Last year, C suggested we make it a video form instead and ask local bands about their favorite spots in the places they call home. Well, the first episode is now live! It spotlights the San Francisco East Bay and features Shannon & the Clams, Tina Lucchesi of the Trashwomen, and Jesse Townley of Blatz. You can watch the video above and get more details about the businesses, places, and bands covered here.

Other destinations in the works include San Francisco, Tokyo, and Chicago. Check back here or jetlagrnr.com for new episodes!

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First Time with The Boys

nipsOn Friday, May 16, first-wave U.K. punkmeisters The Boys will be headlining day two of HoZac Records‘ three-day Blackout festival in Chicago. Crazily, this will mark their fourth U.S. performance since the 1977 release of their glorious first single “I Don’t Care,” and I’m slightly devastated I won’t be there. Sure, I’ve seen them beforetwice, even, thanks to the Holidays in the Sun festivals (now the Rebellion Festivals)—but that was over a decade ago, both times in echoey, cavernous venues, quite unlike the intimate Empty Bottle in which they’ll be playing in the next 60 hours.

Had I continued to make my zine, perhaps I would possess better recollections than I do now. As it stands, I remember my first time with The Boys a bit more clearly than the second. It was in 2000 at the three-day Holidays in the Sun fest in Bergara, a Spanish Basque town numbering 11,000 or so citizens that, amazingly, had a dedicated rock venue called Sala Jam. (Coincidentally, it was festooned with posters promoting a show with NYC legends The Dictators, who are also playing this year’s Blackout.) I loved the historic quarter and the friendly locals, who got a kick out of a red-haired Asian girl chirping Basque phrases at them. They were pretty chill with all the punks and skinheads that mobbed their otherwise sleepy streets, too. Judging by the broken toilet tank covers after the first day, I’m sure little sleep was had by festgoers that weekend. The Boys’ performance itself was a singalong pogo party.

Perhaps my memories from that encounter are sharper since my senses were heightened after a would-be mugging incident in Bilbao a day earlier (luckily, the purple grip marks on my arm that I received while fending off my traveling companion’s attacker faded a week later). It helps that I have terrible photos (some taken with my tetraptych-producing Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster) and a fuzzy recording of a brief interview I nabbed with Matt Dangerfield and Honest John Plain. Among the hard-hitting topics tackled: their first time, and the accompanying soundtrack (if any).

Matt: “It was done in complete silence, I think. Well, not complete silence, but there was no music playing. For me it was a drunken fumble.”
Honest John: “Beatles, Stones, Bob Dylan.”
Matt: “What? You were listening to three albums when you were doing it for the first time?”
Honest John: “Well, I took a long time….No, I think my mum! My mother downstairs saying, ‘What are you doing up there, John? Whaddya want from the fish shop?’ I’m afraid that was it. I didn’t have music on at the time.”

It pains me that I won’t be seeing them again, so I hope you go and report back!

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The Boys, Bergara, Spanish Basque Country | September 2000

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The Boys, Bergara, Spanish Basque Country | September 2000

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Bergara bathroom wall (note giant spider and web) | September 2000

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Bergara, taken with Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster | September 2000

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Trundling through Hong Kong

Here are 52 sped-up seconds of one of my first tram rides through central Hong Kong, taken in 2012. It’s such a fun way to get a quick look at the city—can’t wait to do it again!

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Brown, Fuzzy & on the Go: Domokun in Italy

domo tackles the bocca della verita

Bocca della Verita, Rome | Canon Powershot A80

In March 2004, Domo-kun and I rendezvoused in the land of pasta, pizza, and piety, spending a good chunk of our two weeks in Rome, Perugia, and the Cinque Terre. (You can read about our first adventure together here.) I fully assumed (and was totally fine with the idea) that we’d do nothing but stuff our faces or be in shambling comas from said face-stuffing. What I didn’t expect was someone as seemingly savage as Domo to appreciate fine art and architecture, but he did.

In Rome, our feet soon ached from inspecting the intricate ceilings, stunning stained glass, and hand-hewn pews of each basilica we passed. He insisted that we stop at every Bernini fountain to marvel at the marble masterpieces, but he refused to wade in the Trevi Fountain à la Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, claiming that the water would make him frizzy. We did, however, visit the Bocca della Verita and re-enact the classic Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck scene in Roman Holiday (although his performance was admittedly half-hearted since he has no hands to begin with). Naturally, we checked many other popular attractions off our sightseeing list and even let a gypsy woman and her children by the Colosseum rifle through our bags. We veered from the tourist track and caught a glimpse of Rome’s small punk scene in a graffiti-covered squat, where Taxi and two other Italian bands covered relatively obscure acts like Johnny Moped and the Normals.

domo with nude; tiger lily and the bocca della verita

Domo with nude in Piazza del Quirinale; Tiger Lily gives the Bocca della Verita a hand

domokun-coliseum

Colosseum, Rome

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Arco di Constantino and the Colosseum, Rome

dead roman pigeon

Incident at Arco di Constantino—the pigeon started it

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Roman forum

domo at the forum

Roman forum

teatro di marcello

Crumbling ruins everywhere: Teatro di Marcello, Rome

vittorio emanuele

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, Rome

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Trevi Fountain, Rome

domokun-rome

Piazza della Repubblica, Rome

castel sant'angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

airing dirty laundry

Ghetto, Rome

santa maria maggiore ceiling

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona, Rome

fascist groove thang

Fascist neoclassicism: Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, EUR, Rome

tiburtina graffiti

Graffiti in Tiburtina, Rome

roman squat

Roman squat

taxi

Taxi performs in Roman squat

winged wedding cake

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, Rome

old rome

Roman forum

view from a train

Train to Umbria

Come for the Wine‘s Marcy Gordon and her Italian friend Fabio met up with us in the walled hill town of Perugia, the capital of the region of Umbria and known for its annual Umbria Jazz Festival, a chocolate fest, and several universities. Together we awkwardly engaged in la passeggiata (evening stroll), broke bread with Buddhist anarchists, and trudged along snow-lined Monte Subasio. Between heavy, leisurely meals, we took daytrips to Assisi and other cobblestoned, red-roofed Umbrian towns, making sure to get lost at least thrice between destinations.

perugia rooftops

Perugia rooftops

domo in italy

Domo in the Piazza Navona, Rome; Assisi man startles Domo

top of the world

Snowy Monte Subasio

domo and the sorta-leaning tower of pisa

Not-so-leaning tower of Pisa

Domo and I eventually made our way to the Cinque Terre, stopping off at Pisa for a quick photo jaunt. Somehow, we couldn’t capture the tower’s legendary lean before time came to scramble back to the train station, but once we arrived in Riomaggiore (the southernmost of Cinque Terre’s five coastal villages), our disappointment evaporated. The Cinque Terre is for the most part accessible only by a small train or on foot, which means it’s absurdly quiet and hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. It was also markedly warmer and sunnier than the other parts of Italy we’d been to. We joined high-heeled Italian women and their children on the rugged trail that connects the five villages, absolutely enchanted that the flora and craggy coastline reminded us of the California coast. The expansive view of the stepped hills, tight cluster of colorful homes, and the Mediterranean Sea’s sparkling turquoise water, coupled with a series of brief but arduous ascents, was truly breathtaking.

We overnighted in charming, tranquil Vernazza, the second-northernmost village, and considered staying there forever—until we heard the Clash and Green Day reverberating through the night. I remembered that I wasn’t ready to retire from rock ‘n’ roll just yet; he realized that he still needed urban discord to fuel his daily rawr and fist-shake. And so with that we returned to our respective noisy, messy homes. Check back soon for more of our adventures together!

pulling into cinque terre

Cinque Terre train

cinque terre trail

Cinque Terre trail to Corniglia

domo at corniglia train station

Waiting for the Cinque Terre train

classic shot of vernazza in the cinque terre

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

domokun chick orgy

Italian chick orgy, Gubbio

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Davey Havok’s Troubles with Women

afi at gilman 1994

AFI (924 Gilman Street; August 7, 1994) with Chaos U.K., M.D.C., Swingin’ Utters & Toxic Narcotic

It seems like just yesterday I was standing outside 924 Gilman Street with AFI/Blaqk Audio’s Davey Havok as he swooned over a blue-haired girl who had smiled at him, grabbing my arm to contain his excitement. Yet it also feels like several lifetimes ago. I suppose it’s hard to believe nowadays that he’d be nervous in the presence of beautiful women but, as he wrote here and here, they liked to give him grief and his apprehension was understandable.

Not long after that episode, we were in his tiny studio apartment, giggling about one of the many racy fan letters AFI received after MRR ran their first interview (issue 137). We didn’t foresee AFI’s endurance and its evergrowing legion of devoted fans. Heck, after our lives diverged sometime in the late ’90s, I had no idea they had outgrown small punk rock shows until I saw them perform again in 2003 during their Sing the Sorrows tour.

I had arrived in London with my new travel buddy Domo-Kun to conduct research for the novel I was working on at the time. It involved a walking tour that encompassed London’s historic punk and rock’n’roll venues, listening to John Peel’s show on the radio (what a thrill!), a bus tour of England’s mystical sights (Stonehenge, Glastonbury, King Arthuer’s grave, Avebury), and a walk-through of the London Astoria. One day I thumbed through Time Out and learned that not only were Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Nick Lowe playing separate sold-out shows the next evening, so was AFI.

afi crowd at london forum

AFI crowd outside London Forum (June 6, 2003) | Fujifilm FinePix A101

On a whim, I headed over to the Forum the next afternoon in hopes of catching the guys once they were done with soundcheck. To my surprise, despite doors opening at 7pm, at 4:30pm there was already a long line of people waiting to get in. In addition, dozens of kids were hanging out by the side of the venue, which was apparently where the band’s dressing room overlooked.

Though I thought there was little chance the band would venture into this mob scene, I joined them and met fans from London, elsewhere in England, and even Europe. They were quite competitive with each other, detailing how long they’d been listening to the band, how many times they’d seen and met them, etc. Several times they’d rally together and chant one of the guy’s names, hoping for a response. Occasionally Dave, Jade, Adam, or Hunter would stick his head out the window and the kids would cheer. It was quite exciting, actually, and all that unbridled enthusiasm swept me back to my very first concert (Lollapalooza #1, with Siouxsie & the Banshees, NIN, Henry Rollins, Ice T, and Jane’s Addiction). At one point Dave affixed a small basket to a rope, filled it with vegan cookies, and then lowered it into the crowd, much to everyone’s delight.

Hunter, the new member of AFI at the time, came out and was immediately mobbed by autograph and photo seekers. I’d never met him before but managed to fight through the crowd and ask him to tell the others that I was in town. He obliged and eventually Dave hung out the window (cue an explosion of cheers) to look for me.

Their show turned out to be a bonafide concert, complete with an enormous stage, dazzling light show, and 2100 screaming, pulsing fans. I was awestruck, both by the audience’s fervor and the band’s performance. Their stage presence had always been energetic and spirited but it seemed to have multiplied tenfold since I last saw them a good five years prior. I recall getting goosebumps and a touch misty-eyed as I watched them work the stage and the crowd. The entire venue shook underfoot for the duration of the show. It’s times like this that I regret not being a better photojournalist, but c’est la vie.

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My Letter to the World #8; London Astoria (May 2003) | Fujifilm FinePix A101

Here’s another installment of Dave’s troubles with women, which appeared in My Letter to the World #8, published December 16, 1993 (click for a larger view). For more literary endeavors by Dave, you might want to check out his debut novel Pop Kids, which comes out today.

davey havok's troubles with women

“Troubles with Women” by Davey Havok, My Letter to the World #8

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Brown, Fuzzy & on the Go: Domo-kun in England

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Domo-kun at Paddington Station | Fujifilm FinePix A101

Domo-kun, the fuzzy brown mascot of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), has enjoyed a worldwide cult following ever since the internet exposed him storming after a kitten across a rolling hillside in 2001. But that scandal and his flatulent nature haven’t slowed him down. In fact, nowadays, you may see him in seasonal costumes at Target or emblazoned across the chests of hipsters, Hello Kitty buffs, and everyone in between.

Back in 2003, I coaxed this pointy-toothed curmudgeon out of his underground cave and have since accompanied him on various adventures around the world. He has gnawed on Slim Jims from a Nebraska gas station and indulged in decadent delights from Parisian patisseries. He has spied kangaroos in the Australian wild and witnessed the changing of the guards in South Korea. He has chilled with chicks in Italy and dodged bulls in Spain.

How did he come to allow me into his inner circle? Easy—I rescued him from what would’ve been a rather invasive investigation conducted by FBI agents Mulder and Scully, whom you might remember from The X-Files.

resurrected

On the table | Canon PowerShot A80, 13.6mm, 1/30, f8, ISO 100

We haven’t taken a trip together since 2010 because he’s a busy critter and it’s hard to coordinate our schedules. Hopefully we’ll re-unite soon. Until then, here are some photos from our first two trips to England, when we hit London’s main attractions, enjoyed high tea at Leeds Castle, and explored the mystical landmarks of Salisbury Plain. The first batch of him was shot with my very first digital camera (a compact 1.3-megapixel Fujifilm FinePixA101), the second with my second (Canon PowerShot A80, which had manual functions and a handy flipscreen).

domokun-london

Big Ben | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/80, f8, ISO 200

domo at westminster bridge

Westminster Bridge | Canon PowerShot A80, 13.6mm, 1/50, f8, ISO 200

domo and dali

Outside the Dali Museum | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/80, f8, ISO 200

domo-national gallery

Trafalgar Square photobomb | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/200, f8, ISO 50

domo-nelsons column

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/80, f8, ISO 50

domo-subway

Subway entrance | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/400, f8, ISO 50

tube gallery

Cindy Sherman at Gloucester Road tube station | Fujifilm FinePix A101

mind the gap

Mind the gap | Canon 5D, 32mm, 1/30, f4, ISO 1600

up and down

Escalator | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/20, f8, ISO 1250

domokun on tower bridge

Tower Bridge | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/50, f2.8, ISO 50

view from st. paul's cathedral

View from St. Paul’s Cathedral | Fujifilm FinePix A101

british museum rotunda

British Museum rotunda | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/60, f8, ISO 400

domo and london phonebox

Phoning home | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/50, f8, ISO 100

domo and london ambulance

Ambulance | Canon PowerShot A80, 7.8mm, 1/125, f8, ISO 50

fuschia door

Camden color | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/160, f8, ISO 100

totable pop art on sale

Camden pop art sale | Canon 5D, 73mm, 1/100, f8, ISO 200

open-air donuts

Open-air donuts | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/13, f8, ISO 100

party time at oxford circus

Party time at Oxford Circus | Canon 5D, 24mm, .6sec, f8, ISO 250

bus pass

Bus pass | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1sec, f8, ISO 200

tea time for domie

Tea at Leeds Castle | Fujifilm FinePix A101

domokun at stonehenge

Stonehenge | Fujifilm FinePix A101

domo with view from glastonbury tor

View from Glastonbury Tor | Fujifilm FinePix A101

cemetery in castle comb

Castle Comb cemetery | Fujifilm FinePix A101

domo in lacock

Lacock | Fujifilm FinePix A101

domo meets super whippy

Ice cream break | Fujifilm FinePix A101

I’ll be sharing photos from our other forays together so please check back soon. [4/15/13: Italian adventures posted here.] And for those of you who can’t get enough of my 1994 KALX playlists, redundant as they’ve been so far, here’s one from 19 years ago on this very day. How did I think Operation Ivy would segue nicely after John Coltrane? And Miles Davis after Pinhead Gunpowder? My mind boggles….

* = feature play
$ = request

3/04/94: FRIDAY 9:30am-12pm

GBH – Race against Time
POISON IDEA – You’re Next
CHANNEL 3 – I’ve Got a Gun
ASTRUD GILBERTO – Girl from Ipanema
COUNT BASIE – Yessir That’s My Baby

* JOHNNY PEEBUCKS & THE SWINGIN’ UTTERS – Here We Are Nowhere
TOY DOLLS – Razzmatazz
BUMBLESCRUMP – White Out
EATER – I Don’t Need It
JOHN COLTRANE – My One and Only Love
OPERATION IVY – Jaded

* THE RAMONES – 7 and 7 Is
* SCREW 32 – Tools for the Job
THE CLASH – Career Opportunities
THE BUZZCOCKS – Late for the Train

$ SUBURBAN LAWNS – Anything
* BEASTIE BOYS – Egg Raid on Mojo
* TEEN IDLES – Deadhead
* NEW BOMB TURKS – This Place Sucks
HARRY CONNICK, JR. – Joe Avery’s Place

FUZZBOX – XX Sex
THE SLITS – Shoplifting
GRIMPLE – All Grown Up
PINHEAD GUNPOWDER – I Wanna
MILES DAVIS – High Speed Chase

HANSON BROTHERS – Road Pizza
SCREECHING WEASEL – I Don’t Wanna
* TEENGENERATE – Wild Weekend
COPOUT – Blind
MR. T EXPERIENCE – Bridge to Taribithia

NAKED RAYGUN – Jettison
* RHYTHM COLLISION – Cheers
THE REZILLOS – Someone’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In
DEAD MILKMEN – Takin’ Retards to the Zoo
* PHILIP GLASS – Mad Rush

THE DISRUPTERS – Young Offender
THE NE’ERDOWELLS – Food
* FAITH – Face to Face
CIRCLE JERKS – Hypnotizer

SHADOWY MEN ON A SHADOWY PLANET – Fortune Teller Chicken
THE MISFITS – Spinal Remains
DISCHARGE – Two Nuclear Stockpiles
* THE PANDORAS – I Live My Life
THE SURFARIS – Beat ’65

OLD SKULL – Love Is Hell
* AGRESSION – Intense Energy
GORILLA BISCUITS – Forgotten
SECOND STORY WINDOW – Pole to Pole
SURF PUNKS – Wave Spy

EVERREADY – Never Walk Away
* JAWBREAKER – Boxcar
VELVET UNDERGROUND – I’ll Be Your Mirror
$ 2000 D.S. – Higher and Higher
ALL – Gnu Theme

* VILE CHERUBS – Man with a Photograph
BAD BRAINS – Attitude
MINOR THREAT – Screaming at a Wall
THE ADOLESCENTS – I Hate Children

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The Precarious Art of Squatting

squat toilets

Squat toilets (Kamakura, Japan; Taipei, Taiwan)

Every December, as the year comes to a close, I find myself contemplating various aspects of the miracle that is life. This month, I’ve retreated into the mind of an eight-year-old to ponder the following: Everybody pees, everybody poops.

As far as I know, there’s really no way to do either elegantly. Certainly not when you’re squatting over a hole. And definitely not when that hole is on a moving train.

I had the great misfortune of learning this the hard way at the age of three or four. It was during one of my first visits to Taipei, Taiwan, back in the days of martial law and a good 20 years before the realization of its streamlined Mass Rapid Transit system. My grandmother and I were riding the train. At one point I needed to pee.

When she slid open the door, we were deafened by the roar of the tracks rushing past beneath us. The toilet was essentially a small, closet-like space with a portion of the train floor cut away. Unlike long-distance Greyhound buses, this didn’t require a Hazmat suit to enter, but a safety harness would’ve been nice.

I like to imagine that, in addition to evading the train’s lurching attempts to fling us into its gaping maw and beneath its steel wheels, we had to battle a tornado of our own hair whipping into our eyes. However, I was too distracted by my short life flashing before my eyes when my grandma hoisted me over the hole to recall if that really happened. I somehow managed to answer nature’s call, but not before the experience scarred me with a lifelong aversion to walking over street grates, sewer grates, and covered manholes—a connection I only recently made as a result of writing this post.

When I returned to Taipei in the early 1990s, I was stunned and dismayed to encounter squat toilets in several posh department stores. Sure, they were made of gleaming porcelain and some had grooved foot rests, but I recoiled from them and the eye-watering odor that emanated from trashcans brimming with used toilet paper. I was flabbergasted that well-dressed women in high heels actually waited to use the squattie over the Western sittie.

As it turns out, squat toilets are purported to prevent a number of health problems (e.g., Crohn’s disease, colon cancer, hemorrhoids) and are still quite common in 21st-century Asia, even in “technologically advanced” countries such as Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Most women continue to choose squatties over sitties unless they’re older or disabled. Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive place to live, also has squatties sprinkled among its architecturally elaborate public restrooms (but some people make do by peeing into plastic baggies—see photo below). The squat toilet’s popularity may explain why, in certain authentic Chinese restaurants in the States, you’re likely to come across toilet seats soiled with muddy footprints as well as trashcans reeking of urine.

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High-end mall restroom, Hong Kong | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/30, f4, ISO 500

Pee Break

Pee break, Hong Kong metro station | photo by Canderson

jiufen squat toilet

Squat toilet, Jiufen, Taiwan | Olympus PEN E-P2, 9mm, 1/10, f4, ISO 1000

“They’re cleaner,” I’ve been told. “You don’t touch anything.”

This isn’t entirely true, of course. You still have to touch the handle or string of the flusher (if you have a flusher; sometimes a bucket of water and ladle are all that are provided to rinse away your deposit) and the doorknob (if there is indeed a door). When you consider that public restrooms in Asia often don’t provide soap and most people think that moistening their fingers with water for a few seconds counts as adequate hand washing, physically engaging with a visually clean toilet seat is no less hygienic than using a squat toilet. Plus there’s the added indignity of splashing on your shoes and/or standing in a puddle of someone else’s failure to aim properly. At least when you squat over a seated toilet, your shoes and ankles are more or less safe, and you don’t have to worry too much about losing your belongings in the bowl.

Yet when you’re in Asia (or parts of Europe, Latin America, or the Middle East) for more than a week, there’s no point in complaining or holding out for a toilet with a seat. Just make sure you always have a packet of tissue paper with you (many businesses hand out tissue packs wrapped in their ads) and take your time. Not peeing down your leg or soaking your shoes takes some practice, as does not falling/slipping once you’re mid-stream.

The recommended position for using a squat toilet is to face the wall (as opposed to the door), straddle the hole, and then squat down fully until your torso can more or less rest on your thighs. If you’ve ever seen a toddler squat down to investigate something on the ground, this is that position. Plenty of people (usually men) in Asia assume this position when taking a smoke break, talking on the phone, or reading the paper.

Of course, certain factors will affect your ability to squat all the way down, thereby altering the efficacy and dryness of your squat toilet experience. Tight pants and limited range of motion in the hips/knees/ankles, for instance, will reduce the angle of your squat and the distance between your feet. In that scenario, it takes a bit more trial and error, and perhaps a firm grip on whatever stable object (bar, wall, exposed pipe) is available. You might even find that taking off your pants completely is the key to your success. (This is something I’ve never felt the need to do, but I’m intrigued by those who have. Assuming there’s no hook in the stall, as there often isn’t, do they tie the pant legs around their neck? And what if they’re wearing skinny jeans? There’s no way they can take those off without first removing their shoes. And what about all the stuff in their pockets?)

I personally prefer a higher squat, almost as if I were hovering over a Western toilet. Sure, my quadriceps have to work harder and I have to be more vigilant about my aim, but it keeps my rear end out of the backsplash zone and my nose farther away from the pungent trashcan. I also like rolling up my pant legs (they may accidentally soak up what’s already on the floor if you’re not careful) and making sure the contents of my bags/pockets are safely tucked away.

At one point during a recent trip to Hong Kong, I actually found myself welcoming the sight of a squattie. Was this a sign that I had finally arrived? Was I treating these bathroom sessions like mini-P90X workouts and therefore appreciating the challenge? Or was I simply tired of trying to turn around in cramped toilet stalls with my bag in tow? Hard to say, although I’ll admit this was only when urination was on the agenda. Taking a crap in a squat toilet can be pretty gnarly, especially if you’re in a hot, humid, unventilated cubicle. Sure, squatting might present the most efficient angle to evacuate your bowels, but good god—the smell! So intense! A bowlful of water apparently plays a much bigger role than facilitating flushing.

For those of you who’ve been to China or heard horror stories about Chinese toilets, you might like to know that squat toilets in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tokyo—even in public park restrooms—are rarely squalid splatterfests. There’s often an attendant who frequently hoses down the facilities until they’re spotless. The downside is that a moist, humid environment is perfect for breeding mosquitoes, a real drag in general but especially for any exposed rump.

In stark contrast to the spare design of the squat toilet is the high-tech, multifunction unit commonly seen in Japan (one of my hosts in Korea had one in their home!). The popular Toto Washlet boasts a control panel with a host of buttons. Depending on the model, you might mask the sounds of your bodily functions with a prerecorded jingle or the sound of someone else peeing, spray your nether regions with warm water, blow them dry, or create a bidet. I highly recommend experimenting with all the buttons, except perhaps the one that has you dunking your behind in water. Why anyone would want to do this in a public toilet is beyond my comprehension.

fancy japanese toilets

High-tech toilet, Tokyo; multifunction toilet control panel

fancy japanese toilet panel

Multifunction toilet control panel

Incidentally, Taichung, Taiwan’s third-largest city, was a real tease when it came to the porcelain commode. C and I pulled into the train station and were greeted by a party of Western toilets bearing a variety of flora. Was Taichung swimming in such a glut of toilets that they could afford to pay lavish tribute to Marcel Duchamp? I couldn’t help but be flushed with anticipation.

Well, as it turned out, art didn’t imitate life. The women’s restroom looked like it hadn’t changed much since it was built in the early 20th century (we visited in late 2011, mind you), but I couldn’t be too upset. I’m a big fan of historical preservation, and there was running water. Plus I hadn’t quite perfected my squatting technique yet. There were worse things than returning home with quads of steel.

taichung toilet art

Toilet art installation, Taichung train station | Olympus PEN E-P2, 9mm, 1/200, f6.3, ISO 200

taichung toilet art

Toilet art installation, Taichung train station | Olympus PEN E-P2, 9mm, 1/320, f9, ISO 800

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