Saturday, March 7, 2009

Because "The Chinese" do what now?

Edible Extretions: Taiwan's Toilet Restaurant

Time Magazine recently did a piece on Taiwan's Modern Toilet Restaurant (for those who don't know, there's one in Shilin not far from the night market and one in Ximending. I don't know where the other branches are).

Nobody who lives in Taiwan doesn't know what the Modern Toilet Restaurant is, so I'll spare the description. It is, more or less, exactly what it sounds like anyway.

No, no, the thing that bothers me about this article is the not-so-tacit assumption that Taiwan and China are one and the same. A few quotes:

Toilet creations aren't new to China. The ancient Chinese may have been the first to use the throne — a flush toilet was found in a tomb of a Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 24) king — and they invented toilet paper in the 6th century.

That's wonderful but it wasn't invented in Taiwan! I'm pretty sure the Western Han Dynasty - if I remember my history - didn't even control all of what is now actually China, or even what is now all of Han-dominated China - let alone having anything to do with Taiwan.

The Chinese can take this, Finch muses, because they are more nonchalant about bodily functions, such as burping, farting or even going to the bathroom — an act performed squatting sans doors in some places in China.

Yes, yes, all very true although I never heard a lot of burping in China (though the ones I did hear were ginormous gas-leak burps from an ancient lady at the dinner table, with fish scales hanging from her mouth and coat. Long story). And sure, they spit bones, tea leaves and other uneaten food detritus on the floor - hence the fish scales on this one particular matron's outerwear. Her aim just wasn't up to finding the floor. Ah, Guizhou...

But I digress. Neither of these is a Taiwanese custom. Neither is going to the bathroom outside,. Not even in the countryside have I noticed this, and I spend a lot of time in the central mountains. I'm sure a farmer here or there has let one loose in a corner of his field when he couldn't make it back to the house, but that hardly counts.

I've always felt that in the area of bathroom matters, the Taiwanese picked up most of their cultural heritage from Japan (and let's face it, Japan is a much nicer place to wrestle a brown monkey than China. In Japan, airport bathrooms smell of mint chocolate and the toilets warm your bum and sing to you. In China, I once crapped on a pig.)

So yes - this restaurant is suited to Taiwan because the idea was inspired by a Japanese cartoon robot (it says so in the article) and the Taiwanese seem to love Japanese cartoons and Japanese toilets. It is not suited to Taiwan because birthing a choco-log outdoors is common here. It ain't.

1 comment:

roentarre said...

For one second, I thought you were talking about Freud theory...

When I was in high school, there used to be a popular book called "philosophy of toilet" where there are all sorts of essays surrounding toilets themselves. Some are bad X rated jokes and some are the physics of toilet itself. Quite weird in deed.

Your writing reminds me these days. Some infatuation of the toilet fantasy :)