Friday, October 4, 2013

The Final Flush

Closing Day of the world toilet summit was rather more laid back than the others. I didn’t see anyone in the lobby of my hotel when I came down this morning, so bee-lined for the bicycles. A small victory.

There were three talks to start things off. The most interesting was surprisingly the one I had dreaded the most: on toilet tissue by a rep from Asia Pulp and Paper. The first few minutes weren’t particularly promising. He started by listing all the products the company makes (toilet rolls, tissues, napkins, paper towels) and that you could use different products for different things. I was sitting there all judgmental. Then he started to get into the chemistry of why different types of paper products are important, and the engineering behind them. Which turns out to be more complicated than one thinks about on a daily basis (is there anything that isn’t?)

My favorite bit was a simple science experiment that you can try at home to determine whether a particular brand of loo paper is ‘RV safe’ (Meaning that it won’t clog up you camper van toilets… though the test can put more generally to see how the paper is going to behave in your sewers). Here’s the game: Take a jar half full of water. Drop in a couple sheets of loo paper. Screw the lid on tight. Shake the jar for a minute or so. RV safe toilet paper will have turned to pulp by this time. It is made to break down when wet.

This is the sort of thing that would have kept me happy for hours when I was younger. Mucking about and making a mess, but with a scientific excuse of sorts. It’s a game that would appeal to quite a lot of age ranges, and it wouldn’t take too much of a stretch of imagination to turn it into a pretty decent science lesson: Give out a range of paper products and test them for flushability. Take it a step further and dump all the jars into a model drain to see how it effects the flow.

The loo lady in schools may need to become a thing. Like Mz. Frizzle, minus the magic bus, but with all the fun and games and wacky outfits. 

The other two speeches were more statistics and Entrepreneurial catch-phrases. We heard about how the Rotary Club can effect local change backed by a global network, and about the merits of their bottom-up approach (I smile every time I hear that phrase in toilets, even though it doesn’t commonly get the recognition it deserves as an excellent pun.

Brief coffee break in which I arm wrestled a giant germ in the exhibition hall and won a bottle of toilet cleaner.

Back in the final session Jack Sim mentioned me in his closing speech! The plan is to write a handbook for anyone interested in running their own Loo Tour, so that we can clone me and make it go world wide! So there’s another exciting thing to start thinking about.

Finally the Solo Declaration was read out loud.

To close there was a cover of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ which got us all dancing up to the stage where we took a group photo.

After lunch there were trips to see toilets in the city. My bus stopped first at a school toilet in a Christian School. The whole place was clean and white and lovely. The toilets they showed us were for 6th Grade and up. Four squats, with buckets of water to wash.

The last toilet was a village toilet which recycled the bio-gas. An old lady was in front making cups of tea with it. This one was used by a village of 77 houses, most of whom don’t have toilets of their own. As with most British Toilets there is a charge to use. Up on the roof we could see the river running behind it, a section of which doubled as the village’s garbage dump. I asked one of our guides about it, but instead of giving details he wanted to tell me about a memorable occasion when a Garuda Indonesia flight crash-landed in that very river.

After toileting we were taken to a batik market and let loose to shop. As we were walking down the street a group of fearsome dancers with horns headed towards us. They formed an alley which we walked through. “Was this arranged just for us?” someone asked. Yes. It was.

The first Batik Shop was fun. We were taken back to see the fabric being hand stamped. Unfortunately an over-attentive sales girl latched onto me and refused to let me browse, but kept handing me things. When she went back to the storeroom I fled to the street where a photo-session was going on with the horned dancers. Ice cream and then a second Batik shop where I finally managed to buy a couple presents. I’m afraid the rest of my shopping is going to have to happen in the airport.

In the evening one of the girls who had worked hospitality at the Summit took me out… on her motorcycle! I nearly chickened out and pretended to be asleep when she came by, but I’m very glad I didn’t. We met her friend and the three of us went to an antique market, which was closed but the guards let us through anyway. They helped be choose a mask, and then there was a long telephone conversation with the owner of the shop in which they bargained the price by half.

We went for dinner in a very hip café called Tiga Tjeret (‘Three Kettles’ which is the symbol for the arts.) All the decorations in the café are made from recycled materials (plastic cups and cans) and the walls are covered in pictures of the artists that have been there. Dinner for three cost R. 42.000 (about $4).

Over chicken intestines on a stick (another first, and surprisingly okay) I heard all the gossip from the staff-side of the conference. Everybody idolizes the South African delegates because they are very genteng (Handsome).Clara is known as the Purple Lady (after the coulour she always wears.) We also talked about England and they wanted to know what you could buy for the price of our dinner (not much!) They declared that I was probably the richest person in the café (another first!)

The motorcycle ride back to the hotel ended far too soon. We said goodbye and took some photos and then I set about to write but fell asleep on the computer until about 3am, when I decided I may as well just go to bed properly.

So now it is time to head back to London. Goodbye to warm weather, and taxies, and police escorts and gifts at every turn, and hello to business plans and visa renewals.

It has been an amazing adventure. Can't wait until next year (though Bangladesh 2014 will be very different!)

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