Monday, May 23, 2011

Bathroom humour – but, seriously, folks...

Kids love jokes about raucous and odoriferous bodily functions.  Astronauts are often assailed with the question about how they manage to do their ‘business’ in space.  But joking and curiosity aside, waste management is a serious matter.  It’s often the overlooked but crucial element in global access to clean water. Contamination from improper disposal of human waste is a serious problem in many places, the result of no sanitary measures, or inept ones, especially in rural areas.

The book, Toilets of the World by Morna E. Gregory and Sian James (696.182 GrT 2006) might just be the ticket to draw kids into exploring the world of sanitation using wit, humor and awe.  Historical and cultural considerations intersperse this survey that provides an interesting perspective of just how humans have and have not dealt with their ‘crap’.

This collection of pictures of toilets found in all regions of the world is fascinating.  We see lots of functional toilets and urinals, though many would be considered pretty ‘rustic’ by North American standards.  Some toilets are way more elaborate, artsy or interesting. Some are in the category of ‘plain bizarre’ or ‘totally over-the-top’.

Following is a sampling of the most interesting, artsy, elegant, deluxe, rudimentary, functional, and entertaining:

~In Montreal, Canada a urinal for women, instructions included…who knew and why would you want to, is what I want to know. (p.25)

~In Rio Janeiro, Brazil there is irony to be found when a particularly hygienic  toilet (plastic and paper seat covers, hand sanitizer, touchless flush sensor) is next to a garbage bin filled with used toilet paper.  The paper clogs the toilets. (p.75)

~In Panama we see very basic ‘facilities’ -- a ramshackle hovel, built over open water, and accessed by a precarious-looking, rickety boardwalk. (p.85)

~In London, England very bizarre ‘egg’ rooms, colour-coded pink and blue. Very other worldly. (p.91)
~Namib Naukluft Park, Namibia has an outhouse with an outstanding location surrounded by the world’s highest sand dunes. (p.135)

~In Limpopo, South Africa a field of hundreds of government built outhouses.

"With the intention of providing low-cost housing, the government first built the toilet to stake each lot.  Many years later, both the people and the toilets are still waiting for their houses." (p.154)

~On the Isle of Bute, Scotland there are some very elegant Victorian urinals. (p.120)

~Hong Kong has the most world’s most expensive bathroom worth $3,500,000 (two 24-carat solid gold toilets, gold fixtures and sink, jewel-encrusted ceiling). (p.200)  

~Many examples in India, show the gains being made to improve sanitation but also how much work is still to be done in educating the populace about the connection between open sewage, unclean water, and poor health. (p.201, 206, 211,231)

  ~And finally, Japan. I’ve decided that I must visit Japan, if for no other reason than to check out the bathrooms.  Page 240 shows us the most ‘deluxe’ toilet ever.  Heated seat, optional bidet feature with water temperature- and spray strength-controls, blow-dryer, and accompanying canned noise to disguise whatever ‘business’ is taking place in the cubicle.

In Tokyo, the bathroom at the Ten & Chi Lemina Building is a must see (p.248-251).  These are toilets that give as good as they take.  Truly interactive.  For example, one cubicle has a giant sumo head with puckered lips that slowly rolls toward the woman seated on the toilet, kissing her knees.   Or, for men, there’s the urinal shaped as an open mouth (plump, red lips) with a torso of a chubby man on top that swings from side-to-side (yup, as it’s being used) laughing, playing music, and flashing a camera.  There are a couple more that are just as freaky and hilarious.  Very entertaining if a wee bit creepy.

Overall, this is a book filled with lots of curiosities and information about toilets that is entertaining to boot.  Good for all ages.  Check out the website Toilets of the World  for additional  pictures and information.

If you want to learn more about the world of sanitation, I recommend the book The Big Necessity: the unmentionable world of human waste and why it matters by Rose George.  A fascinating read that’s very approachable and will increase your awareness about the many issues that need to be addressed about waste management, in poor and rich countries alike.  Did you know that in the U.S. 1.95 million people do not have access to indoor toilets?


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