By Stan Stewart
They don’t have Chinese food in China. I know about Chinese food. I’ve been visiting Chinese take-away venues across Australia and New Zealand all my adult life. Go to the smallest town in the Australian outback and it will have a Chinese Café. Travel across China and you won’t be able to find a Dim Sim, spring roll or Pineapple Fried Rice. But, Kentucky Fried, MacDonalds? Yes, they are there and their menus are recognizable. What I thought were the Chinese staples are nowhere to be found. How do the Chinese live?
Travel across Asia teaches you lots. I am still not at ease with squat toilets (still the basic design in the countryside) But then 3.2 billion (that’s almost half of the world’s population) still don’t have access to any toilets, not even a squat toilet with a bucket of water on the side.
My first experience of squat toilets was in Central Java, in a town called Purbalingga, in the early seventies. Not many westerners visited that area, so our host had us accommodated in the best motel in town – the local Five Star. That’s where I was first forced to adapt to this style of toilet. We had waste bins in our rooms and being Westerners, we all had some throwaway stuff – wrapping etc.. I accidentally left my camera in our room and the tour van returned to the motel mid-morning for me to pick up the camera. The way to our room was through the dining hall. What I saw amazed and humbled me. The motel staff had tipped out all our waste bins on the dining table. They were sorting through our waste. They were embarrassed. I pretended I hadn’t noticed.
Later at their community market, I looked around for a waste receptacle. There were none. Our guide explained to me, “We do not throw away anything. In many cases our products are wrapped in leaves or paper which is good for compost. Any plastic, we use again and again. So, we have no need for waste bins.” I know this is not the case in Bali where our son used to live and work. That idyllic island is in danger of being overwhelmed by Western rubbish.
In the market in Purbalingga, Pauline created a near riot. Like all of us she was greatly impacted by the difference of living standards. She was determined to do something about it – then and there! In the produce market no prices were displayed, but our guide told us the first price the traders would ask for anything from Westerners was three times the real price. This meant we had to bargain. It was expected. But Pauline was full of indignation and refused to bargain. She insisted on paying the first price quoted. The traders looked on in amazement. From the other side of the market, I could see that a man was following and pointing at her. Our guide told me, “He is telling the other traders she is the one who pays your first price”. Pauline really was Queen of the May! On that day, in that market, she was the foreigner from heaven.
Personal Note: Readers who have been following my musings for a year or so will know about our son Walker’s health crisis. Just before we (Pauline and I) were to take over the Informer, Walker, 35 years, became quickly paralyzed from the chest down. His situation was so awful that Pauline and I decided I should live in Brisbane to care for Walker and his family and Pauline would take the Informer by herself. Truthfully, I stayed by his hospital bedside to keep him going. I was in Brisbane doing this for over ten months. During this time, Pauline managed the Informer on her own. I know that many in Whitianga were aware of our family situation and supported us with friendship and prayers. After ten months and three different hospitals, Walker has been discharged from hospital and with his family took up residence in our apartment in Brisbane. At that time, I came to Whitianga and began a larger role with The Informer.
Walker’s situation now is much improved. He has regained almost full function of this upper body. In the last month he began therapy in a heated pool. With the help of physios, he has been able to stand in the water and shuffle a little. Considering that for almost a year, his legs were seemingly dead, we are greatly moved and excited. No one knows where this new development will lead but the least we can say is that we are the most hopeful we have been in the last 15 months. We know that Walker will give 100%-plus effort to his therapy as he does his life. Pauline joins me in saying ‘Thankyou’ to everyone on the Coromandel who have offered support and prayers. Stan Stewart