Posts Tagged 'tips'

Going To The Bathroom Abroad: The Butt Hose Edition

This is my bathroom. As you can see, it’s nothing special (aside from how clean it is). It’s actually nicer than my last bathroom back in the States, with its black mold and peeling linoleum. Because contrary to what some folks back home have envisioned, I’m actually not living in a straw hut. Nor am I not taking dumps crouched down over a squat toilet. Using the bathroom is a totally Western affair.

Except.

Look closer—what’s that thing snaking out from the wall and resting perkily in its holster?

Why, it’s a butt hose.

I don’t know if that’s what it’s actually called, but that’s what I call it. Maybe I haven’t been looking closely, but I haven’t seen butt hoses outside of Asia.

At first they confounded me. What the fuck were you supposed to do with that thing? I thought it might be for cleaning and admittedly used it as such once—got a real good angle on those hard-to-reach tiles behind the toilet. But that couldn’t really explain why I’d see the butt hoses around town, in fairly squalid bathrooms where toilets were either missing seats or were of the squat variety, and where toilet paper was a laughably far-fetched wish.

You know those little old ladies that sit outside bus station bathrooms in Latin America and charge you to enter? You know how they give you one painstaking square of toilet paper? I was thinking that Southeast Asia could really stand to learn from that jam. I mean, the pay-to-stand-on-a-scale hustle appears to be worldwide, so why not the charge-for-toilet-paper hustle?

Haha---these signs are reeeeal funny, until you go into a bathroom with muddy foot prints on the toilet seat

Cause they don’t use it.

Word?

Word.

Well, not everyone doesn’t use it. But from what I hear, the butt hose is the Southeast Asian answer to toilet paper. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense: instead of smearing a dry piece of paper around there, you give the area a refreshing little spritz. It’s kind of genius, and far less intrusive and intimidating than a bidet, with its cranks and levers that strike fear and worries of cultural inadequacy into the hearts of Americans.

The butt hose takes up a lot less space too—just sits there innocuously against the wall, as if to say, “Use me if you’d like, madame.” It doesn’t stare at you from beside the toilet, in that way that makes you comfortable and unable to look away while you’re dropping one, wondering if you’re a less evolved human being because you can never figure out how to spell, much less use, that European contraption of ass-refinement. It’s a metaphor, really, when you think about it.

I’ve become a big fucking fan of the butt hose. Once it was explained to me, I began to work it in to my shit-taking repertoire—cautiously at first, perfecting my preferred angle and pressure. Now I’m a convert. A missionary, actually, since I felt the need to carry the good news to a friend over lunch yesterday:

“Dude, have you gotten into the butt hose?”

“The what?”

“You know, that hose you see in all the bathrooms?”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?”

[Insert semi-graphic demo and staring eyes from the neighboring tables.]

It’s really taken my dump-taking to a new level. But, because I’m so fucking international and can’t be confined to any one culture, I’ve taken to doubling up—using both the butt hose, then toilet paper to dry. It’s like a mini-shower for my nethers. And considering how much you sweat here, any extra freshening is a welcome affair.

So hello there, new friend. You’re looking fresh today. What’s that you say? Well, don’t mind if I do…

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11 Dazed Hours in Hong Kong

If ever there was a place to wander around in a jet-lagged, head-cold haze with nothing more than a tourist bureau map, Hong Kong is it.

The 11-hour lay-over is actually what made me choose this flight to Hanoi (aside from the fact that it was the cheapest). I love long layovers; it’s like a two-for, a bonus. You get to extend the half-here-ness of transit onto a place—walk through its streets like it were a video game, or bumpy camcorder images from someone else’s vacation, or someone else’s dream, exuding a kind of impermenance that makes you impervious, imperceptible, a kind of illusion, a walking ghost in a half-here city.

Or it could just be the jet-lag talking.

Either way, Hong Kong is a trippy city to spend 11 hours sleepwalking through. Everything is clean, clear and predetermined: signs telling you where to go, signs reminding you to hold the handrailings, signs designating exactly where you should walk and where you should stand and which direction you should look for traffic and when you should be mindful of bicyclists.

It’s a subdued city, a city on Vicodin. Everyone talks in a low, pleasant voice; they smile slightly when they exchange words with you. Skyscrapers rise up to be swallowed in a white fog. Municipal workers sweep sidewalks, trim hedges, wear blue face masks and walk with their hands clasped behind their backs, or piously under their bellies. People walk with the self-possessed composure of business people on their lunch breaks. Shoes click, crosswalk signs hum, the gentle clatter of endless construction (what more could they be building?) echoes. Nothing is loud or jarring or overwhelming. Yes, it’s crowded, but there’s an order to everything—an organized insanity, a colonized chaos.

You could almost begin to suspect that you were in some George-Orwell-esque alternate reality, where everything seems real, resembles real, but really isn’t—just some placated approximation of a real place. Rolex, Prada, Couch, Ralph Lauren, Espirit, Starbucks, 711, Pret A Manger, Citibank, Geox—buildings that stack as neatly as Leggos and fish markets that don’t reek of fish, don’t reek of anything. The thinnest layer of soot covers the awnings, as if to remind you that it’s real—the slightest twinge of exhaust tickles your nose.

It doesn’t feel theme-parky or like a tourist charade, but rather like the city has in fact become this—a large, outdoor office park.

None of which is to say I didn’t enjoy my time wandering around Hong Kong—just that it felt more like one of the alternative realities from Inception than a real place. Which could have been the cocktail of jet lag and DayQuil and caffiene and bad airplane food swimming around inside me. It could have been the pork dumplings and Ramen noodles that tasted like childhood.

Vietnam, Look For Me Cause Here I Come: How to Get A Visa

Yes, travel is exotic and life-altering and profoundly moving. Yes, you encounter new environments, new people, new customs, and in that way, also encounter some new piece of yourself. Yes, you become more cultured, more able to pepper cocktail conversations with ledes like, “Well, when I was learning tango in Buenos Aires…,” and “There’s really no comparison to actual Italian gelato…”

But there’s also the nitty-gritty, the laborious and unglamorous, the tedium of trip planning. It’s not fun, there’s no scene cred, and no one likes to talk about it.

So, with twelve days left until my departure to Southeast Asia, I’m taking a pause in the string of earth-shattering lyrical narratives to discuss the oh-so boring details necessary to Vietnam travel: visas.

The first step to any obligatory activity, whether it’s commuting or house cleaning, is to get yourself a killer soundtrack to lessen the annoyance. For this, I suggest listening to Abner Jay on repeat.

Having to obtain a visa before visiting a country is a strange and confusing process to those of us native to countries of privilege. As an American, you’re more or less used to waltzing up to a customs window, flashing a smile that gleams of tourist dollars, and getting your stamp. Some countries, like Chile and Brazil, charge you of reciprocal entry fee, a kind of fuck-you I can appreciate. But needing to arrange a visa prior to arrival? What kind of criminal do you think I am?

Once you get over the indignity that the majority of the world’s other citizens are subjected to, you’ll need to actually procure the said visa. Here’s what I learned, thanks to research and Thorn Tree, one of my all-time favorite travel resources.

There are no “visas on arrival” for Vietnam.

Other countries in Southeast Asia, yes. Vietnam, no. It’s pretty simple.

There are different types of visas.

For your basic Vietnam tourist visa, there’s a few options. You can go for a one- or three-month visa; you can also opt for single- or multiple-entry. There are no longer six-month tourist or business visas. This means that, if like me, you’re planning on cruising in and out of Vietnam for a period longer than three months, you’ll need to get a visa extension while you’re there. That’s a beast I’ll tackle when the time comes…

Visa costs aren’t fixed.

Figuring out exactly how much a Vietnam visa will cost is an adventure in obscurity. The Embassy and Consulate websites conveniently don’t tell you how much visas cost. Through poking around, I discovered that if you go directly through official channels—that is, the Embassy or Consulate—you can expect to pay anything from $70 for a one-month single-entry, to $150 for a three-month multiple-entry.

There are several companies (like this one) that facilitate visas, and their prices are far from fixed. Discounts apply for groups; the larger the group, the deeper the discount. Prices for these service range from a $20-$50 discount from official prices.

Going through the Embassy or Consulate is expensive, time-consuming and worrisome.

In most situations like this, I’m skeptical of companies with cheesy websites that offer deeply discounted prices on official services. So I’d decided to stick with getting a visa from the Consulate. But this meant handing over my passport. I’d either have to mail my passport to the Embassy and wait for it to be returned (hello anxiety), or get up early one morning and head out to the Vietnam Consulate in San Francisco. Here, I was told I’d need to give them my passport for processing, which would take around 5 days, and then come pick it up again. It sounded like a pain, but preferable to mailing my most sacred of travel possessions.

The night before I was to roust myself and cram onto the train with all the suit-and-ties, I discovered that…

There’s a way around all this. Kind of.

So, you can actually negate the visa process, in a way. You can get what’s called a Visa Approval Letter, an official document that allows you to get what is essentially a visa on arrival. The pluses are that it’s much cheaper, your passport doesn’t have to leave your possession, and you can do it from your computer. The two big catches are that you need to be arriving into one of the international airports (Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh), and you need to be ready to pay a $25-$50 “stamping” fee.

I used Vietnam Visa Pro, and while the actual entry into Vietnam remains to be experienced, I’m so far super happy with them. I paid $30 for an approval letter for a three-month multiple-entry. I paid via Paypal, which I liked since I’ve heard horror stories about stolen credit card numbers from shady foreign websites (incidentally, just had my credit card number stolen, but that’s another story). I heard back from the company promptly, and had my approval letter emailed to me in 2 business days. Printed it out, made copies of my passport photo, and am ready to roll!

Now all I’ve got to focus on is amassing some more exotic-sounding stories.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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