Park and shite – Saigon/HCMC

One of the most noticeable changes since I was here before is that there is now a lovely park in Phan Ngu Lao.

A couple of years ago, there were two big areas surrounded by hoardings. Now one set of hoardings has gone, to reveal a beautiful park. It’s not massive, but it’s big enough, and it’s lovely, all flower beds and fancy brick paths – and two big toilets blocks!

One of the things I remembered most from two years ago was the amount of poo on the pavements, in this area especially. Well, not right on the pavements, but at the edges of the pavements. At the risk of sounding too gross, from the size and smell I was as sure as I could be that it was human. Seeing as the bogs in the new park are the first public toilets I’ve seen outside places like train stations, museums etc, that’s not unlikely, especially with so many people sleeping on the streets (and the nearby bus station).  Here’s to things getting a bit sweeter, now the new bogs are open. I think there’s a small charge, but hopefully it’s not high enough to price people out of using them.

Anyway, the park as a whole wouldn’t look out of place in any big, cosmopolitan city, somewhere like London, say, or Singapore. However, as I walked past yesterday what did I see cosily nesting in one of the borders round the base of a tree? A chicken.

January 2002


Loo-st in translation

Yekaterinburg railway station.


Waiting for a train. That will be more than three hours late. Something malevolent is trying to explode its way out of my guts. It’s either a space monster, à la Alien, or (more likely) the evilly sulphurous mineral water I drank this afternoon while observing the Travellers’ Dictum of sticking to bottled water in Funny Foreign Parts. Whatever the cause I need a toilet – like NOW! – but the security guard WILL NOT LET ME PAST HIS DESK SO I CAN GET TO ONE!!!

Why did I insist that K go home as I would be “fine” on my own? He didn’t want to leave me but I didn’t see the point of making him hang around, especially as he’s due to leave Yekaterinburg himself in just a few hours, on some travel industry junket (to Egypt, of all places).

As I pointed out to K, the waiting room is warm, safe and comfortable; I had something to eat, something to drink, and a selection of books to keep me entertained if I got bored of people-watching. Heck, the waiting room even has its own security guard! Besides, I told K, the journey is as much part of the travel experience as the destination.

Unfortunately, about half-an-hour after I made K leave, this particular travel experience manifested itself as excruciating stomach cramps and colicky pains and a slushy gurgling in my guts. Knees buckling with pain I carried my luggage towards the ladies’ toilets and pushed the door. It was locked.

I flicked through my phrase-book then hobbled towards the security guard at his desk. “Tualetti!” I gurned, wafting an arm feebly between the (locked) toilet door and the station concourse.  He tapped his desk, and a piece of paper bearing the details of my delayed train, and said something in Russian. I fished out my phrase-book and plonked it in front of him. “Tualetti!” I whimpered, jabbing at the page, “Tualetti!!!” He gestured that he didn’t have his reading glasses.

Clearly, K’s little chat with the guard before he left hadn’t been a whinge about the unreliability of Russian trains, but a threat about what he would do to the guard if he let me out of his sight and something bad happened to me before I was safely on the train. Great. There are other people around, but do I really want to risk pouncing on some stranger on a Russian railway station in the middle of the night and babbling on about toilets? Er, no.

So I am sitting here carefully copying (what I hope will look like) the Cyrillic word for “toilet” in massive letters in my notebook, so thick and black they could probably be read from Moscow; if the situation gets much worse, I will try slapping that in front of him, in the hope that he can read it then. Otherwise I may be reduced to finding a waste bin and a quiet corner…

Post script/tip for other travellers: If you ever need to take your mind off even the worst situation, making countless rubbish attempts at copying a strange script works like a dream.