I went to a silver temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but it’s not referred to as the silver temple, because the temple that is called the silver temple is just a few minutes away on the other side of Wualai Road. (Wualai, incidentally, means spotted cow in Thai and there is a statue of one on the street between the silver temples). The famous silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan, is getting weird. Besides not letting women into the ornate main silver building, which they’ve forbidden for a while, they now want all foreign visitors to register in a little office, which is highly unusual and definitely not for me. So that’s why I typically go to the other silver temple (except on Saturday nights, but that’s another story).
I don’t know its name or even its nickname. Most Thais use short nicknames, instead of their long given names. Thais with the nickname Bird, Little, Fat, Chicken, Elf, New, Red, and so on, seem to like that my nickname is monosyllabically Dan. Sometimes Thai temples and cities get short nicknames, too. Anyway, I just call it “the other silver temple.”
After gawking, sitting, and sweating enough at this other silver temple, which had no other visitors while I was there, I decided to try to pee before continuing my journey to wherever it might take me next. I wasn’t sure if there was a public bathroom or, if so, where it was, but I was able to ask a young monk, “Mee hawng nahm mai kraap?” and got reasonable assurance that it was vaguely “back there.” In my experience, Thais are notoriously bad at directing and pointing. Perhaps it’s because they’re not indicating a precise point, so much as a swath of landscape, thereby less likely to be wrong, even if often less likely to be helpful. It’s an interesting trade-off that fits well with Thai culture, including wanting to be helpful, not wanting to disappoint, and needing to save face.
I found the little building in the back designated “toilet,” just as my bladder got excited in anticipation. In the male section, there were a few dirty stalls with squat toilets, some disgustingly full, and a few dirty urinals, at least one seemingly not flushed for quite some time, which made for an unfortunate sight and smell. I decided to choose the empty and cleanest- looking of the urinals, wisely I thought and, I’m not ashamed to say, slightly proud of myself. I unzipped my pants and finally had the bladder release I had come for, when it dawned on me why that particular urinal was so comparatively clean. It had no pipe! My pee was coming out the bottom of the urinal, splashing on and near my feet. No pipe to clog certainly minimizes the need for a plumber, I thought to myself.
Luckily for me, the rainy season had started and I was able to find a nice puddle outside in which I could take a little bird bath to clean my shoes. As the Thais say, mai pen lai, never mind. And then back out into the alleyways I went.
Dan Brook, PhD, teaches sociology at San Jose State University, from where he organizes the annual Hands on Thailand (HoT) program. Dan also has a free ebook of travel inspiration called GO! Travel Quotes to Send You Off. More info about him is available on his about.me page.