Saturday, June 02, 2007

One Last Shower Entry




Welcome back to a few somewhat shorter showery tales. The first is another shipboard saga on yet another aircraft carrier. This time I was aboard for sixty-odd days for the purpose of training some folks for an up-coming operation that was a little out of the ordinary for them. That, however, is not what the story is about. As happens normally, I was assigned a berth in the "Technical Representative Berthing" area. This is the term used for the several areas on a carrier where they group all the civilians together. On this particular trip we were in the relatively calm waters of the Indian Ocean just south of Saudi Arabia and going in circles for weeks on end while conducting flight operations in an exercise designed to "show the flag" and advertise the US presence to surrounding countries.
The berthing area was what they termed "overflow tech-rep berthing", which is a nice way of saying we were stuck in the only available berthing spaces left on a very crowded ship. This area was on the fourth deck, just below the waterline of the ship, and consisted of two sleeping areas which shared a common small lounge between the areas. Each side had its own head with showers, sinks, toilets, etc. The side I was on had only myself and two other guys in an area with twelve bunks, while the other side had fifteen bunks that were all in use. The side I was on was to starboard(R) of the ship center line, the lounge on the center line, and the other space to the port(L) of center line. My side was kept continually dark by agreement of the three of us as the other two fellows were "tech-reps" for the A-7 aircraft and often had odd working hours. I didn't care as I spent little time in the bunk area anyway.
The first day after we pulled out was very quiet with everyone getting used to the routine after the crew had spent several days in a "liberty port". The first night was fairly uneventful and I had the entire sleeping area to myself as the other two were at work. After lounging around watching TV I headed for the showers. All normal and all three shower stalls seemed in good order, although the drain was a bit slow. How little I knew! The evening of the second day brought the first signs of possible shower trouble. I first noticed something different while in the lounge relaxing after having spent the day delivering a series of introductory lectures on a subject so familiar to me as to be extremely tedious to spend a full day discussing it. As I tried to watch TV it was near impossible to concentrate on the show as there was a near constant stream of people going from the other berthing space, through the lounge, and into the space the three of us were sharing. I assumed their showers were out of order as they were all using our side's facilities rather than the one close to their bunks.
Finally getting bored with TV and a bit worn out, I decided to grab a shower and retire for the night. On entering the head, all seemed normal as I brushed my teeth and trimmed my beard, although people were still using the showers which were full, with a couple guys awaiting their turns. I sat on one of the plastic cafeteria style chairs someone had lined up against the wall in every available space. This had struck me as odd the first day, but then I forgot about it until now. Even then it was easy to understand why this was necessary, as so many were using the showers on that side. When the crowd was gone and the stalls empty, I put the magazine I'd been reading back on the pile and headed into the shower area, where I was met by a deck covered with about three inches of water and shower stalls with the bottoms full to overflowing with about 5 inches of the same soap laced water. This was not acceptable to me, so I ventured to the lounge and inquired as to what was wrong with the showers on the other side. "Nothing, really," was the only thing I was told, so off I went to see if they were flooded as well.
On entering and seeing the dry deck, I made the decision to shower there, figuring the water must be too cold or something of the like. Popping into the stall, I flipped on the water and immediately set to shampooing my hair and beard. As the stall filled with steam, I noticed for the first time that the hot water smelled "funny". Rinsing the soap from my hair and face my eyes came open and I noticed a large red plastic plaque with white letters advising "No Smoking IN Shower". That WAS strange, never seen that before. Then it struck me, the odor, having grown progressively stronger, was "fuel oil" and coming from the hot water. Now it was clear why they all avoided this place. Hastily retreating, still soaked, I made my way back to our still flooded stalls, endured the chuckling as I passed through the lounge area, gritted my teeth, and spent ages soaking the foul fuel smell off.
It seems that the water feed on the other side came from an old jet fuel tank that had been cleaned of all traces of fuel except the odor, which was overpowering when mixed with hot water. From that time on, I waited until the hours when all the others were at work or asleep and the stalls had drained before attempting any cleaning related activities. Lesson learned.
The next two short episodes involve bathing using facilities as seen above. The first event, in which a shower consisting of a huge wooden tank suspended under a tree and filled with rain water, similar to the rig the girl in the photo is using, took place in South East Asia when a friend invited me along to his rural family's home for a visit. Arriving in late afternoon after a long, dusty, hot ride in an open window mini-bus I was all set to clean up prior to the planned evening events. My pal showed me to an outdoor shower as described and told me to try to conserve water for others. Not a problem, I stepped behind the cloth curtain separating the shower area from the yard, stripped, and got wet down. Then I did my usual hair and beard shampoo and was about to pull the lever to rinse the soap off when I heard the unmistakable sound of giggling. Quickly washing the soap from my eyes I was mortified to turn toward the cloth curtain, only to find that the family dog was playing with it and had pulled it all to one side. This left me completely exposed to the yard, in which stood my friend's teenage sisters and at least several hundred of their girlfriends (or so it seemed), every one of them a-twitter at the sight of the bearded American naked in the shower. I quickly pulled the curtain back, finished my cleansing, dried, dressed, and sheepishly returned to the house, only to find that all the girls were gone, much to my relief. As the family gathered to eat and spend the evening socializing, nothing was said about the incident. My friend and his older relatives did chastise the teen girls for being "silly and rude", as every time they caught my eye, they burst out in uncontrollable giggles, which quickly spread to all four of them. When I met these gals at his house a few years later, the first thing that occurred after the oldest opened the door to my knock, was another contagious fit of giggles from all four twenty-something ladies, much to my embarrassment. Thankfully, to this day my pal doesn't know of the incident as he'd never let it go and we talk often. The rest of my stay I used the rock that had been placed by the curtain to hold it in place.
The last episode, was not quite as embarrassing, though almost. This time it was a Japanese friend who had invited me to visit his family farm in a remote area of the mountain country. I'd stayed in Japanese houses before, and was fairly certain I knew the rules of acceptable behavior. The evening visit and meal went fine. Then his mother informed me that "bath time" was nine o'clock and I'd better get ready as the water was almost hot enough. Now there's a noticeable difference in bathing procedures in Japan. First of all, you wash thoroughly, including shampoo, before entering the tub. For this you sit on a very short stool in front of a spigot and use a pail and scrub pad/sponge to do the washing and rinsing. Then, once thoroughly clean and rinsed you enter the tub, which is like the ones in the photos, and relax in the hot water for a few minutes. Then, after you exit the room, the next person follows the same procedure until everyone is clean, relaxed, and wrapped in a traditional white house-robe. And yes, everyone uses the same water to soak in, thus the pre-soak washing and rinsing. The normal order is guests first when the water is hottest, then down the line from the oldest male to the youngest female in the family, who gets tepid water at best.
Having done this many times at Bed & Breakfast style Inns, I felt sure of myself, even though this time the water was in a large, ancient, wooden tub and had been heated using firewood under a large cauldron. The other difference this time was that I'd consumed a good amount of sake (rice wine) during the evening, as had all the males over fifteen or so. This normally wouldn't be a problem, this time was different though. As I neared the bath, grandmother handed me a sponge and towel and ushered me into the room and closed the door. I washed, rinsed, and then proceeded to enter the tub, much too quickly it turned out. Being the first in a long line of bathers, I had the hottest water, and once committed, had to continue into the bath. This resulted in my feeling as though I were being boiled alive. The water was well over 100F and apparently normal for them, but NOT for a soft American. After about a minute of getting what I was sure were second degree burns all over, I decided to exit gracefully. Wrong!! I now learned the second important lesson of the night, sake and hot baths do not mix well. I was so relaxed by the heat that my legs had become rubbery and refused to lift me from the tub. After several attempts to arise ended in failure, I swallowed my pride and called out to my friend to rescue me from being overcooked.
You can imagine my horror when, not my friend, but his lovely wife and sister-in-law entered giggling and proceeded to not only rescue me, but sat me on the stool and towelled me dry. They then wrapped me in my robe and helped me get to the living room on my still wobbly legs. Then, still trying to suppress their laughter, and failing miserably, they motioned for my pal to go take his bath. After they all had left the room, leaving myself and his mother, she turned to me and said in her best "school" English, "don't be troubled, all the men who drank with you will also need us to remove them from the bath". At a loss for words and secretly relieved, I simply smiled at her and said, "arrigato go-zaimusu" (thank you very much) and continued to sip my sake while watching an evening Japanese soap opera on TV. Until next time, take care.

10 comments:

Hahn at Home said...

You know, you've led an interesting life, just in shower stories alone!

Patricia said...

Good stories, Mike. Figuring out how to cope with different plumbing problems in different places always brings some surprises, most of them a little embarrassing, I think. Enjoyed the read. Thanks.

mies said...

Very amusing tales, found myself laughing out loud at them...Much as all those females were doing at you in the stories...thanks

Linnea said...

Mike, if I had to pick a "best" story out of all of those, I have no idea what I would choose! So amusing! Thank you for sharing.

Brother Tim said...

Good stories, Mike. In your globe-trotting travels, I'm sure you must have also had some gastric fiascos; how about sharing some of those tales?

Mike S said...

Actually, I either have an iron system or I was exceptionally lucky as I went all those years and places with absolutely no problems. Not even mild stomach trouble. I also think it has to do with the fact I'll taste almost anything at least once out of curiosity and will eat almost anything. Mostly got a boring gastric system I guess:)

G.S. said...

Hi Mike - interesting stories. I didn't know about the Japanese bathing ritual so that's my thing I learned today. Hope you are feeling well enough soon to write another post. Gene

Anonymous said...

Mike, you had such interesting and eventful happenings. The outdoor shower story is really funny. Great stories, well told. You have the art of storytelling. Looking forward to more.
Treasa

Treasa said...

Mike,
Really looking forward to more stories. Still have to go through your blog. It is really interesting.

Kay said...

Oh my heavens! You drank MORE sake? Yikes! I didn't know that about the wobbly legs.