Everybody has a secret vice. Mine used to be "social" (meaning "hidden") smoking but, when I had to give that up, because it just wasn't feasible, I had to find something else. How could I spend the same money every week, preferably without reeking?
The answer has been The Sunday Times. Now I fork out HK$110 a week for a newspaper.
"You're crazy, why don't you just subscribe and read it online?" my well-meaning detractors, I mean friends, say.
Yes, I know that everything must be online now. But for some reason I can never manage to get through a feature story when it's on a screen. My eyes wander about looking for what they think are key words, my fingers quickly start scrolling down so I can see how long the damn story is and my feet soon carry me out of the room. I need the physical paper, with no distractions. A paper that can have a cup of tea spilled over it without incident and one in whose margins I can scribble with my stone-age pen.
Still, I do occasionally read stories online and one that caught (and kept) my eye recently was in Britain's Telegraph: "China to start 'toilet revolution'". The article was about how the mainland intends to bring its public toilets up to a "three-star rating by 2017" and was accompanied by two photos of - and here I LOL-ed - gleaming toilets.
The reason I laughed was that the photos were supposed to illustrate how bad Chinese toilets are, by not being sit-down facilities, for example, and some of them not having walls between cubicles. It appeared some tourists had complained about toilets not being up to standard, especially not along the motorways.
"Ha ha," I laughed as I sat there reading, for hadn't I only a couple of weeks earlier made a special note in my special notebook about exactly this topic. " Post Magazine column: Chinese toilets now great!" I think it said. For over the past two or three years I've been noticing how clean, sometimes pristine, and inviting mainland public toilets have become, especially those along the motorways.
Where before I had to balance on two planks above a stinking cesspit, share a hastily dug depression in the ground with up to four pigs or somehow make do with restaurant workers' showers (details just too grim to be shared) there is now proper plumbing and there are sinks in which to wash your hands. You're not often charged to use the facilities nowadays and cubicles have walls, some even lockable doors!
Mainland toilets are fine as they are, I say. If they keep "improving" them, how will we find any that ban defecation?