"Lucky I had my magic pills with me, or I don't think I would have lived," I told the hotel receptionists the following day.
Allow me to rewind time: The previous evening, before my impending death, I accompanied two girl friends. We zigzagged, dodging periodic rain between the glowing signs and shanty roofs along the Yangtze. Filled with more rain than hunger, we searched for a restaurant that looked, let's say, decontaminated.
"This one is almost empty and just opened," Ingrid said. We should have known better—empty in China means something. With a view of the river basin, it looked quaint and harmless.
A constant stream of pedestrians and pushcarts whizzed by outside. The streets of Nanjing bustled with rising smoke, honking motor-scooters, yelling vendors and miscreant children.
"I'll have the fish and (mystery) sauce," I told Ingrid who told Margaret who then told the waiter. You see, Margaret had lived in China for over four years and could "get by" just fine. The letters generally mix and mesh puzzle-like right in front of my eyes while the quadrillion intonations run into my ears with little understanding.
Ingrid and Margaret each got pork and some thicker Hot & Sour mélange. We were all satisfied as the waiter took away our leftover scrapings. We nodded in appreciation at such a filling meal for a few mere dollars. By then, a few other well-dressed Chinese businessmen sat in the corner, smoking effeminately thin cigarettes between the fourth and pinky finger.
We were discussing where to go for drinks. Margaret, from being part of the foreign community, knew some foreigner hangouts. Places to get western beers and other cocktails.
I rose in the middle of Ingrid speaking. "I'll meet you two. Just call my phone."
My head was dizzy and my mind elsewhere. I remember looking and getting glimpses of the river between the bumpy yet identically level heads. I could easily look over most of them. All knowing where to go and the best way to get there. Fascinating.
I walked out of the restaurant, staggering a bit and taking the next left. A small hostel or hotel's sign shorted out as it glimmered neon green around its edges. I could hear the sounds of charged neon gas from around the corner. I walked to it.
Foreigners are treated with a certain air of authority, breeze of priority and gust of respect in China. I'd have no problem here.
"Can I use your bathroom?" I asked the small-framed college girl behind the desk. She had two thick books open. Luckily, I didn't have to do the usual standing motion with hands near my nether regions, pantomiming nature's WC.
"Yes, it's awound the bwak," she said politely and handed me the key. "Thanks," I said.
The western-style was tightly snug underneath a concrete staircase. Mop, bucket and squeegee stood to the left. Squatting before I even got to the toilet enabled me to fit in the world's smallest WC. I genuinely invite the Guinness Book of World Records committee to check it out.
At any rate, I never went back to the hotel or the bathroom for that matter. If the girl behind the counter is reading this, I am terribly sorry for the aftermath I left behind. The eradication of all my orifices in a chamber of that size could not have been pleasant. A full military hose-down would be necessary. Truly, I am sorry.
I staggered out of the commode and back to the desk. "I need a taxi."
A western man from Australia stood next to me. Lines don't mean much here, I thought to myself as I butted in to the conversation. I was planning an escape from the scatological aftereffects.
"You don't look good." The Aussie said. "You need help?"
I looked surprised at his English. "I need a taxi or ride to my hotel. I have medicine there. I think I've been food poisoned. $^!+ I don't have money."
"Here's some money. I'll get you a pushbike (motor scooter) to take you back."
I think I said thank you to him. I held on tight to the driver as he threaded needle to fabric through the congestion of people, knickknacks, trash, and cars. He somehow knew where my hotel was. He had to. I was unconscious. I don't remember much of the ride.
He got me back to my hotel and lent me a shoulder to my room. I gave him the money. I hoped it was enough. "Thanks for your help," I slurred.
I made it right in time to the loo for part two of my all night thriller, Scatological Horror. Luckily the toilet and shower shared the same space. I was shaking so I dribbled the lukewarm water over my goose-pimpled back as I sat on the toilet.
I luckily packed some Benedryl in my first aid kit. I ate a buffet course of these tiny purple and white caplets. It must have worked.
I rose the next morning from bed, almost twelve hours later. Though weak, I was alive and kicking. I showered again to scare away more sleep and went to the hotel desk. Three of the staff stood there staring back at me. "We were about to come in and see if you were alive," one lady uttered to me with a small smile.
Ingrid and Margaret never called. They found me the next day, quite healthy.
I survived yet another day in China. I didn't eat river fish for the rest of my trip and explored the boundless cities in better health for another month.