Today we had a meeting in an ultra-modern, super nice hotel here in Shanghai called the [LOCATION REMOVED FOR YOUR SAFETY DUE TO REASONS TO BE EXPLAINED SHORTLY]. It’s my big boss’ second office, and it is, I must say, very cool. That being established, I unfortunately must share something startling that happened to me there.
The story begins with a liter and a half of liquid, which, what can I say?, I’m staying hydrated. It proceeds to the bathroom, which, interesting factoid, is protected by a massive wooden door which, while 15 feet tall, is slightly proportionally awkward because it is of standard width. It was apparently made so that Yao Ming could walk in wearing stilts and have room to spare. It’s one of those doors that makes you feel really important when you walk through it. I enter to find both my bosses chatting, and as I walk just around them on the way to the urinal, it happens. I step just a bit too close to the stall on my right and the toilet lid lifts up by itself!!! This is a prime example of one of those moments where time skips a beat and the split-second-mind/Matrix-bullet-time-vision comes out and you have a few moments to consider a massive Niagara Falls-rush of information, ideas, and inferences competing for attention, acceptance, and, lastly (just as time gets back on track and that glaze over your eyes disappears) plausibility, which leads most of the previous moments’ conclusions about what exactly is going on to stumble and explode to pieces faster than a Putty kicked in the chest by a Power Ranger. Such moments are the sensory equivalent to the discovery and first comprehension of Halloween by an initially incredulous kid (who, incidentally, will moments later become the closest modern-day counterpart to the pirates of antiquity, spontaneously gaining the ability to scheme a startlingly ambitious and monstrously creative neighborhood-wide rout of pillaging and raiding for candy-gold-loot, accomplished by assembling a small band of trusted comrades and sometimes even select members of previously hostile gender-based rival factions in an ultimate quest for the currency of youth).
Now there are many reasons why this bathroom moment was initially disturbing, but there were two in particular that sprang to mind. The first is due to a dream I had when I was younger (read: middle school) in which I stumbled upon a toilet in the middle of a lush green field full of wildflowers whose lid was opening up and closing on its own, as if speaking to me, welcoming me closer, luring me to oblivion, drawn as a sailor to a siren’s beautiful, deadly song. I awoke to find that dreams where toilets are featured in any sort of prominent fashion are generally very bad things. This Very Bad Thing status was thus (logically) extended to include any situation, real or of the dream-world, where toilets are acting of their own volition and exhibiting any sort of sentient (and undoubtedly malevolent) lid-opening free will. Secondly, imagine how scary it is to know in your split-second-reaction-ready-to-attempt-karate-or-dance-in-a-terrified-panic-mind that you are in the bathroom at the same time as a ghost. Run through what could have happened had I walked into that stall and tried to use the facility. How rapidly a scary movie would have begun! This thought was especially alarming knowing that I would have been that initial victim who signals to everyone else that 1) hey, we are in a scary movie, or (the more likely alternative) 2) hey, don’t go in that stall. And what do I say to the big bosses? What can I say? Do I warn them? Won’t they think I am insane, if I tell them with crazy-eyes that there is a ghost in the stall? Or, if they are somehow fully aware of the situation, will they not consider me a bit of a complainer? Should I not just wait my turn? Am I even allowed to jump back and let out a muffled, startled cry? I think not. I think I must keep my terror to myself, lest my big bosses see me as someone who, pshaw, is afraid of bathroom ghosts, which (and this, of course, would be completely unbeknownst to me, the Shanghai rookie) are just so common in the city. Or, my quickly-reentering-Earth’s-atmosphere-brain reasons, let’s say my big bosses are already well-accustomed to very nice hotel bathrooms in Shanghai, which (of course, completely unbeknownst to me, the Shanghai rookie) tend to be so nice that toilet lids do in fact sense when a potential customer is approaching and lift their lids accordingly in an automated, disarmingly polite, and not at all sentient manner*.
My racing mind back on terra firma, I managed to keep it cool. No cry escaped my lips, and no flinch revealed my surprise. Dignity intact. I consulted the urinal, accomplishing my original mission. However, after the bosses had exited to the lobby, I couldn’t resist investigating the mystery stall-room. What I found was yet another example of advanced Chinese technology. The robot toilet had a control panel on the wall with a list of different functions. The first said “Flush” (okay..), the next “Dry” (huh??), the third “Oscillate” (what??), the fourth “Pulsate” (seriously, what does this toilet do?) and finally, as a confirming, harrowing exclamation point to my fears, the fifth read “Capture ectoplasmic target and trap in ecto-containment unit.”**
As seems to be keeping with my Shanghai-style, I beat a hasty retreat to the lobby.
*I retract the bit about the toilet being not at all sentient. I still have my doubts.
**The instructions on the fifth button were written in impressively compact text and admirably preserved legibility. Also, it is worth noting that underneath this fifth button was a scrawl of Chinese writing which presumably asked the reader who they were going to call. Globalization, man.