Grandma’s house had a cesspool in the backyard.
Grandpa or Grandma had cut a hole in the top of an orange construction cone and stuck a second cone upside-down into it (like an ice cream cone), creating a plastic portable toilet. This toilet sat in a shed-like room away from the main part of the house.
Petra and I were instructed to pour water into the cone after use, shake and swirl the contents around, and dump everything into the swamp.
The backyard was pretty, with close-cropped green grass, guava and loquat trees, and subtropical flowers. You carried the cone out to the cesspool, moved the corrugated tin lid aside, poured the cone’s contents into the pit, dragged the lid back in place, and took the cone inside for a rinse.
Petra usually told me to swirl, empty and wash her cone for her, so I did. It's a joy to do gross favors for bossy older sisters.
The cones were actually a pleasant alternative to the indoor toilets, which were housed in narrow wooden stalls in the hallway. When you went in and closed the door, you felt like you were inside a square, claustrophobic, unsanitary tree.And both bathrooms were much nicer than public Taiwanese restrooms. I'll spare you those details today.
My parents kept some snack food in the house, but it never felt like enough. Since I always craved it, I ate all art projects with edible parts. In kindergarten, we made owls on burlap with pretzel heads, Cheerio eyes, peanut beaks, walnut shell bodies and pretzel stick feet. I gnawed everything off except for the walnut shells.
On the MRT to my next destination, I opened my new Chinese seal and tried it out. It wasn’t my name. I studied it for a minute, since I sometimes forget my name.
I got off at the next stop and hopped on the train heading back towards the 30-square-foot shop.
“Excuse me, but . . . this isn’t my name.”
“That’s your name,” the stamp guy said, puzzled.
“Sorry, but it isn’t.”