Why do women go to the toilet in pairs? There’s not a single man on Earth that hasn’t asked himself this question. A man’s mind leads to all sorts of wonderings as two women gleefully grab their handbags and head off to the loo arm in arm. For a guy, this is just plain weird.
However, has anyone ever asked the question of men? As we silently slip away from a table or conversation to embark on a solo mission to the bathroom, do women ever wonder what it is that men get up to? In the West I have to say, not a hell of a lot. It’s exactly what you would expect actually. Go, unzip, pee, shake, flip, zip, wash hands, leave.
To do anything else in there is just plain weird.
Or is it?
Now that I’m back in Asia, I’m reminded of a whole different world that goes on in a men’s bathroom that just doesn’t happen back home. And that is the Ritual Of The Hair.
I remember the first time I walked into a public bathroom in Singapore. It was in a shopping mall and it was a Saturday and the place was packed. But what stopped me in my tracks was the fact that there was not an inch of mirror to be found anywhere.
Every single square inch was being used by a Singaporean guy to do his hair. And I don’t mean, check. I mean out with the comb, wet the hair, restyle, reshape, muss, shizzle it up, flat it down, push it around.
Then you have to check all sides, top, back, swinging yourself around to make sure that you are the bomb of hair excellence from every angle.
This is a routine that you might see a Western guy do in the privacy and comfort of his own bathroom but that is it. Once you’re out there in the world, you can’t touch the thing. Or if you do, it has to be in the most nonchalant way imaginable.
If you find yourself in a bathroom and notice that the hair is doing weird things, you have maybe a one second window to fix it, every guy around you will give you that. But any more and dude, seriously, out here, where everyone can see?
Peacocking and perfecting in the manner of Asian men is unthinkable in the West. Oddly even in a bathroom of a gay club, I’ve never seen men pay this much public time on their looks.
And now, 8 years later, it’s a cultural slap every time I need to tinkle.
But after getting over my whole thing of what a man does out in public, I began to think to myself, well, you know, why not? And it makes me think about a lot of the things that we are told as men in the West that it’s not OK to do out in public. Specifically, things that are doomed to be feminine, or even worse, girly.
In Little India here on the island, Sunday is the day off and the Indian guys who make up the bulk of the laborers who’ve erected Singapore’s skyline, hang out, drink coffee and chat with their friends.
And hold hands.
It’s the most amazing thing to see. I was staying in Little India when I first arrived here in 1996 and not knowing what was the deal, Sunday night came around and I thought I was in the middle of a gay rights march. Right on brothers, I thought as I charged out onto the street.
I followed the guys around until we arrive at the red light district and the hand holding stopped so everyone could crane their neck through windows and catch a glimpse of the hookers inside. Female hookers.
Ah, I see. Millions of Indian men think nothing of holding the hand of their best friend. It’s the most normal and manly thing in the world. Yet this kind of affection is never shown in the West.
Then there’s the Japanese. I lived in Tokyo for a year in 2004 and the men there take the whole male/female thing to another level. Things that are just unthinkable in the west are no biggie at all in Japan.
One day I was riding the subway and we stopped and the station where the sumo training schools are. Two sumo juniors get on the train and take a seat opposite me. Early days of sumo they are stocky but not fat, it takes years of eating to get up to that gargantuan size.
Instead, they look like weightlifters you might see in the West. Except that all they are wearing are a cotton robe each and sandals. Like an American wife on holidays in the Orient in the 1950s. Then the best part was they both pulled out fans and started fanning themselves against the compressed summer heat in the carriage. I looked at this and thought, anywhere else in the West, they’d look like off duty cross dressers. Here in Japan, they are the epitome of masculinity.
I don’t know what it all means. But I guess the next time that there’s a few hairs out-of-place in LA, against all my social training, I could give myself a few more mirror moments to get that look just so.