Iron and Silk

Salzman, Mark

Random House, 1986

p. 128

Salzman is traveling in China and is on the Yangzee River: ” . . . we pulled our boat into their little cluster and shared breakfast. When everyone had eaten, they took turns dropping their trousers, leaning off the sides of the boats and using the river as a toilet. At the same time, old Ding insisted it was time to wash up. He dipped a cup into the filthy water and began splashing it on his face and neck, inviting me to do the same. I declined, to everyone’s surprise. ‘Don’t you wash yourself?’ ‘Yes, but not every day. I will tomorrow.’ Then it came time to brush our teeth. He dipped the cup into the water again, swished a lump of steel wool in it, then put the steel wool into his mouth to chew on. He gargled with a mouthful of the water, then spat it out. ‘Here–your turn.’ I declined again, and everyone agreed that it was an odd thing that Americans, who supposedly live in a fantastical future world, understand so little about personal hygiene.”