As a youngster I liked to stroll through the East India Docks.
I loved the atmosphere: goods and people from the farthest parts of the world came here, places I could only imagine.
The one day I noticed the toilets on the dockside.
Lined up in a row they said: Male. Female. Asian.
I’d seen segregated toilets in America on the news.
Whites Only. Blacks Only
I thought we were better than that, but here was the proof we weren’t.
Asians not allowed to use the same toilets as us.
I stopped going to the docks after that, it didn’t seem so exotic anymore.
Fast-forward twenty years.
I married a Chinese Singaporean art director and began to learn a lot about the Far East.
For instance, I learned Singaporeans are fanatical about hygiene.
My wife’s father ran a large plumbing contractor.
One of his clients was a very rich Chinese businessman.
His wife wanted all the bathroom fittings in turquoise: bath, shower-stall, sinks, bidet, toilet.
No problem, except the toilet.
Her husband didn’t want a standard western sit-down toilet: he wanted a squatting toilet.
He found crouching healthier and more comfortable than sitting.
But my father-in-law’s UK supplier said they didn’t do squatting toilets in different colours, only in white.
But the wife of the businessman wanted it in turquoise and she didn’t care what it cost.
This wasn’t going to get sorted over the phone so my father-in-law flew to England.
He explained that he bought an awful lot of bathroom fittings from this supplier.
If they wanted that to continue they needed to make a turquoise squatting basin specially, as a one-off.
The supplier agreed and the businessman’s wife got her turquoise bathroom.
My wife’s sister was listening to this story.
She said her husband was exactly the same.
He hated travelling on business because he thought western toilets were unhygienic.
He said squatting toilets were more hygienic because there was no contact with the seat.
Apparently, a lot of south-east Asians agree, they prefer squatting toilets.
They are healthier and more hygienic.
Which caused me to reconsider those toilets on the East India Docks.
When I saw the signs saying: Male, Female, Asian, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was racist.
But actually it was the opposite.
The Asian toilet was the squatting kind.
So it was a courtesy to Asians who preferred it to western style toilets.
They were welcome to use the same toilets as us, but if they preferred the other kind here it was.
I was wrong, but we can only interpret the world through whatever we know.
So we shoehorn the facts in to fit whatever pops up in our mind.
As a teenager, I had no knowledge of squatting toilets.
I certainly didn’t know some people preferred them.
So my mind defaulted to a racist interpretation.
I find that’s what a lot of political correctness does, it creates preformed opinions.
It strangles thought because it strangles enquiry.
As Adlai Stevenson said “Some people approach every problem with an open mouth.”