Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Quest

Or ...a potty post...or a guy thing

I think its safe to say that men have a strange affinity to toilets. There are few places on earth more peaceful and tranquil than the privacy of one's privy, enjoying a magazine, (or book as needs must) while allowing nature takes its course. Closing that door opens one to a new world where only the immediate is of concern. There is also the sense of security that one is able to proceed with one's business undisturbed as is not always the case in a public toilet or an airline toilet. Its these disturbances that really cause me to shun the public commode where possible - given the choice I will always wait till I get home to do my business.

You can imagine then, after arriving from a 24 hour plane ride I found myself urgently in need of relief. In my haste I neglected to follow the first rule of toiletry - make sure the damn thing works before getting on the pot. After seeing to my needs I went to push the little button on top of the tank. Unfortunately there was no sound of water running merrily into the bowl. In fact the little button resisted all attempts to be moved into the flush position. WTF? Opening the top cover I stared in consternation at the absence of water in the tank. WTF? When I left home everything was fine. What is going on? My toilet, my porcelain throne, my inner sanctum had been defiled by the the twin demons of time and high calcium content of the water. This situation required immediate action so, after flushing out the jet lag with a bucket I wrote down everything that resembled a brand or model number on my till-now-trusty-commode and the following morning set out to replace the calcified guts of my loo. Little did I know...

A little background. I'll have you know I happen to be an engineer. Years of re-inventing the wheel has given me the conceit that, with enough time and money I can figure anything out. Toilets are not exactly high tech - should be a snap right? Well the first cracks in that little fantasy when I arrived at the first toko bahan bangunan (building supplies store). For the next 6-7 hours and several shops later I had several interesting variations of the following conversation.

Staff: Good morning sir. How can we help you?

Me: Good morning. I'm looking for some spare parts to fix my toilet.

Staff: Of course sir. May I know the brand of toilet you have.

Me: Of course! Its brand x.

Staff: ooooooooooooh! brand xxxxxxx....

Now when you get the oooooh delivered in a singsong it can mean one of two things. First that the staff you are talking to has no idea what the hell you are talking about. You may as well been asking for parts to a titan missile. Second, that he remembers brand x vaguely, as it was something he saw once in his youth, in a neighbors house somewhere in Java. "Sorry sir we don't have that brand here....have you tried my friends shop down road...perhaps he can help you." And so my first toiletless day passed in Futile quest through Denpasar going from building supply store to building supply store. Eventually I came to the realisation that brand x was one of those items like print cartridges. Here today gone tomorrow.

That evening I reasoned to myself that toilets should not be too different on the inside. I should be able to find some generic parts somewhere that I could use. A small voice inside was saying to me "PJ...replace the'll be easier" but I steadfastly ignored it. I was after all an engineer. I had worked on multi million dollar projects, a mere toilet was no match for my cunning. Putting the failings of the day behind me I slept the dreamless sleep of the man with a plan.

Bright and early the next day I was back at the the toko bahan bangunan. As it turned out I was partially correct in my theory of the evening before. But choosing the right generic parts proved in itself to be something of a challenge. As I can now tell you there are more permutations on the inner workings of a toilet than there are types of women's shoes. In all its sort of a testament to the ingenuity of the mundane or the number of different ways to skin a cat. Quite simply I was amazed at the length that people will go to to ensure the perfect, most reliable, flush. After studying a number of different contraptions I choose an assembly that I thought might work and hurried home to do my best imitation of Tim Allen .

Arriving home I immediately set to work. Everything was going fine until I noticed that the flush mechanism was 2 inches longer than the tank. Damm its too big! The little voice in my my head was decidedly sarcastic at this point:" toldya to buy a new one PJ". Firmly ignoring that voice I studied the flusher more carefully. It looked to be modular and sure enough, with the help of my trusty Swiss army knife could be shortened. "Ha! I am getting somewhere" I thought as I was putting the top back on the tank. Filling the tank needed only a slight adjustment and pushing the button resulted in a most satisfying sploosh which was only partially mitigated by the fact that I had forgotten the replace the seal between tank and bowl and had just flooded the bathroom. D'oh!

Eventually I replaced that seal and my toilet is now good as new. Better actually. If there is a lesson here I suppose its sometimes better to let the professionals do things that you can do yourself. Equally though its important to do things yourself just so you can say you have done them. I don't think I have much of a future as a toilet repair man but at least I will know what the next one is talking about when it comes time to fix the loo.

Now about that flickering lamp at the gate. Should be a cinch to fix....


Rob Baiton said...

I always figured that I was a pretty smart fella and how hard could fixing the plumbing or the electricity or the whatever be?

I have a much greater appreciation for the professional skills that others obtained and I am quite happy to let them fix whatever is broke.

My only shopping is the shopping around for the best price.

pj said...

I agree with you for the most part.

However I have had a nagging distrust of the local tukangs since they installed a bathroom with the drains on the highest side of the floor. Quite impressive actually.

I don't mind the d-i-y thing so long as it is not too painful and I have the time available.

therry said...

I love how you can make a simple (but definitely annoying) thing becomes an interesting post.

I can't imagine how it feels like if I do my number 2 and the toilet won't flush. You're lucky it's your own - can you imagine if it's a public one?

Anyway... you should listen to your own instinct more often.

pj said...

Hi Therry

Thanks for your kind words. About the public toilet thingy I think that sort of situation would be a great "what if" questions at beauty pageants and game shows - a real test of ones savoir faire.

therry said...

I can't imagine Mr. Tantowi Yahya asking that very question. It'll turn him off from the girls. Something in which he is incapable of doing :D

Jakartass said...

Mr. Engineer, sir, what I'd like to know is why I have to buy a new tap (faucet) when one leaks, a frequent occurrence.

Why can't a buy a washer?

pj said...


I didn't realise Mr. Country Roads was the presenter for Putri Indonesia. Lucky Bugger!


Thanks for dropping in.

Spare parts may be hard to find...or they saw you coming hehe.

Maybe its easier to replace the whole tap rather then just the gasket. Or Maybe the taps are difficult to open without stripping the threads. I haven't tried yet so I don't know.

I will be a good question to save for the next time you buy a tap.

Aprianti said...

This post is so funny I feel the urge to go to toilet.

If there is a lesson in this post, I suppose I should be grateful because my toilet hardly causes me any trouble. And after these two years, I hope yours is still doing fine. :)

pj said...

Hi Aprianti

Indeed the best toilet is one that we never notice. May yours continue to flush unremarkably for years to come.

Jakartass said...

I can't say I've ever noticed a toilet in Jakarta. I've always had to look for them in shopping malls, hotels and airports.

I've noticed a lot of trees and walls in use though, and they're certainly the best in an emergency.

pj said...


Long time no see.

Nice wordplay!

A tree or wall may do for a quick pee. However I'd rather race home with sphinter clenched than drop one in the streets.

That would be an event to post about!