Monday, January 11, 2010

Drowning the Turd

Who would have thought that something as routine and mindless as going to the bathroom would become one of the biggest “obstacles” we’d come across on our trek through Asia.

Squat toilets are something that I have encountered before, and have actually already blogged about, but these porcelain holes in the ground have come to take on a certain significance during our travels.

After encountering identical squat toilets in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, I was under the impression that all squat toilets were created equal…until I came to Indonesia and Thailand.

The South-East Asian squat toilet is another beast all together. Take Indonesia's toilets for example. The first difference here is that Indonesia's squatter has no “splash-guard” as the above toilet has. All things considered, this is a minor inconvenience. There is so little water in the toilet and you’re using it from such close proximity, that there isn’t much splash to be concerned about… in my opinion this is much more of an aesthetic difference than a practical one.

The second difference, and in my case obstacle, are the built-in foot pads.

In Indonesia, the squatter has two little porcelain foot pads on either side of the toilet. They are ribbed, I assume, to provide the squatter some traction. Personally, I find them a bit unnerving. They look slimy and slippery to me, and I prefer to place my feet firmly on the ground. As a result I have to maintain an especially wide stance… no small feat when you’re hovering inches over the ground!

(photo source here)

But I'm young and flexible, I can easily handle a bit of toilet gymnastics, but this isn't the only thing I'm dealing with here... The last (and in my opinion most significant) difference between the East Asian and Southeast Asian squatters is placement.

Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong all seem to have agreed upon a comfortable distance between the toilet and the wall. This space provides enough room for the squatter to lean forward, in order to maintain balance, without coming too close to the wall.

In contrast, the Southeast Asian version is placed only inches from the wall. Once in the “proper” position, this leaves only a centimeter or two between my nose and the wall, forcing me to put a hand (or at least two fingertips) on the typically slimy wall to keep myself from falling backwards…. Yuck!

Thailand's toilets are very similar to Indonesia's - and in some cases identical - but they have their own little twist - it's raised off the ground!

Caution: Slippery when wet!!!

Upon seeing this toilet for the first time, I immediately had a revelation: THIS is why some Thai and Indian resturants in the States find it necessary to post signs saying "please do not stand on the toilet"!

Nick, in particular, is adverse to these “eastern” toilets (as opposed to the so-called “western” toilets that we are accustomed to in the US). At one point in Bali, we had been riding with both our packs on a scooter for 8 hours when we finally found a little home stay right next to a pristine black-sand beach.

Unfortunately, the toilet in the room was a squat toilet. Upon seeing the bathroom, Nick immediately vetoed the place. As a result, we ended up staying at a disappointing crowded beach another hour’s drive away!

In addition to the ergonomic differences between the toilets we have another difference: plumbing.

Many places in SE Asia do not have their toilets hooked up to a plumbing system – which means that they don’t flush. Therefore, next to each toilet, you will find a bucket (or trough) of water with a ladle inside.

This serves two purposes:

The first is for personal hygiene. Toilet paper is not commonly used in this part of the world, so the clean water is there for people to use to wash themselves after using the toilet. I’m still not sure how this is done w/out getting your pants all wet, but I’m not exactly comfortable asking someone for a demonstration!

The second use for this bucket is to manually “flush” the toilet. You fill the ladle with water and pour it into the toilet until it is sufficiently “flushed.” I like to call this process “drowning the turd.” It is surprising how much water it actually takes to get one of those suckers down! But, I find, it can actually be quite an amusing process if you can get over the whole “playing with your own excrement” thing.

And if that all wasn’t enough on toilets, here is a picture of Nick putting his shoes on after using a public toilet…. Yes, this is the first (and so far only) public toilet I’ve ever encountered that actually required you to remove your shoes before using it!!

At least it was clean!

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