Sunday, March 11, 2012

Toilet Talk

There are things about travel - as with aging, childbirth, and menopause - that people just don't want to talk about; disdainful informational shrapnel politely omitted to avoid unpleasant, distasteful discussion. I on the other hand believe that information is power. It leads to preparation and helps set expectation. Case in point: toilet talk; washroom worries; bathroom debacles. Call it what you will but the truth is that not all cultures around the world handle "toileting" exactly the same way. And since using the toilet is done frequently (especially after copious cups of tea), the familiarity, availability and usability of such can have a great impact on the comfort of our travel experiences.

That long-winded intro leads me to the purpose of this post: to pull back the curtain of mystery on what lies behind that "toilet" sign in China and other Asian countries (and perhaps in others).

Squat - or not
It was 1990 in Thailand and my friend had tried her best to forewarn and prepare me for the culture shock that would await me at the first loo-stop at the airport. Regardless, the first time I swung open a stall door to find a stark, glistening bowl sunk into the raised ceramic floor I was mortified - and puzzled. Thankfully that particular stall came complete with "foot prints" to guide the user -- something like "place feet here".

The reappearance of the squatter during our China visit 22 years - and bad knees - later was not a high point for me, but armed with my personal supply of tissue and antibacterial wipes I sucked it up and handled it like a trouper. I had learned that part of being a savvy traveller was making like a girl scout and being prepared for anything/everything. Bathrooms in Asia do not come equipped with toilet tissue, paper towels, nor soap in most situations. AND nothing goes down the toilet except that which comes out of your body, thus the nearby trash basket.

The upside of the squatter toilet is that your tuchus doesn't have to make contact with any bacteria ridden surfaces. Most often they flush just like a western toilet, however occasionally I have come across the model that basically sports a wide deep hole to who-knows-where and doesn't flush. I definitely favour the flush!

The downside of the squatter is just getting down there - especially if you have bad knees. There is no middle ground here - you have to commit and get right down there in amongst the action to ensure a clean getaway. I recommend emptying pockets of valuable contents or zipping them closed where possible. I won't bore you with stories about how many times I got down - and then surrendered to fits of giggles attempting to stand tall. This is where men have a distinct advantage! And of course there is the fear of slipping into the pitted abyss, never to be seen again.

So the moral of the story here is if you plan on traveling to unknown and faraway lands, do your homework and be prepared! You just may have to surrender the porcelain throne and exercise muscles you didn't remember you had. Now, aren't you glad we had this chat?


  1. Ha! Thanks for the straight-up traveling advice ; ) I hate to say it, but the other upside of the squater is that it's supposed to be a far healthier position in which to eliminate! Something about the "anorectal angle." Didn't study that one in Geometry! I'm a little surprised by the lack of toilet paper however...

  2. It made my day! (Won't tell you what, though!) Hehehe! Thank you! :)

  3. Oo - double word verification still in place? How about being kind and turning it off? Please?

  4. Uma - absolutely - should've made mention of that benefit. It would also certainly negate the need for magazines in the bathroom 'cause you would have to get down to business quickly or your legs would fall asleep in that position.

    Jinksy - now you have me wondering what made your day. Happy to be of service! : )

  5. About the double word verification for commenting ... I couldn't figure out how to disable it in the new view but I discovered that if I log into and select the old format that I could select disable! It should make commenting much easier now. Thanks for the prompt Jinksy!

  6. HAHA! I'm SO glad we had this chat. ;)
    I didn't even think about toilet situations when traveling. Luckily the only two places I've visited outside the US (Ecuador & Netherland Antilles) had normal toilets. I don't even think I could use the one in your picture without laughing myself. Hehehe


I've made it easier to comment - no nasty word verification. So let me know you dropped by.