A recent bus trip to Malaysia got me wondering how many expats have mastered the art of using an Eastern toilet. On previous self-drive trips to Malaysia, we have been in control of bathroom stops, and I have programmed into my GPS where the decent toilets are, and plan rest stops around this. When taking the bus, unfortunately you have no say in the matter, and several stops proved to be on the lower end of the ‘acceptable’ scale on my mental list of toilet criteria.
Now the Thais reading this will probably wonder what all the fuss is all about, after all, they have grown up using Eastern toilets, and understand the process and technique involved. They probably wonder why anyone would want to position their naked bottom on a seat that thousands of others before them have also done. They probably feel that a Western toilet is rather revolting. I agree that public toilets in general can make your skin crawl at the thought of all the previous occupants who have done their ablutions there prior to you. But any Western lady will tell you that we have perfected the technique of putting a toilet paper barrier between our rear ends and the seat, not at all considering the environment and the extra use of paper.
Anyway, point aside let me explain the process, and the dread of arriving at a public bus terminal in Hat Yai, faced only with Eastern toilets. Firstly, anyone that knows me will know that I would NEVER leave my bag on the bus, while venturing to the loo – I suppose that I am a bit of a bag lady like this. With passport, camera and laptop (my life!) in this bag, there is no option but for it to come with me. Arriving at the bathroom, and paying my two Baht for the privilege of using the facilities, I scan all the open doors in the small chance that they have installed a Western toilet, but I am out of luck. Knowing that it is several hours, and a border crossing before the next bathroom break, I have no option but to take on the challenge – yes, I did say challenge.
Firstly, when closing the toilet door, I realise that there is no hook for my backpack, so this would either have to stay outside the stall, (not an option) sit on the wet floor (not sure if that is water, will leave it to your imagination), or all 15Kg of it will have to stay on my back while I do what I have to do. Now the first piece of advice for any ladies new to the experience is DON’T WEAR LONG PANTS, but rather a skirt if you will be faced with this challenge. You have to pull your pants down, without them touching the soaked floor, but far enough down that you won’t pee on them when squatting at a 90° angle. Remember now that I have a 15kg backpack on, threatening to make me overbalance as my legs start the uncontrollable shake from standing in this unfamiliar position. I ‘will’ my knees not to give in as I look for something suitable to hold on to, and promise myself that I will start yoga classes when I get back home to strengthen these unused muscles in preparation and training for the next time I am faced with this challenge. I shudder at the thought of needing to do ‘a number two’ and the obvious back-splash issues this would present. Luckily I have not found myself in this unfortunate position – yet.
The second piece of advice is to always bring your own toilet paper, as Eastern toilets are only equipped with ‘bum guns’ – used to blast a potent spray of water on your rear end to clear it of any residue, and what I have yet to figure out is what then? Drip dry? For men, this whole process is no big deal, just point, do what needs doing, give a shake and that’s that!
Samui, being known as ‘Farang Island’, luckily has no short supply of Western toilets, but every now and then you will be caught off guard, lulled into a false sense of security that you are not in the real East, in this tourist hot spot. Sometimes, perhaps in a government building, or in the not so touristy spots, your only option is an Eastern toilet. I never forget my daughter’s horror stricken face when she had no option but to use one in Nathon, and poor child, it was a number two! Needless to say, before we leave home now, she runs to the bathroom - just in case. I wonder if Western ladies ever get used to this strange phenomenon of squat toilets, even if they have grown up here, or are Eastern women built differently with powerful leg muscles and incredible balance? I’m sure this topic will lead to several debates, but probably best to avoid it as a dinner table topic.