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The talesofasia guide to the toilets of Asia

Readers' Submissions

Have a toilet tale or some advice to offer? Send it here. And read it here.

Updated Janaury 13, 2009

For the elderly (January 2009):

Your article was written for young people with healthy knees and backs, who are "good" at squatting. Many Western travelers are "over 50", have bad knees and backs and have not been raised with Asian toilets. Some have had joint surgery and are completely unable to squat.

You may say that these people "shouldn't travel." I disagree. Retired people, who can still afford to travel despite the horrible economy may turn out to be the "life blood" of your industry. As a travel writer you should do everything you can to encourage them. Younger people simply will not have the money.

I have some preferred solutions:

1. For women, "P-mates" are excellent. They fit against the female anatomy with almost a perfect seal, and allow the stream to be directed even while standing up. In fact it is possible to use them in a forest behind a large tree. If a woman wears a pair of pants with a standard fly, it is even possible to use P-mates without sliding down one's pants. It's time travel writers started to take the needs of women, especially older ones more seriously.

You can find out about them here:

www.femalefreedom.ca

2. For number two, the solutions are not quite as obvious, but still possible. I borrowed this method from the Boy Scouts, who use this "in the field."

It is based upon standing up and backing "into a tree." You can adjust your stance with your back against the "tree" to suit your comfort, squatting only so much as your knees permit. The restroom wall supports your back nicely, and puts much less strain on your knees.

As you back up against the bathroom wall, you simply place a garbage-can bag in the "open position" behind you so that you have it open and ready to accept your waste. You can do this against almost any toilet room wall. There is no problem being away from the hole in the ground. We would expect you to have toilet paper with you, or at least little pouches of Kleenix to use to wipe yourself. I always recommend antiseptic germ wipes to complete the job. Some are not really meant for use against the skin and may cause your skin and tissues to burn slightly, but will cause no permanent damage.

If the burning bothers you, you can used "hemorrhoid" wipes instead. They are available here:

http://www.shopinprivate.com/genhemwip48w.html

If you have a particularly messy poop or diarrhea, they will be REALLY helpful. Even if you are using Western toilets, it's great to have anti-germ wipes available to pre-clean the toilet seat. You can get some here:

http://www.target.com/gp/search/177-7686353-3823718?field-keywords=antibacterial%20wipes&afid=google&CPNG=Baby&LNM=antibacterial_wipes&LID=376674&ref=tgt_adv_XSGT0582

You can stuff the garbage bag in the hole after you are finished. Admittedly this is not "good" for the plumbing. You should use bio-degradable bags.

I recommend "Bio-bags" which are completely compostable.and will not damage plumbing. You can get them here:

http://www.ecoproducts.com/Home/home_biobags/home_bio_images/tall%20kitchen1.jpg

This "system" is really simple. You can carry all of the "equipment" needed with you in a small pouch, always ready when you need to use them. Even a small purse will hold them.

I can guarantee that you will praise yourself to the hilt when you are "in-extremis" awaiting to use a filthy toilet. If you are traveling with others, you will be the most popular person on the tour bus if you have enough of a supply for other people.

We always carry enough for at least 3 other people to use, and have them handy. On these trips, we have become known as "the saviors" of the tour. We also carry enough Pepto-Bismol tabs for our co-travelers.

You cannot imagine their gratitude. I have had co-travelers say that we "saved their lives."

(A bit of an exaggeration...)

"Shopping list"

1. P-Mates (There is a porn site with that name...sorry)
2. Bio-degradable garbage can bags
3. Anti-septic wipes, two types, one for human use, the other for surfaces
4. Toilet paper or Kleenix packets
5. Anti-septic hand wash gel, when you are finished...

You will wear a huge smile when you are done. I guarantee it!

In Praise of Toilet Wash Guns (October 2006):

The year was 2001, and I was travelling by car with some Thai friends from Chiang Mai (north Thailand) to Bangkok – a fairly comfortable 7 hour drive.

The roads were good – not too much traffic – pleasant company, everything was going fine until about half an hour out of Chiang Mai, when the all too familiar pressure of a No.2 began to build, and I knew lasting 6 more hours to Bangkok was not an option.

No big deal you say – just drop in at petrol station, visit the loo, and equilibrium will be restored.

Except this was Thailand – you know, third world country, people too poor to buy toilet paper so they wash instead?

Fortunately we had to stop for fuel, so not wanting to be embarrassed in front of my gracious Thai hosts; I slipped off quietly to the toilet block while the car was being re-fuelled. Apprehensive as I approached, my worst fears were soon realized. Clean but basic, the toilet consisted of a low bowl that you squat over, with a tub of water on one side for washing, and a small plastic bowl as a dipper to facilitate the operation.

I had seen wash-guns in toilets before, and had often idly imagined how they might be used, but I had never attempted to actually use one myself. I always made sure that my trusty roll of toilet paper was never far away. Alas – it was now far behind in the hotel room and I had not even so much as a tissue to bless myself with!

But this was something totally different;

How do you get water to go up, onto something that is pointing down, without pressure?

I’m an Aussie I thought, resourceful, and proud of it – if millions of Thais clean can themselves like this – so can I.

Anyway the matter at hand was now demanding urgent attention, so without further contemplation as to exactly how I was going to clean up afterwards, ‘I let her rip’. Ahhh – sweet relief.

Now the messy part.

Surprise, surprise, I found that so long as I remained squatting, it was relatively easy to pour the water down my bum crack onto my free hand, and from there to sort of splash it up onto the affected part.

It really was surprisingly effective. The hand that had to do the dirty-work was even clean when I had finished!

Pulling my pants back over a now clean-but-wet posterior, I was amazed at how comfortable it felt as I walked back to the car – head held high – confident and smug in the knowledge that I had conquered toileting in Thailand.

(I might add – the 40 deg. heat quickly took care of the drying)

Wonderful stuff water – a resource seldom lacking in S.E. Asia.

‘Not for me’ I hear you say?

Well, it’s no different to how you clean yourself in the shower really, only easier, because those particular parts of your body are already in the ideal position for cleaning.

The level of comfort I experienced after my service station emergency had never been achieved previously with just dry toilet paper.

That day, I became a convert to washing.

Returning to Australia with several wash guns; I found that fitting them to our domestic water supply over here was not as straight forward as I’d imagined.

We are one of the few countries where water pressure is not controlled before it comes into the house, and the first wash gun fitted only lasted about 6 months before disintegrating.

Checking the water pressure; we discovered we had 95 PSI at our house – the manufacturer of the wash gun recommended no more than 58 PSI!

$64.00 later this problem was fixed by fitting a pressure limiting valve to the system.

One thing that still niggled me was the constant little pool of water on the floor under the wash gun hanger. This was caused by water remaining in the nozzle of the wash gun running out after each use. (This is not an issue in Asian countries because toilets there are usually wet areas – right next to the shower) A bit of experimentation fixed this problem also; with some common aerator parts fitted into the nozzle of the wash gun.

About that time I started to wonder how many people coming to Australia (and who try to fit wash guns to their toilets) have had the same sort of experiences as me.

And so the idea for our on-line store was born – www.lusan.com.au. Almost 5 years later, the idea has become reality and sales are steadily increasing to the point where the business is requiring almost full-time attention

Laotian Loos (January 2005):

Looing around Laos turns up tanks, bowls and foodpads, Indonesian mandi style. Women who invest in a few packets of sanitary napkins to catch the drips in the drip dry never regret it, especially if they encounter a fancy new breed of guesthouses zooming into the jet age. The jet hits from a squirt gun at the end of a hose, doing double and triple duty, cleaning clothes and bathroom in a single force 9 ricochet. Outside the tourist haunts? Flowering plants are said to have evolved in this part of the world. There's forests of them to admire.

The truly mind broadening experience is on the slow boat north from Vientiane. There's a wooden bird perch, three feet off the floor, right next to the diesel engine splitting both eardrums at once. You'll see the handrail when the boat hits the next lot of rapids. After that, if your mind isn't broadening all over the floor, you'll see two tanks. If you use your thighs for clapping, it's best not to put the bowl in the tank with steam coming off it. It's the one closest to the engine.

Life without paper is very easy to get used to. It's a lot harder to cope with getting back to using it. Frightened you can't cope when you get home? Stop by at BigC in Bangkok and pick up your very own squirt gun. 70 baht or so. The BigC sticker helps the tap attacher work out which tap to attach it to. Squirt guns are also great presents for environmentally conscious Melbournian worshippers at the altar of Grey Water for the Garden.

From India (June 2004):

I am from India, living in the US for the last 14 years.

I found the article on the toilets-in-Asia very interesting. India is no different (read: no better) when it comes to public toilets. In fact, they are so disgusting that since childhood we are trained to finish our "2" at home. When I came to the US, I see a lot of people using the toilets for "2" in offices and other malls. But, you generally won't see many Indians doing it; we're still in the mindset of dirty toilets. :)

When I was in India, I used to wonder, on seeing a foreigner, how they manage the toilet. Do they bring rolls and rolls of tissue? Do they use hand or what?

Whenever I visit India, my relatives laugh at the idea of using toilet paper, because it never gets clean enough with paper. Also, it's rough on the skin etc. Having used hand, I know it gives the softest cleaning. Also having used the toilet paper, I now find it difficult to use hand when I visit India. But, recently these butt sprayers you mentioned started showing up in India; they are a god-send, as long as there's eough water supply. After coming back to the US, I felt that water cleaning is the most hygenic; but how without using hand? Enter bidet. I installed a bidet in my home here in the US. It's the best of both worlds. Let's give full credit to the French for inventing it and the Japanese for improvising on it.

My 2-cent suggestion to foreigners visiting Asia would be to carry a hand-held bidet that the manufacturers claim to fit in a lady's purse. It costs about 40-5 dollars or even less, has a tank to hold enough water for one operation and is battery-operated. Most of them are Japanese-made.

A helpful product for women (February 2004):

Hi there,
Browsing the web I found this page and think it's helpful for any women traveling:
http://www.klomoda.com/urinella/urinella2.html (Note: the page is in German).

China update (January 2004):

With the quick modernization of cities in China, we now see flush toilets almost everywhere. New buildings, large stores and restaurants are installing them. But there is still a problem: How to use them.

Chinese people believe toilet seats transmit diseases, even the young educated urban people will refuse to sit and use a flush toilet like Westerners do.

Chinese ladies have developed two techniques to cope with the issue: One is to squat over the seat, their feet well rested on the seat itself. This practice explains the shoe marks on the seat, in case you are wondering, and the leftovers at the back of the seat…

The other technique is to stand up, putting the legs on each side of the toilet. This has the unfortunate result of spreading body fluids as well as solids all over the seat and often, on the floor.

The introduction of flush toilets in China without proper education and information on how to use the device, it’s safety, and the absence of knowledge about hygiene standards one should follow in its presence has created a most unfortunate situation.

Toilets are dirtier now than ever. Dirtier than the traditional squat toilet. They can, indeed, because they are so badly used in China, transmit diseases and are, I am sure, an important source of transmission of germs of all kind.

I have seen sophisticated and educated women in Beijing climb and put their shoes, with unstable balance, directly on the toilet seat and leave it, afterwards, covered with what you can guess, without a single thought for the next user.

I worry ­ because of taboos ­ that no one will intervene or initiate an awareness campaign to help improve this situation, which is reaching quite disturbing proportions.

In China, we should also note that, contrary to flush toilets, spitting everywhere is not seen as a health hazard.

Plastic bottles (November 2003):

For the purpose of pouring water over your 'nether regions', if you can get a plastic soda-pop bottle of the 12 or 16 oz. plastic variety, it will work quite nicely. You will be able to pour the water from its small hole more precisely on the target. The water can be poured out more slowly by alternately placing a finger from the hand you're holding the bottle with over the mouth of the bottle to minimize the water flow and tip it gently in order to minimize the volume that comes out. This way you can avoid getting water all over everything else where you don't want it, like your clothes and other parts of you body and skin or your shoes! Fill the bottle with water on site or even another location and just carry it in your pack, with a little washcloth in a Zip -Lock with your soap (in another zip-lock bag) inside the washcloth Zip-lock bag. The plastic soda-pop bottle is very light weight and easily replaced in most places in the world, just make sure you hang on to it until you actually have its replacement in your hand!

Another thought for soap: put liquid shampoo or dishwashing soap in an eye drop bottle and label it with indelible marker for safety (like a bottle for artificial tears or antihistamine drops or nose drops, something that only holds about a tablespoon or so, about 2 or; 3 inches tall and 3/4 to 1 inch wide). To fill it just squeeze and draw up the liquid with the tip of the bottle. You'll only need a few drops with a little water and you should be able to do the necessary cleaning with a minimum of fuss.

Another Female Perspective on Toilets (October 2003):

I have been working in Thailand for 1.5 years, and it was with weathered amusement that I read the piece on a female perspective of using toilets. She writes, "My biggest piece of advice is to NEVER use the water scoop while using a western toilet!" I make regular visits to US-funded research station in a remote Karen village. There is no reliable electricity and virtually no plumbing, but the bathroom has (surprise, surprise) a western toilet - sans poo gun! So what is a farang girl (well, any girl) to do when faced with a western toilet armed only with a water scoop?

After weeks of cumulative experimentation, I use a technique whereby I pour water from the scoop down the front and back of my nether region (easier done with a bowl that doesn't have a handle). This requires a bit of arching my body up or over, respectively, and carefully pouring the water at the right angle; otherwise, it splashes the toilet seat. Once you've gotten this technique down, you can pour the water with force that mimics the effect of a low pressure poo gun. However, you get a bit more water coverage than you would with a poo gun. So the tricky part is raising your nether regions slightly to dry off with toilet paper, without letting the water drip down your legs first.

As far as squat toilets are concerned, I sometimes find that peeing while sitting the other way around (i.e. pee into the water, not the dry bowl) can sometimes reduce back splash. However, this isn't always an option if the scoop is going to be reachable at an awkward angle.

A Female Perspective on Toilets (October 2003):

As you said, this shouldn't be too foreign to anyone who's squatted in the woods while camping. Anyone overly squeamish probably shouldn't be in south east Asia.

First of all, with regards to dropping your pants, I drop mine to my knees. However, that said, I also squat as far down as possible so that crotch level is below knee level. I also scrunch my pants together so they’re bunched up at the knee. This keeps the pants out of the line of fire. This part is much easier if you’re wearing a sarong and can just pull it up around your waist.

The uninitiated should also note that the bowl part of a squat toilet is much shallower than it is on western toilets. This shallowness, as well as the fact that there is no water in the bowl, results with a much greater splatter effect while peeing. It is likely that you will get pee sprayed on to your feet and ankles. You may also get splash-back to your nether regions. This is why you should get immunized against Hepatitis before going to Asia. You can try positioning yourself closer to or further away from the hole to see if this decreases the splattering. You can also try putting your bum up higher. This will result in a better angle & trajectory, however, now you’re a lot farther away, so the increased pressure will mean increased splatter. Now if you have your bum up and you can hit the target exactly, there won’t be any splatter. But, if you’re travelling around a lot, you’ll never have the opportunity to figure out the optimal position for each toilet you encounter.

As girls, we’re not accustomed to thinking about what it is we’re going to do when we go to the toilet. Unlike guys, we’re always in the same position when using the toilet, so it makes no difference. But when using a squat toilet, you will start to think about it because it could affect how you squat.

Now for the toilet paper issue. When I first got to Asia, I always had a small plastic bag with a half roll of toilet paper and a sandwich bag of soap with me wherever I went. After I’d been travelling for a couple of months, I didn’t bother with the toilet paper. With my right hand; I poured using the water scoop, and with my left hand I wiped. And then very carefully washed my hands. I mostly ate with utensils, so I wasn’t overly concerned about which hand I was eating with. It worked fine and I never got sick.

A couple of pointers; when you’re pouring the water, you need to lean forward or backward a bit so you can hit the target you’re aiming for. Also, you don’t have to wipe nearly as much as you do with toilet paper because the water pressure does most of the work for you. Next, I always put my sandwich bag with soap in my right pocket. This way I could get to the bag easily with my right (clean hand), peel back the bag and grab the soap with my left hand. When washing your hands, odds are you will be squatting on the bathroom floor as it is quite unlikely that there will be a sink. Squatting will minimize the splattering water as well. To get the last of the soap off your hands, don’t hold the handle of the scoop (it will probably have soap suds on it), hold the side of the scoop and pour the water towards you and over the hand holding the scoop.

The butt sprayers are a lot easier to use. You should give them a test spray first. Some of the best water pressure in Asia seems to be reserved for these sprayers, and you could be in for quite a surprise if you don’t do a test first.

As for the hi-risers, I liked them better because there is much less splatter.

My biggest piece of advice is to NEVER use the water scoop while using a western toilet! I can almost guarantee you will get water on the toilet seat and on your pants. Either use the butt sprayer, or use toilet paper.

Many times while I was in Asia, I wished that I was a guy so that I didn’t have to get as close to the toilet facilities as one does as a girl. The biggest annoyance, is when there’s no place to hang your daypack, and you have to go through the above routine while reaching around the pack on your back.


Have a toilet tale or some advice to offer? Send it here.

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All text and photographs 1998 - 2009 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.