Great roller coaster of emotions, the toilets in Southeast Asia will inspire you with disgust, embarrassment of not knowing how to use them, the surprise of what you will find there, the shame of what you will do there, the anguish to take auditory and olfactory hostages, or the joy of having reached them in time.
The experience of powder rooms in Asia is an intense "intimate" journey, where all the senses are out of place. As a true adventure, a practical guide is obvious to avoid embarrassment or to feel better with yourself if this guide arrives too late. Here are some tips for staying upright in the face of adversity.
Managing different types of toilet systems
In Asia, you will come across different sanitary devices to satisfy your urgent needs. ** There is no shame in being helpless facing the unknown. **
Pressing, pulling up, pushing down, sometimes none of these solutions is the right one. ** Running water is not often part of the picture ** when the time comes to get rid of your things. In this common case scenario, you will notice the presence of a ** bucket filled up with water ** with a mini plastic pan floating on the surface. This is a flush.
For maximum effectiveness, fill up the small saucepan to the brim before pouring the liquid against the tub walls so as to create a whirlpool.
Repeat until the fecal matter total clearance, then add an additional pan for safety. Don't hesitate to pour frankly, from a little height.
The bucket often rests under a tap. Before starting your business, open the tap. The trickling water will cover the noise of your activities and you will prevent the next person from getting stuck for long minutes in front of an empty bucket in a confined space where each inhalation is an olfactory torture.
NB: If in the room you find two buckets with two plastic pans, you are in a full bathroom. The biggest bucket and the biggest pan are a shower system.
The hole is the most common facility if you are an adventurer avoiding beaten tracks and tourist landmarks.
Based on a Turkish toilet, you will immediately recognise the notch to place your feet, made of ribbed faience.
Ladies, even if the raging torrents of your painful bladders are just waiting to break with a great crash the dams of your sphincters, you will have to remain the master of your body. Only a small stream of urine flow is to be released until the bladder is empty. It's long, frustrating and even painful but it protects your shoes, pants or bare thighs and even your faces since many people in this position can't help throwing an eye at the scatophilic show that takes place in between their legs.
Gentlemen, aim for the hole.
If you are visiting these places for a bigger business to deal with, the file must be delivered without an intermediary, directly to the bottom of the hole, under penalty of leaving evidence behind you. For the sake of discretion and respect, it is necessary to squat properly, respecting the appropriate longitude and latitude. Scatophiles will be happy to learn that a glance is often necessary to understand distances and make the necessary adjustments. You will not be able to count on a flush to repair your odd because the small pan mentioned above doesn't fulfil the function of cleaning.
The seat is close to the classic use that we all know, except that it is not unusual to find it almost in the middle of the bathroom. It's a strange feeling to feel an emptiness in our backs when taking the throne. The bottom of the pants around the ankles, busy with the most disabling human tasks, the idea of not visually controlling the space, exposed to a 360 degrees potential threat, will make you reconnect with some animal instincts.
However, I recognise the undeniable hygienic aspect of such a provision, the mops finally reconnects with the hidden face of the toilet to the chagrin of insects, pubic hair and other human residues.
These toilets are obviously never connected to a flushing system
The regular seat
The good old classical throne is also existing. Having said that, I only saw it in the places most frequented by tourists.
You will find the toilet and its folding seat, close to the wall, with its perfectly functional flush. If you don’t like areas with strong tourist, you will so rarely deal with this kind of equipment that when you'll finally come upon it, you will probably spend a few seconds looking for the bucket before thinking about pressing the button.
However, the confusion is impossible, it is still not quite like home since systematically, you will find in the room an unknown object, the bum gun.
The mystery of the bum gun
You will find it in every toilet, on your right-hand side. It's a pommel equipped with a trigger, connected by a pipe to running water. Its presence meets the need of the local population to have clean buttocks after every stop at the water closet.
I find it particularly hygienic and ecological, although its use has long remained an enigma.
In my mind, asking the locals is not very appropriate in view of their prudishness when it comes to certain topics. Therefore, it is thanks to some fellow travellers and following many discomfitures that I eventually came out with some good leads.
Directly targeting the genitals
This solution is quite logical because the shape of the gun suggests this use.
However, it appears to be doable only in some modest establishments, because in a majority of others, the water pressure contained by the gun is sufficient to pierce a second anal orifice or to break a clitoris. Cleaning private parts with a power hose cannot be a valid solution. The truth about the butt gun is necessarily elsewhere.
Using a hand
This technique was brought to my attention by a few fellow travellers. It 's about sacrificing a hand and using the gun's pressure to clean it up later. This technique, although perfectly filthy, is not absurd and could be the real solution. Indians are familiar with this practice and sacrifice their left hand which they commonly refer to as the dirty hand.
However, in the almost systematic absence of soap or any cleaning substance in the toilets, this process can quickly become disgusting beyond limits.
You should always keep a little piece of soap with you. It will come handy in those toilet situations and indispensable for cleaning and disinfecting a wound. Warm and humid climates often lead to quick and dramatic infections.
How to dry your butt
This remains an unresolved mystery. Once the crotch is thoroughly cleaned, here we are facing a new problem, how to dry it?
Whether wearing pants or a skirt, between wet halos on the buttocks and thighs dripping, my heart can't choose. In both cases, is it a challenge to regain the crowd with elegance.
In addition to the aesthetic aspect, hygiene comes into play. The intimacies can't stand maceration for a whole day in the humidities of a textile often firmly molded by scooter or bike saddles, preventing the air anyway moist and burning to circulate. Will I add sweat as the final olfactory note of this sad requiem for glamor and hygiene?
Using toilet paper is hazardous because of its poor liquid resistance. It will disintegrate until it becomes one with your body. Also, the bun gun is mainly present as a replacement for toilet paper, not in addition to it.
My research efforts led to a perfect solution which is getting a little towel to wash every night in whatever sink you'll find.
Although the parts to be dried out are supposed to be impeccably clean, the small towel can be kept in quarantine in a separate pocket of your backpack/hand.
After 8 months in Asia, for the very first time, on a very little island named Koh Lipe, I came across a bun gun notice in the bathroom.
When there's toilet paper
Toilet paper is not a popular item in Southeast Asia. However, when there's some, it is not to be thrown in the toilet.
The frail pipes on this side of the globe can't handle much and clog easily. You will read about it everywhere, but it's hard to give up this habit. In Asia, unless renting private apartments, toilets maintenance will never be your problem. Thus, if for you, altruism is an undefined notion, respect the integrity of the Asian pipes for your own salvation. You don't want to expose, shamefully, the contents of your colon to the staff of your hotel, especially if the cold buffet from the day before, yet hygienically kept in the open air of a sunny street, happened to be actually hostile for your transit. There is always a trash can or a basket Near the toilet to collect your little papers. If you don't see it, it's probably on the doorstep or near the sinks. Search for it, use it, and collect karma points.
The toilet paper basket
As explained, it is always around, you have to find it and you have to use it.
Sometimes it's a trash can with a lid which is quite practical and hygienic, sometimes, as suggested by the very inspired title of this paragraph, it's just a basket opened for a show that is both foul and odorous.
In most cases, it is lined with a trash bag that for the sake of respect and for karma, it is essential to aim. Apparently, too many people see themselves as Tony Parker, so I suggest everyone just try a shot at point-blank range instead.
Folding properly the used pieces of toilet paper does not imply any particular origami skills, but avoids violating many innocents cornea.
If you share a room/bathroom with your lover, I wish you to have already reached the fecal stage of intimacy, in which it is commonly accepted that both partners have a daily big business to deal with.
When there's no toilet paper
As representatives of countries and continents with toilet paper, we get too often tricked by its chronic absence in Asia. It is only once the affair is completed that we are forced to deal with the purest disarray. The bitterness is intense when convinced or not by the bum gun, we had to use it anyway, and, patiently dripping the lettuce, in a squat position, thighs burning from the effort, our gaze comes across the posters that remind us not to throw paper in the toilet. But, what paper? Filthy masochists!
Look for the toilet lady/boy
It is unlikely that if the toilet person is there, he/she lets you go to the bathroom without showing up. However, they may be on a break, sucked up by their phone or in REM or even deep sleep in a hammock. They are the holders of the toilet paper. For the equivalent of a few cents, they will provide you with 3 translucent leaves that allow you to only partially wipe your butt with your fingers.
Look carefully around you
If it is admitted for some that the paper is in its dispenser, or placed on the lid of the flush, in some countries, however, it is in the common room near the washbasin or hung next to the toilet door. Remember to look everywhere before you commit an odd, if necessary, raise a hand below the door of the toilet. Charitable souls are numerous in Asia.
Which means no paper. As far as I am concerned, this situation is the most frustrating one.
Perfectly prepared, everything goes smoothly, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of the toilet. Too confident, the disappointment is painful when comes the last act and the toilet paper comes on stage completely soggy, refusing to unroll anything. In this case, I recommend shredding it, because I firmly believe that it is forbidden to rub the whole of a roll on its parts.
The liquid state of the paper is the result of the double function of the toilets that can actually be called « shower toilets. »
Always keep toilet paper with you, stored in a waterproof bag during the wet season or for very humid regions.
This singular facility may seem doubtful at first, it is actually a brilliant invention which I can't vaunt the merits enough. Very common in Asia, it is an ordinary looking bathroom, with the difference that the shower head is just above the toilet bowl or just a few centimetres away.
On the day I made this discovery, as the little tap and sink were almost resting on my knees while I was sitting on the throne, I first took it for a poor attempt to gain some space in the room by fitting everything randomly in. It was only later in my trips that I came to wonder if it was not the result of some sophisticated interior design studies and researches.
If the toilet paper is often victimised by the shower head, it is a small inconvenience when considering the benefits of this facility. Cleaning the floor of the shower and toilet, rinsing the toilet bowl, polishing the sink, these tasks become disarmingly simple and are done in one move with the shower head.
When traveling Asia with a small budget, moving serenely in a bathroom is not commonplace. It is relaxing to no longer fear the touch of butt against a warm tile, a slimy shower curtain that caresses a calf, and enjoys going barefoot to the bathroom or even sitting on the toilet.
Taking a prose on the 'shower-toilet'
It is the combination of two simple pleasures of life, two actions usually quite distinct, yet working perfectly together.
The logic of total muscular relaxation, especially sphincters, under the hot water of the shower head, is undeniable, as long as we can enjoy this propitious architecture.
The peculiarity of the moment does not prejudice the natural course of the combined actions, it is scarcely possible to remember that one could have been so far dictated to act otherwise.
The waterfall released by the pommel falls on the faience, runs off the ground and disappears into the pipes at the end of its song. The water sings louder than my body so that no one outside could suspect the unglamorous work to which the terminal orifice of my digestive tract is working.
While washing my body, the sweet scents of rubbed soaps, deliver in the air a fruitful battle against the unpleasant body fragrances.
The business carried out, regretfully I finally stand up again and notice drunk on elation that I don't even have to suffer the vision of my digestive activities, the waters scented by the rinsing of my shampoo took on them to chase the slightest suspicion.
Managing your privacy
In Southeast Asia, it is pretty rare to find restrooms perfectly isolated to comfortably relieves oneself or struggling anonymously.
Many restaurants and cafes are located in private apartments.
When the bathroom is needed, it is common to have to go through a living room, discovering a baby asleep in a playground, stepping over the family dog and passing between grandpa and his tv show.
On the floor, there is Madame's shampoo, the gentleman's shower gel and the famous basket for dirty toilet tissues, the grand finale of this involuntary intrusion into the intimacy of complete strangers.
Reciprocity becomes possible when it turns out to be necessary to indulge in some delicate intestinal activities without disturbing grandpa or waking up baby.
Although quite rare, some toilet facilities will make you feel like running away. Full of goodwill or facing an emergency, it is difficult to come to terms with the idea.
Depending on how bad is the situation, I can't advise you too much to use the toilets anyway, because it is always better to relieve oneself in a place provided for this purpose rather than in one's pants.
In Asia, you can't trust your anus any longer, it will not hesitate to betray you at the first opportunity. You no longer are the master of it, at the first wrong dish, it will emancipate itself.
The toilets fauna
You will never be alone in the bathroom. You'll have to deal with either a gecko, a frog, a cockroach, an army of mosquitoes, a big spider, or the unthinkable.
What if I am sick ?
It is all about compassion and solidarity . If you get sick, don't worry, nobody will make fun of you. When the toilet earthenware resounds, it is the sad sound of the suffering of a fellow traveler. A hand on the heart we pray not to be next, or we share the pain with the burning memory of the last Indian dish ...
I propose a survival kit for hostile restrooms composed of a soap, a small of towel, toilet paper, paracord, an immodium and a spare underwear. In this list, there are two objects I have not previously provided any instructions about, it is obvious enough to spare you from suffering the verbal explanation of my point of view regarding the management of a faecal incident.
NB: if you add a good knife to this list, sterile compresses and a water filter bottle, you get a complete basic survival kit.