Harp and Story

An Irreverent Look at Cultural Differences

Toilet Training   

This is quite a departure from what I normally write, but please allow me this little retreat with good humor, we’ll get back to the serious stuff, soon, I promise, maybe after I tell you about dentistry in the developing world first, but for now just in case you might be thinking we are laying around on some beach somewhere sipping margaritas…

For some time I have joked about publishing a book on bathrooms around the world.  My obsessed interest in this subject started with my first trip to China.  I had absolutely no idea that not all toilets were the traditional sit down kind like is common in my home country of America.  You know the type – a stool about knee height with a wide enough lidded hole that you can properly sit on and spend a comfortable amount of time waiting to complete what you came into the bathroom to do.  A handle to push that flushes away your business and a lid to put down that covers the hole up – that’s my kind of toilet.  Anyway, was I in for a shock when I discovered that not all toilets are the same.  Walking down the Chang ang Lu in Beijing we stopped in at a fancy hotel to use their bathroom facilities; I opened a door to a toilet stall and what met my surprised eyes was a hole in the floor surrounded by a ceramic ring.  How was I supposed to use that thing? And another thing about toilet culture in other countries is the lack of toilet paper.  You either have to bring your own or pay someone for a few sheets of generally pink or blue scratchy stuff that is supposed to pass for soft and absorbent?

In the years since we started traveling abroad I have encountered many different toilet situations; from straddling a tiled trench watching all the remains of previous toilet goers pass between my feet when our guide pushed the flush handle, (before I was finished, mind you!), to sitting on the “throne” in Tokyo, Japan’s International Airport deciding which music I wanted to listen to as I studied the control panel of the toilet chair; water music, anyone?  I think the selections were meant to help cover up your own body noise!

By far and away the most common toilet in countries that we seem to travel to are what is referred to as squat pots.  Unlike China’s hole flat on the floor with a ceramic ring around the hole; squat pots, where we are now in Thailand, are raised affairs usually one or two steps up then a ceramic bowl, similar to a men’s urinal, but lying flat on the raised platform.  There are places on the side of the pot for you to put your feet and after having assumed the position you squat.  This is fine for people with good knees!  All the rest of us plan on groaning a bit!!

Our hut at Bamboo School has an in suite bathroom this year, a new addition since our last visit.  No more having to run to the toilet block in the night hoping there aren’t any night creatures lurking about waiting to take advantage of your vulnerabilities!  Bamboo School does have a western type toilet, but in our hut it is the squat pot.  I will use a squat pot when I absolutely have to, but it is not my preferred choice!

Our hut's in suite bathroom at Bamboo School.
Our hut’s in suite bathroom at Bamboo School.

Squat pots come with a reservoir of water (a bucket in our bathroom) for personal hygiene and flushing.  The standard method is to take a dipper full of water and splash yourself to clean up and then a dipper full or two of water to pour into the pot to flush. I’ve never gotten into the whole wet bottom, wet knickers thing; Steve, my husband, says you dry rather quickly, but it all seems a bit squishy to me.  Anyway, this year I am forced, because of sheer practicality and convenience to adapt to the new set-up.

The cement walls of our in suite bathroom are fairly close, this is a good thing as you can steady yourself by leaning your hands on the walls while you are in the squatted position.  The other morning I went to use the facilities and not realizing the ceramic pot was wet from a previous flush – guess who – for it is quite common when pouring the dipperful of water into the pot that some gets splashed around the stand-on portion, I stepped up to assume the position and swish, swoosh I slipped off the pot… Ow!!  Ceramic is slippery when it is wet!  The fall came at a really inconvenient time as boiled morning glory with rice, a favorite dish of the kids here at Bamboo School, is a powerful laxative for me…  While I was trying to clean up Steve came into the hut and noticing my struggles said, “why don’t you just splash a little water up there?  Look, when I’ve got to poo I take off my pants and jocks that makes it way easier.”

“But,” I retorted back, “you get your hands all yucky.”

“Just wash them really good after,” came back his reply as he left the hut and me to my situation.

I was getting short on toilet paper anyway, which is another thing, most of the toilets around the world have posted signs warning you not to flush the paper; when you have flushed the paper down with all the rest of it all your life it is a bit of relearning to get use to putting the used paper in the bin instead of the toilet!  At Bamboo School it is no different, all waste paper goes in the bin to be carried out to the burn pile on a daily or whenever I feel like it basis.

I am getting better at the whole squat pot thing; sometimes I forget the protocol, usually when we’ve had morning glory and I’m in a bit of a hurry, but mostly now there are two dressings in the morning, one before breakfast and one after.  I still haven’t gotten to where I am comfortable with the squishy, wet knickers thing, so it’s good to have a towel around, you know, for finishing!

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2 thoughts on “An Irreverent Look at Cultural Differences”

  1. Howdy friends! LOL….. well I just came across this post of yours in my in box that I must have missed!!! Well I have to say I share your “interest” in bathrooms and have wondered how “things are done” in other countries and other places that are “less” developed then our own! After seeing the picture of the “squat pot”…. well hmmmm… im curious….. after spending like the past 16 years pregnant…well that’s what it feels like any way…. I just wonder how HORRIBLE that would be to try and have to balance your self … belly and bootie and all over that thing and “do your business”…!!! ya maybe that is a factor in the reasons why I have never traveled out of the country!!!…lol….. I love this “real” post of yours!! These are things that one must take into consideration when they have a desire to “go out into the world”… we enjoyed it ! Thanks for your realness and being you!!!!!! Cant wait until you guys have a “shin dig” closer to us! make sure you let me know how we can serve! Also my daughter Ariel… whom you have sparked a very real desire and interest in Thailand and the bamboo school… is aching to become a pen pall with one your children at the bamboo school!!! Shame shame on me for dragging in this! I went to the links that you gave me …like 10 years ago…lol… not quite that long ago… and it says the web site cant be found! so if you could so kindly and patiently give me the info again to sponsor a kiddo or two that would be WONDERFUL! and we are still smoldering with this deep desire to be the hands and feet for the kingdom… but still don’t know what that looks like! are you doing a “church’ plant in Australia ? how about any plans for a “fellowship” plant here at home?…. let me know what Abba has put on your hearts!!!…=:0) ok I must go do the dinner thing! much joy- Brandy Date: Sun, 9 Feb 2014 01:29:25 +0000 To: jbproffer@hotmail.com

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    1. Hi Brandy and Family!
      I guess if you have done it this way your whole life and it is all you know… but for those of us that haven’t lived this way it is a matter of adapting. The Thai and the Karin people (that we work with) are a small people for the most part. This toilet design seems to fit them quite well. In fact in the public bathrooms at the Sai Yok hospital they do have western style toilets, but you can see the years of scuff marks on the toilet seats as people used to squat pots climb up on the toilet seat in an attempt to make a squat pot out of the sit-down western toilets. More and more places are getting the western toilets. In public places I usually look in a few stalls to see if they have any western toilets, most times you can find at least one, but not always. For you I just recommend that you ask one of your girls to accompany you into the stall so she can help raise you up when you are finished. That’s my best advise and I’m sticking to it – except sometimes the stalls are pretty cramped… Hmmm…maybe it would be best to wait until child-bearing years are past… for squat pots anyway!

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