When we moved to Bali a couple of years ago, no one prepared us for the biggest culture shock of all: All restrooms are not created equal. Outside of tourist areas, Indonesian bathrooms lack a couple of major items, namely: shower stalls and toilets. Of the two, the more interesting one is the Asian toilet.
Few things in life are as disconcerting as walking into a bathroom with an urgent need to pee and finding no toilet there. Especially when instead, there’s a raised platform with a porcelain hole in the middle. Sometimes it’s concrete, sometimes it’s tiled, and sometimes there are even places marked out for the feet. But Japanese toilet, Asian toilet, squatty potty, no matter what you call it, it’s not a porcelain throne.
If you’re easily offended, this post may not be for you. It needed to be written, though, because your Mama’s not going to tell you what you need to know. And if you plan to visit the Middle East, Africa or Asia, it’s best to be prepared. So here’s how to “go” in other countries:
Prepare to squat
Priority: Figure out how to keep your clothes from coming in contact with the wet floor. (Eeeeew … what made it wet?) You can either (1) strip off everything from waist down or (2) drop it all to knee-level. Personally, I prefer the second option; I just fold up my cuffs and use my knees to hold everything up.
Whatever you do, pay attention to your pockets or you might end up with a wet, dirty wallet.
Balance and lower
You won’t want to sit down on that cold, wet, porcelain thing to relieve yourself so you’ll need to either hover or squat over the hole.
Even if Mama told you it’s more sanitary I recommend NOT hovering. There’s a reason someone penned the lines “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat.” Do you really want to sprinkle all over your shoes and clothes?
If you’re not used to squatting here are a few tips:
- Be sure your feet are far apart.
- Lean forward slightly as you squat, keeping your center of gravity firmly over the balls of your feet.
- Rest your hands or forearms on your knees all the way along to help keep your balance and your backside dry.
I’m sure you know what I mean.
To clean up you’ll need to use water, which you’ll find as either a bucket or a spray hose. The hose is far easier. (Think Asian bidet.)
- With a bucket, dump the water onto your back side and splash upwards with the other hand.
- With a spray hose, grab the hose with your right hand and turn on the faucet to a low flow. Spray closely and gently to avoid baptizing yourself, the floor and the nearby walls.
- Use your left hand to help clean the area, and do it from the front to help keep your balance.
- Squeegee off any excess water with your left hand.
- Refill the bucket from the nearby tap as a courtesy to the next person.
- If you see toilet paper or paper towels nearby, use it to dry your hands before leaving, and throw it in the trash. Don’t flush it, as many systems can’t handle it.
If you can’t imagine going without, you might want to carry some toilet paper and/or wet wipes with you. They actually sell purse-sized wipes for that purpose.
- To avoid walking out with a wet seat or feet, keep a good hold on your clothes, and pull them on in one smooth motion as you start to stand up.
- Remember to fold your cuffs down before you leave.
Squat toilets are so commonly used in the east that many Asians don’t know how to flush a Western toilet.
- Fill a bucket with water and dump it into the basin. Repeat until everything has gone down the hole, trying not to get it on the surrounding floor.
- Then refill the bucket as a courtesy to the next customer and go wash your hands.
Other good things to remember
Toilet paper? You’ll usually find a roll of it on the dining room table. They use it instead of paper napkins.
Did you notice that all cleaning is to be done with the left hand? This is culturally important because in many parts of the world, people reserve the left hand for bodily hygiene and consider it unclean.
Tip: Be sure to use your right hand for eating and taking things in non-Western countries, especially food: If you take something from a food tray with your left hand the entire tray may be promptly dumped in the trash.
In fairness, many Asians have no clue how to use a Western toilet either. It must be pretty widespread, as I’ve heard complaints about footprints on toilet seats and found this sign in a stall in the Bali airport:
Have you ever used a squat toilet? Any tips or comments?