The Asian Toilet Crisis

By Amy Chavez

Special to The Bali Times

The Balinese have their gods and so do Westerners. The Porcelain God, for instance. We have all prayed to the Porcelain God at some time in our lives. So enamored are we with our Western-style toilets that many of us are loath to use the simpler, all-natural Asian-style squat toilet.

This could be because there is considerably more ceremony in going to the toilet in the West. The “restroom,” as it is properly called in the US, refers to a room in which you can indulge in all the rituals, including bathing. It is a comfortable room meant for visiting over a length of time. No wonder we insist on sitting down for it.

You open the door to the restroom and the ceremony begins: large mirrors, subdued lighting, wallpaper and even carpet. Faucets sparkle. Matching sets of hand towels hang next to the sink. Decorative soaps and potpourri are common accoutrements. The bathroom may be the fanciest room in the house. Magazines can be found stacked next to the toilet – anything from Reader’s Digest to Nature Magazine and Popular Mechanics. Yes, the bathroom is a place to learn. Most Americans could complete an entire correspondence course on the toilet.

So it should be no surprise that we find Asian-style toilets, well, a little disappointing. There is seldom a long line in front of a public bathroom in Indonesia, perhaps because people avoid using them as much as possible.

Why all the toilet prejudice? After all, how many minutes a day are you in the toilet anyway, especially if you’re squatting? I think toilet prejudice stems from something deeper. I was speaking with a tourist who praised the losmen (guesthouse) he was staying at. He lowered his voice to almost a whisper and confessed, “The only downside is … the toilet.” Glancing around to make sure no one was listening, he said in a small whisper, “The Asian-style toilet is just so … primitive.”

Rather than primitive, I’d describe the Asian toilet as natural. At one time, the squat was a natural position for humans. But nowadays, Asian style toilets require far too much physical prowess for most Westerners. I heard about a foreign English teacher who was so perplexed by the squat toilets that he removed his pants completely every time he used the toilet.

So here is my Guide to Using an Asian-Style Toilet:

When you enter an Indonesian bathroom, the first thing you will notice is that the door hardly closes and the lock is likely to be a small hook, or a nail in the door jam with a string to hook over it. No big bolts or locks like bathroom doors in the West. There is a reason for this, which I will explain later.

Take note of the basin full of water and the plastic pail floating in it.

The toilet is the raised, porcelain-lined, or not, hole in the floor. Climb up onto the step. Don’t be shy about stepping up to a toilet. Just because it is in an elevated position does not mean it is more important than you. You’re going to prove this in a few moments.

Stand facing away from the wall and line up your feet on the little foot pads on each side of the hole. Those foot pads are there for a reason: to ensure good aim. The area around your feet is likely very wet, so do a little hike of the pants before unbuttoning, just to keep the cuffs clean. Secure all loose items in your shirt pocket, including your cellphone.

Next, bend your knees as if you were going to do the limbo. If you have your iPod with you, now would be the time to start some music. I recommend something like Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vida Loca.

Now, unbutton your pants but do not let them drop way down around your ankles. Hold them just under your buttocks. Notch up the music a bit. Get ready now. Bend those knees. “She’ll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain…”

Start the descent, slowly lowering your buttocks until they are hovering over the hole. Turn up that music a notch – you’re doing great! “It’s driving you insane…”

When you’re all the way down, hover until you have emptied your buttocks.

What? You’re stuck in the hover position?! Now you know why they have such flimsy locks on the doors: Easy rescue.

Once you get yourself up to a standing position again (even if it’s with assistance), flush the toilet by tossing in little pails of water from the basin. Be sure to slosh water over the surrounding area, too.

If you find that squatting is definitely not for you, you’ll soon locate all the McDonald’s and Starbucks in town. If, however, you made it through the entire procedure smoothly, then you’re “Upside, inside out, you’re livin la vida loca…” and you’ll understand why the Asian-style toilet is preferable to setting your buttocks down on the same seat where others have set down theirs.

Filed under: The Island

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