It’s time for me to gripe a little. I generally like to keep the blog positive, but this particular issue has been weighing heavily on my mind as of late and I think it’s time for me to release the burden (no pun intended…?)
Squat toilets suck. But you could have guess that, right? – because it’s waaay less comfortable to squat while doing your business than to sit, right? Well, here’s the thing: the squatting part isn’t so bad; it’s actually an amalgamation of unfortunate Thailand bathroom characteristics that make the experience truly harrowing.
The American public bathroom that we know and love includes some basic necessities like toilets and toilet paper in addition to “amenities” like soap, hand towels or hand dryers, and a usually a mirror. Strip it down. Take it all away and you have a squat toilet situation on your hands. There will generally be a porcelein bowl of sorts with a place for your feet during the squatting process and a bucket immersed in a bowl of water that you are then expected to use as a form of manual flushage. You may have a water squirting tool (something akin to that squirting thing that comes with kitchen sinks) affectionately known as a “bum gun” for wiping purposes. Toilet paper? HA! This is a bathroom for godsakes, what were you expecting?? There may be a sink, but there definitely won’t be any soap. Definitely no way to dry your hands. There probably won’t be a mirror.
There is so much water and so few forces of drying involved when using a squat toilet that you might as well find the nearest tributary and dunk under for a quick pee. And remember: the tributaries around here are basically unmanaged flows of sewage. Yes, you will feel that dirty and wet after using a squat toilet.
But not all toilets in Bangkok are of the squatting variety. In fact, most of them aren’t. Allow me to paint a new picture – perhaps a less extreme one – of the average public bathroom in Thailand: there is a toilet and it has a flush. There is a sink and a mirror but there still isn’t any toilet paper or any way to dry your hands whatsoever. And usually there still isn’t any soap. Although these bathrooms are far more manageable (and functional for that matter), they are still missing the REALLY IMPORTANT drying forces. Bum guns may make you feel cleaner than toilet paper does (“like a shower for your bottom”) but they just make you wetter than you were to begin with! What in the world…? I don’t understand!!
So you walk in to one of these average Bangkok bathrooms and find every surface – the floor, the toilet seat, the wall, the ceiling (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit) – covered in water because people are careless with the water squirting tools. Unless you brought your own TP, you’re just going to get wet. Then maybe you’ll rinse your hands (but no soap, remember?) and be…wetter…
You can use the toilet paper you brought with you to dry your hands. See how well that works out for you. (Note to all of Thailand: toilet paper is in no way, shape, or form a substitute for paper towels! Never is this the case! They just don’t work the same way.)
So, like I was saying, the squatting part of the squat toilet really isn’t so bad.
That is, the squatting itself isn’t so bad but you must consider the completely anti-ergonomic squatter design that seems to prevail in this country. How could they mess up something so natural as squatting? I mean, this is something humans have been doing since humans have been doing, if you know what I mean.
But, alas, they have found a way to make squatting completely impossible by designing these raised porcelain platforms with an oblong bowl in the center and two foot grips on the flanks. If you really try to imagine yourself squatting on one of these you will quickly understand that your feet need not be at the same elevation as your bottom – in fact, this placement makes it nearly impossible not to spray your legs and clothes and everything else with your pee stream. (Sorry if this is getting graphic. I’m on a rant now and I can’t slow down.)
The fact of the matter is: the actual design of the squat toilet is completely non-ergonomic. It would be easier to pee into a hole in the ground than these things.
Speaking of which (and this is my last point, I promise), if you’re going to take the time and resources to install a porcelain fixture into the bathroom, WHY NOT MAKE IT A REAL TOILET BOWL SO WE CAN SIT DOWN?? It just seems like it would take just as much time, effort, and money to put in a real bowl (it doesn’t have to flush! It can be ones of those water bucket-flush toilets I see around every now and then!) as it does to put in a squat toilet.
I feel lucky that there’s a special Teacher’s Bathroom at my school of the aforementioned average Bangkok bathroom variety. Otherwise I would be stuck trying to figure out how to squat in the bathrooms that the kids use in my knee-length work skirt. I’ve adapted, albeit slowly, to bringing my own toilet paper wherever I go. And, lucky for me, there’s probably a 7-11 across the street where I can buy a roll if I’ve forgotten. Now there’s something convenient and comfortable…