18 Feb
Posted in: Travel
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Let’s Talk Toilets

One of the main things I was worried about before leaving for Burma was whether or not I’d have access to Western toilets. It was not until I first traveled abroad that I discovered…to my shock and horror….that not everyone in the world is in the habit of sitting on a toilet to, well, you know, “go to the toilet.”

I was in Italy when I encountered my first “squat” toilet, and I thought it was some kind of mistake. I went into the little stall and saw that there was nothing but a hole in the floor and turned around and came right back out. I thought someone had removed the toilet for some reason, maybe to repair it, or replace it or something. But my traveling companion explain that, no…the hole in the floor is where you “go.”


Luckily there were only a few toilets of that type in the places I went to in Italy (they called them “Turkish” toilets back then, as I recall), but I encountered them again in significant number when I went to visit a friend in China. I don’t have enough strength in my thighs, apparently, because I never could get the hang of them. How do you keep from falling over? How do you stay upright and still relaxed enough to do what you need to do? And what do you do if you’re a girl…and you’re wearing pants? I get that if you’re wearing a skirt you can just lift it up, but even then, what do you do with your underwear? I guess if you like to camp and are comfortable “going” in the woods, you’re used to that sort of thing. But I am definitely not a camper. Sometimes I had to completely undress from the waist down…but then I had nowhere to put my clothes!

So I was worried about going to Burma and having no choice but to use “non-Western” toilets.

But I was in luck! Every one of the hotels we stayed at and all but one or two of the restaurants we ate in had sit-down toilets. Even at the monastery, where accommodations were pretty basic, there was always at least one “Western” toilet.

The only problem, though, was toilet paper. I always carried a stash with me, because the system was definitely bring-your-own, but at the monastery there was a sign on the door of the stalls on my floor of the dorm that said not to put toilet paper into the toilet. OK. I’d seen that before when I’d traveled to parts of the world where the plumbing infrastructure was not all that robust. But in those cases, there was always a little trash can in the stall for you to put your “used” toilet paper in.

But there were no little trash cans in these stalls! And not anywhere else in the bathroom. There were no paper towels either, or anything else to dry your hands on. And if you had trash, you had to find someplace to stash it in your room, or you had to go outside to throw it away in the trash can at the front of the building.

There was no toilet paper and no little trash can in any of the stalls….just a plastic hose with a spray nozzle, which I understood was to be used to wash yourself off. Tempel had told us that the trick to cleaning yourself off without toilet paper was to soap up your hand really good before you got started…but then you had to have soap with you when you went into the stall. And I didn’t understand what you were supposed to do with the bar of soap while you were cleaning yourself off, because there was no place to put it except on the floor, which did not seem like a good idea. And then how do you dry yourself off? I tried the spray-and-drip-dry method for a couple of days…but it’s humid in Burma and the “dry” part of the plan didn’t quite work. I looked around and noticed that the “no toilet paper” sign wasn’t in all the bathrooms, so after an unpleasant day or two of walking around with damp underwear, I switched to the use-as-little-toilet-paper-as-possible plan. I finally got up the courage to ask one my traveling companions what she was doing about the toilet paper situation, and she was pretty much in the same boat.


So now I’m home. And let me just say that it is a joy and a pleasure…a luxury, in fact, which is not to be taken lightly…to live in a place where pretty much whenever you need to “go,” you can do it sitting down. AND, you can be confident that you will have easy access to an abundance supply of readily available toilet paper!

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