This is a blog about toilets, their variety and their quirks. No apologies for the subject matter, because anyone who has travelled a lot in less comfortable places will know that your bowels becomes a regular and acceptable subject of conversation.
Ranked from one to ten where one is dire, and ten, well perhaps we should rethink the use of toilets and expand the vocabulary.
1. Rural China – just over the border from Vietnam, in the south. Squat over a trough, with a foot on either side so it looks like an awkward game of tunnel ball. A trough that has an almost imperceptible slope, so that what happens at the top drifts down below everyone who is using the trough behind them.
Similar experience just outside Beijing. I asked (using charades) about a visit to the ladies’ loo and understood that the waitress would show me where it was. I walked back through the kitchen – fair enough, have experienced toilet off the edge of kitchens in Vietnam, but we continued through the back door, down the main street of the village to the edge of the village and to what was the public toilet. She showed me into the squatting trough and then squatted down beside me. Yikes! I’m cool with this, … this is awkward, no … I’m cool with this. Awkward.
2. India – my beloved Eden Gardens Stadium cops the second worst lot of toilets on my list. For work purposes I did an inspection of (almost) all the female toilets during a cricket match. This is a big stadium – with capacity for approx. 65,000 fans. The female loos catering to the cheap seats did have cubicles, but inside each there was nothing! You had to wee on the floor and then slosh it out with water. Presumably.
3. India – rural. Slightly to be expected. I havn’t done much travel in the rural areas in India but recently did a wee in the designated area behind a bit of tin next to a chai shop.
4. Vietnam – the espadrilles story still makes me laugh. A group of us were having dinner in a reasonably popular restaurant back in the day, in Hanoi. My girlfriend went to the bathroom, which was off the kitchen (see point 1 above). It was no surprise that the toilet was simply an empty room with a concrete floor and a hole in the wall at floor level. All ok, except that this time she was wearing French espadrilles. That tend to soak up liquids.
6. Japan – I worked in an (almost) all male office in Japan. I had a meeting in the head office in Sapporo and they only had a squat toilet. That’s fine and BTW my unsupported theory is that Japanese squat toilets face in a different direction to others in Asia / Europe. In Asia / Europe you face towards the door but in Japan you face towards the wall. Some may disagree. I managed to wee on the bottom of my trousers and then had to return to the meeting. I washed it off and brazened it out – mainly by sitting down quickly.
7. Australia – camping and the long drop. This may be a few different memories rolled in to one. I dropped my phone into what I remember being a long drop toilet up on the Gibb River Road in the North West. The phone is a true story, but not sure it was a long drop. The long drop is a hole in the ground where you sit over some kind of hole to do your business. Ideally there is some lime or some sawdust to throw in afterward, but that luxury mainly to be found at the ecotourism resorts.
8. Managua, Nicaragua – pedestal toilet, tick. It had an S bend but didn’t have the flushing bit at the top. You have to throw a small bucket of water down afterwards. It’s a good tip if you are ever faced with this situation – just throw a bucket of water in and if there is an S-bend it will flush itself.
9. Chile – the bidet. Bidets are supposed to be French and perhaps they are, but I came across a bidet in my apartment in Chile. I must be honest and say I never used it for the purposed intended, but it was handy when I was sick. The end.
10. Japan – the flight cockpit. Anyone who has been to the bathroom in Japan can probably relate to this. I arrived in modest and modern hotel in Japan. Firstly, the seat is heated which I find a little strange. I do a wee and then get completely flustered because there are so many controls – you could fly an aeroplane with all the functions on the cockpit of a toilet in Japan. I start to press random buttons to flush the toilet, there is one that makes a flushing noise but doesn’t do anything else, there are others to control the volume of the noise of flushing water, there is one that blows warm air on your bottom, and others that adjust the strength of the blowing and the squirting. There are labels, but all in Japanese. There is one with a diagram of flushing water next to it so I press that and get sprayed in the face, and then believe it or not I press it again in case it was another button that I’d pressed and get sprayed again. Flummoxed I start to look further afield – around the bathroom and press light switches. Eventually I find the flushing button. The toilet seat lid was up, there is a huge button that you can’t miss – once the lid is down.
But yes I’d have to say once I solved the riddle of flushing, Japanese toilets are in a class of their own for comfort. There are many settings that you can try.
I don’t have any particular advice on best practise when faced with odd toilet situations. Carry some tissues is a good one. Don’t look down, is almost a rule I’d say.
What about when you wee on your trousers accidentally when you are using a squat toilet, wash it off to reduce the smell and are left with a big wet patch? Sometimes you just have to brazen it out and hope for a very dry room, or a strong wind to help in the drying process.
What about you? Any similar experiences? Ruth – you are not allowed to comment on this story because after all there are some things that should be left unsaid.
Thanks to D Krivtsov for pics of Japanese toilets; & Phoebe at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Mongolia pic
If you liked this blog, don’t forget to recommend it to your friends and / or subscribe to Agatha Bertram’s enewsletter. Enewsletters are sent once every two to three months with blogging highlights that you may have missed.
You can also keep up to date on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – links below.