At my age I thought I’d seen it all. But, after living in Thailand for a year I gave thanks to my mother for seeing that I was potty-trained in the good ole’ U.S. of A.
A few days after arriving in Bangkok, I was shopping at Robinson’s Department Store. I’d been having some bladder problems, and as many 50-something women find, their lower internal organs begin to drop, droop, sag, bag and demand attention; and we don’t ignore it when we feel the familiar sign of wet knickers.
I spotted the unisex sign for “Toilet.” I’d heard rumors about squat toilets; thankfully my hotel was kind enough to offer sparkly white Western sit-down toilets. Dare I try this? Logic told me to head back to my hotel, but I had to weigh the time it would take in a tuk-tuk (picture a motorcycle with a bucket seat in the back, held in place by a tin cover), and I didn’t think my bladder would appreciate it. I chose the squat toilet. I mean, how bad could it be? This was Robinson’s, an international upscale chain.
I peeked inside. I wanted to turn and flee. I gagged. Think Kansas City Stock Yard meets Los Angeles County Landfill. I held my breath until I felt faint. I thought about trying to breathe through my mouth but decided it might be better to smell than to taste. I had to do this. There was no backing out now. I gave my kegel muscles a huge clench and duck-waddled inside.
There it lay, the ubiquitous Eastern squat toilet, waiting for the next feeble foreigner. It was a hole cut in the tile floor, with porcelain inside the hole and a thin porcelain ledge around the top to stand on. The sides were dappled with droplets of doo-doo in various shades of black, brown and ecru.
For my American sisters who have never traveled to a foreign country that offers these contortion contraptions, let my story serve as a high-level travel alert.
I studied this enigma and tried to decide on the best point of entry. I stepped up closer to the beast. Wait! How is a woman supposed to squat on this thing? If you’re wearing long pants they need to be pulled down, along with your undies. To where do you pull them? If you pull them down just a little, you’ll pee on them. So, you must get into a kind of stooping position, then pull them down just past your butt cheeks and squat. While squatting, you have to pull them down a little more and tuck them under your knees. You also need to hike them up far enough so the bottoms don’t touch the filthy floor. Then you squat-walk towards the hole.
But what if you have on a full skirt or muumuu? You have to pull the front of the skirt up and wad it under your chin, then grab the back of the skirt and wrap it around your waist and try to make a cute little square knot to hold everything in place. And while you’re trying to maneuver yourself into position you have no idea where your feet are with all the clothes piled up around your torso.
You scan the room for a toilet paper. Nada! You panic! But wait, over in the corner you spot a spigot with a hose and pail ready and waiting for the nice little butt lavage. This is Asia, girlfriend. Forget about using paper to pat your tu-tu dry. Water is the cleanser of choice.
It’s now time to conquer your fears — and damp drawers. You’re going to need an Olympic score of ten on your mount, and hope your feet hit the indents and not the hole. The porcelain is wet. The floor is wet. There is no paper. You start to pray. You hike up your skirt, wrap it around yourself, drop your drawers and tuck them behind your knees, and make the jump.
You made it! Now you’re on and in the squatting position. You wonder if you can keep your balance long enough to empty your bladder. It freezes. It’s not going to cooperate. It trickles out one drop at a time, punishing you. Your back hurts, your thighs are screaming and your hamstrings are losing ground. Your purse handles are between your teeth as you try to dig out a piece of tissue with one hand while the other is flailing overhead for balance. One wrong move and you could do a pratfall onto the filthy, wet floor, or, the unthinkable — the hole.
Your bladder quits pouting and finally empties; it’s now time to dismount. But how? You realize you have to get up, and you must do it before the store closes. There’s nothing to hang on to. Both arms are now flailing about, your teeth are losing their grip on your purse handles, and your clothes are tucked into your wrinkles. You must prepare for your dismount before you fall face forward or ass backwards. You know you’ll have no help from your burning thigh muscles. You give a giant heave and fling yourself up and out of the crouched position.
Yes! You made it! I’m sure everyone in the store knew I’d successfully landed my dismount when they heard me yell, “Thank you, Buddha!”
Ultimately, I suppose that the squat toilet is a great idea when it comes to the process of elimination. That is if you’re in your 20s and practice yoga every day. I missed these criteria by about thirty years. Suffice it to say I wouldn’t want to be caught with my knickers around my ankles with a Candid Camera crew hovering in the wings.
(Reprinted with permission from A Broad Abroad in Thailand by Dodie Cross).