Upon hearing that my husband and I were moving to Southeast Asia, students with whom I had never had a conversation approached me with concern over the plumbing I would encounter. I assured them that I would be provided with a western-style toilet and could manage squatting when required. I laughingly suggested that that was the reason for the leg strengthening exercises we had been doing in class.
Although I knew that I would have familiar toilet facilities in my new home, I took precautions during the trip – I carried toilet paper in my bag, I made use of any “western” toilet I saw and hoped for the best. When I arrived at my new home, I wandered through the front room noting the sparcity of furnishings and the strange completed puzzles that doubled as wall-hangings. The bedroom I was to share with Peter held a small wardrobe, an even smaller desk and a twin-sized bed. I hadn’t slept in a twin-sized bed since I graduated from college – much less had I shared one with another person. I peaked into me new bathroom and the true horror set in. I discovered a squatting toilet, a square fixture and 2 tubs of water.
The promised western-style toilet was on the 2nd-floor, which was occupied by our new “housemate” – another teacher. As I attempted to digest this living situation, I realized that my period – which was already over a week late due to the stress of moving and the long airplane trip – arrived. Lovely. Well, my new roommate was at work until later that day, so I opted to use the familiar facilities as long as I could.
As western-style toilets go, I took 2 things for granted. First, I believed that you could sit in relative comfort and second I trusted in some sort of “flushing” mechanism. I will say, for the record, that there are usually seats if a western toilet is provided. However, flushing is often a luxury. After using the familiar toilet, I spent some considerable time looking for a flushing mechanism. There was none. I asked Peter to take a look and he didn’t have any ideas either. The plumbing was perplexing…
I opted to resist using the facilities until I found out more information – this would require a very straight-forward conversation with one of the other female teachers. Fortunately, we were meeting our new coworkers for a drink that first evening. After a couple of bladder-agonizing hours, I worked up the courage to ask this teacher how to utilize the toilet I had been given. More specifically, I wondered aloud how to deal with tampons and other feminine issues. She was helpful – although it didn’t make me feel a lot better.
That evening, I asked her where I could use the bathroom (it had been a long time…). She directed me to a nearby hotel where there were western facilities. I wandered along and headed directly into the closest restroom – it had a urinal, but everything seemed so odd that I just went ahead and used the provided toilet. As I walked out, I received the strangest looks – I had been in the men’s room.
Needless-to-say, we only stayed 10 days at the provided accommodations before finding a lovely studio-style apartment with a shower and a flushing, western toilet. I hadn’t realized how good a shower felt until I had spent a week and a half ladling water over myself and washing as best I could.
Two months have gone by and I no longer avoid the squatting toilets – they are often cleaner than the others. But I still carry toilet paper with me wherever I go. I haven't figured out how to avoid getting mostly undressed in order to not to splash my clothes, but even if it takes me awhile, I can still get the job done with fairly little mess. Ah, the things I took for granted as a woman in the states....