"Aim is key and until you sort it out the term soggy bottoms takes on a new meaning." -Stephen Bischoff
When you travel Asia, you are going to need to know about bathrooms. Luckily, all the information needed has been compiled right here thanks to a certain Stephen.
Last week on Facebook, it may have seemed like all I was doing was reposting a meme with the kitten manning a sniper rifle. But I also spent some time on Facebook linking up a Danish journalist I met in Uganda, with American travel writer/Asian expat Stephen Bischoff for an interview. I had not met Stephen in person, but when we began chatting about bathrooms, I knew I had found a kindred spirit, and I followed him on Twitter.
Things escalated quickly between Stephen and I and before long we decided to trade guests post about our respective bathroom experience. For his blog and readers, I gave Stephen everything I know about Central American bathrooms and he shared his Asian squat pot experience with me. Do not travel asia before learning the ways of the Asian bathroom from Asian bathroom expert Stephen Bischoff.
5 Things to Know About the Bathrooms When You Travel Asia
By Stephen Bischoff
In the western world you take things for granted. Wait, strike that, it’s not that you take things for granted, it’s that sometimes nothing can prepare you for the customs of another culture. Maybe your customs are weird to them, probably, in the US we’ve got a top rated TV show called The Kardashians about a bunch of dumb useless ignorant rich women that got famous from a sex tape (that wasn’t that good). That’s my culture and I think it is weird as shit.
Speaking of shit, that is the central log of this blog (prepare yourself for the puns). When I first stepped my backpacker foot into Asia, the one thing I was most unprepared for was the bathroom situation. You think everyone in the world uses a toilet, as you know it? Hell no, in Asia they refer to the throne you use as a “Western-style Toilet” your highness. It’s time to come down from your throne, way down, and learn to squat. Which brings us to the first thing you should know about:
5) You Will Use Squat Pots When You Travel Asia
Squat pots are basically porcelain or metal bowls planted straight down into the ground. There’s no seat on these bad boys, you must learn to squat and aim. You drop pants, backup, hover, and carefully aim with sniper like precision. Now let the scenarios begin. Imagine you’re in Korea and you’ve been drinking cheap beer and soju (Korean firewater) all night when you get a rumbly in the tumbly from all the kimche you just housed. You serpentine to the bathroom and find a squat pot and then have to somehow manage to keep balanced, aim, and squat all at once. The stories—the many horrible stories— I’ve had friends squat too far back and miss the toilet entirely resulting in what appeared to be a spilled chocolate milkshake all over the floor and a mad dash from the bar ensued before anyone could find out. People have fallen in, oh yeah, right in the squat pot cannonball style. The stories go on for days—negotiating a squat pot is an art form for foreigners and takes practice and focus, not unlike walking a tightrope.
4) No Toilet Paper
This wasn’t a major problem in Korea or Japan, but in China baby, you better have some TP on you at all times—this is not a drill. The first thing you do in China is go straight to the nearest convenience store and buy yourself a packet of travel tissues on arrival. It will save your life later. But let’s be real, the likelihood you always remember to carry your packet of ass-wipers on you is not great, so there will be sacrifices.
I remember an instance at the Forbidden City in Beijing when my buddy Bill, wearing incredibly noticable tall, black socks, hurried off to the bathroom and came back with one sock. We all just looked down at his barren ankle and before any of us could ask a question he pre-emptively responded, “No T.P.” and everything was understood.
3) You have to have an Engineering Degree to use a Japanese Toilet
In Japan you never have to worry about squat pots or lack of toilet paper, because the Japanese people are time travelers from the future. Their toilets look like mission control at NASA. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to jump into the Doleran with Michael J. Fox and ol’ Doc Brown and take a dump in the year 2525, head to Japan. The problem with this technological dookie machine of wonderment is that it has 42 buttons and all of them are written in Japanese. Figuring out how to flush one of these is like diffusing a bomb. Maybe the red button flushes, maybe it sprays water meant for your bum at such velocity it hits the ceiling, maybe it air dries your ass with jet engine force—you just never know.
2) In South East Asia you have to learn the Art of the Hose
This is one, that I must admit, actually grew on me, but not without practice. When I lived in Thailand my apartment bathroom had a curious hose next to the toilet, as most bathrooms in Thailand do. The Thais much like the Chinese don’t have toilet paper anywhere. But the Thais have this problem cased. Basically, when you get done laying down the law you take this hose and spray your bottom and that’s how you keep your pants clean. What they don’t tell you is that most of these hoses contain water pressure comparable to a fire hose on full blast. The first couple of rounds trying to use the hose I walked out of the bathroom looking like I lost a battle with a fire hydrant. Aim is key and until you sort it out the term soggy bottoms takes on a new meaning. In time, I did master the art and have to admit that I preferred it to TP and felt all warm and fuzzy that I wasn’t flushing any paper waste. My butt had gone green.
1) THE TOILET PAPER DOES NOT GO IN THE TOILET!
Many Asian countries do not enjoy the same quality of plumbing as several Western countries do and this can create some swampy situations. In every public bathroom frequented by foreigners in every Asian land there is a poorly written English sign that roughly says, “Do not put your used toilet paper in the damn toilet!” Where might it go, you ask? In a small trashcan next to the toilet, every bathroom has one. But some habits are hard to break. When you’ve spent your lifetime throwing your TP in the pot and then flushing, it becomes muscle memory. Admittedly, I flooded many a hostels in my time before I snapped out of the habit and I developed plumber skills that would make Mario and Luigi proud. The fun part is reversing your new habits when you get back to a western country when people want to know about the skid mark paper in the trashcan. That’s life.
Many people believe travel is the greatest teacher and aside from learning the native language you also must learn the language of the poo. Every culture has their own deuce dropping language and you’d be better to learn it before you got yourself into any stinky situations. So until next time, may your pot not squat, your paper be plentiful, and your pants remain clean and dry in all your travels.
Stephen Bischoff is a travel writer and the creator of the travel blog ShamelessTraveler.com. Three years ago fed up with cubicle life Stephen set out on a journey to find something more. After signing a contract to teach in South Korea he proceeded to travel over 26 countries and 3 continents. After riding motorcycles around Vietnam, living and training with Shaolin Monks in China, and witnessing an exorcism in Mongolia his adventure continues. If you’d like to learn more about Stephen and his writings you can follow him at the links below.