[Warning: This post is going to contain every picture of a toilet I've ever Instagrammed in Thailand and lots of text on the subject, too.]
On a recent train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, a drunken Dutchman screamed, “Use the one on the right!” at me as I sashayed between the dining car drunks and the potty.
I obeyed the drunk man and entered the stall on the right, finding myself in a small room with walls the color of an old diner’s coffee cup interiors and with dull steel appliances protruding from every direction. The room’s largest feature was the toilet, coming out of the back wall and taking up the majority of the floor space with its creamy beige seat cover and wide metal bowl emptying directly over the train tracks whisking by below. Above the bowl, a shower head dangled limply, slowly leaking water drop-by-drop onto the seat below. To its side a plastic grip clasped a spray nozzle with a metal hose that seemed to be waiting for some industrious kitchen worker to come and pressure wash a stubborn burned spot of macaroni and cheese off of an aluminum pan. At its base lay a small lever that begged for a foot stomp over a textured black floor-cum-bath mat. Across from the toilet lay a small square sink nestled into a corner powered on by yet another foot lever. A peculiar smell wafted up from that sink, which led my attention to the fine glaze of liquid covering the toilet’s seat.
The drunken Dutchman, it seems, had tried his best to help the petite American girl to a more familiar, comforting setting to spend some private time on a train. Kind of cute, actually, but this room wasn’t for me. I turned around, exited the bathroom, and choose the door on the left.
This bathroom had the same corner sink and foot lever, but instead of the intrusive toilet dripping with condensation, shower water, and other less pleasant things to name in a list on a family friendly website, it featured a simple jazzercise-like step with a hole in the middle and a round, metal, shell-like structure protruding from the back-end, like a shield to the wall, which was adorned with several metal hand bars.
I walked back to the dining car and the drunken Dutchman said, “You chose the left! You chose the left! I tried to help you!” Then he went back to singing very loud drinking songs with his friends, while my group plotted ways to make the Thai dining car less about the Dutch and more about America. It’s our nature; we can’t help it.
But back to the toilets.
The American toilet is spreading round the world swiftly with brute, imperialistic force. Remote bus stations excepted, nearly everywhere I go seems to be falling hard to the hegemonic force of the “throne,” or sit-up toilet, with squat toilets only provided as an afterthought–a necessary deviation from the average, much like a disabled stall or urinal.
For instance, when I first visited Paris as a 12-year-old, I easily peed all over my pants while trying to navigate the hole-in-the-ground style potty. When I visited seven years later, I only found thrones. This observation obviously proves my point about the American toilet conquering foreign lands.
I have many arguments and rationalizations for a squat toilet preference, but it essentially comes down to this: public toilets, even those reserved exclusively for women, are generally so disgusting and covered with pee that one is tempted to hover above the seat in a mock squat. However, it is this very mock-squatting that leads to the highly unsanitary conditions that provoke us to hover in the first place. It’s a terrible loop and cycle that will never be broken in my lifetime. Therefore, I choose to squat when I can. Not only is there less of a chance that I’ll accidentally sit down on some mystery liquid whilst trying to empty my bladder, it’s more comfortable that essentially popping into awkward pose in a small, sometimes moving (in the case of a train) bathroom.
Furthermore, I’m inclined to note that cultures that make squatting part of everyday life, whether on the toilet or off, tend to have better overall knee health than Americans. There are also health benefits to the posture one must assume in a squat potty.
Of course, there are drawbacks, mainly the handle bars that I imagine fester with fecal matter and the bacteria within. While most people with healthy knees can manage to avoid holding on, sometimes it’s necessary (see the train example yet again) to take advantage of the support offered. It’s wise to come prepared for this situation and employ tissues as a barrier, obviously remembering to wash your hands after the fact. Isn’t that what we should be doing anyway, no matter what form the toilet lying beneath our collective bum takes?
You know, I could continue writing about squat toilets for another three paragraphs or so, but I think it’s time to wrap things up while I’m still under 1000 words. I’ll also make you a promise: I solemnly swear NEVER to inundate your computer screen with pictures of and words about toilets to this level ever again.
In the meantime, I’m curious. What’s your take on popping a squat?
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