Malaysia: A multi-bathroom-style country
FEB 23 — Asia’s toilets can shock the most seasoned traveller. An Asian public washroom — or “toilet” — causes an ethnocentric reaction in many foreign visitors. The squat toilet takes many years to master; like karate, or piano. First, what does one do with the bucket of water? What is that hose for? Aiming is reminiscent of a World War II bomber!
My first experience with an Asian public restroom was in China. I saw a young man squatting for a poop, smiling, and texting on his hand phone. It wasn’t that he had left the stall door open, there were no stalls — it was a communal poop trough!
In India, I managed to clog my friend’s grandparents’ toilet. I didn’t realise that it couldn’t handle toilet paper. It took grandma, grandpa, the maids, and a plumber to handle the emergency. Nothing like having a friend’s grandparents conversing over your “business.”
One disgruntled foreigner stated in the Times Online that “Malaysian public lavs remind [him] of France in the early ‘80s. Particularly annoying is that even when you find a ‘real’ loo there’s usually no paper and even if there is, someone has used the hose on the wall instead and now the cubicle looks like a shower — water everywhere!”
Clearly he doesn’t appreciate bathroom-style diversity! A cab driver recently told me about growing up in KL. All his family had was a bucket. At night, workers would come collect the waste, and take it out of the city. He said he thought people were happier then… interesting.
Fast forward to today, and fancy “Western toilets” are seemingly on the rise. I can’t believe this website exists, but at www.poopreport.com they actually discuss how Malaysia is going through a “toilet revolution” from Asian squats to Western seats. Some squatting extremists are retaliating against this change by standing — and sometimes breaking — these porcelain bowls from the West. Before Malaysia, I had never seen footprints on a toilet seat.
Adaptability differs amongst the foreigners who step foot into this country. One friend says when she goes into a public washroom she will squat regardless of whether it is an Asian squat or a Western seat. She says, “Western promiscuous seats get in the way!” Another expat felt the complete opposite. She physically and mentally could not handle the concept of the squat. She would torture herself, holding it in while searching for a Western seat.
Even more interesting than the hole versus bowl debate, is the paper versus hose question. Living in Malaysia for almost two years has given me unique insights into the paper/hose divide. I understand the relevance to Islam — cleaning oneself — but the hose is used widely by people of different religions. It is a debate worth discussing. Are you a hose or a paper person?
On the positive side of things, with the hose you can never run out, it’s good on a hot day, and saves paper. On the negative side it leaves you wet, wastes water (I guess growing trees does too, though), and can run “amok” spraying everywhere and everyone.
The paper’s advantage is that it leaves you with a dry bottom, comes in nice rolls, and the cardboard can be used by school children in arts and crafts to make trumpets, farm animals, and castles. However, the paper is bleached and environmentally unfriendly (kills trees), costs a little more, and when it runs out you are stuck with nothing but improvisation.
Strictly toilet paper-using expats are easy to find. One friend tells me he grew up with a hose in his backyard to water the lawn but never in the bathroom. He laughs in the face of the hose user. However, another colleague of mine, who has been living here for almost three years has found the joy in the hose, and says his strict toilet-paper-using-days are behind him. He admires hose. He describes himself as a “switch hitter”; able to use either the hose or the paper, or a combination of both.
I surveyed a bunch of my local friends and definitely found them to be pro-hose. They laugh in the face of the paper user.
Living here I have grown to appreciate the diversity. Malaysia is a multi-bathroom-style country. Don’t lose sleep over whether Malaysia is really going through a toilet revolution. Don’t fret about whether the squatting heritage will be lost. Whether you are a seater, a squatter, a hoser or a paper pusher, let’s all just try to get along and enjoy the variety!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.