The Pooping Grounds. Shitter. Wash Closet. The Porcelain Throne. The Bathroom.
Whatever you want to call the place you do your business let’s talk about it!
My first run in with a non-western toilet was when I was 18 traveling from Delhi to Dharamsala. I vividly remember sitting there and thinking this is different, but not impossible. After doing my business, I was thankful that I had remembered to bring toilet paper, and that there was water to flush things away.
Let’s just say my run-in brought me into the world of squatter toilets. I probably should have perfected my squat at an earlier age, but alas I was not to encounter these toilets again for another 2 years and it only happened once or twice in Korea.
Toilets are a bit different wherever you go, and while there is nothing better than sitting on a heated seat and having a stream of water clean you ass for those who enjoy it, every toilet takes an adjustment.
I had no intentions of talking about the pooping grounds until I was on vacation this past February in Hawaii. My mom and I were on the way to the rest room and I heard two other women complaining about the bathroom at Waimea Canyon. I was thinking to myself how bad can it be?
I walked in and was delightfully surprised! There was a sink to wash my hands, some toilet paper in my stall, running water, and a door for privacy! I had a door and two walls surrounding me! It was a perfect fucking bathroom! I wondered at what point did my definition of a good bathroom change, probably somewhere along with my travels.
While living in South Korea, I ran into the squatter a lot, whether it be at public restrooms, schools, or in parks as the only option. Always check to see if there is toilet paper on the outside wall of the stalls, as it’s a crap shoot if you will actually have any in your stall or outside! Thus I always carry tissues now for the rare occasion it may also happen elsewhere.
I remember a lot of friends had a hard time adjusting to the squatter toilets, but I said you might as well get used to them. First off they are a hell of a lot cleaner! The only thing to get dirty is the bottom of your shoes, which is a plus in my book. Plus, it’s also better for your health to squat while you do your business. Just remember to face the wall! It took me a while to realize I was facing the wrong direction.
This past summer and winter I traveled to Amdo, Tibet. Now the restrooms in hotels and hostels were western, clean, and nothing fancy. But the restrooms on the road were few and far between, so if I had to go, I had better make sure to stop at the first one I saw. It might be a few more hours before the next one.
The most common bathrooms throughout the region were outhouses with no plumbing. The building is divided in two with one side for males and the other for females. There is an open entrance to either side with two to four slots to do your business, and no door to your squatter. Where it differed was whether or not you had a wall on each side of you to separate each squatting toilet.
My friend and I got very comfortable shitting next to each other to say the least. Sometimes we had a tiny slab of concrete between us where we rested our toilet paper between us, or we could literally stare each other in the face and talk while taking a piss. A lot of people will say oh no, how unsanitary! It may be bad because it leaches into the ground, but someone takes care of it otherwise they wouldn’t be as clean as they were.
I actually got used to these and at times they were the only bathroom available about a 5 minute walk from where I stayed for a few days at a friend’s house. Let me tell you in the dead of winter, peeing at midnight with your coat on is an experience. It is cold and dark in those bathrooms, luckily I never dropped my phone while using it as a flashlight.
I also had the experience of using the bathroom in a traditional farmhouse, which is off to the side of the house with three tiny windows that have no covers. There was toilet paper and a little basket to put it in when done.
The worst bathroom I ever used was a public bathroom at Mt. Nyenbo Yurtse, which was like an open stall port-a-potty hit by a shit tornado. No lie, instead of throwing things neatly down a hole, there was a mountain of shit stained toilet paper, bloody pads behind me. And people waiting in a line in front of me, no privacy, haha! This was the only option at the time and it speaks to how poorly people can take care of their hygiene. I don’t like to make assumptions, but it happened in an area with a high number of tourists from the mainland. This was never a problem in any of the other areas I traveled to without the swarms of tourists. Lesson to be learned: go to the bathroom like you would in your own house and leave it no worse than when you came in. This bathroom still sends shivers down my spine.
What have I learned from all this? You can piss or shit anywhere you like. It may be awkward or unfamiliar at first, but eventually you will get used to it, if it is your only option. A bathroom doesn’t need a door, a sink, soap, toilet paper, or even running water. Those are luxuries to a bathroom that not everyone has equal access to around the world. So keep that in mind the next time you complain, instead be thankful you have a place to do your business at the pooping grounds.