Linda's Definitive Guide to the Squat Toilets of the World

Added over 9 years ago

a squat toilet in Singapore

A public squat toilet in Singapore: not too bad by squat standards


I've become obsessed with squat toilets, Gentle Reader, and with good reason. Like others before me I've come to the conclusion that when travelling, all toilets outside of five star establishments are dangerous. I could write a book about the squat toilets of the world and I mightn't be the first person to do so. In some respects I find them preferable to western toilets since as a short person my feet are often left dangling uncomfortably above the ground. They are also (in theory at least) more sanitary than their western counterparts because you don't have to contend with dirty toilet seats. In reality however they are more likely to resemble filth-encrusted Jurassic swamps.

When travelling I often wonder how the obese, old or physically challenged manage them with dignity. I'm sure western toilets provide similar problems for those used to the squat variety. Many times while using a western toilet in an Asian country I've seen the dirty shoe prints of ladies who have climbed up to squat over the bowl when the seat is missing. I used to think this was a great idea until a friend sent me a picture of the injuries sustained by a woman whose toilet broke while she was using it in this fashion. Now I just hold it in and walk away.

Squat toilets differ in appearance from country to country but in essence they consist of a hole in the floor and two depressions on either side of the hole to place the feet. Sometimes the hole is clad in vitrified porcelain with tile surrounds, sometimes it's dug directly into the ground. As a variation on this theme, the entire toilet sits on a raised plinth and it's necessary to step up to the hole. In the traditional squat a container of water with a scoop in it sits beside the toilet. In more modern versions there is a hose with a squirt gun attached.

Some places, usually in big cities and airport toilets, have both squat and western style toilets on offer. In rural Vietnam I saw my first ladies urinal, which consisted of a communal trough draining to a single outlet, and I'm told that in China women often carry umbrellas to act as a makeshift door. And while some establishments offer water for washing or toilet paper, other times you're on your own with whatever preparations you've made in advance. In the absolute worst case there will be no doors, no water, no flush AND no toilet paper. Your predecessor's deposits sit cumulatively in the long drop of the hole for you to admire at will. If there's a door, there might not be a lock. If the door locks, the cubicle might be dimly lit, adding a whole new dimension of adventure to the exercise. On trips to places like Ethiopia I've become so demoralised by the state of the country's toilets I've actually stopped drinking liquids to put off the inevitable for as long as possible.

On a personal level I've found that events in the squat toilet can provide an excellent opportunity to bond with your fellow travellers. Who couldn't sympathise with you as you wave your arms like a madman and run backwards and forwards describing the giant mosquitoes that alighted on your backside and the antics that followed as you tried to dislodge them? Your story will immediately produce a sympathetic reaction, each person trying to outdo the other with tales of Toilets from Hell.

Some guidebooks suggest advance practise. I believe that trips to the toilet can and should be strategically planned and to assist with this I've prepared a set of instructions which if memorised should minimise any potential fuss, bother or embarrassment. I use the example of myself, which is to say a female who is wearing sensible shoes and trousers.

  1. Close the door if there is one, take a deep breath and plan your strategy. Look for a dry place to put your toilet paper or fold up a generous portion in your hand. Remove any items capable of falling out of your pants now as retrieving them later will be impractical and probably end in your falling into the toilet. Don't even think about putting a handbag or jacket down - make arrangements to leave such items outside with a friend.
  2. The floor is always filthy and wet so the next part of the exercise must be carried out carefully. Back cautiously onto the foot depressions like a reversing truck (by all means make appropriate beeping noises but remember that humour is rarely rewarded in the squat toilet) and position your feet squarely.
  3. Unzip your pants and drop them along with your underpants just as far as the knees, at the same time ensuring that the bottom cuffs do not make contact with the wet ground (it may help to roll the pants up ahead of time).
  4. Squat while first bending the upper part of the body forward and keeping the knees and upper body aligned to the front, then in one graceful motion lower yourself onto your haunches. It is vital that you keep the tension up on your pants during this time by keeping your knees as far apart as your trousers will allow. Too much tension and you are guaranteed to topple over backwards, so take care!
  5. Take another breath and congratulate yourself on getting this far. Make sure that everything is properly aligned - aim is absolutely vital at this point. If your bottom is thrust too far backwards, there might be unpleasant overspray. If it is angled too far forwards, you will definitely soil your pants.
  6. The business is done and it is now time for what is (for me) the most traumatic part of the entire process: cleaning up. If you are experienced in these matters, use the traditional method and either scoop or spray water over the relevant parts with your left hand. Never having mastered this technique I prefer to swab with paper. This must then be disposed of into a nearby waste receptacle to avoid blocking the toilet.
  7. Reverse the squatting process and rise gracefully and quickly without loosing your balance or letting any part of your trousers touch the ground. Rearrange your clothing and the expression on your face and remember to breathe. The ordeal is nearly over!
  8. Don't flush just yet. Squat toilets, whether manual or automatic, have the habit of spraying lots of water over a large area and you will risk wet feet or worse. So open the door, turn around and flush while simultaneously stepping out of the cubicle. Square your shoulders and turn around with a smile. It's all over till the next time!

If you are travelling in company, do consider arranging a rescue party if you haven't reappeared within a reasonable amount of time - say half an hour. Memorise these instructions, and using squat toilets will become pure pleasure!

Tags: Blog, Squat Toilets, Travel, Travel Blog


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