Rage Against the Latrine

Malaysian Bathrooms, Explained

squat toilet 2

The first time you face this sight, it’s natural to contract sudden onset paralysis. So many questions raced through my mind during my inaugural squat toilet experience: Which way are you supposed to face? Where the hell is the toilet paper? Is that ladle for hitting intruders? What’s up with the hose? Isn’t this the kind of toilet that giant snakes pop out of and bite peoples’ bits?

Take a deep breath. (Actually, forget that. That’s the last thing you should do in Malaysian bathrooms, which commonly smell like dumpsters full of durian). Even though this is a developed country with many things to love about it, the public bathrooms here are in worse shape than those in abandoned Ugandan villages. I’m talking scurrying cockroaches, flickering lights and wet floors – the stuff of my nightmares. However, there are some benefits to the squat toilet and other Malaysian bathroom accoutrements that you may come to appreciate, but they require some explaining. So let’s take this one step at a time:

How do you say “where’s the bathroom” in Bahasa Malayu?
Di mana tandas.

squat toilet with bucket

Which way are you supposed to face on a squat toilet?
My local friends suggest this for bowls that are narrow at the front and wide in the back: for “little business,” face the wall; for “big business,” face the door. For symmetrical bowls, it’s dealer’s choice. Personally, I like to face the door at all times, regardless of bowl shape. Because sometimes stall doors get pushed open, and do you really want it to knock you face-first into the brown-streaked bucket of dysentery-water where your eyeballs will promptly be raped by germs?

What are you supposed to do with your pants/shorts/skirt?
Get them the hell out of the splash zone – that’s your goal. Some people take their bottoms off entirely and hang them on the door. But for those who can only hold their breath for so long, just bunch your clothes around your knees when you crouch down, which will keep the fabric as far away as possible.

kitten in cape 2

You deserve an anti-anxiety break right about now. Please enjoy this rescued kitten in a bedazzled cape.

Why isn’t there a grab-handle?
While desperately trying to keep your clothing off the urine-speckled floor as your naked, vulnerable parts hesitantly descend toward the porcelain Petri dish of toxic waste, you probably won’t be very graceful. It would certainly be helpful to have a grab-handle to keep you steady as you squat. But hopefully the supreme motivation to keep hungry bacteria off your naughty bits will help you stay upright. You can always try using the stall walls to brace yourself. (But you’re totally screwed if you’ve been drinking and your sense of balance is a bit off – sorry drunkards!)

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Wow, thanks for informing me that I shouldn’t throw away my keys or purse in the toilet. Who would have known?! But you know what would be even more helpful? TOILET PAPER!

For the love of God, where is the toilet paper?!
If there’s any toilet paper at all, it will likely be at the entrance of the bathroom on the wall in a large dispenser. Apparently we’re expected to be clairvoyant and know exactly how much TP we’ll need before we go. Sadly, bathroom maintenance sucks throughout much of Malaysia, so sometimes the roll is empty. And other times, there’s intentionally no toilet paper at all. This brings us to the dreaded Bucket of Doom…

lovely bathroom

To be fair, I took this photo in a Philipine bathroom, but I’ve actually seen worse here in Malaysia.

Um, please tell me that the water bucket and ladle aren’t what I think they’re for
My friends, look at your hands and appreciate that you were once able to eat food from them. That will never happen again after you’ve used the Bucket of Doom. See, you’re supposed to ladle water into your hand, and use that to clean your undercarriage. Yes, your hand. To wipe. You know, the hand that you were hoping would later hold a cookie, or use to touch your child’s face. Nope, never again.

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Is the hose for firefighting?
Luckily, the bathroom-water-bucket is usually only found in rural places or at pretty beat-down restaurants. Most Malaysian bathrooms feature the glorious hose. It’s far more environmentally friendly than toilet paper, and it gets you cleaner, too. But man, it can make a total mess in the bathroom, especially if you’re using a squat toilet. Be sure you’re facing the door and point the hose backwards toward the wall or you’ll flood the bathroom with your sewage water.

Squat toilets are The Sh*t!
Thankfully, western toilets are now pretty ubiquitous in Malaysia, but you will likely need to use the hole-in-the-floor toilet on occasion. But as scary as squat toilets are the first time you use them, you will soon come to appreciate that they are actually pretty awesome. They put your body in the correct position to do “big business” most effectively and effortlessly. This is why people who use them don’t usually get inflicted with painful diverticulitis or hemorrhoids. Research shows that the prevalence of these ailments is exceptionally low in countries where squat toilets are the norm, and exponentially higher in places where western toilets are used. To get a hilarious (yet thoroughly disturbing) visual explanation of why, check out this entertaining video for The Squatty Potty.

snake in toilet

Surprise!

I never thought I’d ever utter these words, but good luck in the bathroom, my friends!

7 thoughts on “Rage Against the Latrine

  1. It has taken me three attempts to read this, for Your blog has me laughing so hard, there are tears running down my face…this of course has puzzled my spaniel, laughing = good, often get food/walk/cuddle…tears = bad, need to go and climb on mistresses head to offer smelly breath comfort.
    Thank you for the fore warnings and of course, entertaining words.

  2. Can’t breathe. “You deserve an anti-anxiety break right about now. Please enjoy this rescued kitten in a bedazzled cape.” Seriously, laughing at this blog post will dull the trauma of the squatty potty experience, when it happens.

    • Oh honey, it’s not just the squat toilets that will may you want to faint. The whole bathroom situation here in Malaysia is a horror show, even if you’ve got a Western toilet. But just remember that kitten in a bedazzled cape, hold your breath, and you might just make it out of there alive. 🙂

  3. You are seriously beyond funny. It may be a bit too soon but I think we may have found a possible replacement for Anthony Bourdain (RIP). Where do you get this hilarious inspiration? Oh yes, I forgot…not just Malaysian but South East Asian bathrooms. I had nooo idea that was what the bucket was for. I thought it was to ladle water onto the latrine to get it to flush or when you missed. God forbid an entire nation was using their hands to wipe themselves with questionable water and then cooking my food, handing me money, or anything else. Yikes! OK to be fair, all over Malaysia I saw (most Muslim) women taking pride in their cleaning jobs… be it Mall bathrooms, emptying garbage cans on the street, cleaning windows, etc. It was very prevalent.

    There may be some advantages in that you don’t have to touch much if done right…but after returning home, I feel a spark of pride and joy every time I see a bathroom in America stocked with toilet seat covers and multiple rolls of toilet paper in a clean, Western toilet stall. Now I know why sometimes it appears some confused foreigner in America climbed up on a toilet seat to stand and piss all over the seat. It’s because they did do exactly that probably because they were used to these latrines on the floor! Can Malaysia perhaps adopt the Japanese-model toilet in which some advanced types not only allow one to sit, but also have built in bidets, a built in blower to dry you and even a seat warming in some cases? These have been around since at least the early 1980’s! There is little that puts more dread in an American’s heart than the thought of nightmarish bathrooms.

    • Aw, thanks for your kind words Elizabeth! Funny you should mention Japan. When I went to visit a friend who lives in Tokyo, I wept big fat happy tears whenever I entered one of Japan’s an ultra modern, clean, gorgeous bathrooms. They were all like little spas – some had fresh flowers, ambient lighting, soft music, artwork on the walls, and one even had a soundtrack playing of running water to helpfully encourage shy bladders. Not proud to admit this, but I took photos of several Japanese bathrooms and sent them to my friends in Malaysia, who were all as awed as I was. Oh how I wish Malaysia would adopt those spectacular Japanese toilets!

  4. I had to laugh at this, and I have to say that squat toilets, whatever their other benefits, are not good news for people with ageing knees. I can just about get down, but getting up is challenging to say the least. Alternatively one can hover at a decent height so as not to overtax the knees, but this comes with unacceptable splash damage implications

    Interestingly though, and against my expectations, I’ve found public toilets in rural Kelantan to be not too bad. Perhaps it’s because of the majority Malay population – they use the daily water supply of a small country every time they use the loo, and although the floors (and everything else) are wet, it’s usually water, not anything more sinister. They tend to smell a little mouldy as a result, but on the whole, well, I’ve seen a lot worse in outback Australia.

    As to snakes, well I’ve never seen one in a public toilet but I did have a large cobra in my (Western style) bathroom at home. I’d post a picture if I knew how. It was most alarming and the fire department had to be called to deal with it.

    • You found a cobra in your bathroom at home?! YIKES! I would absolutely never, ever be able to use the bathroom at night again. I’d call the fire department too, but only after I had burned the whole house down. Cobra in the bathroom is a deal-killer.

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