Malaysian Bathrooms, Explained
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.
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.
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!)
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…
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.
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.
I never thought I’d ever utter these words, but good luck in the bathroom, my friends!