ha noi squater
Vietnamese 3 squatter. Photo Joanne Bretzer

As a woman who frequently needs to find a loo and travels a lot, in Asia, I have seen toilets. There is actually only one I haven’t used; against all of my better judgement, my bladder prevailed against the evidence of the rest.

Actually, the state of a state’s toilets can be a deal breaker for some women for traveling. I do understand that, and sympathize. But once you have broken the spell of the perfect loo, you may realize that everyone everywhere relieves themselves, well, anywhere.

(By the way, don’t google “best toilets in the world” unless you are ready for a rude surprise.)

I remember when a friend of mine  went to China many years ago. For want of facilities, she had to squat in a field. With lots of people watching. This poor young New Englander brought this back as her most interesting moment, at least the most impressive, judging from how she spoke of it.

Heeding “the call of nature” is something westerners prefer to do in the privacy of a very clean bathroom, of course with hot and cold running water and a flush function. Bidet is optional, but lovely.

I met my first squatter in Alaska, and also my first outhouse. Squatters can be better than outhouses in the far north. The first outhouse I used was right after I arrived one evening in the dead of winter. -40 F and the need for facilities at an Alaskan cabin is a lesson and a test. My friend went before me, and came back with the seat firmly frozen on her bum. The last person to use it before her had forgotten to bring the unattached plastic ring in with him and put it near the wood stove. I learned to prefer styrofoam seats for this reason.

An outhouse in Aaska often has a baseball bat, or some equivalent, stashed in the corner. No, it is not to drive off wolves or bears, but to knock down the pile that accumulates as everything freezes pretty  immediately. In the summer the underside of the platform in the outhouse attracts paper wasps which build their nests their. There are incidents.

You can see why squatters may be preferable.

French Loos

The first time I traveled to France I encountered a lot of squatters. Er, squat toilets, aka toilettes à la turque. I’m amused at how many people blanch at traveling in Asia because of the facilities, but are eager to go to Paris. In Provence, the main old town wall functioned as a pissoire when I was there 30 years ago.

Then there are those who hail squatters as healthier. I suppose, but they can be hard on the knees for westerners. That is beside the point. They are what you will encounter outside the west, and if you wish to travel in Asia and Latin America on a non-5 star itinerary, you have to adjust.

The worst loo ever for me was in India. I was in a local park with a friend and needed to go. He suggested we wait, but, tiny bladder, too much liquid, and so on, I needed to go. The bathroom was inside a small eatery, and a group of blokes were sitting outside the women’s room door. When I went in, riotous laughter followed me. On opening the door I saw why. The  bad boys had smeared every surface with excrement. I decided I could actually wait.

I experienced the second worst in Ho Chi Minh when I went to the Chinese market with a student. She had offered to take me on a tour of Chalon, which took hours. In the market I again had to go. She strongly advised against it. I prevailed. The bathroom was large with doored stalls, including western toilets and sinks with flowing water. No, that was all good. The problem was that all of the women, and there were many, were squatted on the floor doing all of their business. Squeezed right up against each other. There was a woman at the back with a hose who was spraying the leavings into the gutter. I crossed carefully and used one of the stalls. You would never have thought it ever had been used.

But most squatters are clean and well tended to. One good way to think about them is that you don’t make physical contact. They  can be safe and clean, and necessary. Oh, and be sure to always bring your own paper.


17 thoughts on “Relief

  1. Had you not learnt to adjust so much a long ago you wouldn’t have been such a good traveller!

    I rarely travel. Even when I go to relatives in town I feel hesitant in asking for loo but now I do it easily than I used to in my teens.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve experienced a different version of this: working outdoors all day, often you just have to squat outdoors. Not a huge problem, except you have to avoid ticks and fire ants, and sometimes it’s hard to find a spot that isn’t visible a long way off. One of my co-workers, who was either bolder or had a smaller bladder than me, would just tell us to turn around.

    I did discover a little stand-to-pee device called the Travelmate, I think? It worked well after a little practice. But I was even more careful about privacy because I was in a very conservative area and worried that the foresters would think I was transgender if they saw me peeing standing up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In college, in the ’70’s, I read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, and she included a wonderful essay on this very topic! I hadn’t thought of that passage for years, and your post brings it back. I remember her critiquing toilet paper as well, and the image of sandpaper stuck with me… This is a fascinating read!


  4. Wow…you have actually seen different kinds of toilets. My biggest problem is that I can’t use public toilets, its like a phobia. A bad side effect of having grown up in Dubai where everything is super duper clean.
    So much that when I moved to the states, I hated having to use the toilets in the malls which are comparatively cleaner to other places!! But that’s getting better now especially with the bladder getting weaker! :P
    For this reason, traveling is a difficult for me even though I love it so much.
    I remember a specific incident when I was on a trip to India and was in a hill station, it was cold and obviously nature was calling and I had to relieve my bladder. But for the life of me, I couldnt get myself to enter into the public toilet. I finally relieved myself in the woods nearby while my mom stood guard! :P

    Liked by 1 person

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