WHEN we travel, answering the call of nature can prove to be a memorable experience for the wrong reasons. Yes, something so basic can be a pleasure or most unpleasant and downright disgusting, depending on where you are.
The shape and type of commode, or lack of it, make for fascinating, if not comical, study at times.
As someone with little holding capacity and who is always the first one off the coach to dash to the restroom, I have quite a lot to share about this.
Let’s start with our Asean neighbours. Thailand, the Land Of Smiles, is my favourite travel destination simply because it has clean, odour-free toilets, even in the smallest stalls and more rural places such as stops enroute to the floating markets. The people’s genuine smiles and big service is what makes Thailand amazing and so successful and popular as a tourist destination.
One of my more horrendous encounters was during a study tour to The Philippines when I was a student. I recalled reeling in shock to see unmentionables on the floor and running out in horror despite my bladder being close to bursting point.
More recently, I was in northern India where I was shocked to see men relieving themselves against the walls in public, not to mention the pong from these soiled spots. It left me with some distinctly stained impressions.
Incredibly, even in a destination as modern as New Delhi, the toilet cubicles in one tourist spot didn’t have a flush system. Mercifully, the day was still early and not many people had used the facility yet.
However, what really got me was when I had to relieve myself while I was travelling to the hill resort in Simla. I had to go and told the driver so. He shook his head to indicate that there was no such convenience in rural India. But I had to go. So he stopped somewhere near some dwellings. I took out my trusty umbrella and sarong and told my two cousins to hold the sarong up while I held on to the umbrella. It was quite an acrobatic effort to keep my modesty.
The pong of cow dung from somewhere nearby really hit us too.
Similarly, on trips to China, I was no less piqued by the toilets there. There are various options available. The squatting-type toilet bowls with an upraised front, are most puzzling. The other option is a row of cubicles with low doors and a common drain running straight through. Not too effective, if you ask me. And I won’t mention the things that you may see “running through”. Yucks!
I remember seeing the same system in Halong Bay, Vietnam, some 15 years ago.
However, the Chinese do have a sensible solution to save space and taps and sinks. These water faucets are found outside the toilets and are for common use.
As to why the toilet doors are so low, it seems that users (locals, I assume) like to carry on their conversations while doing their business!
But it’s not all bad news. Public toilets in South Korea are clean and immaculately designed. South Korea is also where the World Toilet Association was founded, by former Suwon City mayor, the late Sim Jae-duck who was born in his grandmother’s toilet.
In a land where toilet hygiene is taken to the extreme, Sim built and lived in a toilet-shaped house for a couple of years. When he died, his family donated the house to the city which turned it into a museum, called Haewoojae or Mr
Toilet House in 2009. To further promote clean toilet culture, a Toilet Culture Park is being built around the house.
The Koreans also boast of the world’s first and only Piano Restroom in the Namyangju Hwado Water Reclamation Plant in Gyeonggi-do.
Then there are people who have no qualms eating off toilet bowls... in toilet-themed restaurants, of course, such as Modern Toilet chains in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and in Beijing, there is one that serves chow shaped like gunk!
Back home, our tandas, especially the public ones, are often wet, clogged and stinky. And to think we have to pay for such “inconveniences”. Office toilets are no better. I suspect some people don’t know how to use toilets properly, which is why they throw used pads in the bowls, squat on sitting toilets and splash water everywhere.