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Malaysians need to take more pride in their public toilets. FILE PIC
Malaysians need to take more pride in their public toilets. FILE PIC

TANDAS. It’s the one place no one wants to mention. It’s also the one place everybody needs to visit, sometimes in a hurry.

 Toilet, restroom, washroom, bathroom, powder room, lavatory, privy, loo, ladies’, gents’, john, throne, tandas! There is no shortage of options when we want to mention the one place we don’t want to talk about.

In my mother tongue, some even refer to it as the “quiet little place”. Every mother of a toddler knows exactly why that is.

For the benefit of the lucky few, modern interior designers style this room in high-end real estate to perfection, using colour schemes, light, infrastructure, fancy fittings and more.

As laymen, we try to add to it by accessorising, adding little comforts like soap dispensers, mirrors, hand towels, and sometimes even family photos and art. And smells. From flower petals and scented candles to fully automatic air freshening devices, the possibilities are limitless.

 For reasons that might be rooted in psychological depths too abysmal to expound here, we feel like this one little place, quiet or otherwise, is our calling card to others; the one space that reveals our state of mind, our sense of style, even our status in society.

 Why is it that we take such pride in the perfect appearance of our restroom, washroom, bathroom or powder rooms at home, while, at the same time, Malaysia is known to many a globetrotting visitor as having the worst tandas awam (public toilet) in the world?

 As very grateful, and hopefully gracious, guests to our wonderful host country, we foreigners try to adapt to local customs as much as we can. I speak for many of us though, if I say that somehow, this is where we draw the line.

 The smell is one thing that can’t always be helped. But what’s with the wet floors? We get the bucket and ladle; we are familiar with the water hose, which, by the way, a fellow writer recently referred to as the “bum gun”. But there is absolutely no reason why one should need to roll up their pants over their knees when visiting the loo.

 Then there is the paper issue. Why, oh why is there no paper roll or dispenser inside the individual cubicle? I have lived here for two decades. Yet I still regularly find myself amazed at myself for, once again, having forgotten to check for paper on the outside of the flooded cubicle first.

On the rare occasion that I do remember to bring some, I stand there evaluating my options of possibly ripping the paper apart in my hand while unbuttoning my jeans, or unceremoniously jamming it under my chin. All the while clutching my purse and keeping my shopping bags at a safe distance from the floor.

Finally, let’s address the subject of the squatter toilets. It is a little hard for us to understand why some people prefer that option. Yes, I have heard arguments in their favour. They are easier to keep clean. Except, they usually aren’t.

Squatting makes it easier to avoid touching things. Except, you shouldn’t need to. They are what people have been used to. Except, what’s wrong with progress? To us squatting novices, they are physically challenging, disconcerting and slippery. They take us too far out of our comfort zone.

 Needless to say that, should we be lucky enough to find one sit-down version in a squatter area, there are shoe marks on the seat. Now that is a sure sign of some expert level of martial arts balancing skills.

 If restrooms are the mirror of our status in society, Malaysia has some way to go. Also, if I have learned anything while living here, it is to pace myself when it comes to coffee intake and to wait until I get home to my own “quiet little place”.


The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate

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