Perfecting the squat, and no I’m not talking about a leg exercise! I’m talking about the beautiful, yet awkward, position that it takes to use a traditional Asian toilet! This is one of the things I feared the most when Chais and I decided to move to SE Asia. In fact, I told many of you before I left that I would write about my fist experiences with the squat toilet, and it’s been over 3 months since I first used one, so I guess now’s the time to talk about my first real squat!
My Background with Squatting:
I was never good at squatting. I feel that I nearly grew up on a camp-site, as my immediate and extended family use to go camping nearly every weekend. How could I be so bad if I grew up knowing how to rough-it? I guess I just got use to “going” in outhouses, or having urine on my pants from a failed attempt at squatting. I’m sure there were even times when I was little, when my mom would have to hold me in a squat position to use the restroom, or sometimes I would just dig a hole in the ground so I could just sit directly on top of it! This alone is the reason why I feared the toilets here in SE Asia! My nightmares of camping trips squats gone BAD, were coming back to me!
Before we even left on this trip, I researched “How to use a Squat Toilet!” I mainly just found people that had the same fears and questions I had, and somehow that made me feel better. I read stories on how people literally took off their pants and undies, hung them on the door hook, and then proceeded to try to squat to insure that no urine drops would find their way onto their clothing.
There aren’t any helpful directions, like a seat-back pocket, that show you how to use a squat toilet. You have to sort of find your own technique, whether you’re up more on the balls of your feet, or whether you get a little more comfortable and put your heels down. And if you get advanced, you can even bring the newspaper in with you. That’s sort of the double black diamond mogul run of squatting.
Now I knew I wouldn’t be an expert squatter, because as you know, I’ve been trying my hand at squatting for some time. I just figured I wouldn’t stress about, and I would eventually, if need be, figure out the technique on my own. I was relieved to find that many places cater to Westerners, therefore most public restrooms do have western style toilets, along with squat toilets. Normally, there is only one squat toilet to choose from among an array of western toilets, in a public place (unless you’re traveling through Laos and are stopping at the gas stations, only squats there). I feel kind of bad for those that prefer a squat toilet. In fact, most Western toilets have this sign above them, warning die hard squatters not to even try squatting on a western toilet:
What’s so wrong with Squatting?
There is nothing wrong with squatting, except us westerners are lacking style points for a good squat. Squatting is actually healthier, and it’s been around longer than our classic sittin’ on the porcelain position!
Some benefits of using squat toilets via Wikipedia, are:
- It is less expensive and easier to clean and maintain.
- It does not involve any contact between the buttocks and thighs with a potentially unsanitary surface.
- Squatting might help to build the required exhaust pressure more comfortably and quickly.
- Squatting makes elimination faster, easier and more complete.
- Elimination in squatting posture protects the nerves that control the prostate, bladder and uterus from becoming stretched and damaged
- Squatting relaxes the puborectalis muscle which normally chokes the rectum in order to maintain continence.
- Squatting securely seals the ileocecal valve, between the colon and the small intestine. In the conventional sitting position, this valve is unsupported and often leaks during evacuation.
- For pregnant women, squatting avoids pressure on the uterus when using the toilet. Daily squatting helps prepare the mother-to-be for a more natural delivery.
- Squatting may reduce the occurrence or severity of hemorrhoids and possibly other colorectal disorders such as diverticulosis and appendicitis.
I’ve actually gotten pretty good at squattin’! I have to admit, it was a bit scary at first. I probably spent a good 2 minutes just staring at the porcelain hole in the ground trying to figure out what I was going to do. Was I going to just bend my knees and hover over the hole, letting my thighs hold my weight while I try to pee? How am I not going to get pee on my pants? Do I take my pants off, or do I just bunch all the fabric around my knees? What if I fall over? Can I prop myself up somehow, maybe using my hands to hold against the wall so my thighs don’t have to do all the work? If I hold myself up with my hands on the wall, how will I wipe (that’s a whole other story)?
My first time I decided to do a classic squat, which pretty much just looked like I was sitting on an invisible western toilet. My thighs were burning mid-stream, and while I was reminding my self that I needed to get my legs stronger, I accidentally starting peeing on my foot. Well at least I didn’t get pee on my pants!
Now, I’ve perfected the squat, and I have to tell you – I think this is the best position:
I also choose to pull the ankles of my pant legs up close to my knees, where the waist of my pants also sit. I then look down, to try to avoid peeing on my feet! Ladies: trust me it works, gravity seems to pull the stream in the right direction! To all: this position seems to take pressure off the thighs, and it’s rather easy to cozy into!
Tips before squatting:
- Don’t ignore your pockets mid-squat. “Don’t lose your wallet, cell phone or passport,” It’s easy for things to slide right out of the pockets during a squat, and right into the toilet!
- Don’t forget to pour a little water in, if it’s a porcelain/metal squatter, before you go, to help wash it all down afterward. Note: 90% or more, are not flush toilets, there is a bucket of water with a ladle next to the toilet to manually ‘flush’ the toilet. Poor water in and let gravity pull the waste down – use as much water as you think necessary!
- Don’t forget toilet paper or wet wipes – we will now address this issue!
From Squatting to Wiping:
Now that you have successfully, squatted and got the ‘business’ in the toilet, you pat your self on the back while looking around for the t.p…. but there isn’t any. Crap! Literally, as you may be getting to experience your ‘business’ first hand (pun intended)!
As Frank Burns, wonderfully puts it in his article, How to use a Squat Toilet:
Now is when you grasp the wonder of toilet paper. And now is when you realize you aren’t nearly as culturally immersed as you thought you were. Now is when you wish you knew how to wipe like most people on the planet.
According to the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia: pre-TP, humans used corn cobs, Sears Roebuck catalogs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, sand, hayballs, gompf sticks and the end of old anchor cables on ships. Ouch!
But the good folks at the TPE seem blissfully unaware that most of the world’s people still use neither toilet paper, nor western sit-down crappers. Nor do they use corn cobs, gompf sticks or anchor cables. Because, while most of us in North America and Europe sit, people on just about every other continent squat, using water and their left hand.
He went on to write,
World Hum travel advice guru and Vagabonding author Rolf Potts has also seen a few squatters in his day. “In places like India, and many parts of Asia,” he told me, “a bathroom won’t have toilet paper. It will have a little cup of water. Basically, after you’ve done your business, you take your left hand and wash the exit hole of fecal matter, then wash your hand. That’s why nobody shakes hands with their left hand in most of Asia and the Middle East, because that’s your ass-wiping hand.”
Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth is probably the world’s foremost expert on excretion, a real Buddha of Bowel Movements, and she’s not afraid to get into the details. “My technique when I’m teaching volunteers about to go abroad,” said the author of How to Shit Around the World from her UK office, “is that when you’re learning, you need to take everything off below your waist: socks, shoes, pants, underwear. Then squat over the toilet. Pour water over your bum, and with your left hand, just whittle away with your fingers and try to dislodge any lumpy bits while pouring water. And that’s actually not too unaesthetic, because any mess that goes onto your fingers comes off in the water.”
In other words, the dirtiness is primarily in your mind, as Potts found out one day on the road. “I think it was when I was traveling through Southeast Asia that I eventually got caught out,” he told me, “and was forced into this mental power situation where I just willed myself to use the water. It was very strange. We’re not culturally conditioned to have that kind of intimacy with our butthole. So I just sort of had to—it’s sort of like riding a bike, or having sex for the first time—I just had to figure out what I was doing. Then, of course, I washed my hands extensively afterwards. But that’s when I realized it’s not that big of a deal.”
And, it really isn’t that big of a deal. My advice though, try to ALWAYS have toilet paper (or travel wet wipes) with you, a small bar of soap to clean your hands, and some money – not all restrooms are free!
Frank Burns says,
Mastering the squatter will save you tons of heartache, stomachache, time, comfort and embarrassment. It works; it’s clean; and it will give you the fearlessness to travel anywhere.
I couldn’t agree more! Now I recommend all you westerners to retrofit your western toilets into a squat toilet…
…so you can practice and learn to live as fearless as Chais and I!
By the way, Chais agrees on the recommendation of taking off your pants, shoes, etc. before you do the deed for the first time. His first experience started with loosing his balance and ended with his belt dipping into the toilet…yes, he did receive some strange looks at the sink when he was thoroughly washing his belt and his hands together.
Please comment below: Have you ever experienced something that is just…uncomfortable, strange and new?