Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wet Footprints On The Seat

One of the very first things I read online about Thai culture was a humorous piece, similar to others I'm sure you've seen 1,000 times in email blasts: a list illustrating a culture, ethnicity or group; sort of like Jeff Altman's "You might be a redneck if..." lists. This one was quirks of Thai culture, but since I was completely ignorant of Thai ways then I was puzzled by quite a few of them, such as...

Question: How do you know your Thai guest used the toilet while they were showering?
Answer: Wet footprints on the toilet seat!

Huh?? I didn't get that one at all. I knew there were such things as squat toilets in some places, but I'd managed to go (no pun intended) the first handful of decades of my life without having to actually use - or even see - one. All that was about to change when I landed in the Land of Smiles on that first visit.

I'd needed to pee before getting off the plane at Don Muang International but the initial excitement of being in Thailand that first time distracted me enough to resist the urge until I'd reached my hotel, dropped my bags and stood a couple of minutes, awestruck, gazing at the night skyline of Bangkok from my 14th floor room. Then I acknowledged the by-then urgent need to pee and excused myself to go make use the hong nam, or "water room", leaving the friend who'd met me at the airport to poke around surroundings somewhat unfamiliar to him, too.

I was relieved in more ways than one after my bathroom stop, because I hadn't known what to expect when I first went in there. The anxiety came from my concern over the possibility of there being a squat instead of a sit-upon toilet, and I was most relieved to see a while porcelain "throne" when I flicked on the light.

Having done some research before making that first trip there I'd read about the hose spray guns invariably attached to the wall within easy reach of a seated occupant and that seemed like a logical thing, although I'd never used one myself before. It's used to clean yourself off instead of toilet tissue and is a learned skill in and of itself - trust me. That's another story for another day.

"OK," I sense you thinking by now "so what's the bit about footprints?" It's simple: if you've been squatting over a traditional toilet all of your life (such as the one below, where you squat with one foot on either side of the floor-level fixture) it's second nature for you to squat on top of a sit-upon toilet fixture, and not only can they be slippery on the narrow edge of the porcelain bowl itself, the raise-and-lower seat you'd normally sit on isn't intended to bear the weight of someone standing, turning and squatting on it... hence the stickers like the header photo today that you'll see in some toilets.

I wasn't sure as I ever wanted to try something like the set-up above, so I avoided it as long as I could. Eventually Nature's call - with an urgency that wouldn't be ignored - forced me into facing my fears, but that, too, is another story for another day.

Soon after that first night I had occasion to make use of my hotel bathroom in the middle of the night. Not wanting to wake my friend who was snoring away in his own bed, I went in without turning on the light and - again - trying to be quiet, I sat down to urinate, and...

You guessed it. Wet footprints on the toilet seat.

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