Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hong Nam Means Water Room. Period.

An example of water in a more scenic surrounding than in a hong nam, just to balance the post today!

Pardon the basic language lesson, but in case there's a true newbie who's stumbled upon the site today I won't make the assumption that everyone knows this: the Thai word for water is nam (pronounced like the "nom" in nominate), and the word for room is hong (as in Hong Kong). If you ask "hong nam?" of anyone in the Land of Smiles they'll know what you're looking for.  The actual toilet itself may be a world away from what you expect, but that's another story. Point is, it'll get you to a toilet.

A friend of mine just home from his first trip there was having a rant the other day about a Thai friend they'd met who had used the toilet in my friend's upscale hotel room in a modified fashion of how he'd have done it back on the farm: he'd squatted on the movable seat that rests on the porcelain bowl, used the hand-held sprayer to clean himself afterwards and left water in several places where my friend hadn't expected to find it. I later apologized for not alerting my newbie friend to this possibility.

While most of my Thai friends are "Westernized" to a certain degree (not that that's always such a good thing, but mai pen rai) how they handle the varied activities involved with the hong nam is always unpredictable.  As an example you're free to look back at the post about footprints on the toilet seat.

This shower had the luxury of a partial
wall, but no raised step to keep the
water in the shower area
For example, in "basic" lodging the hong nam is often precisely that: an open shower with nothing to divide it from the rest of the room, a toilet and a sink with precious little (if any) counter space you're likely to find water most anywhere on the floor and walls.

The floor is angled on a slope so any water that lands on it theoretically drains out behind the toilet - or off into a different corner of the room.  I've never quite understood the logic behind that one, if there is any.  Why would you want shower or toileting water meant for the drain (or toilet itself) to flow across the floor you'll undoubtedly walk across?  Any and all guesses are welcome.

What we non-Thai need to be aware of is that sometimes the friend who is normally quite careful in a more traditional hotel will still get half the floor wet while showering, washing or doing something more private; something of a shock to we who normally wear socks in the hotel room and unwittingly step into the bathroom to brush what's left of our hair, or whatever; especially in the more traditional hong nam, where you need to understand that it's truly a water room, and all bets are off as to where that water might be.

The traditional hand-held bidet sprayer beside most toilets is a step up from what the majority of Thai use in their own rural homes, and that's the bowl, used to splash water and clean yourself while using the traditional squat toilet as pictured above.

Old habits die hard, and we have to accept that the inconvenience they can cause aren't worth raising a stink over, so to speak. I suppose that's my main point today: we are the visitors, they are the natives. Beyond jokingly mentioning that you don't care for a wet floor - which will often be a point taken with grace - my suggestion would be to just deal with it. If wet footprints on the toilet seat bother you, wipe it off before you sit on it.  If you're bothered by water on the bathroom floor, simply figure that it's going to be there and use extra towels as mats or whatever you have to do to be the gracious guest.

I've heard stories of farang who've "corrected" their Thai friends, but why take the chance of embarrassing someone or risk causing them to lose face?  I'd suggest turning your acceptance level to "10" and just going with the flow, so to speak.  With luck, it'll be heading off behind the toilet and not be much of an issue to begin with.


Anonymous said...

I think it is good for an open-minded Thai to learn about about hongnam etiquette from their falang friends, so that they could impress these same people in future encounters. This only applies to the young ones with positive thinkings & not worrying too much about loosing face.

I have observed some thoughtful placements of drain outlets in bathroom floors. It all boils down to the contractor/workers doing the job on where to place them so as to serve it's true purpose, & how the tiled floors are inclined to complement gravity for the drainage...some workers & contractors are simply shoddy & unscientific!

khunbaobao said...

I agree about educating, Eduard. It's not what we say as much as it is how and when we say it, so yes - making suggestions is the right way to handle things, no question. I ought to have qualified my comment so as not to include the 02:30 "What the hell is THIS!?", for example - HA!

As to the drainage choices I'd also agree and say it was probably due more to poor thinking (or a lack of education) than anything else.

Thanks for making time to comment. I appreciate it!