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No matter how short a time you spend in a country, there’s one sight you always see: the bathroom. If you stick to traveling in the western world, you’d assume water closets were the same everywhere. But since I’ve begun exploring Asia, my toilet adventures have become MUCH more harrowing.
Take Japan. Toilets there have more buttons than a spaceship control panel. One to lift the seat, another to activate the bidet, a knob for adjusting water pressure, and the all-important (and at first perplexing) ‘flushing sound’ button. Let me explain. Before arriving in Tokyo, I pestered my Japanese friend for common cultural errors made by foreigners. She gave me a crash course in the importance of bowing and thank-yous, and then advised me to “remember to use the flush noise button.”
“The what button?”
“The flushing noise button. In Japan it’s considered embarrassing or rude when other people can hear you do your business. So there’s a flushing noise you can play.”
Indeed, the flushing noise became an integral part of my doing business in Japan. Sometimes questionable sound quality gave me the feeling of being on a toilet-rocket, about to launch into space. The more polite toilets squawk out “arigato gozaimasu” as you exit, so that before I knew it I was bowing to and thanking the porcelain throne.
Read more about Becca's Asia "business" after the jump ...
Based on all the people who gave me advice about living in China, you think someone would’ve mentioned the squatty potty. Never seen one? It’s exactly what it sounds like: a john requiring one to ‘pop a squat’ to complete their business. Basically a porcelain ditch with grooved sides for you to place your feet, the squatty potty requires balance, aim, and more than a little quadriceps strength to master. No matter how prehistoric they appear, the squatty potty is actually more sanitary than western toilets because only your feet come into contact with it—unless you wind up peeing on your sneaker and tracking it around the rest of the day.
During my recent ten-day vacation to Hanoi, I was very excited to discover that the Vietnamese share my love for the Western toilet. It was only after I got over my excitement for sitting down that I noticed a strange apparatus next to each tank: a detachable squirt hose, similar to those found on sinks and used for dishwashing. The ‘bum gun,’ I soon learned, is an alternative to toilet paper and widespread in Southeast Asian commodes. I wasn’t adventurous enough to test it out, but in hindsight I can see its merits. Developing countries often lack toilet paper (I now carry packs of tissues everywhere) and a bum gun lessens the chance of having to get more creative in the wiping department—lots of socks will be spared.
So, world travelers, enlighten me: What are your tales of toilet adventure?