Facing the Real and Unavoidable Fear of the Squat Toilet

“I would rather pop-a-squat in those bushes, than hover over that hole in the ground.”

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I encountered my first, authentic, hole in the ground squatty potty during a trip to Southeast Asia. I heard the rumors and refused to believe them. How could peeing or pooping over a hole be worse than popping a squat behind a tree?

Well, let me tell you something: it’s different.

I’ve seen many a Sarah look at a squatty, frantically turn around and search the rest of the bathroom for a Western toilet. Only to will herself to hold it and walk out of the stall. It’s that different.

I remember looking at my first hole in the ground squat toilet. My whole body did a real and deliberate cringe at the sight and smell of it. It’s just so…scary. It’s low to the ground, dirty, wet and honestly, the whole vicinity of the stall looks like it’s been through the depths of Hell and back. The worst part is, it’s unavoidable. When you gotta go and the only option is a bamboo shed covering a hole in the ground, you gotta go.

I’m telling you, I’ve gone to the toilet in some pretty gnarly places—especially after surviving a 15 hour travel day with food poisoning—but nothing will compare to the squatty. And let’s get one thing straight: the Asian version of a squatty potty is not as glamorous as the Youtube commercial of a Unicorn pooping ice cream.

Here’s what you’ll really encounter and how to get through it.

Facing the Real and Unavoidable Fear of the Squat Toilet 3

No toilet paper

You’ll learn early on that most of Southeast Asia doesn’t use or believe in toilet paper. They’re all about that bidet or spray hose. And while that is another challenge not many Westerners understand or dare to try, it’s the only option you have with a squat toilet.

Most public transit areas in SEA have learned that they can capitalize on this Western fear of squat toilets and no toilet paper by charging a few measly cents for using each. Be warned, the toilet paper is usually just tissue paper. Best to stock up on some of that real shit from 7-Eleven. Baby wipes wouldn’t hurt, too.

As a frequent traveler, I’ve learned to BYOTP with you at all times in your day pack no matter where you are in the world.

Physical preparation

You’ve just entered squat city. But before you squat, prepare yourself.

Are you wearing flowy elephant pants?

Roll them up.

I mean all the way up. You don’t want your clothes anywhere near the ground—which I guarantee will be drenched in liquid. I say liquid because I don’t really know if it’s water, pee or actual sewage seeping from the Earth.

Next, take your phone out of your pocket and put it somewhere high above the ground. Better yet, don’t take it in the stall with you. There’s no pooping and surfing the web while using a squat toilet. You need full concentration.

Don’t slip

So you hiked up your clothes and ditched the phone. Good.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky.

Place each foot on either side of the squat toilet. You’ll notice that it’s rigid, sort of like an anti-slip thing, but it’s not anti-slip. Trust me.

Once you have your feet firmly planted, you need to roll down your pants while still having them hiked up. The bottom of your pants and the waistline should meet in the middle at the crease of your knees.

Now squat.

Squat so deep that you make the ladies of Fifth Harmony proud.

Your feet should be flat, your back should be straight, and you need to position your now ball of a body over the hole in the ground very precisely and aim.

Close your eyes, say a prayer and let it all go.

How do you flush?

You don’t.

There’s this daunting bucket of water in the corner of the stall. It has another, smaller bucket floating around inside of it. That’s how you flush.

Apparently, one is supposed to reach their hand into this God forsaken bucket of water, strategically scoop up a bucket-full, and dump that small bucket of water into the hole. Yup, right on into the hole where all your shit is.

And no, it doesn’t really wash it all away into squatty potty neverland. It will just sit there, and maybe over time it will make its way down the pipes…or wherever feces from a squat toilet go.

If you’re lucky, there will be a spray hose and you can just fire and aim that thing at the hole in the ground and clean it out. But honestly, the whole flushing situation is just a lose, lose.

After this gut-wrenching, unavoidable experience of hovering over a squat toilet, you want to try to walk out of the stall like nothing happened. Like you just shit flowers into a beautiful, porcelain Western toilet. Because after all is said and done, we all fear the squat toilet and conquering your fears never looked so messy.

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