Coming Down to Earth

I’m warning you now. This post is not pretty…

Before I went travelling, I took great delight in watching shows like Worlds Apart, where people from developed nations got to spend a week in a village somewhere on the opposite side of the earth and live how the “natives” do.

From the safety of my living room I would hee-haw at the spoilt white people. “Wimps!” I’d say, and wonder how they could be so horribly naive.

All my words were swallowed when, on a little Indonesian boat, I was introduced to the concept of…the squatting toilet.


“I’m not using that,” I whisper to Ms, and make a pledge to hold It til we make the two and a half hour journey to the national park. Surely they’ll have a sitting toilet there – it’s for tourists, after all…

When we got to the national park, I took off eagerly – bum bag firmly in place containing everything sanitary one could possibly imagine.

But I found, to my horror, a squatting toilet in a much less hygienic state than the one on the boat.

Until that day, I’d never before understood the point of doing squats.

Two days of squatting toilet later, I was lying in recovery on my ‘American spring bed‘ when suddenly I wailed…

“But whyyyyyy? I just don’t understand why, after this many years of evolution and advances in technology, anyone still uses a squatting toilet???”

Meanwhile, Ms (who grew up with squatting toilets) was doubled up in fits of hilarity at my expense.

When she finally recovered her composure, a lengthy discussion ensued.

I agreed I could understand how maybe the squatting toilet made sense in the days of sarongs and no underwear. “But everyone wears high heels and pants these days – it doesn’t make sense anymore!”

Squat Evolution

Then, after a long silence, “I suppose sitting where a hundred other bums have been is not hygienic either,” I muse, still unable to forget the pain in my thighs.

When I returned home, I did some research. And without going into graphic detail, scientific studies show that, in fact, squatting is a much healthier and more ergonomic way of doing business.

I don’t know. I’m not convinced. What about the splash back?

I remember the bemused look on our tour guide’s face, every time I trotted off to use the loo, and came back rubbing my hands with sanitising gel.

The moment I realised, with a stubborn kind of shame, that I am that white woman, after all…

What is it about western culture, and our need to be distanced from the dirt? It must look to others, perched as we are upon our thrones, like we think “our shit don’t stink”.

So I conclude – this is how they get us tourists back for going and messing up their formerly pristine shores.

It’s the locals way of bringing us back down to earth.

Has travel taught you any surprising home truths?


Since returning from travel, I’ve learned another home truth – I am not managing my work and online obligations very well.

Until I can get my priorities sorted out, I will be off social media, and reducing my posting frequency to fortnightly. Apologies to anyone feeling neglected – I hope to visit you soon.

Thanks to Averil Dean for reminding me that sometimes, us writers have to say ‘no’ to Candy.


  1. says

    Try squatting on a train from Hanoi to Danang rocking back and forth at 3:00 AM in the dark. I am still laughing over that experience. I am having a difficult time keeping up with posts, too. Don’t feel bad.

    • says

      Oh dear, yes, the train rocking would be similar to the boat rocking. But the dark would make things tricky! 🙂 Thanks for your understanding… I’ll get back in the swing of things just now.

  2. says

    My daughter does a weird thing I never, ever taught her: She perches on the toilet seat like a little gargoyle. See right side of diagram above. I vaguely remember some horrifyingly real video on youtube that illustrated the fact that this stance is, in fact, immensely more healthy than others. I say shit, it don’t matter what you do, s’long as it comes out okay.

    • says

      Hehe – thanks for that gargoyle image. How cute! She’s obviously in touch with her earthy side, unlike me 🙂 Can only agree with your logic (but I’m glad you didn’t share the YouTube video).

  3. says

    Ha ha!! Loved the post!! 😀
    India has only squatting toilets in common places, as far as I have seen… But I think that this is more sanitary than the sitting ones in the public restrooms… Cause as you said, sitting with a hundred other bums is not a very appealing idea!! 😉

    • says

      Hehe – glad you enjoyed the joke at my own expense. It’s funny what you take for granted until it’s gone – and I never once thought about the hygiene issue of sharing the toilet seat… It’ll never be the same again 😀

  4. says

    Oh boy, I’ll be in hot water now with your readers. (Sorry for the Candy post, peeps!)

    I have no experience with squatting toilets. I’m trying to imagine how you’d get a pair of jeans down and out of the way. There must be a technique to it.

    • says

      Oh no!! You’re not to blame… It’s my own distracted brain that brought me to this point. Your post just gave me an excuse 😉

      Let’s just say, I’ve yet to learn the technique – it was too hot to wear jeans in Bali! But I’ve read you should remove one leg completely…

  5. Deliberately Delicious says

    Travelling overland through Africa, we created our own toilets, heading off with nothing more than a shovel and a roll of TP… since then, nothing scares me 🙂

  6. says

    I can see the sense of them too, especially in places where dirt is endemic, but as someone who wears pants a lot, they can be tricky! Much easier with long skirts and no underwear, one thinks! Best of luck with the life balancing – I’m struggling with the same things. Have recently re-installed leechblock to keep me in check!

    • says

      Leechblock? I’ll have to find out about that 🙂

      I suspect some of the life balancing issues are similar to balancing and squatting… Takes practice, right? Best of luck with it to you, too!

  7. says

    Judging by the number of comments, this is an inspiring post!! I think we can all relate to both, the discomforts that can accompany travel adventures, and the realization that we “are that white woman”. But I think the adventurers among us deserve some credit for being willing to move outside of our comfort zone on occasion. Good for you for fessing up!! Kim

    • says

      Anyone who moves outside their comfort zone and lives to tell the tale should definitely get credit 🙂 The lesson I’ve learned? Exercise those muscles Before travelling 😉

  8. lynnkelleyauthor says

    Funny, funny post, Alarna. Thanks for the giggles. Those squatting toilets can be quite a bummer. (Sorry, couldn’t help it!) The backsplash, yuck! I agree with you on that. My daughter said they have both types of toilets in Japan, public toilets. You can pick which type, but if the upright one is taken, you’re left with the squatting one. She said it had rails to hold on to, but she had a hard time balancing when standing up. Very interesting post.

    • says

      Hehe – someone had to say it!! Thank You for the giggles 🙂 The tricky thing is when the sitting toilet is used as a squatting toilet – because let’s just say, the point of having a seat is then completely lost. But I’m prepared for anything, now!

  9. says

    I love to travel, but sometimes traveling makes me realize how much I love home too. 🙂
    And I’ve heard about the squatting toilets, but never have I seen one in person! Yet, anyway.

    • says

      Well, you’re forewarned now! I can tell you, with some degree of surprise, that I was definitely ready to come home by the end of my trip. Home sweet hovel, I say…

  10. says

    haha, like this very thoughtful post, Alarna. btw, from my 2nd to 12th year, i/we used an outhouse like you described. we lived in the barrio (village) then… of course, in the last few decades, we’ve used the modern ones. but in my Tagalog site, yours truly even did a post about our outhouse, haha.

    ah. were you also preoccupied with candy crush? asking people around to send you life, eh? that must be awkward, letting people know that there ain’t much there, other than the words, “sweet” and “divine,” hehe. that’s a joke, dear. am surrounded by people addicted with the game, hehe.

    warm regards… 🙂

    • says

      I’d love to read that post about your outhouse… but alas, I’m mono-lingually challenged! 😉 So the obvious question is, which do you like better?

      As for Candy… I had to google Candy Crush to find out what you were talking about!! 🙂 Hehe – no, I must confess, I have no interest in games. I’m just a terrible multi-tasker, and finding myself running behind in some deadlines. So…candy of the social media variety has to go, for now.

      Warmest regards back to you!

      • says

        ah, it ain’t much of a post. i just acquainted my young Filipino readers about life in the olden times. and that includes the latrine, haha. i like the modern one, you silly 😉

        and you had to google it, dang. i thought that’s what got you because of the iphone5, hehe. not much of a multi-tasker myself, hehe. i mean, i can, mess several tasks at a time, haha. it’s the start of the rainy season here, dear. 🙂 waving…

  11. says

    Home truths, travel, the day job with it’s jaunts out to the middle of nowhere places for extended periods has taken care of most of those. So yet to find some outstanding, but they’ll be out there somewhere, sometime, eventually… Love how your mind and thoughts work on how fashion dictates engineered changes to invention (amenities infrastructure) 🙂

    • says

      Hehe… I guess my mind likes to wander into the why of things. Who knows if it’s even true! 🙂 I’m looking forward to seeing some of those ‘middle of nowhere’ places, oneday…

  12. says

    There are many great walks that can take you to such places through out the country, there is even a national trail from Melbourne to Cooktown. Just all depends on how you like your extended moments (the good alternative to time).

  13. says

    I love the honesty and self-awareness in this piece. I’m seldom attentive to any television program unless it’s one of those survivalist shows where a very prepared and knowledgeable survivalist puts a few days of his typical wilderness endeavors on display for the world… And implicitly, I seem to have a similar know-it-all mentality.. Even to these not so Anglo-Saxon/narcissistic programs…
    Isn’t it refreshing to have your perceptions of cleanliness and wealth challenged?
    Funny. MRSA, for example, is a predominantly “first world” disease… Our hand sanitizers, according to my sophomore university biology professor, are directly responsible for the evolution of these type of “super bugs;” our antibacterial soaps and moreover, our OCD use of them, have given these staph bacteria the prime environment in which to adapt and become resistant… Did you know that MRSA will remain active even after the surface it’s on has been disinfected?
    Bleach is the only effective chemical against it.
    Bleach baths? I’ll squat any day instead, I think. 😉 Great post!

    • says

      Bleach baths. Eeck! Sobering indeed. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m sure I know that my OCD anti-bacterial washing is responsible for breeding these super diseases. Think I need to go live in a village for a while and break the habit!

      So glad you showed that MRSA who’s boss. Hope you’re feeling much stronger now…

  14. says

    They definitely need to install a bar in front of the squatting toilets for tourists whose thighs are too weak, our ‘westernised thighs’ just can’t cope. I heard in Japan you take off their pants and underwear, fold it neatly (theres racks to put them on) and then walk to the toilet, suppose that gets past the problem of the clothes, but just imagine doing that in winter?!

  15. says

    This post reminded me the day I went to visit my cousin who lives in France, about two hours from Le Man. He has composting toilets and the idea of going to do my “business” in these toilets was repulsive to me. But, I spent a week on his land and it was an absolute bliss! I got used to the toilets and realised it was actually not that bad.

    • says

      Hehe! It really is about what you’re used to, isn’t it? I grew up with composting toilets…on and off, so I don’t really have an excuse. And it is more environmentally sound. I’d be happy to make that compromise to live on the land in France!

  16. says

    Wow, this post certainly got a lot of traction;) Unsurprisingly, given that this is an existential issue. I have to confess, I have my own public-toilet-trauma to cope with: when I was about six-years old, we stopped at a public toilet at a parking space along one of Germany’s big autobahns. The toilet was clean but what I didn’t know was that the flush went off automatically whenever a person locked the door from the inside. It scared me to death when I locked the door and – absolutely unexpectedly – this incredibly loud and powerful flush went off. I even recall that it sprayed all over the place but that might be due to my distorted memory. I was running out of the toilet like stung by a tarantula into my mom’s arms who was waiting by the car. Needless to say, I refused to return and insisted on peeing behind what I considered a toilet booth from hell. I have always been suspicious of public toilets since. In any event, having seen so many absolutely horrifying toilets while traveling (some of which should not be accessed without an oxygen mask for fresh-air-supply), I have to admit that squatting toilets are usually the lesser evil. And, yes, way more hygienic! On this happy note: Merry Christmas.


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