Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bathrooms in the Philippines

Bathrooms in the Philippines are a unique experience. Most times, an unpleasant one. Public toilets (i.e., malls, parks, entertainment venues) are probably the worst. They are severely lacking in some basics. There are some pay lounges (usually about P10 or about $.25) which are fine. The secret of a perfect bathroom here for me is it must have the following:

1. Toilet Seat. You may assume that a toilet would have a toilet seat but trust me, this is a luxury. Most have no toilet seat which means you get to do the half squat.

2. Toilet Paper. Most public bathrooms do not have toilet paper. There is a machine in the front of most bathrooms that one can buy tissue for...I have no idea. I carry it with me now.

3. Flusher. Yup. Many bathrooms still have no flusher which means that you must take a bucket of water and pour it at the correct angle and gravity will take care of the rest. I suck at this and usually end up with a toilet of diluted pee. Luckily this is becoming less common in malls but still very prevalent in private homes and small businesses.

4. Soap. Soap is really hard to find and often when you do find it, it is so diluted, it is mostly water. I guess a money saving measure. At a restaurant, you will often see the signs for the employees outlining hand washing. Better not to think too much about how the chef is washing his hands without soap.

5. Paper towels. This is the gold star of bathrooms. Hard to find. Always makes me happy.

Most bathrooms will have signs stating please throw tissue in the trash. Tissue is usually not supposed to be flushed.

The sign at the top of the post reads, "Do not step on the toilet seat". I was completely confused by this until recently. A little girl in our family went to go use the restroom while we were visiting at the hospital and completely stripped off her jeans and underpants. She then went into the bathroom and squatted on the toilet like a frog. It turns out that this is how most kids here are potty trained. I was told otherwise they would fall into the toilet which confused me because I have never seen a kid in the US do this nor have I seen a kid fall into a toilet. I think I have to chalk it up to the lack of toilet seats. Without a toilet seat, a kid can definitely fall in and they are too short to do the lovely half-squat.

The picture above is a bathroom in a restaurant. People here always use a bidet or a little bucket (tabo) as pictured above. This was the first bathroom I saw that provided soap with the tabo.

Many, many, many people do not have overhead showers. This has been explained to me as either an issue with water pressure (without a pump, the pressure with not bring the water up to the shower head or there is no pump) or in more remote areas, lack of indoor plumbing. The way to bathe without a shower is pictured above. It is a large bucket filled with water and a little bucket is used to pour water over the body. This is what I have been using for the past 18 months (we fall into the water pressure camp). It sucks washing your hair because it takes forever to get the shampoo and conditioner out. Water comes out at a tepid temperature. A scary water heater can be used which is a small cylinder attached to a cord which is then dropped in the bucket. I am not sure why it does not electrocute more people, but apparently it does not because they are sold everywhere.

So, knowing all this, I of course have gone opposite route. In our new home, we have installed toilets with a flusher...

showers with shower heads (we have awesome water pressure in our new neighborhood so no water pump or tank is needed)...

little bidet faucet things by every toilet...

and of course, hot water heaters in each bathroom (as well as the kitchen....I like washing dishes in hot water)...

The final items to remember about bathrooms here:

1. When lining up in a crowded bathroom you do not form one line, rather you select a stall and stand outside of that one. It is a gamble and often I always pick the slowest one for no reason.

2. If there are people in uniforms outside of a bathroom, you likely have to pay

3. Bathrooms here are often referred to as "CR" (Comfort Room)

4. Tampons will never be found anywhere. Not in a machine, not in the drugstore down the street, and not in the purse of another restroom patron. ALWAYS have a spare.

Since I am a woman I know little about men's restrooms. If you are a man, you can pretty much pee anywhere. Side of the road, in a pink government issued urinal on the street, really ANYWHERE. I don't think a single day has passed here that I have not seen a man urinating in public. In fact, we have had people who live in the states visit us, and the second they return here they start peeing outdoors again. I don't get it. They can control it in the states but not here?

Side note: In our current neighborhood, the water in turned off at 9pm. Every night. This means that I have to shower before nine or have extra water stored (see, the bucket/tabo combo has benefits) and that I always brush my teeth with water that we keep in a bottle in the bathroom. This is NOT common in Manila. I am not sure why the water to our neighborhood is turned off. If we do not turn off our pump at 9pm, the water that comes out smells like sewer. Again, not really sure why.