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.


Jonnifer said...

Ha ha, this is a great post! It really shows what you take for granted, eh? I think the funniest part is the lining up at each individual stall, like in a supermarket. The "bidets" you guys installed look hardcore. We have a bidet that's like a low sink. We don't use it but it looks pretty impractical.

Christine said...

The hose by the side of the toilet is the same ones that they have all throughout Tunisia. I kinda like the idea of washing. How well can a thin piece of tissue clean your butt? Water sounds like the way to go, especially for the environment.
In terms of toilet seats, EXCEPT for being a little kid, that doesn't sound too bad either. How often do you sit on a public toilet seat anyway?
I think the funniest thing about all this is that you are socialized from a young age to do things in a certain way so it's tough to be an adult and have to relearn these basics and adjust without looking like a total weirdo because you can't figure out how to pee or shit!

Me said...

vour guide to starting life abroad:

AKILEZ said...

Filipinos don't like using toilet paper because it really doesn't clean your. You Know?

Filipinos don't usually used public toilet especially men but women are more likely to use them.

The french use that hose to clean their thing but the french never colonized the Philippines. I wonder how pinoy got that idea?

Soy said...

Have you asked Filipinos what they do if there's no toilet facilities? :)

My Philippines Adventure said...

Hi there. My name is Amanda and I'm an American expat living in Baguio. I've been here about 6 months. I ran across your blog, and I love it, especially this post on bathrooms here. I am glad there is someone else who shares my pain. :)

kikas_head said...

Chris-I sit on toilet seats all the time. Jonnifer told me that there is nothing you can catch from a toilet seat and as she is the family scientist, I believed her (although I think she was in high school at the time).

Akilez--people are usually grossed out in the Philippines when I tell them that we only use toilet paper in the states. I should probably stop telling people that because it adds to the misconception I hear a lot that Americans (amongst a lot of foreigners) are dirty. The hose idea is likely just Philippine ingenuity.

tikay said...

i really enjoy your blogs, makes me see perspectives my Filipino eyes can’t see ;-)
and am not teaching Filipino psychology for nothing! ahem.. so here's my goes,

the "no-stepping" on the toilet seats really roots back to several toilets (or non-toilets!!!) in some rural areas (well even for several urban squatter areas by the riverbanks--sorry hope your imagination isn’t as explorative as mine though)...several of these toilets are flat on the floor, that is, NO SEATS!--even the "no seats" toilets have types too, but i don’t intend to make a plumber out of you though.
brethren coming from these communities who visit establishments with "with-seat" toilets then tend to do as they would normally do.. i guess we just do best in whatever we are used to, eh? ;-) I guess it’s a matter of adjusting to what IS there---reactions and all, my take is you’re doing good in this department ;-)

if you’d come by our city here down south (cagayan de oro) some malls offer among the cleaner and more spacious toilets! Limketkai mall uses sensors for flushing, so you don’t have to touch anything you’re less than interested to touch ;-)…then again, the body follows where the spirit intends to go…gross practice it may be to the un-used eyes (and guts?) but eventually I hope the spirit can accept some practices that are beyond OUR control ehehe---except perhaps for the severely obvious unhygienic practices though ;-)

did this help? I hope so

ps—oprah uses bidet! ;-)

Brian said...

Hey, that's a great post! On my site, I never bothered to write all that. I've been stupefied/speechless at what I've seen. Amazed. You did a good job at putting this together!

Anonymous said...

Just came back from Manila and the toilet issue is my pet peeve! Does anyone know why tissues (toilet paper) cannot be flushed in the toilet, I noticed that the public bathrooms has a waste basket filled with unused toilet paper! Is it because the city perhaps reuse and it is easier to purify their drinking water faster with no toilet tissue in the sewers? Also the restaurants hand out tiny napkins and they have a napkin holder filled with toilet tissues instead of napkins! I feel that there might be a shortage of paper goods in the philippines! I carried baby wipes, lysol spray and 2 toilet paper rolls in my purse at all times. And alchol hand sanitizer was my best friend! Overall it was a great experience and will be prepared the next time around!

jlafferty said...

This is hilarious. My husband and I returned from the Philippines and our most difficult adjustment was the bathrooms. Even in some of the most posh homes in the Philippines, some showers didn't have hot water, or I couldn't figure out that damned water heater. What happened to water heaters? A cousin of mine also gets there water turned on for only 3 hours. They live in Paranaque. So, they have huge water storage drums to collect water during the brief time that it is turned on per day.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT HUMOR about a serious subject! "No standing on seat" refers to the fact Filipino women are so small that they can stand on the seats (a strattled positioned with a foot on each side)and squat to prevent sitting on it. My wife admits regardless of the sign everyone does it anyway to prevent getting any germs.
And yes, TP is difficult to get as all paper is conserved. a Lack of the proper (paper-making) trees on the islands for one thing.

Noel Y. said...

Hi! Im a Filipino and I live around Davao City. After reading your blog, I really do agree with everything you said. It is really true when it comes to public comfort rooms here in the Philippines. Growing up, our toilet at home has a seat cover, kinda the usual toilets you use in America. But the reason why there is a sign that says "Don't sit on the toilet" is because Filipinas mostly are uncomfortable using public toilets, that's why instead of sitting, they step on the toilet. It's kinda dangerous because you might fall, but also, the toilet would get dirty because of dirt coming from the shoes. Then it wont be suitable to be used by other people who urinate by sitting down. I personally sometimes gets gross out in using public toilets, that I even flush the toilet by using my foot. But all in all, I agree with everything you have said. Nice blog!

Some Guy said...

I imagine the no-flushing-toilet-paper-in-toilets rule comes from people using too much toilet paper and clogging the toilets.

Anonymous said...

Everything said is right to the detail. Funny. Thats what the Philippines is about. The folks there live thru all and remain good natured.

Trina said...

Funny, I am a Filipino and I share the same pain. I work in a Software Development Company, with a head office in London. The toilet that we have here in Manila does not have hand soap and tissue is always an issue...tissue dispenser is always empty. The company admin would not want to spend for tissue papers and handsoap...she calls these as expense! I'M VERY DISAPPOINTED! Health and safety here is not a priority..sad but true!!!

FamilyWoman said...

Hi there,

My heart goes out to you, I, like many others here share your pain. I am Fil while hubby is foreign. We've recently built our own house wherein the bathrooms are equipped with easy to use(turn of the dial automatic) water heaters and bidets, he's always used water and not toilet paper. Prior to having our own house, he made do with a tabo or a dipper for allpurposes intended and I never heard the end of it:)poor guy was so vexed at having to use plastic tabos and buckets back when we used to rent a "proper" apartment that he installed bidets and a very powerful water pump even when the house wasn't our own.

Anyway, he's a guy who has no use for paper products except to blow his nose and such,while I can't live without a box of tissues in the comfort room( and numerous other spots in the house) at the very least, for various lady applications .We stock disinfectants and cleaners too.

Thing is, Filipinos are very clean,with the rich and the poor alike taking baths everyday. If you shampoo your hair, it is called a "bath", when you wash just the body,that is generally understood as having taken a "shower" without the involvement of an overhead shower in many cases.

Nice thing about building your own is that now, we have the works: hot shower anytime, separate toilet and bathing area and a real dressing area, several sinks in strategic locations in the house too! However in my old man's place, it is still the same as it was when I was a kid, the old bucket and tabo combo.

We plan to retire here someday. If that is also your goal, then investing in a budget friendly yet sufficient bathroom is a good idea.BTW no matter how up to standard our residential bathrooms have become, we still have at least a bucket and tabo:) for when local water levels or pressure drop down. The tabo and timba(bucket) are not decor genius but entirely justified. And with the inherent goodness of MAJORITY of Filipinos, 'un updated' toilets is something you can overlook. That's my take on that anyway.

Vacationeer said...

About tampons, anything you have to insert is considered not conservative. Pad it up is the way to go.

Most good malls have acceptable to really nice comfort rooms, they run out of TP coz there are so many users and again, you are kind of 'expected' to bring your own, wc is good common sense since you have to buy tissue and queue and all that.

That is how it is in the country, for things not provided by neither the government or private operators, you rely on yourself, you find ways, you bring. Talk about patience, initiative and independence.

Life in the Philippines where facilities or amenities are concerned is an ironic and eclectic and curious mix of Kanya-kanya(to each his own), Malasakit(concern/empathy), Bahala na(WTV)and Pasensya na po(our apologies).

Anonymous said...

I can agree that using soap and water cleans better, but I have rarely seen soap in a public bathroom in the Philippines. Which means people are just using water. That would mean restaurant workers prepare food without washing their hands with soap after cleaning themselves. This is probably why I often get sick when I eat out in the Philippines. In my home some Filipinos will use a cup rather than toilet paper. They tend to get water all over the seat and floor. Toilet paper and soap are expensive in the Philippines and I'm told that people will steal both.



Anonymous said...

Although the op has stated many facts about what it is like in the Philippines, it is important to point out that you are a guest in a foreign country. this is a comparison of two very different cultures. i lived in Cavite for many years before moving back home. and with the many friends i made, the one biggest question they asked me was "why do Americans always think their way should be how it is here?" the only thing i can answer is that most Americans do not know any different, just like any other peoples. and although like any other country they don't like visitors telling them how to do things in their own home. but there is an arrogance among Americans that in other countries, they expect everything to be the way they have it at home." i would not expect them to bend to what i consider is normal, especially when it is a third world country. it is these expectations that visitors have in foreign lands that make us (like Americans, and yes i was born and raised in the USA) look like arrogant jerks wondering why it's not like back at home. well, guess what. you're not home. this isn't your country. and they do not have to change just because you didn't grow up that way or you have this or that where you live. it is the greatest mistake visitors, tourists and expats make in foreign lands. just like you don't piss off the server in the restaurant, don't piss off the locals. just like here in the USA (or wherever you were born and raised), you do not like foreigners telling you how things should be, and that your way is wrong. so don't do that same behavior in other countries. if you don't like it there, leave. they're better off without you. not all countries have the ameneties and luxuries we have in more developed nations. we as Americans take a lot for granted. we feel entitled. well, when you're traveling abroad, you're not at home. you are that complaining foreigner that nobody likes. so, i would suggest just accepting how they do things and adjust your actions. every country is different, and every country will have something you disagree with. but there are more great things in every country than just what you think or may have heard of. just open your eyes, and more importantly your mind to everything that is new, and not different.

Anonymous said...

so far, only Filipino pornos that i have watched porno movies who didn't licked/insert their tounge (probably ate some pooops of porno girls) on the ass of the girls... I hope everyone knows who are those who did :-)