Expat Life: Asian Toilet Musings on the Eve of the Sochi Olympics
|Part of living internationally is adjusting to different toilet habits. Signs that suggest you do not pee on the floor are therefore, a practical thing.|
As the excitement of Lunar New Year fades into the bleak chill of February, MsCaroline finds herself with a bit of time on her hands to devote to her long-neglected blog and a topic of burning importance which has been on her mind for at least a week: the toilet paper disposal arrangements at the Sochi Olympics.
MsCaroline assumes that all of you are aware that the situation in Sochi is, according to the international journalism community, not quite up to snuff. Most problematic seem to be the hotel arrangements, which are not quite what people were expecting: doorknobs are falling off in people's hands (if there even are doorknobs,) power isn't working, and the water coming out of the pipes is either nonexistent or toxic. Athletes' dormitories are a bit more spartan than usual, and some venues reportedly include side-by-side toilets. Some reports suggest that surveillance cameras have been installed in hotel bathrooms, and there has also been international outcry about the systematic extermination of thousands of stray dogs which is apparently taking place in Sochi in advance of the Games.
MsCaroline, has no idea how much of this is true and how much of this has just been blown out of proportion by the media frenzy surrounding the Sochi Olympics. She imagines that, like everything else, the reality lies somewhere in between. But there has been one photo making the rounds on Twitter and in the media which she feels obligated to address:
|This photo has been causing outrage all over the internet|
This one popped up a week or so ago, and has been widely disseminated throughout the Twitterverse and picked up by print and video media outlets to use as fuel for their assertions that Sochi is Not Ready For The Olympics.
MsCaroline cannot speak to the toxic water, unreliable doorknobs, or the questionable privacy arrangements. But she can speak to this, the toilet paper situation, and she feels that it is only right and just to do so.
At the risk of shocking everyone, MsCaroline has to point out that this bin arrangement is not actually such an unusual thing. In fact, this is the standard in every public toilet she has been in in Seoul, which is a highly-developed western-type city. It is also the standard in many private homes here - although most westerners she knows(including her own family) just flush.
The reasons MsCaroline has been given for this practice have varied widely, and include:
- older sewer systems were not designed to handle paper (and, presumably, still aren't.) More modern buildings with modern plumbing can cope just fine with toilet paper
- The paper (eg, newspaper or other 'waste' paper) was not designed to disintegrate, as modern paper is, and therefore, was never flushed.
- People who grew up in the habit of never flushing toilet paper are used to it and have no problem continuing the status quo, regardless of their present plumbing situations
- during agrarian times, most human waste was collected for manure, which meant that septic tanks were very small - you didn't need a big one - and didn't hold much. Paper took up valuable space.
MsCaroline has no idea which, if any of these are true - her family, like most expats, flushes, and has had no problems. However, after almost 3 years back in Asia, she has seen any number of toilet arrangements throughout the region: squat toilets, toilets that include buckets of water next to them for manual flushing, toilets with no paper anywhere around them, toilets with overflowing paper bins (her least favorite) toilets with no doors, unisex toilets where one casually strolls past the gent standing at the urinal on one's way into the stall, toilets with hoses lying on the ground (presumably for both flushing and cleaning oneself.) On the other side of the coin, some of the public toilets she has run across in Asia are more luxurious than anything she will ever have in her home, and include things like automated air fresheners, 'privacy bells' (masking sounds for the timid,) bidets, heated seats (not unlike the "Ass-blaster 9000" in the Asia Vu's first apartment), and lovely family arrangements that include mummy-sized toilet placed within arm's reach of a toddler-sized version. The list could go on and on. These days, when MsCaroline travels in Asia, she brings her own paper with her, and is prepared for just about anything, from "luxury" to "outhouse."
|Luxury: our automatic toilet seat, christened 'Ass-blaster 9000' by MrL.|
|Outhouse at rest area en route to holiday over Chuseok in 2012|
But, honestly - paper in the bin? Not a big deal.
While MsCaroline is sure that there may be plenty of glitches in the system in Sochi, she can assure her readers that paper in the bin - however offensive to Western sensibilities - is not going to cause any permanent damage to the Olympians.
Let the Games begin!