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Laughing at lavatories through the ages

By Edited Jun 21, 2016 1 5

Going to the toilet in different countries

Expect a few surprises in some places!

Toilet paper
We describe our visit to the toilet in many amusing ways. But however you wish to spend a penny or two will depend on what country you are in. To our amazement we found that our regular white flushable ceramic toilet bowl is not what most people use. Here is a journey to little rooms we found on our travels in places like the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Malaysia and China.


Funky toilet seat

Never again will I take my porcelain chalice for granted!

In South Africa where we live, most houses have an efficient, flushing toilet that is linked to a water borne sewerage system. You sit down, do your business and pull a chain or a handle that releases a flush of water and away it all goes. But did you know that the ancient Romans had a similar convenience? In ancient ruins in Turkey we saw long channels made out of marble where the water flowed in and out of the building. A row of wooden or marble seats was fitted above this flowing stream of water.

Going to the cloakroom or lavatory?

Roman box loo

The Latin word cloaca means drain, not a place to hang your coats or cloak when you visit the cloakroom. Still today, the toilet and bathroom we use (well, most of us) connects to a series of drains. Lavage means to wash. So a lavatory included the means whereby one could also wash. In this picture of a reconstructed Roman lavatory we visited you can see an extra channel for water that flowed in front of the row of seats. The Romans evidently used a cleansing device made of a piece of sheepskin tied to a stick. This poo-brush was the precursor to using a modern douche, a device used to wash the nether regions.

Help! Snakes!

Living out in the African bush many years ago we were exposed to wild animals and it can get creepy at night during a journey to the pit loo down the garden path. These crude toilets, still popular today, consist of a wooden seat fitted above a hole in the ground. It was peaceful, natural and adequate for what we called a long drop. But snakes used to enjoy the little hut because it was cool. They often used to slither along to join in the fun. It was scary, so many ladies preferred to use their chamber pot at night. It stayed under the bed and gave quick relief to a full bladder.

In the middle of the night once, we heard somebody in our house shrieking. “Help, snakes, there is a snake in my bedroom, it nearly bit me!" We had guests for the week-end - two kind old ladies from the city. For some fun we had put some effervescent salts, known as ENO in the clean potty beneath their bed. As soon as the midnight urine hit the ENO salts the mixture began to fizz up with a loud, hissing noise. Our guests left early the next morning.

Anybody for chamber music?

Here we see a sophisticated Roman lavatory at Ephesus in Turkey. How sociable it must have been to sit over your hole and relax. You could really take your time and enjoy chatting to your neighbours. In the middle of the room, a group of musicians and entertainers provided soothing music, lively comedy or clever talk. Is this where some of the first chamber music was played?

The chamber however was another name for a bedroom. Here a portable toilet was required, so people did not have to visit a public convenience in the middle of the night to spend a penny or two. A bowl with a broad rim and a handle attached to it was put to good use. Now known as a potty, it is used today for young children before they are big enough to use our home toilet. Here chamber music could take on a new meaning, depending on the activity of "wind" instruments.

Chamber music

Chinese rural farmers love their poo

Up in the north of China we spent a few days in a charming country village. Our government certified hotel had a modern bathroom and toilet. But the hotel overlooked the village vegetable farms. It was a peaceful and verdant scene with neat rows of cabbages and other green vegetables. In the middle of the field we noticed a small wooden hut.


Chinese field loo

The hut had no door. It had a familiar wooden boxed toilet seat. At the back of the hut we saw a wooden bucket placed below the hole of the seat. This was not a long drop. A bucket was positioned below the hole in the seat to collect the precious manure - human excreta. The farmers mixed this with water from the irrigation furrow and lovingly spooned out the precious brew over their plants. Whew! There is a good reason people should not eat raw salads in China. There was even a scandal about the "organic" green tea leaves that they had been exporting to our country from that region. Now we understand why!

The Kiwi loo

Kiwi loo

Can it! This is as crude as it gets in places like New Zealand.

People also know how to use a toilet properly in such first world countries. Here in South Africa some toilets in a brand new factory complex soon began to malfunction. The u-bend or air trap gets blocked up with stones and the toilet does not flush properly after a while. The rural population using them for the first time did not understand what the rolls of white toilet paper were for. They were so used to squatting down on the ground and using a stone or a few leaves to wipe themselves clean. So they took stones with them when they went to the toilet to offload the - you know what.

Going the natural way

Perhaps we should blame the Romans for the habit of settling down for a big number as if they were sitting on a regular chair. This is not the best way to empty the bowel. Dr Mercola even pointed this out and has copious explanations about why this unnatural posture has resulted in modern-day problems with constipation. I have also mentioned this in my discussions on constipation.

Portable pottie

Try to squat no matter what

In the Middle East modern lavatories are predominantly squat pans. Unlike the raised ceramic toilet bowl, a modern squat pan has no seat. There is just a hole above some water. Your offerings are flushed away down the "cloaca”. In the upper mountainous regions of China we found a squat slot! At the bus stop, out in the snow there was modern looking building. The interior is all clean and nicely tiled out. Inside there was a row of toilets. No doors, only a low wall to separate you from your neighbour. I smiled gallantly as if I had done this before. I then had to squat at ground level above a trench with an opening out to the landscape. No way!

The donations are then collected with a shovel through the openings along the back wall. I guess they are not keen on using artificial fertilizers. Some people believe that urine is too precious to waste and they drink it. In Taiwan we used to see this being rationed out onto patches of vegetables by elderly gentlemen who seemed to dole it out as does a saint giving alms to the poor. Waste not - want not. But never eat salad in places like that!

Form follows function. Or does function follow form?

Modern toilets have hardly varied for many decades. They are too high, ergonomically speaking to facilitate a natural bowel movement. The other day we were looking at a new range of sanitary ware at the hardware store. The toilet seat was rectangular. My husband sat down on it and declared that he did not have a square backside. This is such a good example of form not following function.






Apr 28, 2015 6:29am
Love this and your sense of humor shows through. Great read. We were fascinated many years ago on our first visit to the old Bali. And a hole in the floor was all you had. Not the most hygienic although some had buckets of water to help it on its way.

Bush toilets can be surprising too when traveling around Australia. Take a shovel and dig a hole and remember to bury the toilet paper, do not leave it blowing around the countryside.
Apr 28, 2015 9:46am
Thanks for sharing. It is funny how something so basic can remain basic - or become very sophisticated. Some high tech toilets even give you a douchie!
Apr 28, 2015 10:40am
We don't talk about it much, but experiencing different kinds of "plumbing" is one of the most fascinating aspects of international travel.
Apr 29, 2015 11:26pm
Thanks for your comment. the experience can be both fascinating and revolting, depending on the state and maintenance of the facility. There have been times at rural bus stops or little villages where is is safer to seek out the nearest bushes. Or - to clench until you find a clean place!
Apr 28, 2015 11:59pm
nice one. I really like
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