Thursday, January 10, 2013

When in Rome...wash your ass as the Romans do - with photo gallery

My friend LMB's Florentine bidet
I've often happened to hear some Italians complaining after finding out that in some country there is no such a thing as a bidet, something that made them wonder whether people there wash their asses or not after taking a shit.
Well, as a matter of fact in some places they don't. They use a lot of toilet paper, they scratch and scratch, then throw and throw, until the last piece of paper they've used doesn't show any of those typical brownish skid marks we all know so well. Unfortunately sometimes they have to scratch so much that the vanishing of the shit residue is matched by a simultaneous appearance of blood traces. The skin of the sandpapered area is in fact quite sensitive.

However, sometimes the lack of a bidet doesn't necessarily mean that in that place people don't actually wash their butt before standing up from the bowl. I'd like to emphasize the word before. In Italy in fact - or anywhere bidets are commonly used - we have to stand up, take a couple of steps, turn around and sit down again, on a ceramic surface by the way, which, lacking any sort of plastic cover, can become annoyingly cold. Bidets in facts are not necessarily the best solution to a dirty ass issue.
Apart from the problems caused by the maneuver I was referring to (I'm not really keen on changing position while my buttocks are still smeared with shit), a bidet can have other issues too: it still is an extra ceramic object that must fit in the toilet, with its pipes, faucets and drainage system. In terms of cost and space it is by no means an excellent idea. By visiting various countries and using their toilets I came across solutions that, maybe not immediately but after a little while, I've found convincing. 

In S.E. Asia - Thailand for example - people use what I like to call sprayer. A plastic or metal hose that ends with a kind of pistol, installed on the wall just next to the closet. One doesn't even need to stand up: he just has to grab the pistol, choose the direction he likes and pull the trigger. Done. If the jet is too weak or too strong it is possible to adjust the flow by using a faucet. This is what it looks like:

A Thai sprayer, deluxe version
In Malaysia I've found a similar system, without pistol though. One must aim the free end of the hose and use a faucet or press a button. Not bad, even though I prefer the pistol. Maybe it all comes down to the dreams we used to entertain as children: did you want to become a cowboy (pistol) or a firefighter (hose)? Anyhow, here is the relevant picture:

A Malaysian hose, standard version
These devices are available in various versions, the cheaper ones are made of rough plastic and the more luxurious ones have chromium-plated parts and elegant design. 

At some cheap hovels in Asia I came across toilets where shower, sink and bowl were crammed in a very small place, sometimes even aligned on a vertical axis in a one-square-meter room (for example at the infamous Chungking and Mirador mansions in Hong Kong). In such places, if you want to wash your butt, you might have to use the shower head when you are still seated on the bowl. This system, though extremely improvised, at least gives you the possibility to adjust the water temperature. 

Still in Malaysia, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), after taking a pee, when I was about to go out of the cubicle I saw this sign stuck to the door:

I turned around and I noticed the inbuilt bidet, that I had previously mistaken for a part of the drainage system. Here it is, sometimes the knob on the side of the bowl is replaced by a button:

The inbuilt bidet at KLIA
I remember I used a similar system in Argentina as well, when I was living in Buenos Aires. One night we threw a party at our place. When everybody finally left, D (my Spanish flatmate) and I noticed a dripping spot on the ceiling. One of the guests, most likely drunk, had used the bidet when he was not yet sitting over it. The jet was so strong that it reached that far off target. 

However, the place where you often find the most surprising solutions is Japan. Only the Japanese could think of installing a computerized toilet seat. This system is distributed by the most famous Japanese household appliance and air-con system firms. It's a plastic toilet seat with a control unit equipped with a keyboard. Here it is (unfortunately I cannot retrieve my old photos from Japan, this picture was taken at Terminal 21 shopping mall, in Bangkok, Thailand, a highly japanized site):

A computerized toilet seat
By using the keyboard is possible to operate:
1) an electric resistance that warms up the plastic surface.
2) two water jets, a unisex one and another for the ladies.
3) a water temperature regulating device.
4) a warm air jet to dry the wet skin.
5) an extractor fan to eliminate bad smells.

The control unit
It is not even such a new invention. I saw them for the first time in Tokyo in 2002, and I understand that even then they had already been used for a while. 

Beware then: in case you're in a foreign country, you can't find a bidet and you're about to get started on a proud, arrogant and snobbishly neocolonial rant, accusing the locals of bad hygiene habits, take a look around first. You might be surprised by systems that are even more handy than the ones you are used to.

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