Letter from Bali – IX – The toilet edition
OK, it’s time to slip on a pair, and step inside my world:
You don’t really get to escape this topic. Even if you are only at Denpasar airport for a couple of hours on an Indonesian layover I suspect you are going to encounter this issue, and if you plan on staying a year?…. well well well, this sort of thing is something you can really start to obsess over.
Why…. did they do it?
What… can it mean?
The Bali version of a western toilet is what I’m on about, in latin the traba atroxica, or if you prefer the colloquial… ‘The Dutch Sled’. “It’s flat; It’s long; It’s surely full of pong!”, oh dear yes, oh dear it is, but it’s even worse than that. It is a recent arrival to the island and although it is the convenience of choice for the expat community and the mode de jour for the tourist service industry it remains, on this island, in the porcelain minority. But wait a minute, we are getting ahead of ourselves, first we must step back a bit and get the lay of the land – what are all our options on our Bali toilet quest? What choices did we make that led us to our current state of misery and torment: wet, humiliated, with a roll of thread bare toilet paper coiled in our tight little hands? So are you ready to open the lid on this topic? Are you wearing your rubber gloves? Then jump right in and let’s clean it all up!
Option One – Field of Dreams
This traditional remedy remains the solution of choice for many Balinese and I mean many Balinese – nature in the raw. If you venture into nature’s little boys room you too will appreciate the appeal of clean fresh air and the ‘drop and go’ convenience that it offers. Everyone knows that the rice can’t get that high without a little help, so why not do your own part to help feed the planet? Pull over the car or scooter and pick a spot in the shade, wave to the farmer and give him a big smile because he’s smiling back and why not? The rice yield just went up another kilo! Hey, what do you know? They even put an irrigation ditch here to clean those hands!
“What’s that man doing sitting by the road, daddy?”
“The guy wearing the motorbike helmet, son?”
“That’s him. He seems very cross, daddy.”
“Er.. he’s er… he’s dropping off some garbage I think, he’s er… ”
“Is that man wiping his arse with a plastic bottle, daddy?”
“Well son, I suppose that could be one interpretation… You know how we talked about recycling being a good thing for the world and all.”
“Can I try that daddy?”
“Perhaps not right now, son. Try it with your mother later.”
Option Two – Third World Revenge
Are you a developing country? Has the IMF or the World Bank manacled you with economic policies that are fit only to impoverish your millions while allowing subsidized foreign capital to strip mine your assets? Are you feeling a little low with your self esteem? Don’t worry, soon some bastard in an expensive suit will have to come down here with his expense account and his stable currency, and when he does he’s going to have to step out of the airport, and when he does he’s going to have to ask where the little boys room is, and when he does he’s going to be shown the hallway and there, there at the end of the hall is the door he’s been dreading to think about since he got that first e-mail back in HQ, and then, then he pushes on the door because he’s too afraid to touch the handle, and now, now he knows there is no escaping it! Now he has to deal with this!
I mean, what the hell do you do with this? If you are in a hurry in Bali you’ll likely run into one. Now if the temperature here was ten or fifteen degrees warmer this might just be fine, just fine, but alas it is not. If you are in India and you get this it is wonderful. Figure it out. You don’t have to touch anything! No bums on seats. Your buns and kegals get a splendid workout; it is a yoga pose all to itself! You cool your flanks with a refreshing cleaning drench from the pitcher and before you have stood up you are completely bone dry as every drop of water on your pasty white ass evaporates in the baking oven heat! You just can’t be wearing pants.
When the guy in the suit comes back to the office with his trousers all wet, the whole third world cracks a little smile.
You won’t see much of these though. You’re a tourist or (God help you), an expat. If you land in one of these you are sunk. It will not be good. It will be in the low 30’s and so humid the water is sweating, pray you have a window at least. You are going to get wet and there is no hope of getting dry. If you aren’t wearing a dress I would suggest walking out with your underpants on and your pants dry and folded around your arm – they all think you’re nuts already and everyone is too polite to make much of a scene. When you’ve dried yourself on the car upholstery you can slip your clean shorts back on, and next time look out for a rice field.
Option Three – Blame the Dutch
The ‘issue’ with the WESTERN, the ‘Dutch Sled’, the ‘Clog Plateau’, call it what you will… the issue is the problem it has with gravity. One would have thought that a country that lives below sea level knew a thing or two about how water flows… usually downhill – what are those freaking windmills for otherwise?! Spill water on a flat surface and it doesn’t flow so much as…. puddles. So they knew this, those cunning Dutch swines! They knew exactly what they were doing when they filled this place with these unconscionable instruments of torment! You won’t take too long to understand the implications of the problem they have purposefully designed for you, those devious tulip pedlars! – one flush should suffice – one flush and they have turned you into a Bali artist!
Oh dear! You mean you didn’t want to be an artist? You didn’t think you had it in you? We are all a little ashamed of our first few works. Technique comes from practise and confidence comes from technique. You’ll get better. Before you reach that point though you will likely try and find a solution to The Problem. Some look for solutions in different ways. Here are a selection to get you started:
It gets tiring though. Soon you give up on avoiding your artistic mark and move on to a new school of solution theory: Historic Revisionism! If there is no trace of your passing, then nothing ever happened! All you have to do is make everything disappear! Leave no evidence!
Did you see it in an earlier picture? It is usually to be found to the left of your throne. It seems simple, even purposefully placed, teasing you, begging you to pick it up, to make it all go away, to make everything better! And so you reach out, and you pick it up, and you take aim, and you touch the fragile plastic trigger. And now, only now do you know what water at 200 pounds per square inch can really do when held eight inches away from a porcelain slab in a room curiously tiled in polished marble to a height of eight or twelve feet. And now, only now do you truly begin to comprehend the the national consciousness, the type of mind that is not only capable of dreaming up such an invention but is willing to let it loose upon an unsuspecting world! Who are these people!? What did we ever do to them!? Yes, blame the Dutch! – They thought it up! But it was the Balinese who put it in – oh they did. Yes they did.
The good news is that the toilet bowl is now clean, but in all honesty that is not what is occupying your thoughts at that moment in time. No, that’s not what is going through your head at all. And only now do you understand why so few of the long stayers wear white, while you thought you looked good in it, and it’s at about this time too that you hear a knock at the door and someone will shout through the bamboo latch and tell you they need in, and soon, and will you be long? And when you hear this in Bali, when someone says they need in, it is a primordial cry ridden deep with sincerity, a cry from the abyss! And you feel bad for them, real bad, but you have to tell them anyway – “Yes, I’m going to be quite some while”, because you are, and you feel the shame of it all and so you should. Yet just as you think you have lost everything; your dignity, your innocence, your new white shirt, and just when you wonder why you ever came to this hole in the Pacific and how come this never happens at Disneyland and why did you never think to bring a pair of yellow rubber gloves with you (oh so very handy now) – even now at your lowest you will still find the power within you to be thankful. Thankful, yes, that at least the Dutch bastard who did this to you had the grace to put a drain in the floor beside you, and you might just shed a tear. Maybe after all, things might just be OK. “Just a minute then!”
Like much in Bali, and everything in Ubud, the toilet then is transformed into art. And when it comes to toilet art there is an element of talent and a lot of practise before greatness can be realized. If you are going to be here a while you have to stop thinking of the place as a misery… it is your studio! The hose is your brush, the stone slab a canvas. So why not take up the challenge! Release your inner muse! Just make sure the place is clean for the next guy. No one, after all, likes a muddy canvass.
Here is one I did earlier.