During my first trip to Malaysia I came to know one of the greatest culture shocks I’ve ever come to know, which is what I call the Malaysian Toilet Incident, but it didn’t affect me. It was what I learned of by my friend Siva, who was much more affected than I was.
Visiting one of the largest manufacturing facilities on the planet, I was somewhat dumbfounded by what I found in the bathroom facilities.
To frame this story, understand that though Malaysia is a Muslim country, it is only one third Muslim; a third of the population is Hindu, and the other third is Buddhist.
While I love all forms of gastronomy and I have been known to be a glutton at times, my digestive system is much more sensitive and volatile. The simplest changes in my diet can put me in binds.
It took only 30 hours, the door to door travel time from my front steps to the hotel in Johor Bahru to be at war with my digestive system. In terms of bowel movement, not only am I regular, but frequent.
So the first trip to the john would of course not be easy, so here goes nothing. With the overwhelming fear that I would crap my pants I quickly paced to the bathroom. The first stall was a hole in the ground, not my cup of tea. The next was also a hole, as was the third. The fourth and fifth toilets were “western” in that I could sit without crouching and risking shitting in my pants. All stalls appeared as if someone had showered in them.
The fourth was the free so I chose that one.
Turns out it didn’t have toilet paper but I couldn’t help to notice the hand shower right next to it. Many thoughts entered my mind. I figured I knew why all the stalls were flooded. People took their showers here.
From hereon, I only went to the fifth toilet, the one with toilet paper.
After several days and becoming really familiar with my Malaysian counterpart, I worked out the nerve to ask him what the hand showers in the toilets were for.
He looked at me aghast.
I informed him that I meant no offense. He said, “No no, it’s not you, it’s what happened to me when I went to the US to meet you for the first time.”
True, I had met Shiva about a year earlier in North Carolina, for a factory transfer.
He says, “It is not clean for a Hindu to touch himself there when he shits, so we wash our bums with the hand shower.”
“Wow, that’s pretty intense”, I interrupt like the foolish tourist.
“So you’ve never touched your bum with toilet paper?” I continue.
“Never”, affirms Siva.
“So how does this work? You undress completely every time you shit?”
He continues now with a smile to reveal something to me only three of us amongst 7,000,000,000 humans know (me, him, and the other dude in North Carolina).
“You know when I went to North Carolina, the diet threw me off. My first day at the factory, I needed to go to the bathroom.”
“So I jump in the furthest stall from the bathroom door, undress completely naked, hang my clothes on the stall door hanger, and I do my business. I smile how good it feels to take a good shit, no matter where in the world you are. For me, hand showers were in every bathroom in the world. When I finish my business, I look for the hand shower but only notice an industrial role of toilet paper on a big plastic ‘Kimberly’ holder.”
“I figure this stall is broken and they took the hand shower out temporarily, so, not hearing anybody else in the bathroom, I stand up, grab my clothes, and run out to the next stall.”
As I walk to the other stall, the big black guy walks in and sees the little Indian guy stark naked holding his clothes. He pretends not to notice me and walks out as if he just walked into the ladies’ bathroom.
“No sooner do I realize that the there is no hand shower in the second stall either.”
“I then say the equivalent of ‘fuck’ ten times in Hindi, then I run out stark naked to wash myself at the sink.”
Then the big black guy walks in the bathroom AGAIN but this time sees me sitting in the sink trying to wash my ass, of course, handless.
“I am not sure what he says but it sounds like, ‘dude, what the fuck are you doing?’”