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Toilet paper debatical on a roll


A public bathroom with toilet paper is a blessed sight for ex-pats in Asia. Photo: Reuters

Having successfully passed basic toilet training at about age three, I figured I was set for life without any need for further post-potty tutorials.

That was until I began living in this region about a decade ago, and had to reorient my thinking in terms of toilet tissue issues and other matters of rectal rectitude, including those squishy water hose things found in local toilets.

Asians, I discovered, are not backward in coming forward about matters of the toilet. I’m constantly bemused when meeting people and asking, “How are you?” to be informed with a big smile, “Oh, I have diarrhea today.” Recently one Khmer guy told me, “Ah, my bottom is raining.”

While working in Yangon, the toilet paper caper was raised by a well comported woman executive who’d just returned from a fortnight’s work stint in downtown Melbourne, Australia. She was horrified that toilets there didn’t have the water hoses, only toilet paper.

“Paper alone is not good enough,” she told me earnestly. “It doesn’t do the job sufficiently.”

This was disturbing news to me, a male Australian who for more than half a century had navigated a course of toilet paper alone.

But, as a long-term toilet paper guy, I countered that a water hose alone is not good enough: a towel or paper is required to dry the nether regions otherwise one is doomed to an hour or two of walking around with a depressingly dampened derriere which, although tolerable in Southeast Asian climates, could lead to life threatening chills in colder climes, say Scotland in winter, where the temperature apparently plunges to a 105 degrees minus zero or something like that.

Toilet paper people face further challenges in Cambodia. Firstly it’s a fair bet that a large percentage of toilets accessible to the public are paper-less, which leads some expats to wander the city with a roll of bog paper tucked away in a backpack or carry bag. Others prepare mental maps of toilets equipped with the good stuff.

The second challenge is what to do with the toilet paper après-use? In the west the understanding is that toilet paper is designed to be flushed down the toilet, and many brands boast of being biodegradable, ostensibly to help the process and ultimately to perhaps save the planet.

But in many Cambodian urban toilets, signs on the wall request that the paper is not flushed down the toilet, but instead dropped into a provided bin.

But, as Professor Julius Sumner Miller would have said, why is this so?

Buggered if I know. I can’t seem to get a fully credible explanation, even from those who actually install toilet paper bins. Some say it’s not to stop toilet paper being flushed, but to stop people depositing other items down the toilet. Others resort to quasi-technical but somewhat vague explanations about the “pipes” which can be easily clogged.

But toilet paper itself is essentially uncloggable. In a mini-survey I noticed that one café, which supplied a toilet paper bin and signage requesting no paper in the loo, was next door to another café which had no signage warning patrons to not flush the paper, to no obvious detriment. And yet surely the two establishments shared the same sewerage system and the same “pipes?”

It is indeed a mystery into which I’m tempted to delve further, but right now, well, I had some dodgy street food last night and must dash.



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