All throughout my life I have heard the saying, you never realize what you have until it’s gone. It is a pretty common aphorism with different variations and most people have heard it on several accounts. Yet it is not until now, being in Thailand, that I have sat back and reflected on what it actually meant. I used to only apply this to people in my life. Whenever I thought I hated my parents for chastising me and I was on the verge of wishing them dead, these words would somehow come up. Then I would always conclude that I may have detested them in the moment, but I would miss them with every vein in my heart if they were gone. I believed that I should treat those around me well because we’ll all die one day and I would regret not making every second with those I loved a second of joy and gratefulness. At this current juncture in my life I still think that this interpretation of the saying is a correct one, but I have realized that the saying applies to more than just people. It applies to everything and when I say everything, I mean everything.
It’s funny when I think about what I miss from home. You would think that leaving behind family and friends who love you would cause them to become the aches in your heart when you’re sitting up at night, or that craving your mom’s home cooking would be the only thought in your head when you sit in front of the thousandth plate of rice. But I have found that although I miss my niece’s smile and the comfort of knowing my mom is there, I have yet to lose sleep over not seeing their faces. And I have oddly become accustomed to eating rice with every meal because at home I suffer with the too lazy to cook disease, therefore I find myself in 7/11 at midnight buying their dollar pizza.
The things that I miss the most are tangible, not abstract, not emotional, and they have nothing to do with heartache and love. I miss toilet paper and soap. I miss being certain that when I go into a bathroom there will be a western style toilet, with a toilet paper roll beside it, and when I come out of the stall there will be soap in the dispenser. In Thailand this is not the case. The bathrooms here are very different from home and although I have forced myself to get used to them I often find myself beaming with bliss when I find a bathroom that contains these things.
I knew that coming to Thailand meant experiencing a different way of life, but for some reason the difference in bathrooms never came to mind. In Thailand they have what is called a squat toilet. I felt very awkward and confused the first time I approached one of these. They are very low to the ground and instead of having a seat a squat toilet has two sides that are slightly ridged so when you place your feet on them you won’t slip. The correct way to use it is to stand on it and squat. It doesn’t sound that complicated, but depending on my outfit the level of difficulty can be high. The first time I used a squat toilet I placed my hands on the wall to balance myself because I was afraid that if I stood on it I would somehow pee on my pants and have to walk around the rest of the day smelling like a toddler in the potty training stage. I did more of lean back and hold on, than a squat. But the more squat toilets I came across the more I realized that the set up was always altered. Some squat toilets were in the middle of the floor with no walls in reach, while others were so dirty that I was afraid to touch the wall. They have nicer squat toilets here that are usually located at places like the train stations and then they have ones that I refer to as more village-like. These are in areas where there may not be many people. One time I used a toilet that literally looked like a hole in a dirt room and another time I went into a bathroom and there was an enormous spider on the wall, which caused me to believe that standing on the squat toilet was the best option.
My goal in Thailand is to master the art of using the squat toilet. Some days I think I’m getting closer to becoming Thai because I do it with ease, but on other days when I go to pee and end up spraying my ankles I realize that I’m not quite there yet. Nevertheless I have accepted the fact that bathrooms are different here. Since Thais use a toilet hose (sometimes called a bum gun) instead of wiping with toilet paper, I have combated this issue by just packing tons of soft tissues in my bag. It took me a while to learn to do this. There were a few occasions when I ended up in the bathroom with nothing. On one occasion I just tried the hose, but that left me with water all over my pants and butt so I left the bathroom appearing to not have used the toilet at all. But the day that made me realize enough was enough was when my friends and I were out in the city and I had to use a nearby bathroom behind by a club. There was no toilet paper, soap, or hose. I had forgotten to pack my tissues so I found myself searching through my bag and out of desperation I wiped myself with an old crumbled up receipt. Afterwards I had three thoughts. The first thought was “wow, that was rough I hope I don’t have a paper cut.” The second thought was “never again” and then after shaking it off my last thought was “when in Thailand.”