The Secret to Using a Squat Toilet

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asian squat toilet

My (Mis)Adventures with the Squat toilet

So the fun just doesn’t stop… While I’m still sorting out my reaction to my new move, luck-draw number two just hit, when on my  first day of school,  I learned that every peeing portal in my school was a  porcelain… hole in the ground. Yes my new workplace – Anil Elementary School in Dong-bu, Daegu- had seemingly no western toilets ! (see My First Day at a Korean Elementary School video) Expectations, hopes?… one ought never have them, even when it comes to assuming your work environments will have standard western conveniences; yet for me, there were obviously still some there…

Some of you already know of my mis-adventure with the squat toilet in Thailand… not good.

I accidentally nailed my shoe and spent the rest of my trip spritzing it with hand sanitizer and paranoid, sniffing it to see if the smell was me or my shoe. It’s make me a bit of a timidsputterer. I get performance anxiety and like driving on a road with scary turns, I pray and hold on tight during each pee.

To squat or not to squat… when you really have no choice.

Bare-assed and cold is inevitably something one must deal with in the winter here.  It’s due to Korea’s occasional lack of public heating. Restrooms aren’t heated.

But my work attire is office professional – suit jacket, blouse and a sleek pair of slacks. This raises the stakes.

Not only must I GRRR my shivers, but I must hoist my pants and leggings up around my knees to keep my nice clothes out of shot range!  There is no pretty or elegant way to do this. I feel quite unlovely most of the time.

So I’m a bit of a Princess (as you probably guessed…).  I haven’t had to really rough it.  I joke with people about needing “a throne” but I do. I’ve only used my natural Asian squatter legs for sitting and yoga positions, not squat toilets or “hovering”.

Even as a little girl going on family camping trips- my father would always bring a bucket for me so that I’d never have to experience true camping reality.

Digging a hole in the ground or squatting in bushes?

Absolutely not. 

A traveler must inevitably encounter difficult situations, but the mind pans for angles to avoid it before finally… capitulating.

After Thailand, I actively sought ways to navigate my toiletry obstacles.

Although Thailand has a pretty clean train system, train toilets are always questionable, when people are forced to sit in one area for a length of time. The Thai also have a power hose which they use to clean their backside. It exerts a forceful stream of water and as a MacGyver device I used it to hose down my bathroom and the toilet seat cover before using it. Genius device!

But moving to Korea – I’m coping with living situation. Not non-committal travel experiences.

I’d have to suck it up and deal with it.

Hit-or-miss— I’d have to get used to using that toilet.

Ironing out the rough edges or… letting them iron you out.

In Korea they sell these wonderfully long and stylishly warm winter scarves.  In an effort to Koreanize my style a little, I recently bought one and I love using it! The winter cold permeates through my professional layers… and if my ass must experience the shock of winter’s bite, then the rest of my body would like to experience its warm cuddle. Needless to say- I stay bundled up when going to the bathroom. Yesterday, my new scarf accidentally fell loose and dropped next to my girl urinal and onto a bit of my splash.

So much for the warm cuddle.  No amount of washing will sterilize that mental image of my fallen scarf…

On a hopeful note, my co-teacher told me that due to one of our wheel-chaired students, the school may have recently installed a western toilet… somewhere. I know this sounds so wrong for expressing, but God Bless handicapped children! This little wheel-chaired boy is my angel.  But, I guess it’ll be a scavenger hunt.

This was my third time questioning her and she realized the cultural difference was a serious concern for me. Afterall, they can’t have a teacher that pees on herself.   and next Monday, I start my hunt for that western toilet!

My Mother’s  Secret to Using a Squat Toilet

Whether you’ve never had great aim or life has shocked you into being a timid sputterer as it has me, I have only one tip you and I guarantee it will be the best advice you will ever need!

“Press your knees tightly together and then let it rip.”

Pressing your knees together directs the pee down. If you open your legs, chances are the pee will want to follow the line of your leg and spread. The letting it rip part is difficult if you don’t trust yourself, but sputtering will also entice your pee to dribble and follow the lines of your leg, so you must choose…

It’s a trick my mother keyed me in on after my Thailand fiasco and it’s not (quite) failed yet.

Five tips about using the Korean squat toilet:

1. Where’s the support in squatting?

They don’t call it “squatter legs” for nothing. The squat toilet has nothing to hold onto or hold yourself up with other than the flusher (and you really don’t want to touch that)

Advice: If you need support, grab the door handle or the handle in front of the toilet.


2. Baring bare-assed cold.

The cold upon cold makes you want to only wash your fingertips vs exposing your whole hand.

Advice: Bring hand sanitizer with you.


3. Fumbling in the dark.

The stalls have high doors (ground to up); not much light enters these torture dungeons.

Advice: Sometimes, it’s best not to see your situation anyways- it might make you more timid. Learn how to pee in the dark.


4. Throw used tissues in the nearby basket.

This prevents the pipes from getting clogged.  In some countries and developing ones, the pipes apparently aren’t so strong; hence, why the waste baskets are there in your stall. And yes, some unfortunate soul has to remove the contents of this. Also, if you wonder where that additional smell is coming from, this is probably your culprit.

Not sure if it’s a good solution but I try not to use much toilet paper, so that I can flush the poo ones.


5. Toilet paper rolls are outside the stalls.

Usually, there is just one large container and it’s in a neutral area… and sometimes, they are empty.  If you go into the stalls, you will not find any toilet paper. I repeat, you will not find toilet paper in your stall. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Advice: Always carry a wad of toilet paper, handy wipes or pack of kleenex in your purse.  This has saved me more than a few times.

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26 Comments. Leave new

  • Avatar
    November 25, 2012 10:38 pm

    I stumbled upon this blog and it had me laughing because I know all to well what you are talking about. Its the same out here in the Middle East. I don’t think I could ever get accustomed to using this method and also the tissue issue. Thank God the more modern facilities and homes are starting to install the western style toilets. I get where they are coming from saying that the position is more natural… but when you’ve been conditioned to use our western style toilets its very, very hard to get accustomed this. Up to this day I am still trying to figure out if you should face the front or the back of the toilet, as a woman… and my feet goes where? lol!

    • @kayleann: Your comment about feet position really made me laugh! I get confused on that one as well. Apparently the handle flush is supposed to go in front though. lol.

      • Hysterical and nostalgic – spent 13 mos in Pusan, SK, while I was in the military and my first acquaintance with the floor toilet would have made me $10 K on Americas Funniest if anyone had been taping. Didn’t know which way to face, was on a date so had on high heels (try squatting in those!), had had a drink or two so I REALLY needed to go. The only good thing was the tissues in my purse. I don’t remember now who told me to carry them, but she was a gem and a gentlewoman. The really funny part was trying not to wet my pantyhose.

        I have to admit that I was literally amazed to see very elderly men and women squatting on the sidewalks to chat or play board games or just relax. I had a hell of a time trying to get in that position and I was only 20 at the time. War is hell, first you have to pee in the floor and then you have to bring your own toilet paper. 😉

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  • Found some good stuff in this excerpt, appreciate it.

  • very nice web site, i enjoyed reading

  • Hi, I’m a singaporean. Although most of our toilets are western types, we do have asian toilets here. My tips are:

    1) Fold ur pants up, roll ur sleeves up.
    2) Squat more to the back so that your pee fall within the hole and not beyond it.
    3) When you pee, starts slow and then pee full force. LOL.
    4) Always always always empty your pocket. You don’t want your handphone, wallet, keys or coins to drop into the hole.
    5) Do not stare downwards. Try to bury your nose between your knee. You don’t want your pee to splash on your face! You also do not want to smell it. At least your pants smell nice.

    It is not that bad. ;>

  • Hahaha
    I was on holiday in Korea earlier in the year, visiting my mum in Pyeongtaek. Went to a bar/restaurant, after few hours of beer and soju drinking, had to go to the ladies- open door and *surprise* squat toilet! I’m sorry but there was no way in hell I was going that route, much to my Korean friend’s amusement, even tried explaining how I should do it. Luckily my mum lived three blocks away, plus she was not keen on squatting either- we speed walked/ran to her flat :)then went back to finish our fire chicken and beers.
    I’m moving to Suwon in January to study full time, best start practicing those squats!

    • @Carmen: Congrats on the Jan date! But yeah, maybe you should workout those thigh muscles. 😉 Glad you and your mom didn’t have to bond over the squatting experience; I think it’s funny that you ran to the flat and then back. But I would’ve done the same. Also, remember, public bathrooms are rarely heated. You’re coming during cold season…. That squat will get you one way or another– in Korea, you can only prolong the experience so far.

  • I’m going back to Korea soon for the first time since being adopted out. I’m a princess too, I guess, because I laughed at everything you mentioned and had similar experiences. Yes, I am really goofy nervous about this very topic and very much appreciate your honesty here. HA! Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Annabell Oyen
    June 17, 2010 2:08 am

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your article!

  • I think a lot of people *think* they want to experience rural Korea, but it’s very different to live there vs. just visit. I enjoyed rural Korea, but there are very few people I would recommend it to.

  • Okay, I don’t think that toilet looks so bad… it looks clean. There are squat toilets out there that are much worse and maybe don’t even qualify as a toilet, but as simply a hole!. The thing that bothers me more than squatting is the throwing TP in the trash. Ugh! I will have to remember the pressing the knees thing the next time I have to squat.

  • Avatar
    Laura Cancun
    March 8, 2010 8:46 pm

    I’m so glad you touched on the handrail issue… the whole article I was wondering where they were!!

    In Mexico, we have Western toilets but, like you, we can’t flush toilet paper. Most people are very cool about wrapping up the poo paper in more toilet paper, and it doesn’t smell.

    Certain ladies, however, appear to have no problem throwing their poo- or blood-stained paper into the bin, with the “colorful” part exposed for all to see. This also goes for feminine hygiene products. Nasty.

    Hang in there, and look for clothing that doesn’t dangle. 🙂

    • @Laura/GringationCancun: So I finally found the western toilets & a handicapped toilet- completely DIFFERENT building (the bldg w/ the younger grades (1st -3rd) but it’s worth the walk! Yeah, that TP in the basket thing is really off-setting & thankfully w/ the western toilets, its just flush. It’s a cultural shock & I guess like squat toilets, its a norm but to see other peoples’ stuff exposed is by western taste…disgusting.

      @Jacob/ Take the pictures & prepare people! LOL. Hanging on while peeing on a train can feel like multi-tasking. You want to grip a sidebar or door handle and yet b/c it’s a public train, you don’t want to touch anything. The dangly clothing thing that Laura has mentioned-…yyyeah. How do they keep them off the floor? Maybe they don’t mind letting their clothes be a mop, but the moment you drop your pants… mop. I guess there’s a skill to it but i’ve been rolling or crunching my pants up slowly, the moment I unbutton. Perhaps only we westerners take care to do that.

  • Haha, I have so wanted to take pictures of some of the squat toilets I have been subjected to. You go girl. The dirtiest I found were in Vietnam. They just do not believe in flushing things over there. Hanging on for dear life on the Thai trains was also an adventure.

    Laura, I am so glad you mentioned about the dangling clothing. I am mystified in general at the locals being able to do their thing with no TP and yet maintaining relatively clean hands, but their clothes are so dangly as well. How do they manage to keep them out of the pit and off the floor?? I feel like you almost have to strip down completely and hang up the clothes with some of their outfits. Somethings I just may never know!

  • Welcome to your average Korean public school! Be lucky you have even a bathroom like that. I used to live and teach in rural Jeollanamdo and a few of my schools didn’t even have indoor plumbing – they had latrines out back.

    • @Kelsey: yup- I think I would have had heart failure if I had to spend a year in your Jeollanamdo schools. I actually listed Jeollabuk as one of my preferences bc a part of me wanted to experience the countryside, Korean tradition & do photography. I”m glad I didn’t get that choice now.

      @girlunstoppable: Yes- it’s well-maintained; its a public school in the suburbs! Your blog’s timing was ironic; unfortunately, it didn’t turn my mental switch as I hoped or erase the year-long trauma of navigating that toilet. LOL. I’m not in a rural environment, I KNOW “other” newbie teachers DON’T have schools like mine (albeit we’re in the same city) & that Korea lends itself to more advanced flusheries than this, if not heating during winter… I was like- Why can’t a Nature Girl type have gotten my school? 😮 It’s the dating vs. marriage thing I mentioned in an earlier blog- to survive “daily” & “for a year”… something else entirely. It’s a big Fear Factor in the culture shock. In this instance- I would’ve cast myself as prime reality show adult version of MTV’s Exiled. NEVER been good at the “Nature” thing. I’ve a 9-5 corporate attire going w/ makeup/hair (& not jeans, ponytail, etc..)… & what- i have to squat?!


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