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Bathrooms. Ah yes, bathrooms. Unlike our western concept of all-in-one bath, toilet and sink combos, things are different here. Each one of those devices serves a different function and is therefore not necessarily directly connected to or even located near the other.

You will find sinks, for instance, wherever somebody thought you might want to wash your hands. You might find them in the dining room of a restaurant, the living room of a house or the hallway of a business office. There won't necessarily be any way to dry your hands either, so check first.

Toilets? Follow the signs. Don't be afraid to come right out and ask for the toilet. Indonesians are bemused by our apparent need to use euphemisms for simple functions and the devices to accommodate them. If you ask for a bathroom, you might be told that they don't have one (most public places don't provide baths), if you ask for a washroom, you will likely be directed to a basin to wash. Ask for the toilet. The toilets themselves are quite likely to be of the squat variety. Look for the footrests and the rest is self-evident, if a little awkward at first. It is normal to remove your trousers and hang them on a hook. It makes things more comfortable. It probably won't have a flush mechanism but don't panic. There will be a dipper and a tap or a large pail of water beside the squatter; just keep ladling in the water until all evidence of your visit has left the premises.

There won't be any toilet paper. Bring your own or learn to get used to the way that the Koran dictates: water from the tap or bucket provided, using your left hand. The Islamic dictate for the aforementioned use of the left hand goes, incidentally, a long way to explaining why it is considered extremely rude to hand food to someone using your left hand. In fact, if you touch anybody casually, you should make an effort to use your right hand for that same reason.

The bath is likely to be pure Indonesian. In most cases you will be confronted with a rectangular, waist high cistern with a plastic dipper on the side of it. Go for it. The water will be room temperature and that's usually pretty comfortable. In fact, if the cistern has been recently filled, the water can be nearly hot, as it was probably poured in from another, larger cistern located on the roof, quite probably baking in the sun. A mandi involves lots of splashing and is considered to be so much fun that it's done several times a day. This several-times-a-day bathing habit is one that you'll be glad of rather quickly; hot, humid climates make them a welcome break. Just don’t climb into the cistern. Use the ladle to douse yourself. When you're done, it's a good idea to run the tap and fill the cistern for the next person.

Regular, frequent bathing is so much a part of Indonesian life that it's not uncommon to have an unexpected visitor drop by in the afternoon and ask out of politeness whether you've had your bath yet. If you haven't, it’s perfectly reasonable to go for a splash while your guest waits.

Contributor: Patrick Guntensperger


  Marmalade   01 Oct 08 21:09

I feel the bum-hose may also be worth a mention. Scared/mystified me for the first 3 months...

  Marmalade   01 Oct 08 21:44

The ass-hose is fundamentally important to the hearts and minds of those attempting operation squatty...

  Marmalade   01 Oct 08 22:01

Bum-hoses are fascinating inventions...

  patrick   07 Oct 08 08:36

Even better than the bum-hose is the built-in, inadvertant enema provider.

Good point...these will be addressed in an update.

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