I'm in thailand at the moment. to be added or deleted from my travelogue, send request to this address. view previous posts at: http://thaikarl.blogspot.com/
In response to a couple of queries- no, taking a shower with a bowel from a tank is not the universal method. Seems to depend on how much income you have. One of the first things Thais will do to improve their houses is to put in tiled walls and floor, maybe a shower hose and sink. They will also tile and sink the kitchen, and put in a built in stove top. This costs money. Toks family has depended only on her income for some time now. So the money has gone for more important things, like school for Tery, cloths and food. Tok is very thrifty, and a great bargain-hunter. I ran out of Kraeting Daeng the other day. We were in town in the evening and we checked in a store to see if they had a 10 pack. The price was 5 baht (13 cents) more than the other store. Which for me, was negligible. Tok said she wouldn't pay that, she would goto the other store. But then, I'll go and pay 50 baht (1.25) for a cup of espresso, which to her is quite extravagant. But she never gives me a hard time about it. As long as there is money for the family and everything, what I do with my money is fine.
Everyday I spend hours just absorbing what I see and hear here. I am fascinated by the differences and similarities. When you spend your life in your native country, you learn, without really realizing it, that "this is the way things are done". Living in thailand, or most any other outside your native country, "the way things exist" can be quite different. Similar, but different. Here in Thailand you will often hear the phrase "Same Same, but different" A delightful way to say it I think.
Take something simple like writing paper. Thai's (and most of the rest of the world) use a standard paper size called A4. this paper is 8.27 inches wide and 11.69 inches long. A little narrower and a little longer than American paper. But it's office paper, just like we use. Same Same, but different. We used this paper in school in Bangkok. I didn't realize the difference for a week or so, until I was looking in page set-up in a document I was working on. I like it. The proportions seemed better to me. A small thing I know, but it serves to illustrate the concept. Expand this to millions of other things – housing construction, vehicles, roads, writing, speech, clothing, habits, morals, plants, politics… can you see why I am never board? Even when I'm just hanging out somewhere, be it a sidewalk in Bangkok or at a house in the mountains waiting for Tok and Jamlong to do hair and make-up for a wedding party?
I am surround by an environment rich in differences in "the way things exist" I am constantly stimulated – should I care to look. I have met people here on holiday, who think Thailand is quaint, interesting, and exotic – but only for two weeks. When they go back home, they go all the way back. Thailand was a "nice vacation, but the food was too spicy and there was no hot water at the guest house we stayed at on the beach!" I understand this, but the experience of being here runs hundreds layers deeper than that for me. I really couldn't tell you why either. I've thought about it a lot, but haven't reached a conclusion. Maybe some past-life thing. Maybe I'm just "ready". I have a friend who lived here for 5 years. When I came last year, and he read my comments in my emails, he would reply with notices like "that's one of the signs man", or "you're in deep now" having lived here himself, and seen a lot of vacationers and internationals come and go, he knew the indicators – the ones that tell the difference between the two sets of people. Seems I've got the set that says: "you're gotta live there".Onward!
Toiletry in a basic Thai household.
You can find western style toilets, showers and bathtubs in the cities in Thailand. Most of the hotels and lodges I have stayed in have the ordinary sit-down toilet. The hotels that have western visitors often have hot water, and a bathtub. But away from such "modernized" places, toiletry is much simpler.
A Thai bathroom will have a big tank (on the right in the photo) for water for bathing and washing. Adjacent to that is a smaller tank for flushing water. The toilet is barely raised from the floor, with ridged pads for your feet. After you use the toilet, you take the bowel for the flushing water and scoop bowlfuls of water into the toilet to flush away the waste, and splash water onto yourself and your hand for cleaning. No toilet paper. If there is paper, it's for drying yourself a bit after you are clean. You don't throw this paper down the toilet, you put it in a waste basket. Even in the city, where there is a sit-down commode, there is a spray hose to clean with, not paper. I wasn't sure which direction was proper for using the toilet. I face the wall, since my western legs can't do a flat footed squat, and I need to balance myself with my hand on the wall. I asked Tok about it, and of course, I'm going things backwards.
Bathing is breath-taking. You use the bigger bowel to dip water from the big tank and pour it on yourself. It's not heated, and I can tell you, pouring cold water on yourself from a bowl is exciting, even when it's 95 degrees out. Even more so in the evening when you shower before bed and the air is a cool 70 degrees. I can't say I've grown accustomed to the process entirely. I just can't bring myself to pour cold water over my shoulders and back. So I make do with pouring water in my hand and sloshing it over myself. Face, feet, arms and legs, okay… upper body… brrrrrrr. Tok can tell I am not taking a 'regulation' shower by the difference in sound. Full-pour water sounds different than hand splashing, and she's knocked on the door and wanted to see how I am taking a shower a couple of times, and chided me for not taking a proper shower. Farangs are so crude when it comes to personal habits – eating, bathing, and dressing. We have to be re-trained.
I've learned that it is important to not mix up the bowls, and to be careful to not get grey-water in them. You don't want to contaminate the tank water. That's one reason for having a separate tank for flushing water, so you will not get any toilet substances into the washing water. You use the water from the big tank to brush your teeth in after all.
You are never alone in the bathroom. I have seen three different kinds of frogs; gecko's come out on the rafters to eat bugs attracted to the bathroom light. Last night there was a palm bug (a roach) two inches long on the wall next to the toilet. Spiders claim the corners, and flying things come in over the top of the wall and flit about the room. And of course, there's the ants. Ants are everywhere. Tiny little societies that live in a world of giants, constantly searching for our droppings and left-overs.
Households in the town may have water from a tap to fill the tanks. Out here in the village, there is a well with an electric water pump. Mama plugs in the pump and takes a big hose and goes around to the tanks and cisterns and fills them. Some of the houses have a water tank that will supply water to taps by gravity. Since many Thai houses are on stilts though, the water outlets are on the ground area, not inside the house.
Toks kitchen is off the back of the house, kind of a porch area. There is a low wall that runs along the outside. The kitchen "sink" is a wooden slatted table on the other side of the wall. Next to it is a big ceramic cistern. You get water for washing and cooking using a bowl that is sitting to the side. All the water from the "sink" drains down a sheet of tin, is collected into a cut open plastic oil container, that feeds a pipe that runs out to the rain pond by the road.
By western standards, it may all seem so primitive. Even so to may Thai's I suppose. I understand that they build western style fixtures in the more expensive Thai houses. I don't think either one is "better" it is fascinating to me of course, because it is different than I have experienced for most of my life. I'll probably find a 3 liter water bottle, punch some holes in the lid and hang it upside down in the bathroom. Then I can fill it by hand from the tank, and have water streaming down from overhead. Just so I can get used to the cold water shock. Seems easier to step into a falling spray of water than to willfully pour a bowl over your back and shoulders. Tok thinks this is kind of funny. She looks at me like "why would you want to do that?"
Just crazy I guess.