When we first moved to Indonesia, one of the biggest culture shock obstacles I had to overcome was the Indonesian bathroom. Whether you’re rich or poor, or somewhere in-between, Indonesian bathrooms are very different than their American counterparts.
When it comes to bathing, some bathrooms will have nothing more than a wall spigot, a bucket, and a scooper. You just fill up the bucket and dump water on yourself using the little plastic scooper. You will find these pretty much everywhere as Indonesians love to bathe and can do so just about anywhere — restaurant bathrooms, at the public market, at a neighbor’s house… (It’s hot and humid and sticky here, so it makes sense that bathing is a national pastime.)
The most common type of household bathroom has a large square installation, like a tall ceramic basin, that’s always full of water. We call it a “bak mandi” in Indonesian — a common rookie expat mistake is to actually climb into the basin and attempt to use it as a bathtub, which is highly entertaining for your local friends, hosts, and/or household staff. (It’s not a bathtub. You’re supposed to just scoop water out of the basin, using it like a high-class bucket.)
Of course, there’s also the “wet bathroom,” which is common all over Asia. It’s basically a shower head on the wall and a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor and, when you shower, the whole bathroom gets wet. (Yes, even the toilet — I’ve assimilated to Indonesia pretty well, but I’ll never get used to sitting down on a wet toilet. So. Gross.)
The toilets are equally diverse. They range from literal holes in the ground to squat toilets to Western-style toilets that are used as squat toilets (complete with footprints on the seat!) to fancy-pants Japanese-made toilets with seat warmers and music.
The first thing you might notice when you visit an Indonesian restroom is the lack of toilet paper. Whether you’re in public market, someone’s house, or a fancy mall, you’re probably going to find that there’s no tissue next to the toilet. Why? Because of the “butt hose.” (I have surveyed many, many people and no one seems to know the real name, in Indonesian, for the butt hose. The closest that I have been able to come up with is semprotan cebok’, which translates to something like “the spray that cleans your butt.”)
If you’re in a public market, the butt hose is probably just a bucket of water and a scooper (be sure to clean with your left hand!). If you’re in a fancy mall, the butt hose is probably attached to the seat and activated by a button or knob. If you’re in someone’s house (including mine!) the butt hose is probably an actual hose, with a sprayer, mounted to the wall next to the toilet.
Initially, the idea of forgoing toilet paper and embracing the butt hose made me cringe. It didn’t take long, though, for me to adapt — and now I’m a total convert. When we visit countries that use toilet paper, I feel gross and dirty. I suffer from butt hose withdrawals!
The use of the butt hose is simple: when you’re done doing your business, you take the hose and clean yourself, while still sitting on the toilet. Generally speaking, you don’t need to use your hand — assuming you have water pressure, the spray will take care of the cleaning all on its own. If you don’t have water pressure, or have low water pressure, then yes, you might have to supplement with a bit of hand washing. We keep toilet paper on hand for this, however most people do it with their bare hands. (It’s not as bad as it sounds, really!) Once you’re clean, you can drip-dry or pat yourself off with a towel or some tissue. And then, of course, make sure to wash your hands well with soap and water.
There are a lot of proponents for TP-free personal cleansing — there are, of course, the ecological ramifications of using toilet paper. Some people also claim that tissue contributes to hemorrhoids and other genital irritation. I don’t know about that, but living in the hot-and-humid tropics, I appreciate the ahem freshness that the butt hose offers — things can get really funky really fast if you don’t stay on top of hygiene.
We don’t have kids, but I suspect potty training would be a lot easier with a butt hose — no more assisted wiping! And if you use cloth diapers, you could use the butt hose to clean dirty diapers right into the toilet.
Another perk? Cleaning the toilet is WAY easier when there’s a hose right there!
If you want to re-create the butt hose experience in your own home, Amazon sells bidet kits. Installation should be pretty simple — just mount the bracket to the wall or the side of your tank and connect the hose to your toilet’s existing plumbing. The bidet kits seem to be reasonably priced – around $50 or less for most models.
If you wanted to go all-out, you can buy heated toilet seats with integrated bidets — it’s possible to swap out just your seat, without completely pulling out your existing toilet. (Toto USA has a list of where you can sample their high-tech seats. Maybe there’s a fancy-pants toilet near you? Also: is it weird that I kinda love the idea of toilet-based tourism?
If you’re a renter or not sure about making the butt hose commitment, you could also try substituting baby wipes instead of regular toilet paper. (Check the chemicals, though — some of them aren’t very kind to our lady parts!)
Happy spraying, Homies!