Clash of cultures – life without toilet paper!? + advice for travelling women

As you probably know, many South-East Asian countries (personally experienced Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore) don’t really use toilet paper (yes, not even to wipe after number two).

Well, I’ve never happened to come across that information before and did not know until landing in Indonesia, and it was rather a shock.

Let’s take a break here to acknowledge that, the pulp and paper industry here in Indonesia is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation AND THEY DON’T EVEN USE TOILET PAPER!!!

Unfortunately, the circumstances in which I found out were the least favourable you could imagine.

The day before my flight I got stomach flu, needless to say, I have spent the 18hour flight with no sleep and in the comfort of plane toilets.

Could not wait until I land and get to go to a nice airport toilet – and nice it was, but instead of toilet paper was some bum-spraying- water- stream system.

I managed, in case you’re wondering, had my whole life in a backpack in the end so used the water thingy (after figuring out how it works) and wiped with a towel.

Now, after having been here for quite some time, it does not seem weird at all and I actually prefer it. When you’re in the house bathroom and always have your towel nearby, it’s no problem – wash and dry. But I remember seeing it as so bizarre and a great obstacle; the first thing I’d ask any travellers I came across was “how is your toilet experience going?”.

(Definitely way more hygienic. My friend put it perfectly: “if I took some shit and put it on your face, would you take a tissue and wipe it, or go wash it off?”)

In most public places, like malls, etc. they usually do provide tissue to use in place of a towel but you do not flush it down the toilet – the sewage system is not designed for that; put in a bin.

Occasionally, you come across those nasty public toilets, that don’t even have a spray gun or anything, just a standing bowl of water, and I still haven’t figured out how to work with those. Best tip, so far – avoid.

How to live in the jungle as a woman

My current bathroom situation

Where I live, we manage our own sewage and waste by integrating them into the property design.

For example, one toilet flushes into a designated pond filled with filtering plants; another fertilizes a bamboo clump – works fantastically (no smell!).

This means that all waste has to be kept to a minimum and absolutely no tissues can be flushed down the toilets.

I gotta say, living here as a guy is pretty great, just pee anywhere and only remember to grab your towel for the other business.

As a woman, though not much different (apart from having to walk to the toilet in the rain just to pee), I have to worry about one more thing – periods.

Pads are not really an option, too much plastic. The best solution would most likely be one of those diva cups but my budget is too tight for that right now.

What I use is organic, chemical-free biodegradable tampons from Natracare, which I ordered once, in bulk to the nearest restaurant’s address (forest has no address). Not the biggest fan of the shape, but they work just fine.

P.S. You should only ever use chemical-free stuff for your vagina, it’s way too delicate.

As far as disposal goes, after use, I wrap it in a leaf and bury in the ground.

I think this is a great way, certainly an option if you’re camping, on a trail or doing anything like me. If you really don’t have a leaf, burying it straight will also do the job, just a bit messier. And you’re fertilising the plants in one go but make sure it’s biodegradable and not chemical filled – otherwise, that’s called pollution.

Travelling in Asia toilet tips summary

  1. Always have some kind of towel with you, whether a toilet tissue or wet wipes (most convenient)
  2. Have a hand sanitizer, or at least a bottle of water (though not often, running water is not a given and soap dispensers, if existent, tend to be empty)
  3. Keep your legs together when using the water guns or it will spray through the ‘thigh gap’ and wet your pants
  4. Be mentally prepared that your only option might be a squatting toilet (aka a hole in the ground)
  5. For people with periods, have something you can dispose your used thingy into in case there is no bin close by.
  6. Enjoy the cultural experience

You will always find some cultural clashes when travelling but that’s exactly why you go, right? To see something different.

Although, when it comes to things we are very particular about, such as toilet usage, it is good to have a heads-up.

Put your pride on the line to follow through

Two years ago, I made my first somewhat long post online, it felt so good, freeing and ever since I knew that’s what I ought to do – write and share with others. I’m going to insert the main bit of that post here:

It seems fitting now, that I’ve started this blog and a new permaculture dedicated Indonesian Instagram account, to return to and share anew my thoughts on the topic. Though I don’t think I can put it in words any better than I already have, let’s elaborate.

You know, I always envied the people who could just decide on something and follow through without hesitation, without self-imposed hinderance, simply by sheer will power and self – discipline. No matter how hard I tried, just couldn’t become that person.

And it’s freaking frustrating because many things really are as simple as following a few fool-proof steps to achieve. Say, you want to lose weight, you could just cut 200kcal a day while eating “clean” and do your preffered form of exercise 3 times a week. Or may it be playing your instrument – two hours a day of practice. Getting better at drawing? Also know what to do. Nothing fancy, straightforward, simple steps.

Here’s where the devil lies – simple does not mean easy; that’s where we fall off track.

Just give me your attention for a moment, please.

While we could moan about our lack of strong will power and natural predisposition to procrastinate (if you’re anything like me, hi 👋) and get more of nothing done in the process we could, alternatively, finally stop the bs.

I think you get the point, it is not that we don’t have the recipe (in the vast majority of cases) but that we do not have the necessary interpersonal tools developed.

Get out of the closet

We are scared of people finding out about our goals in case we don’t make it. Seems we want to hide at all cost, particularly when it comes to those who know us personally. Perhaps, they’ve already seen you try and fail before. Perhaps, they have a negative view of you in one area and you think they will automatically assume the same this time.

Oh the embarassment…the judgement…the comments and gossips… the looks…the mocking laughter…

“If I can just get to 1000 subscribers, then I’ll tell them” – I fall prey to this kind of thinking way too often.

True, if you don’t tell anyone then there is no social consequence to quitting… which in practice means you are only as likely to last through the commitment as strong is your toolset (self-discipline, will power, dedication, motivation, etc). So the secrecy approach totally works for some and that’s fantastic.

The key to success in anything is actually developing the “tools” within yourself – do not neglact that by any means. However, that gem takes time and work, let me tell you, and putting your pride on the line by letting the world watch might just be the needed push, enough to propel you forward until you can propel yourself.

Think: deciding to back up from a rollercoaster ride before joining the line vs when it’s about to be your turn; a lot more stares and heads shaking at you in disapproval.

Soo

My number one tip/remedy is: MAKE IT KNOWN. The “IT” being your goal, that film you’ve been trying to make, the blog you’ve been meaning to start, fitness journey, your music… Turn the fear of judgement into a motivating force.

If you say you’re going to do something people will expect results and yes, that is a lot of pressure, yet pressure which I encourage you to choose to have. Because didn’t they teach you how to make a diamond?

What about your future? Why a millenial left London to dig through horse crap in Asia

Picture this:

You’re 17, 18, 19, ready to finally break free from the constraints of school and parents. You know you’re ready to live on your own terms, likely already got some job and perhaps paying some bills. At times it even seems the only reason you still need your parents is because you’re legally not old enough.

That was definitely the case for me. So as soon as I hit 18 (the legally adult age in the UK), I simply couldn’t wait for final year of school to pass and to move away from my mum.

We all have a somewhat clear idea of the life we’d like to create for ourselves (if you don’t, what are you doing?). All require a, bigger or smaller, pile of cash.

Personally, I’m from the “dreames big but is totally broke” bag. I decided my way of getting the $$$ will be climbing up the meritocracy ladder – undergrad, postgrad, PhD, job promotions ➡️ sky-high salary. As a smart chap, this would be easy for me. Yet, it turned out not to be the case.

Well then, what happened? Brexit happened.

As a relative freshie immigrant, I was no longer entitled to the student loan and couldn’t afford uni. So I deferred my entry and went on a gap year.

Had about £1,200 in savings from working at a pub at the time. After buying some plane tickets, gear and spendings over summer I ended up, on a hot as hell morning of September 15th 2017 in Jakarta, with some £800 to my name.

Fast forward one year, I’m still here (not in Jakarta but on the same island). Only managed to survive financially because I’m not actually travelling but staying mainly in one place on a volunteering basis.

I’ve been finding it really difficult to answer the “so what do you do there?” question. From the outside it looks so exciting: “wow Tropics”, “wow beaches”, “wow cute Instagram pictures”.

So here it comes… I actually put my hands in horse sh**, place it in a polybag, add some bacteria, worm juice (from a worm farm I also put my bare hands in), biochar and (attempt to) grow my food.

Now, don’t get me wrong, to me, it is very much exciting, might just not be your cup of tea.

I garden, or more learn to garden because it is part of my goal life scenario. I live with people who know more and correct me. I have access to resourceful books and time to figure out what it is that I am naturally drawn to when there is no imposed curriculum or schedule.

In the meantime, I plot how to make money without compromising my values by doing something that matters. I think it’s important you find what that something is for you. Have given it a lot of thought and in all honesty, the only thing that comes to my mind really as objectively being something that matters is health and ecosystem restoration, which, in practice, are intertwined together.

What I’m getting at:

  1. Decide what sort of life you’re aiming for; factor in how you’d like to feel mentally, physically since your lifestyle will hugely determine that.                                                                                                                          
  2. Look up your route options for getting there and exactly there; what qualifications, what kind of investment, how much time?                             
  3. Don’t give in too much into the “I’m young, still got time” mindset; yes, true, so put it to use that will yield, not waste it.                                               
  4. Take the risk and deal with it.

Is a degree* something that truly is part of that idea of awesome life you hold or are you just using it as an excuse to not have to get your act together in the real world for the next 3-5 years? To get the “student” pass whenever your inadequacies show? Or do you simply don’t believe in yourself enough to succeed, so you need a degree as the so-called backup?

*I’m referring to university/whatever higher qualification/particular job

For me, it was all those and I felt stupid. To follow through with my old plan would be a waste of my most precious years doing something that is not leading me to where I want to be; frankly is not even on the same map. Yet, I was ready to do it to stay in my sphere of comfort, to gain time to “worry about it later”.

That might be the complete opposite of your case. The intention of sharing mine is to remind you that you’re not doomed to live a life you don’t want, should you be experimental enough to try some other options.

Face your demons! You will have to figure everything out for yourself eventually, the sooner you start the better.

So you know what? I’ll give it all I got.

“What about your future?”

If my time since graduating turns out, in the worst case, to have been invested without future monetary return and I’m forced to change my path, that’s alright. That is because whatever I embark on next if I do, will be for the right motives, not just to postpone facing the hard questions.

So that’s where I’m at right now and will keep you posted.

What about your future?