I’m a small city kid.
Back when I had a job, I thought traveling would be exciting. That’s how I ended up flying to New York last year with a few of the homegirls. After that fun trip, my parents booked a flight to the Philippines. My wanderlust was erect after that New York excursion, so I figured why not?
Turns out, I suck at being a tourist. First world problems can be difficult to face head-on. But despite the heat and the overgrown insects that don’t normally fly in California, but somehow mutated and take flight in the Philippines, there is one particular hurdle that I can’t seem to get over.
I don’t like public restrooms and I can’t just shit in someone else’s bathroom. In my 25 years, I’ve only had to lay the deuce during the diaper ages or in emergency situations. And even then, nobody was home and I had enough time to make it seem like the crime had never occurred.
I guess you can say there’s a lot going through my head. I don’t want people to judge me, I don’t want people to judge the smell, and I don’t like being in environments I’m not comfortable being in. And trust me, when I’m about to occupy a toilet, I need to be extremely comfortable. I’ve actually trained myself to push through the pain and hold it in for a long time. And by long time, I mean 8-hour-shift-and-the-hour-drive-home long. That’s not good, I’ve learned, but I do it anyway.
Pooping is a natural phenomenon, but I apparently happen to be part of the millions who are toilet-shy. So that 12 hour plane ride to Taipei? Hell on earth. And when you’re anxious about when you’ll see a toilet you’re OK with, your logic becomes flawed. For example, I kept stuffing my face whenever the flight attendant kept rolling by with food. I’m thinking… well, maybe if I keep eating, I’ll get distracted from the idea that I’m a walking septic tank.
We land in Taiwan for a 4-hour layover, and what’s the first thing my parents want to do? Eat dim sum.
I’m over here chilling with my green tea, as they tear through chunks of dumplings while scuffling down porridge. Then my stomach shifts and suddenly I’m sprinting for the restroom.
Is this it? Will I finally drop deuce abroad and conquer my toilet shyness?
I burst through the entrance and into a stall. I sit my ass down and wait. Suddenly, my dad’s voice carries across the restroom. He takes the stall next to me. “I’m glad your here,” he laughed. “I want you to experience this.”
Suddenly, my stomach settles — almost as if it hit itself with a facepalm. I make my way toward the exit in defeat. Not today.
I knew this trip was going to have obstacles. Public restrooms cannot be their usual selves if I were to lay one. They can’t be damp, cramped, and occupied. The last part is monumental to me because I’ve always associated bathrooms with privacy. My privacy. The toilet is where my mind is centered, blank, focused. A temple where ideas and creativity churn inspiration as a laser shoots from my third eye. It is nirvana. It is paradise. Where I think about the past, as it molds my present. It’s where I unwind. Detoxify. Release. And if there’s people around, I can’t do shit. Literally.
We land in the Philippines and I’m happy to learn that we’re staying in what seems to be a westernized residential area. Foreigners run amok. Fil-Ams (Filipino-Americans) weave through traffic and dart towards the shopping center across the street. Downstairs, a Starbucks. The bathroom of the residential apartment where I’m staying, though small, is tolerable. I kick my legs out in reckless abandonment as I exorcise the demon within.
But it ain’t all daisies and Imodium in this country. Once you start heading into the provincial regions, you’re looking at comfort rooms (another word for restroom) that are function over form.
I’ve heard all the horror stories. Some of these toilets don’t flush, and you have to keep dumping water from a bucket and into the toilet to force it down the drain. I’ve also heard stories of people being watched by gigantic spiders. Not my thing either.
In Tiaong, I’ve visited motel bathrooms where there’s no curtain or divider between the shower and the toilet. This is a recurring bathroom setting in most bathrooms across the Philippines, but also in Asia and some parts of Europe. My guess for the lack of curtain or wall is that they get dirty easily, and it’s just easier to sweep the water into the drain. But the consequence for taking that shower? Everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — gets wet.
If you’re the type of person who changes in the restroom, then you’ve made a serious misstep bringing that outfit in, because you’re pretty much soaking it. The cherry on top for me? The fucking floor. The floor practically floods after someone uses the shower. The minute you step in, the rug makes that moist squishy sound to greet you. That always sent shivers up and down my spine.
So how does one use the bathroom knowing that the water they’re standing in was used by the previous occupant? Let me tell you: one does nothing and holds everything in.
I’ve indulged myself in self-help sites but to no avail. In fact, the only thing left to do was to toss back a box of Imodium and hope I don’t explode. I didn’t do that… but my dad did. At the tail end of our trip, he ended up looking like that pregnant guy in India, who was actually carrying his twin brother inside his stomach. Looking like that was not an option. I had planned to lose weight in the Philippines, because that’s just what Americans do when they visit. They lose weight.
But let me tell you, I did come up with this weird strategy. The game plan during this trip was to drink plenty of water and eat light. Like chicken or something. And it’d have to be small portions. By doing this, I’d only have to empty my bladder. If the time came to lay one, it would probably be later on in the evening, when we’d be back at our hotel.
My little plan served me well in the Manila and Tiaong, so I went ahead with my strategy when we flew to the island of Cebu for my cousin’s wedding. Now whereas Manila is California, Cebu can be seen as Hawaii. In Manila, there’s a city feel. You’re surrounded by skyscrapers, factories, malls, residential areas, etc. Cebu does have a port and a few buildings, but you can definitely peer across bridges and see the blue ocean. Luckily, we were staying in a really nice hotel. Again, our bathroom was small, but it was manageable. It even had a curtain and a divider.
After my cousin’s wedding, we took a trip to Bohol, which is home to several sights including tarsier reserves, a butterfly monastery, the Baclayon Church which is in renovation, the majestic Chocolate Hills, and historic art work depicting the Blood Treaty between indigenous Filipinos and Spain. During that tour, we had a nice buffet style lunch on a boat. And adhering to my strategy, I kept it cute. I nibbled on chicken skewers and sipped my ice water. I sat on that boat all smug, knowing well in fact that I had found myself a worthy strategy to keep myself intact if I were to travel again.
It really wasn’t until that hour-long ship ride back to Cebu that I kind of got an inkling that there was hell to pay.
You know when your stomach kind of pinches, and you feel some sort of movement? It’s nothing too serious, but it’s kind of like… the calm before the storm, so to speak? Take that two notches up and that’s exactly what I was experiencing on the boat ride back to Cebu.
We finally anchored around what I’m assuming is 8 p.m. In this island, there’s not many street lights outside, so you’re kind of left at the mercy of headlights. This proved to be a fucking problem for our driver, who was trying to traverse the busy streets. Now y’all, if you’ve ever been to Asia, you already know the driving here has its own system. In the Philippines, everything is just a beautiful disaster. Whereas people in America are honking to say “FUCK YOU,” the people in the Philippines are honking in a way to say, “I’m to the left of you.” And don’t even talk about lanes. I mean, what are thooooose?
Anyway, the driver gets there, and I throw myself into the van. We’re not too far from the hotel, but with the traffic, we were going to spend a little time on the road.
The driver starts to ask my parents about the trip and they indulge themselves in a nice conversation. Remember how my stomach was acting a damn fool? Well, we hit a road bump and suddenly I’m digging my nails into my arms. What the hell is this feeling?
“Did you see the tarsiers?” the driver asked. Suddenly our van is at a standstill. He’s unable to make a left as oncoming traffic has already jammed that direction. This traffic and my sphincter are one with one another. I feel like there’s an alien in me and he wants to escape. My ass cheeks clenched, almost as if someone was covering their mouth as to not cuss.
My dad goes on and on about how the houses look and I’m over here wondering why the fucking air conditioner feels like it’s shooting blades through my skin. I kick my leg up and drag it against the front passenger seat. I don’t why, but it’s temporary relief.
“I’m guessing the typhoon affected the area,” I hear someone say. At this point, everyone sounds the same. Annoying. “Did you have fun, Neil?”
“Mmmhmmm,” is all I could muster.
God must’ve been smiling (and laughing) down at me because traffic clears, and we swing left and into the lanes. I for reals grab unto the passenger assist handle. Not because the turn is too wild, but because I feel like I’m really about to lose myself in this van. My stomach settles for just a minute, almost like a bull that drifts underneath the red sheet of a matador. But the bull charges once more and I’m clenching my fists.
We arrive at the hotel finally. He drives up the incline with reckless abandonment, crushing each road bump as if they were ex lovers who’ve done him wrong. I’m over here like BITCH GET ME OUT. The van drives into the valet lane, and the bellhops slide the doors open.
Man, you should’ve seen me.
I hurl myself out the door, shoving the bellhop aside. I apologize profusely, but I ain’t making eye to eye contact because now my back is to him. I’m hitting it up the lobby, ya’ll. The workers are all greeting me, and I’m over here looking completely delusional. My hair’s a damn mess The top two buttons of my shirt have come undone. Shoe laces untied. I must’ve looked crazy.
My parents, for whatever reason, are still handling business with the van man. I panic because they had a working key to the room, which was 8 stories up. It was then that I realized that this was it. This was going to be my emergency shit in the Philippines.
I pivot and spin on my heels, propelling all of me into the Men’s Restroom like I had been shot out of a fucking cannon. I hoped to God that nobody was in there, but God was not that giving. A lone female stands inside. She’s spraying orange disinfectant into the sinks. She greets me with a, “hello sir.” She’s very nice.
My soul leaps from my body. I’m not who I am anymore.
“We’re both going to die in here,” I tell her. I keep my eyes on her as I back into a stall. Boom.
I hear footsteps… they are fast, and they are exiting. Janitor woman is no more.
I wish that I could tell you that I’m OK now. But I’m not. Despite the fact that I experienced this liberating and monumental moment, I’m still deathly afraid of shitting in public. You can thank my little brother for validating my fears of being judged. He walked in a few minutes after the lady walked out, and he’s practically busting at the seams.
“You made her run away,” I hear him say from the outside of my stall, where I’m slowly attempting to piece my life back together. “She looked dizzy!”
And for that, Ms. Janitor Lady, I am sorry.
To be honest, I’ve learned that if I’m going to explore other countries, I’m just going to have to raise my threshold for certain things… and that may include shitting into a hole on the ground and risk getting my anus bitten by a cobra or something. But until I do, I’m going to have to keep my flights domestic. Let that be a lesson to all those who are toilet shy.