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The thing about Poop

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There’s something about poop that makes Westerners nervous. Though I can’t say exactly what it is, I do know this; the discomfort is not shared by most Filipinos.

That was first driven home to me during a brief sojourn in Dapa, the teeming port city of Siargao Island in the northeastern corner of Mindanao. We were just passing through, really, on our way to the island’s interior when nature placed an urgent call. While I might ordinarily have answered with a pleasant hello and perhaps a short chat, it immediately became apparent that, on this day anyway, nature was in no mood for pleasantries.

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So I consulted my wife who immediately directed me to the nearest public restroom. And therein lay the rub; placed demurely at a table, directly blocking my path, sat one of the loveliest young ladies I’d ever seen. “Yes sir,” she said brightly with a heart-stopping smile, “five pesos or ten?”

It soon became obvious that what she was referring to was the exact nature of my business; while five pesos would get me past her with zipper rights intact, only ten would guarantee the full-service treatment duly enforced, I took it, by her possession of what appeared to be the only toilet paper in town.

Even as I inwardly rejoiced at my complete comprehension of her question, however, my very soul rebelled at the idea of sharing the intimacies of my bathroom needs with this complete – and worse, highly desirable – young stranger.

“Uh, how much just to go in?” I timidly inquired.

David Haldane

David Haldane

“But sir,” she shot back with what I imaged to be a barely discernable wink, “will you be needing the paper?”

With a sinking heart I realized that there was no way out. I was trapped. Without another word I nodded, handed over the ten pesos and held my hand out for the much-needed sanitary material. “Is this enough,” she persisted, offering a strip of tissue thin enough to be ripped to shreds by my increasing hyperventilation, “or do you need more?”

It was the closest I’ve ever come to fainting. The second closest was the moment, fifteen minutes later, when I ventured back out that door to bathe in her radiant smile as she bid me good day and invited me to “come back and see us again soon.”

There was another time that my self-imposed shame at the biological necessities of the human condition came very close to destroying my life. It happened more than a decade ago at Magpupungko Beach, the now-famous stretch of sand on Siargao Island where my wife and I have often frolicked. Back then it was almost devoid of both people and structures; the perfect place for a family picnic during our “getting to know you” period, otherwise known as courtship.

Everyone was there; Mom, Dad, several siblings, aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces and, of course, the usual swarm of cousins. So it was with some shyness, naturally, that I leaned over to gingerly whisper in my sweetheart’s ear; “hey, honey, where’s the restroom?”

Her look of astonishment filled me with dread. “Babe, I don’t think there’s anything like that on the beach,” she said, obviously trying to break it to me gently. There followed a long discussion in Visaya, not a word of which I understood. And, as each relative took a turn speaking up in what had clearly become a full-blown family conference, well, my dread quickly turned into catatonia.

“Sweetheart,” my fiancé finally announced, no longer even bothering with the pretense of a whisper, “we’ll just have to find a tree, kindly come with me.”

I remember very little of what happened after that. She must have taken my hand and led me dumbly through the field of coconut trees. At some point, she probably identified a worthy one and explained to me what was about to happen. I do have a vague memory of her standing guard before leading me back to the family gathering. And a far more vivid one of the knowing smiles that sprouted all around.

Later – in my honor, I suppose – they erected a small comfort room near the spot, exceedingly crude and made of stone. Though it has long since crumbled into oblivion, I still cringe every time I see the pile of rocks where it once stood.

Years have passed since my humiliation at the beach, and now we are building a house in the same province. Besides air conditioning, I have only one unconditional demand; that it have American-style toilets. Flushing ones. With seats. And lots of toilet paper within easy reach.

All of which, naturally, must be permanently secured behind firmly locked doors.

David Haldane

A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and radio broadcaster, David Haldane (website http://davidshaldane.com/) fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications, including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists (available at the link below), recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be in Surigao City where, at the tip of a peninsula jutting north called Punta Bilar, he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. They hope to be living there soon.

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Gary
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Gary

I hear ya brother! Renting, if the place doesn’t have a flushing toilet with a seat, well that is a deal breaker for me.

Matt
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Matt

I’ve grown accustomed to carrying a pack of facial tissues with me and a couple of 5P coins. I no longer think it’s funny or unusual to see footprints on the seat… on the rare occasion there IS a seat. I have learned how to, when required, with minimal discomfort, make use of a dipper and bucket… both for my own personal ablutions and for the flushing thereof, but NOTHING beats a real, flushing, adult sized toilet with an actual seat, and a roll of double thickness toilet paper.

Tom Popp
Guest

Spray Hoses like in NAIA still easier than Tabos. 😉

Luke Tynan
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Luke Tynan

Tom, Great article. Been there and had the same experience. And our house I made the same demand for the CR’s..Thanks for reminding me..LOL

Jason Weiland
Guest

David,
I still remember with horror getting horribly ill when I was to ask Papang, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I was new to the Philippines, and the new source of food and water finally caught up with me.

Not only did I get a laugh the first time I asked for toilet paper, but as my sickness got increasingly worse, my new Mamang insisted on cleaning up after me. Also, finding out the tiny toilet barely held my 340 lb bulk was frightening.

Always an adventure!

Mike
Guest
Mike

“… finding out the tiny toilet barely held my 340 lb bulk was frightening.”

WoW! You did a 340lb poo. I am impressed, I think.

Alan Ouellette
Guest
Alan Ouellette

Great article. Reminds me of the time (1973?) I was caught in a bar in Angeles City…in a desperate situation. That’s all I can tell you. Cheers!

Rick Levy
Guest

I think I just remembered why I don’t venture far from home here very often.

Steve
Guest
Steve

I hear ya Rick. Something that is not even a consideration in the U.S. is at the top of my list when traveling in the Phils.

Will Moore
Guest

I wear cargo style pants…one of the pockets always has toilet paper…always..

Bob Martin
Guest

LOL… maybe more than one pocket?

Will Moore
Guest

Bob Martin yep sometimes…lol

Mike
Guest
Mike

As a student I hitch-hiked through part of Europe … I remember finding the ‘hole in the floor’ toilets so disgusting that I just could not use them. I ended up having my first poo one week later (in Switzerland in case anyone wondered … Huh?). There was a lady in the men’s toilet fussing about … and going into the cubicle as soon as a ‘client’ left, presumably to give it a good scrub if the man forgot.

Btw, after that poo I had a high! You don’t need drugs.

Jason Weiland Sr.
Guest

I carry a roll in the car and wet wipes in my man-bag. Yes, I have a man-bag…lol

Bob Martin
Guest

Man bag? I didn’t realize you are European, I thought you were American! LOL

Jason Weiland Sr.
Guest

Bob Martin … I wasn’t sure about in a first, but it really is the greatest thing ever. I can carry so much stuff and not lose anything. Women have been holding out on us. I am comfortable in my masculinity. Lol

Jason Weiland Sr.
Guest

Thats it…

Doobie Doles
Guest

There’s only one place I shark, that is in my home. The places I’ve seen since living here are as disgusting as it gets. Most of the CRs don’t have any TP or they charge you 10PHP for 5 sheets. It is ridiculous. Health and sanity? Here? Surely one jests!

Jason Weiland Sr.
Guest

Adapt and survive….it’s like a game show, Can you find a free CR and clean the seat before you crap yourself? Let’s find out! Just have to have a sense of adventure…?

Jason Weiland Sr.
Guest

Seriously, I have to be ready if I want to go anywhere, I have a bad stomach. I carry sanitizer wipes and baby wipes in my bag. I am a boy scout!

Mark LaBelle
Guest

think the proper term is man purse 🙂

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