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The Thing About Poop

By David Haldane

April 19, 2018

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.

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.

“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.






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A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane 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. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.






  1. Gary says:

    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.

  2. Tom Popp says:

    Spray Hoses like in NAIA still easier than Tabos. 😉

  3. Luke Tynan says:

    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

  4. 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 says:

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

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

  5. Rick Levy says:

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

    • Steve says:

      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.

  6. Will Moore says:

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

  7. Mike says:

    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.

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

  9. Bob Stone says:

    No Shit… great story!!!


  10. Matt says:

    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.

  11. Ed says:

    Point taken, the first thing I splurged on when we bought this house was to convert the leaking corner back room housing one sole ancient bare porcelain squatting fixture into something that could be reasonably termed a “CR”.

    For anyone with sufficient money, I would highly recommend a shower nozzle and double-outlet tap for less than 300 pesos and 10 minutes with a single wrench. Guaranteed if you have sufficient water pressure, you’ll come out cleaner and eschew infinite soggy rolls of expensive toilet paper the kids always soak in preparation for your attendance. Further, once you can teach people from toddler on up of the benefit of the shower nozzle, the water bill dramatically drops, since people (especially little short people we term “kids”) are no longer induced to empty refill empty refill empty repeat repeat the largest pail (like a cubic-meter barrel) available to waste your not-free water – save almost 1000 (that’s one THOUSAND) pesos each month (yes MONTH).

    A further worthy investment if budget will permit is a 7000peso small inline water heater. Back where we come from we have honking-huge water-heater tanks in the basement adding $100+ (real money back over there) to the monthly electric/gas/whatever-fuel bill. Here in Phils we of course have no basement for such and never need to heat water for laundry and dishes which the sun does just fine throughout the day (except for CR water), so we use something more sensible, tiny, and efficient. The little inline heater I bought 8 years ago and transplanted 4 times since still works just fine and uses negligible electricity since it’s only on for a very very short time daily – no shower no cost. Plus it’s fun hearing family members first-time down from the boondock shriek encountering non-freezing water in the CR.

    Much nicer for us to have a warm shower, not to mention cleaning down below. 🙂

  12. Cordillera Cowboy says:

    LOL. this book has been around for many years. I suppose it could be recommended as required reading for Westerners in the Philippines.,204,203,200_QL40&dpSrc=srch

    Having come from a deep rural background, followed by a career in the Army, I was likely better prepared for many of the realities of rural Philippine life than some folks.

    I recall reading “All Quiet o the Western
    Front” as a teen. I was amused at the descriptions of morning conversations on the communal latrine. As an adult, I found myself deployed to a very large beach without any water. The engineers kindly built plywood johnny houses for us. Waist high plywood walls, enclosing a box with toilet seats mounted on top. From the top of the waist high wall to the roof, was only a screen. Military field sanitation regulations are rather specific about where latrines are to be placed in relation to other activities in the bivouac area. So, they placed the male and female latrines side by side. Some folks pretended to be engrossed in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Others engaged in morning conversation.

    Conditions will vary from household to household in the rural Philippines. Many homes have only a hole surrounded by mud. Even the concrete flooring in the outdoor latrines of those so blessed is covered with water of questionable cleanliness. I’ve come to appreciate the Asian practice of removing your shoes before entering a home.

    Take care,

  13. Gary S. says:

    Not many opportunities to convey this bit of trivia but this article is close enough. In Japan people are embarrassed that anyone might hear the “noises” they make while in the CR stall. So many in Japan will flush the toilet many times to cover up their “noises”. Now there are toilets in Japan that have a recorded sound of a toilet flushing. You push a button on the toilet to play the flushing sound. It saves water.

  14. John Skibo says:

    On my first trip I think I held it for four days ?

  15. First trip, I held for 16 days rather than ask how the toilets worked!

  16. Eddie says:

    If you come to New Orleans Louisiana use the CR on the plane. Some of the public cr’s in the Philippines are cleaner than MSY INTERNATIONAL .