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Toilet Paper

By David Haldane

April 15, 2024




The national government is urging Filipinos to conserve water. Why?  Because of a “rapidly dwindling water supply and a strong El Nino this year,” spokesman Joey Villarama said in one interview.

How? By using “the traditional ‘tabo’ (dipper) when using the toilet,” he said. “The bidet is actually a wasteful device because it sprays water unrestrained, which is no different [from] a garden hose.”

Hey waitaminute, I feel like screaming out loud, why not use actual toilet paper that requires no water at all?

It’s a subject on which I happen to be an expert, having written and thought about it extensively. In fact, toilet paper was the object of my most significant lesson the first time I ever came to the Philippines; Carry it with you at all times in this country because you never know where you might find it.

“There’s something about poop that makes Westerners nervous,” I began a chapter entitled “The Thing About Poop,” in a book of essays published last year. “Though I can’t say exactly what it is, I know this; most Filipinos do not share the discomfort.”

The chapter described my consternation at being asked by an attractive young comfort-room attendant whether I owed her five pesos or ten. “It soon became apparent,” I wrote, “that what she was referring to was the exact nature of my business. While five pesos would get me past her with mere zipper rights, only ten would guarantee any privilege beyond that. Duly enforced, I surmised, by her possession of the only toilet paper in town.”

I’m sure the chapter would have quickly sunk into oblivion had not well-known Filipino artist, poet, and critic, Virgilio S. Almario, singled it out for praise. “Good toilets have been a campaign of mine,” the 2003 National Artist for Literature wrote in an overly kind review. “There is no decent CR/WC even in schools and public buildings. If not very dirty, [there’s] no water, and no toilet paper. D. Haldane’s book is a significant guide for us.”

The only downside to that ego-gratifying mention was that, for several months, I had to read the poop chapter repeatedly to snickering book-launch audiences nationwide.

Ah, but now the national government itself has reopened that conversation. Which prompts me to repeat my query once again, why not use toilet paper?

“Uh, how much just to go in?” I quoted myself saying to the cute comfort-room attendant in that now-famous poop chapter.

“But sir,” she shot back with what I imagined was a barely discernable grin, “will you be needing the paper?”

That’s when I realized there was no escape. She had me trapped. Without another word, I nodded, gave her the ten pesos, and held my hand out for the much-needed sanitary material. “Is this enough?” she asked, 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.

Not everyone, it turns out, agrees that using a bidet to keep clean wastes water. “I use less water [with] bidets compared to when I use a ‘tabo’ or pail,” Dr. Carl E. Balita wrote recently in this newspaper.

OK, time for a quick confession: I too once tried using one of those free-flowing bidet hoses to conclude my bathroom duties. Let me just say this about that: I’ll never do it again.

In fact, my drought-prone home state of California has announced an innovative new solution to the frequent water shortages by which it is plagued. Just perform a bit of chemical hocus pocus, the State Water Resources Control Board says, and—voila! — sewage waste can be transformed into, yup, luscious drinking water!

On second thought, no thanks, I think I’ll just stick with my toilet paper.





David Haldane is an award-winning author and journalist with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon. This column appears weekly in The Manila Times.




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