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Friday, February 17, 2012

I'm In Love with A Red Tub

My Cover is Blown
My Squatter Toilet

Ok I’m just going to be very candid and honest.  I broke this entry up into three parts.  First, I want to paint a picture of my personality so you will get a feel for this story.  Then I will attempt to describe to you how I bathe myself in a plastic bin since I don’t have a shower or hot water.   Lastly, if you don’t mind hearing about me peeing, then read on for my rough experience with the squatter toilets in a separate entry titled: Princess Sabrina Meets her Squatter Toilet.  There will be no sugar coating about the squatting, so read at your own discretion.  Well here it goes… 

If you know me well or had the pleasure of spending some time with me, then it’s only a matter of time before you will start to see what my friends and family calls the princess side of me.  I try to cover it up at times, but it always comes out.  I have learned this week that there is no way of going around it; it has always been here and it’s here to stay, no matter where I am in the world.  In my defense, growing up my parents did everything for me, I was my mom’s live doll and I was a little spoiled.  It’s part of what makes me who I am, so I should probably embrace it since my Dad tells others I can’t help it.  I don’t want to portray myself as a spoiled brat, so I have to say that like most people there are many different aspects of my personality.  I have also been described as very loving, nurturing, bubbly, generous and even funny. 

However, the day before I left for Bhutan my aunt was saying, “How is this princess going to make it in Bhutan” since it’s so different from America as she looked at my sparkly shirt and year supply of mascara.  Right then and there, I planned that when I arrived to Bhutan with the 14 other BCF teachers, I was not going to act anything like a princess and instead display my more desirable characteristics.  I didn’t exactly know how I was going to suppress a huge part of my personality and maybe that’s why the plan failed.  I think my plan started to crumble away the moment I got to the airport.  The others quickly caught on because my bags were too heavy and I wouldn’t dare carry them in fear I would hurt my back.  Thankfully, Tim was so kind to me and carried my purse and all.  I don’t know what I would have done without him.  I noticed others looking at me and giggling as I frequently called out, “Timmm, Timmm, my purse please.”  I was a little embarrassed, but I couldn’t carry them!  

Simon and I Shopping in Thimphu
Then when we got to Thimphu, it was no secret that I was freaked out by all the stray dogs and practically needed someone to hold my hand down the street.  If any topic about the dogs came up, the group’s eyes would venture towards me for entertainment as I squirmed in my seat.  I knew my cover was blown a few days in when others just started flat out calling me princess, the Russian princess with the fur hat, Jasmine should carry her own things, etc.  Apparently I am an international princess!  Poor Simon, a BCF teacher, got suckered into shopping with me and had no idea what he got himself into, but he did give me a new nickname:  Princess!  So there was no point in pretending to be something your not.  I’m just not rough, tough, and full-blown independent.  I’m learning that there is something about me that’s very gentle, soft around the edges, fragile and maybe a little needy at times (I’m working on the latter).  It’s interesting how others can perceive this and offer helping hands.

So when we all found out what our bathrooms would entail, I was secretly terrified about how I would adjust to NO SHOWERS and what I perceived as A PORCELINE HOLE IN THE GROUND for a toilet.  I’m the girl who lives for hot luxurious baths, sometimes two a day and I lay in the shower for comfort when I’m sick.  I know some people might think that I am a freaking water waster, but in America most find this acceptable.  So how could I possibly boil a small bucket of water to splash on myself while standing in a cold-cemented refrigerated bathroom?   This became my new biggest worry.  I hadn’t thought about this before I came.  Instead I was worried about poisonous spiders and hungry bears.  How could I have been so na├»ve to think that I would have a hot shower or bathtub?  Maybe I unconsciously didn’t want to know.

I’m in love with a Red Plastic Tub

Well, I tell you what, this princess is a lot tougher than I had ever imagined.  In fact, at the end of the orientation, as some of the teachers suffered from illnesses and homesickness, Simon say’s, "Who would have thought that this little princess turned out to be one of the strongest ones here: tougher than nails."  Simon, if you’re reading this, thank you dearly for not being part of the crew who is betting on how long it will take me to slit my after I saw my bathroom, this cracks me up. 

The way I saw it was there was no turning back, so I decided to just go with it.  I bought the largest, roundest, red, plastic bin I could find in Thimphu.  I proudly wrote on it with permanent marker, “SABRINA’S TUB” for all to see.  I picked out a nice water heater emersion and pictured myself having a hot bubble bath in my new plastic tub.  I found myself feeling grateful for being petite enough to fit into it.  I even became all bubbly about this inventive tub of mine.  Before I knew it, I started to get attached to it.  When some workers were loading it on the truck for my destination, I found myself hovering over it to make sure it didn’t get any cracks.  I had fallen in love with this piece of plastic.  It was going to be just the tub and me.

The Bathroom!
When I arrived to my house, I discovered that my bathroom in Bhutan is everything my American bathroom is not, but I didn’t care because I love my location as well as the red tub.  The bathroom is so different from my previous bathroom, it’s hard to describe, so please refer to the picture.  It has an icy block cement floor, cement walls, a window with large cracks around the wooden edges for fat hairy spiders to come stare at me with their numerous eyes, a faucet attached to the wall that pours out melted snow water, a drain in the floor underneath the faucet, a little sink, small mirror and a very bad paint job.

The water that pours out is so cold like dry ice that it hurts my hands.  So I have to heat it up to bathe, wash my face or wash dishes.  To heat my bath water, I take a smaller blue bucket of water and lay a bamboo stick across the top of the bucket.  Then I attach my heater emersion in the middle of the bamboo, so more than half of it is emerged in the water.  Only then will I turn it on!  I wait about 60-90 minutes until the water is steamy hot.  I test how hot the water is by placing my hand on the outside of the bucket and NOT inside the bucket, so I don’t get shocked. 

Don't Electrocute Yourself!

Home Made Heater Emersion
As a newbie, the first time I heated up the water, I almost killed myself.  My neighbor wanted me to use her homemade heater emersion since it works faster than my store bought emersion.  However, it isn’t as safe as mine.  If I somehow touch the water while it’s in it, I would experience the electric chair unlike my factory made heater emersion that might give me a little zap.  Just about all the local Bhutanese use the homemade one and there are a few fatal cases due to it.  Although this fact scared the living day lights out of me, I didn’t want to be rude by refusing to use their heater emersion.  The first time my neighbor heated the water for me because she knew I had no clue how to do it.  I welcomed her company because I secretly didn’t want to come near what looked like a death trap. 
My Factory Made Heater Emersion

However, the second day I got a little braver and used to looking at it, so I decided that I could do it myself.  While it lay in the bucket of water, I wanted to check to see if the water was hot enough and my hand instantly started to go toward the water like I do in America to test the bathtub water.  The only difference was that this water was being fried by a homemade heater emersion, which looks like a supersized wooden rattrap with scary wires and coils.  Luckily, right before I was about to innocently dip my hand in, I remembered all the warnings I was given to not electrocute myself.  As I was only a centimeter away from death, I jumped back in terror.  Thank you Angels!  That was the last time I used it because I don’t trust my ingrained habits.  I rather use my slower, but safer heater emersion just in case. 

Bhukhari Heating up H2O
After the water is heated in my blue bucket, I use a scoop to pour half of the hot water into my red tub and I hop on in.  If I want more hot water all at once, then I start a fire in my bhukhari (wood stove) to heat up a big metal pot of water that’s sits on top of it.  The metal pot is too hot and heavy to carry from my sitting room to the red tub in the bathroom.  So I scoop the hot bicardi water into another bucket and carry it to my red tub.  Back and forth I go when I want to fill my tub all the way up to the rim with hot water.  This is too much work for me, so I usually settle for just the blue bucket of water heated by the heater emersion, which fills my red tub half way.  I’m looking for a longer bamboo stick to place across my red tub so I can directly fill it up to the top from the faucet and use my heater emersion in it, instead of doing all this transferring H2O business.  Although it will take a lot longer to heat that much water (3 hours), it will be worth it.  I’m sure I will find a longer bamboo stick if I venture deeper into the jungle.  Yikes!

Once I’m sitting in my tub, I soap up my body first so my long hair stays dry, which doesn’t cause me to shiver as much as when it’s wet.  Then I scoop up some hot water out of the blue bucket and rinse my body off.  Next I tackle the hair.  I love it and hate it at the same time.  I love how warm it feels while I pour the water over my head and I hate how cold it feels after I pour the water.  It’s hard for me to dress or dry off properly in the bathroom because it’s the same temperature as outside (-1 to -5 degree celsius) and my body goes into a shiver attack once I get out of my red tub.  It’s so cold that I can even see my breath as breathe like a hyperthermia patient in my bathroom.  So I rush to my room and dry off next to my plugged in heater that awaits me with warm clothes that I have draped over it. 

The first day that I was to bathe, my neighbor/new mom gave me instructions on how to bathe.  I wanted to laugh at how much I felt like an alien or a four year old.  I wanted to know if there was a right way or wrong way to do it since this was all brand new to me.  She acted out step by step what to do, but it was different than I had envisioned.  She told me to stand on the cement and just pour the hot water over my body instead of sitting in my red tub like an American.  I think that most of the Bhutanese don’t grow up with bathtubs or hot running water, so they wash a little differently.  Although they are very clean and have neat appearances, they don’t feel the need to have to bathe every single day, especially in colder areas.  My American mindset is different and all I can think about is having daily hot baths or showers. 

I had every intention to sit in hot water in my new comfy tub and that is exactly what I have done.  I often find myself hysterically bursting into laugher at myself as I sit in this red plastic tub filled with hot water prepared all by little old me.  I think if only my friends and family could see me enjoying my plastic bin they would also laugh.  Despite a few drawbacks to the changes of my bathing situation, I have to say that I love my red tub and I look forward to sitting in it every night.  Now if I could just get some bubbles or lavender, I would really be in heaven.  Hint hint to whoever wants to send me some.


  1. Replies
    1. Love the pic you look so cute.You should become a writer you are so good.You should write a book seriously.Hey you have been doing amazing thinks these are some more of them.Cool tub!Love you!

  2. Thanks tia and think that you might be my only fan though. However, I will write a book just for you! Love you and miss you!

  3. Oh ya, a very beloved man in our village (Chumey) died from the home made heater emersion last week. The whole community was extremely sad and all the teachers at our school went to give their condolences to his family. They are very dangerous and you have to be careful.

  4. Your aunt is right. You should travel all over the place and write about it so that your friends and family can experience all the places you visit. By the way so weird and awesome that you were placed in the most spiritual area in Bhuton.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and I think that maybe soon I can write a book about how amazing Bhutan is and we will have a big party lol

    2. Nice to see you experiencing every ounce of our simple Bhutanese lifestyle even if its difficult adjusting to it. Good wishes ahead..