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San Bidet

/ 04:30 AM November 22, 2019

Another canonization?

No, but this one you can run to for succor and comfort. San Bidet is a new local app, available for both Apple and Android devices, that tells you where you can find the nearest toilet with a bidet.

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Some of you are thinking, this Mike Tan must be anally fixated, having just written a column on poop shame, about people who have difficulties pooping in public toilets (or even in private ones if someone is nearby).

But, would you believe, I was surprised Wednesday’s Inquirer looked like a special toilet, with my column beside long articles on World Toilet Day and a Golden Kubeta award!

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This wasn’t planned. I did hear about the Golden Kubeta Awards and that the University of the Philippines was a semifinalist, but didn’t know the awarding was scheduled on Tuesday, Nov. 19, which was also World Toilet Day.

I googled to get more information on what this Kubeta award was, sponsored by the water company Maynilad. It’s intended to promote more consciousness about water conservation and also, I guess, better toilets.

So, indeed, all this was confirming something I’d long suspected: We are a scatologically obsessed nation, scatology being anything related to toilets, thus scat being a slang synonym for poop. If we want to become psychoanalytical about it, it isn’t just an anal fixation but a thing about body cleanliness, which I wrote about some years back in relation to the tabo, a hybrid between a ladle (much larger) and a pail (much smaller), and used to scoop water for bathing— and for cleaning after pooping. In other words, a Filipino bidet.

That was a long introduction to San Bidet, but wait, I need to give more context before we get to the app.

We use the tabo because we want to be extra clean. To be clean is to be pure; check our Filipino prayers and you find Mary extolled for kalinisan. How I wish, though, that we paid as much attention to our environs as we do the body. Instead, we neglect even the very toilet we use to keep ourselves clean.

It’s an example of the tragedy of the commons: We are fixated on the personal, but don’t care about the public sphere—in this case, the toilet. And because we want clean toilets but don’t care about doing our share to keep toilets clean, we end up frantically looking for other people’s clean toilets… or at least toilets with bidets.

We have to thank Lawrence Velasco, the guy who developed the app, for San Bidet, which does work, too, against the tragedy of the commons by asking people to report their discoveries of toilets with bidets, which now count more than 500 on the app. Descriptions sent in by people are pretty specific, like “under the stairs going up to Lime Hut Katipunan.”

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San Bidet listed several toilets with bidets for UP, but I’m happy just having a clean toilet. And that’s where I’m proud to say that Palma (AS) building, which every UP student passes through for general education subjects, has newly renovated toilets on the first floor that are wonderfully clean and bright (remember the song about hands?). That’s how we made it into the Golden Kubeta Awards semifinals, in the schools category. Like a beauty contest, there were only three in the final round—UP, Miriam College and Far Eastern University. The winner was FEU, which adds another championship target for us next year (the other being the UAAP men’s basketball).

We’re serious in UP about clean(er) toilets, but it’s an uphill battle. We have 25,000 students, and on weekends, about a thousand more people come from outside, converting UP Diliman into a public park. Again, the tragedy of the commons comes in, with everyone wanting clean toilets but only a handful willing to help keep them clean. One building administrator told me they’re always changing the flushing mechanisms because students, again obsessed with personal cleanliness, don’t want to touch the flushing handle and instead kick it to flush.

Let’s get now to World Toilet Day, which is about much more than bidets. This CR day is United Nations-designated to call attention to the sanitation aspect of public health. In the Philippines, the health department estimates there are 28 million Filipinos with no toilets at all, or who use “unimproved sanitation facilities.” That increases the risks for diarrheal diseases that, in turn, contributes to the stunting of children. In the Philippines, that’s a third of our young.

Oh, and while we fret about poop shame especially among women, let’s not forget that in areas without toilets at all, women actually run other risks, from voyeurs and rapists when they have to go out into the fields or use public toilets.

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