Tabo by Helga Weber

Tales of the travelling tabo

I’m a self-confessed scruncher. This was also the article in which I admitted to having visited Sexpo.

There is one thing I never leave home without and it’s not my American Express. It’s the first item to go into my suitcase and the first to be unpacked. It’s on my packing checklist three times.

‘Mahal, did I pack the—‘

‘Yes!’ my husband usually groans in exasperation after hearing the same question for the umpteenth time.

‘OK, just checking…’ I rummage around for a few seconds. ‘Where? Where is it? OH, MY GOD, WHERE IS MY TABO?’

A tabo (TA-bo’) is a water jug, usually plastic with a sturdy handle. I prefer something that holds at least two litres of water, with a handle and a lip, so I can direct the flow of water. But I’m no purist. A small pail or plastic cup will do. As the Chinese find forks and knives barbaric against the elegance of chopsticks, the prospect of cleaning my bum with nothing but a flimsy bit of paper leaves me … insecure.

My husband has no tabo technique and finds it unusable. He thinks my obsession with the tabo is hilarious, especially stories of how I cope with the lack of … facilities. At school retreats, for example, I would go to the toilet after dark when it was deserted, then make a run for the showers when I’d done my business. In public … well, I just don’t go. Sorry kidneys, but my dignity wins this battle. Hubby assures me that with enough tissues on hand he can guarantee top hygiene with his wiping technique. But if wiping is enough, why do people have to wash their hands afterwards? Dry cleaning may be acceptable but I’ll take a rinse cycle any day.

Living in Sydney, land of 3-ply toilet paper, for almost twenty years has left me feeling somewhat marginalised. But I know there are other tabo aficionados out there. The Tabo Travel Troupe is a group of dedicated tabo photographers on Multiply™ with the philosophy that the tabo represents ‘the Filipino diaspora—similarly diverse and dispersed, yet, unmistakeably Pinoy’.

And imagine my delight at discovering that the tabo phenomenon is not restricted to Pinoys. At a Bangladeshi-Australian home – lo and behold! – I found a small, red tabo with a long, pointy handle. ‘How authentic!’ I marvelled later to my husband, who was clearly disturbed to learn that I now had international allies.

Economics plays a part in the tabo pyschology, with more affluent—or perhaps, less effluent—regions preferring the comfort of the bidet. My husband first discovered these amazing contraptions on our honeymoon in Europe. Most of our hotels featured a dedicated appliance for Extremely Personal Hygiene. My husband lovingly labelled them his ‘bum washers’. My Dad came back from Manila, his first visit in over fifteen years, with two spray-type toilet attachments. His fixation must have been obvious because now, whenever my Ninang plans to visit us in Sydney, she asks my dad if he needs another bidet.

Thankfully, Sydney seems to be catching up. The Little  Squirt is marketed as a hose for rinsing off non-disposable diapers but there’s no reason it can’t be used by the entire family. Last week, I also discovered a company called Australian Bidet. This made my heart swell with pride until my brain asked the obvious question, ‘Why is there a bidet stall at the Sexpo?’

What Pinoys take for granted in the lowly tabo is considered a luxury in many parts of the world. ‘My bum has become so spoiled!’ Hubby sighed as we left a particularly swanky hotel in Mestre. On our final night in Paris, he sadly contemplated the bidet-less world to which he was about to return while I smirked, the ancient knowledge of the tabo keeping me unfazed.

Forget the remotely controlled lights, LCD TV and pillow menu. If a pensione in Rome—hardly the lap of luxury—is civilised enough to have a bidet, why can’t a five-star hotel in Australia provide a tabo?

This article was first published in the October 2006 issue of PINOYexpats, an e-zine for Filipino expatriates. A modified version was later published in the Australian Filipina Magazine. I’ll post that version soon.

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