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We’ve already discussed culture shock in China a bit on here in the last few months. In case you didn’t catch those posts, here’s a quick recap:
Next up, we’re exploring the public bathroom situation in China. For Westerners visiting the Middle Kingdom, their first stop in a Chinese latrine can be downright terrifying. Don’t expect a nice porcelain throne tucked away in a private stall here. Instead, you’re almost definitely going to find a squatty potty. What’s that, you ask? Well, sometimes pictures are better than words at explaining things:
Approaching this thing for the first time can be quite intimidating. I had one friend get completely naked, sans his socks and shoes, before attempting to use one. Some people just refuse to even try and do everything in their power to avoid having to squat. I once had a colleague tell me he’d walk 20 minutes back to his apartment from work in favor of using the school’s facilities.
If you’re lucky, there will be an actual stall with a door that you can lock for a little privacy. However, in most public restrooms, you’ll only find a small wall on either side of the toilet – no doors here. Think of a voting booth without the curtain. Basically, take your average Western bathroom, remove the toilet and doors, and you’ve got the Chinese version. Say goodbye to privacy, and get used to watching other people go to the bathroom while they watch you. I’m not sure about the ladies’ room, but at least for guys you can expect to share the space with Chinese men who yell into their cell phones, smoke, and read the newspaper while doing their business. I do my best to divert my eyes, take care of business, and get the hell out of there.
Take a great tour of Chinese bathrooms in this video.
Did I mention that China is a BYOTP society? It’s true. Always make sure to carry a few packets of tissue with you, because you will not find even a shred of toilet paper in a Chinese bathroom. Forgetting to bring your own can land you in some sticky situations out there. Sometimes after eating a big plate of spicy and oily ma la tang, nature calls and you have to answer. Without any TP, you might just have to get creative – 1 RMB notes, socks, and other odd objects have to be considered to get the job done. Here’s one particularly funny exchange I had with a friend one day when one of us ended up in this less than desirable situation:
“Hey. I’m wiping my ass with your lesson plans.”
“Literally or figuratively? I do make some pretty shitty lesson plans.”
“Literally. No TP in here and it’s the best I could find.”
“It’s alright. That’s probably a better use for them anyways.”
After such a traumatic experience, all you want to do is wash your hands thoroughly. Once again, you’re SOL in a Chinese bathroom – no soap anywhere here. Make sure you carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you if you’re going out in China. A small bottle of whiskey might not be a bad idea, either – it’ll help you forget about what you just went through.
Hopefully things will get better in Chinese bathrooms in the future, as the Chinese government has really lost face due to the poor impression that most tourists have of them. According to this Huffington Post piece, there’s now a two fly limit in public Beijing restrooms. Who knows how one could even go about enforcing that, but hey, at least they’re somewhat trying, right?
Of course, not all bathrooms in China are a horror story. In upscale shopping malls, Western restaurants, and airports, you’ll find Western style thrones, toilet paper, and soap. Thankfully, you will not find the offensive smell that comes along with common public facilities. If you’re out there and you find yourself urgently in need of a toilet, a good rule-of-thumb is to find the nearest McDonald’s or KFC. You won’t always find a great bathroom in these places, but they’ll most certainly be better than a public latrine down a hutong.
If you’re too lazy to read the whole blog post, just watch this video.
So what’s the deal with these Chinese bathrooms and toilets? Well, Chinese people believe that squatting is much better for you. This idea is catching on even in the West; you can even buy a squatty potter from this website. Chinese people are also totally grossed out about the idea of sitting on a toilet seat that tons of other people use. If you’ve ever seen footprints on a toilet seat, they’re probably from a visiting Chinese person. Finally, they also believe it is disgusting for so many people to touch doors, hence the wide open bathrooms and lack of stalls. I’m not sure what they have against toilet paper or soap, though. I guess you just don’t want to pay for those things for so many people!