Before we came to China, I thought we had bathroom chops enough to cope with anything the world had to offer. And then…
Well, then we came to China.
DON’T POO IN THIS TOILET
This is the sign that greeted me in my first Chinese toilet.
I’m not joking. And nor were they.
In fact, they had even placed a grill over the hole in their squat to prevent anyone attempting to, umm, pass solids. (Not that that stops folk in changing room showers, believe you me.)
Anywise, I went down the road to the public toilet. No grilles there. Also, no paper.
But plenty of used sanitary towels, scattered confetti style. Something of a theme in Chinese ladies rooms.
SO WHAT IF THERE’S AN ARMANI IN THIS MALL?
Now, Chinese bathrooms have improved a little over the last couple of thousand years — they’re not placed over pig pens, for starters.
But not much. In serene yet urban Kunming, we explored the toilets in various local malls.
All of them squats. All of them stinking.
Many of them with a flush so under-powered that any deposit that didn’t hit the hole just stayed there, waiting for you.
Even in a really expensive mall.
Where folk continued to do their business, trousers round their ankles, while chatting loudly with the door wide open. Why?
BECAUSE PLENTY OF BATHROOMS DON’T HAVE DOORS
This was what greeted me when heading for a pee in a small Chinese railway station.
The most obvious confounding factor was the absence of doors. Now, I can deal with that. I’m not shy.
On closer inspection, however, matters became considerably worse. What lies behind the non-doors is a long, communal trench, over which you hover to do your business.
How do you flush? Well, some have a flush in the cubicle at the top of the trench that sweeps all leavings down — UNDERNEATH anyone who’s unfortunate enough to be using one of the lower positions.
Others have a bucket that the attendant chucks down there occasionally.
Others, as one I used in Beijing, go for a REALLY long drop and let it all mound up.
AND, APPARENTLY IT GETS WORSE
I liked the passive-aggressive nature of this sign in a hostel bathroom.
But Chinese bathrooms get a hell of a lot worse than these.
There are the ones with no partitions at all. Just the communal trench.
The ones with a partition for every two squats, so that you and a friend can defecate together. (These are particularly unnerving in Beijing, where every sentence seems to end with a piratical “arrr”.)
The ones with what appears to be a flush mechanism that actually floods the floor through a tube on the other side of the room.
But the most mystifying thing of all?
Chinese cities are at least as clean as European cities. And you could eat your dinner off the bathroom floor in the average family home…
Where are the worst bathrooms you’ve ever seen?
*Note: Since first writing this post three years ago I have experienced many worse Chinese toilets than these. One that especially sticks in my mind was at a rural rest stop on a long bus ride in north-eastern China: not only were there no partitions between the squats, but the cesspit into which everything fell was entirely open to the air, complete with visible floaters. Though one does adapt: in one partition-less loo in a Beijing hutong, another foreigner entered while I was squatting to pee, and I blithely opened conversation, knickers round ankles, in authentic Chinese style.