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Chamber Of Ten Thousand Flowers

These seem to be something of an issue for some travellers. Surely a toilet is a toilet wherever you are and no matter what you call it – the john, the lavatory, powder-room, washroom, bathroom, restroom, WC, loo, bog – it serves the same purpose. And it is a little unfair to label the toilets you find in the middle kingdom exclusively ‘Chinese toilets’ as the same type of arrangement is used in so many other parts of the world; similar loos were used in Europe until only a couple of hundred years ago.

At places like Shanghai PuDong Airport the toilets are western style and immaculate [they would shame many similar places in the west] but the further away from these places you go the more different they become and the more basic they are likely to be. A Chinese [or any other Asian] toilet is a squat hole, there is no seat so you just squat with the hole between your feet and get on with the job [just make sure everything in your pockets is safe]. However there are many variations on this theme and this is where the fun [or otherwise] starts.

In most buildings the hole will be connected with a pipe running under the floor and there may be a flush mechanism, in which case it shouldn’t get too dirty or smelly. Some public toilets consist of an open-topped channel which runs under a row of cubicles, not dissimilar to the type of arrangement designed by Thomas Crapper in the 19th century, so everything which goes into the channel floats along underneath every user – this can be somewhat odorous at times and a little off-putting for delicate oversensitive capitalist noses. In rural areas toilets are often just earth pits with a squat hole above them. There is nothing wrong with earth toilets, I have used them many times, but those in China tend to be shallow so are more liable to be smelly. In other parts of the world earth pits are as deep as the digger dares to go, often as much as 2 metres, but in China not so. The reason for this is that now and again someone will go around the village scooping out the contents which are then used as manure. Using excrement as manure is ok if it is well rotted first but often it is thrown directly on to the fields which gives you one very good reason you should always wash vegetables thoroughly. Many farmhouses use a large bucket for a latrine, this will be emptied out as and when necessary and the contents used for the same purpose. Unless you travel around rural areas you are unlikely to come across earth toilets.

All towns and cities have public toilets and the standard of hygiene, convenience and privacy will vary a lot. Many public toilets are dirty and offer little privacy. Doors to cubicles get damaged or broken completely so some places don’t bother fitting doors at all. Yet others are spotless and maintained to the best standards, a lot seems to depend on who is in charge. Toilets found in restaurants are usually better than those open to the public but are unlikely to be western style, but they are adequate and do the job. But do remember to keep a supply of tissues with you as toilet paper is rarely supplied in public or restaurant toilets. The other thing you should be aware of is that the sewerpipes will probably be very narrow. Flushing excessive amounts of toilet paper down the tube quickly chokes the sewers and you get a backflush. Most toilet cubicles will have a wastepaper basket or bin for disposing of toilet paper – if you see one nearby, take a hint and use it.

On trains, in most carriages toilets are the standard squat hole and there will be a bar on the wall facing you to give you something to hang on to while the train is swaying from side to side. If you intend doing any long distance travelling by train [and most travelling in China is long distance] then this is a skill which you must master. So hang tight there dude . . . . . .

and happy travelling

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One Response

  1. Similar loos are still used in Europe… France has many of them, and in a worse condition than many of the Chinese ones.
    Somebody else posted something informative on this subject recently with this YouTube video which is a Japanese cartoon of “instructions for use of a squat toilet”. Very informative, but I still wouldn’t try it in a public one !

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