lostnchina

…because not all of us have our Peking ducks in a row

Toilet Tales

When I first came to China, I had enough drugs in my suitcase to put a pharmacy to shame: Extra-strength Tylenol, Sudafed, Sinutab, calcium tablets, multi-vitamins, oregano oil, garlic pills, Calms – an herbal sleep-aid, tetracycline, acetaminophine, Maalox, Pepto-Bismol, Metamusil, milk of magnesium, Gas-X, Immodium – in fact, over half of the pills I had were for digestive problems, which I had more of than Mike Tyson has missing teeth.

Mornings were the worst.  My stomach never cared for anything I’d ingested the night before and would make it known in a big way first thing in the morning.  Even if I ate nothing the night before, my stomach would dry heave out of habit.  Lunch was OK, as I usually ate little.   But then, come dinner time I was famished and would start eating what my stomach considered crap again.

Walking to and from work I learned where to go for a pit stop.  About ten minutes from work, there was a florist from whom I would frequently purchase a bouquet of Oriental lilies.  They had a small, but clean bathroom with a squat toilet.

Five minutes from home, Jenny, the owner of my favorite restaurant would let me use her bathroom without my having to order anything.  Jenny is Taiwanese and runs a tight ship of a restaurant with the cleanest bathrooms I’ve seen and smelled anywhere in China.  I once joked with her that her bathroom floors are clean enough to eat off of.  After those words left my mouth, I could see the cogs in Jenny’s brain turning my suggestion into a surreality.

Have a discounted three-course steak meal with the best ‘seats’ in the house!  First come first served!  the ad would say.  Jenny would transform the restaurant bathroom into a yoga studio with a juice bar, if someone suggested it.

In the month of March, Jenny is giving her guests an “amuse bouche” of dandelion greens, seaweed, tomatoes, capers and mozzarella, topped with a rose petal, a blade of grass, or a pine cone – whatever was about to expire in her pantry and freezer, or whatever she could find on the ground.  “Confuse bouche” would be a better term for these creations.  Thinking about it now, I’m not sure how much of my digestive problems can be attributed to Jenny and her food experimentation.

At the midpoint between work and home, there is also a row of disgusting public squat toilets.  I know they’re squat toilets, because I went in once, paid the toilet attendant – in China there sometimes are public toilet attendants who take money, keep the area clean and give you toilet paper, which you definitely shouldn’t take, even though is no toilet paper in public toilet stalls – then came right back out when I saw the condition of the facilities.

Although squat toilets are quite common in China and Taiwan and are considered more sanitary than regular toilets, as they don’t allow for any skin-to-toilet contact, I will never get used to them.  Usually, a squat toilet is a hole in the ground that’s rectangular in shape.  They might have a little backsplash.  The idea is to have the backsplash in front of you when you do your business.  And each squat toilet has a flush system, just like a regular toilet.

But in more rural areas of China a squat toilet may be nothing more than a trench in the ground that runs the whole length of the bathroom, without any stalls or doors.

On a visit to Shangdong, I had to stand by my Mother with a black umbrella (because the pink one with Hello Kitties would attract too much attention) while she did her business in a public squat trench without any stalls or doors.

Instead of deflecting attention, everyone who came into the public toilet tried to catch a glimpse of what was going on behind the black umbrella, while my Mother was unable to go, squatting and exasperatedly yelling things like, Nothing to see here, people!  You think I’m dropping a baby?  What, haven’t you seen a woman take a dump before?!

It finally took a century-old old toothless woman holding her granddaughter, while carrying her grandson strapped to her back – both granddaughter and old woman were doing their businesses over the trench – to point out, that putting the umbrella away would probably help tremendously in keeping the curious at bay.

Missus, I’ve seen enough Brillo pads in my day, and yours ain’t anything to look at, so just do us all a favor – put that goddamn umbrella away and shut the fuck up!

My Mother thought the old woman was incredibly crass and uncivilized and kept shooting her dirty looks from behind the umbrella while desperately squatting over the trench.  But I believed the old woman showed great balance, dexterity and chutzpah.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a water buffalo parked outside, which she was leading to slaughter through voice command – Water Buffalo, lay the fuck down on the ground and stay perfectly still, so I can slit your goddamn throat!  (Or however the hell water buffaloes are killed.)

I regretted not giving her the umbrella.

*****

One of the drawbacks to my office in China is that it has only one sink and one toilet stall, and I have about 10 people in my office, most of them women.  But at least the toilet is a regular toilet and not a hole in the ground.

Fortunately, unless my stomach is having one of its hissy fits, I could work the entire morning without going to the bathroom, as I’m often too busy to even think about the bathroom.  But whenever I do use the bathroom it’s inevitably occupied…for a longgg time.

“VV,” I asked my Accounting Manager Assistant one day, “What’s up with the bathroom, why is it always occupied?”

“Oh, it is because people close the door after using the bathroom, but there’s actually nobody inside.  Let me notify everyone to keep the door open a crack.”

The next day, there was a notice on the door of the bathroom:

Please do not close the bathroom door fully after use to ensure proper air flow.

It wasn’t what I really meant, and the proper air flow statement was ripe for ridicule, but as long as it got the job done, who was I to complain.  Besides, I always felt nobody in my company had a sense of humor – especially one that was as sophomoric as mine.

But the next day, someone had caught onto the “air flow” comment and scrawled underneath the notice,

The door is closed after use because we don’t want our noxious “air” to “flow” out of the bathroom and contaminate everyone.

Vivian was livid, “Look at how the notice is vandalized!  It’s stupid and disgusting!”  So, another notice was put up on the door.

Please don’t vandalize the notices posted for everyone’s benefit. or else you’ll be punished.

I didn’t agree with that notice either – how do you **punish** someone for vandalizing a reminder about closing the bathroom door?  Lock him or her in the bathroom with the noxious odors? Besides, a notice like that was just inviting more ridicule.

People started posting their feelings or their own notices in the bathroom.  You couldn’t even walk into the bathroom without a notice sticking you in the eye or glaring at you when you’re sitting on the john doing your business –

Please do not splatter your urine everywhere.  Are you so blind that you miss the target completely?  Why don’t you just go in your pants? It is disgusting!

If I follow the rules of the bathroom, will that count towards my raise?

Be sure to wipe off the sink counter after use.  Thank you.

To Whomever is on a Big Bean Diet – PLEASE FLUSH THE TOILET COMPLETELY AFTER USE!!!

Please vote here, if you think there are too many notices in the bathroom.

Big Brother is watching you do number two….

Jesus saves, but you should flush!

*****

Another more serious issue with the toilets in China is the water pressure, which never seems adequate enough to get “everything down in one flush”.  Both China and Taiwan have poor plumbing systems, causing toilets in most places to flush half-heartedly, as if flushing was a part-time job that the toilets took on, before they moved onto bigger and better things, like being part of a gallery display, or the prop in a movie.  Most toilets can’t even handle things, like toilet paper.   And if you’re higher up in a highrise building, the problem is magnified.  That’s why you’ll often see toilet paper thrown into a garbage can next to a toilet.

Fortunately, there’s also an extra faucet coming out of the walls of most bathrooms in China, for the convenience of filling up a bucket for mopping the floor.  Except I use it mainly for filling up buckets of water and throwing the water down the toilet in lieu of flushing.

On this particular day, my stomach was performing somersaults and I had to excuse myself from an important client meeting to go to the bathroom.  However, the person who had used the bathroom before me (Big Bean Diet), didn’t flush completely, so I proceeded to fill up the mop bucket with water.

Halfway through filling up the bucket, the faucet suddenly came apart.  By this I mean that the water started spraying everywhere instead of falling down into the bucket.  I turned off the water and threw it down the toilet.  It wasn’t enough to do the job.

I tried filling up a bowl at the sink while continuing to fill up the mop bucket, at the same time mopping the floor, which was becoming increasingly wet.  Besides ridding the toilet of Big Bean I had to get enough water to flush my own toilet afterwards.

I didn’t realize how much time had gone by till Tracy, one of my Account Reps, knocked on the bathroom door, asking if I was OK and saying that the customer would also like to use the bathroom.

I swung open the bathroom door and Tracy shrieked when she saw me.  The only other time I had ever made a woman shriek like that was when I’d forgotten to lock the door of my bathroom stall while in the EVA Airline Lounge in Taipei. Women in China – albeit older women from rural areas – often used the john with the doors wide open.  I didn’t see what the big deal at the EVA Lounge was – hadn’t the woman ever seen other women sitting on the john playing Scrabble on their iPhones before?  It’s not like she could see anything anyways.

But I understood why Tracy screamed: the front of my white shirt was soaked through to the bra.  One of my earrings was dangling precariously from my ear lobe, about to commit suicide and fall out of my ear completely. My hair was a mess.  I’d taken off my shoes, as the floor was wet and slippery and I didn’t want to take a nasty spill.  I was also sweating like a pig.

WhoWHO…is this Big Bean Diet!” I demanded, my voice an ominous whisper.  “He, she, or it is driving me insane with…the toilet!”

Kudos to Tracy for suggesting that I dry off and put on my jacket to hide my wet t-shirt contest.  She also made reservations for lunch at a restaurant with a nice, clean bathroom and roomy stalls.  Then, the other employees cleaned up the bathroom. We later got the faucet fixed.

Big Bean Diet was never to be seen in the toilet again.

Related Posts:

Toto, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: A Foreigner’s Guide on What NOT TO DO While Living in China

Three Made-in-China Things that Almost Killed Me

28 comments on “Toilet Tales

  1. Pingback: A Very Chinese Home Remodel | lostnchina

  2. Carlton Max
    May 24, 2012

    Dry heaves in the morning.
    Susan, I trust you have been… Careful?

    Like

  3. Pingback: The LostNChina Interviews – MrMary sits with Suzanita 1 « A Spoonful of Suga

  4. Linda Pou
    April 6, 2012

    For the first 2 or 3 months when I lived in China, I couldn’t/wouldn’t use the squat toilets. Would you believe I used to try before I left home then if I had to “go” at work, I would wait as long as possible then run down the stairs, hail a taxi, go home, run up 6 flights of stairs, get through the steel’ looks-like-a-bank-safe’ front door, use my western toilet, run back down the 6 flights of stairs, get a taxi, go back to work and run back up the 3 flights of stairs to the school office! Whew! Of course I couldn’t always do that so eventually I had to give in and use a squat toilet!
    Carrying your own toilet roll around took a bit of getting used to, too!

    Like

    • lostnchina
      April 6, 2012

      Good grief, woman! How can you live like that! Give your poor bladder a break.

      Like

  5. matthewjacksonblog
    March 16, 2012

    I loved this blog post! Very funny stuff 🙂

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 16, 2012

      Thanks for your comment and for stopping by!

      Like

      • matthewjacksonblog
        March 16, 2012

        It was my pleasure 🙂

        Like

  6. elmer
    March 13, 2012

    How about squat toilets, three in a row, without partition? Dont believe me? I found one in this resto in Shanxi. Wouldnt it be enchanting to see, hear and smell each other

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 13, 2012

      Yes, very lovely. Don’t forget to drink lots of Baijiou first!

      Like

  7. mrmarymuthafuckingpoppins
    March 12, 2012

    Wow that was … wow. I remember when I went to India and was looking for a bathroom and was shown a platform with a whole in the middle . This takes the cake tho

    Like

  8. WSW
    March 12, 2012

    There’s also the difficulty of using a squatter after about the fifth martini. I regularly encountered these torture chambers in Europe (Europeans are SO much more sophisticated…yeah right) as recently as the 1980s, and let me tell you, you really have to think twice about answering the call of nature after about mid-meal. Of course, if you’re drunk enough, you’ll invite a friend in to prop you up and ensure you don’t pee all over your party shoes, or even a random stranger if circumstances are, shall we say, urgent…not that I’d know anything about that. I hear things.

    As always, Susan, you make me laugh right out loud.

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 12, 2012

      You know, there is something about squat toilets that bring people and communities together – and not necessarily in a good way. I didn’t know Europe even had squat toilets – that is surprising. But after the fifth martini, I probably wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind to worry much about the little formalities of squat toiletry. You hold — I mean — that “random stranger” holds her liquor well!

      Like

      • WSW
        March 12, 2012

        Susan, if I held my liquor well, there’d be no fourth martini and certainly no fifth.

        Like

  9. expatlingo
    March 12, 2012

    I still don’t understand how to keep the backsplash off of my own shoes. I’m short and there is only so far apart I can keep my feet. Please quiz the ladies in your office; any tips greatly appreciated.

    (PS Please ignore the suggestion if you’ve already chased it down as a possible cause of your tummy woes before, but have you ever been tested for celiac disease?)

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 12, 2012

      Um, “backsplash” is a problem with these squat toilets and I’ve yet to figure it out myself. Let me post a notice up in the bathroom and let you know what replies I get (yeah, right).

      I found out last year that I had a lovely little bacteria knocking about in my stomach that was the culprit, but even after getting rid of it, there are still the lingering issues. But thanks for your concern and for stopping by!

      Like

  10. cristycarringtonlewis
    March 12, 2012

    That’s hysterical. Great post! God, I’m never moving to China now. I use the bathroom at least twenty times a day. I have to imagine that the Chinese have amazing thigh muscles if their able to squat like that and go to the bathroom. I think my legs would give out if I was constipated or suffering from irritable bowel syndrome that day. Perhaps you should consult a gastroenterologist? It might make life there easier. 😉

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 12, 2012

      Thanks for stopping by. No, no, please DO come to China. I need someone to move to here so she and I can start up a restaurant called, “I Don’t Give a Crap”. I’ve no idea what food I’ll serve, but there will definitely be pay toilets installed.

      By the way, I loved your post about David Sedaris (found your link on his Facebook page). How sad he is gay…(but maybe he’ll *re-consider* after reading your great post!)

      Like

      • cristycarringtonlewis
        March 12, 2012

        I’ll give that some serious thought. There are so many punny places I could go right now with this, but since I’m now awake in the middle of the night with gastro problems, I think I’ll pass to avoid turning my own stomach.

        Glad you enjoyed the David Sedaris post; check out the rest on my blog page. You, David and I go places the rest of world is a little afraid of: toilets, smelly farts, animal bestiality (that last one is all David; I don’t think I’ve gone there yet), yet we do it with sensitivity. Sorry, I think I just vomited in my mouth. Okay, maybe sensitivity isn’t the word – we do it. Enough said.

        Like

  11. J DUBBS
    March 12, 2012

    Holy crap (pun intended), that is a clean squatty potty!

    I have quite a few toilet horror stories during my summer abroad in China as well…*shudders*

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 12, 2012

      Do write a post about your toilet experiences. I know it might get crass, but so what! You need to get it all out (pun intended, too)! Thanks for reading!

      Like

  12. shardsofchina
    March 11, 2012

    I’m going to say “jinx” because I ran a Chinese loo story today too – but yours was somewhat more comprehensive than mine. 🙂

    Like

    • lostnchina
      March 12, 2012

      I suppose you can say “great minds think alike” (about toilets), but the sad reality is, when I was writing this post and did a search for SQUAT TOILET pictures I ran into an abominable number of China toilet stories.

      Like

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This entry was posted on March 11, 2012 by in China, Humor and tagged , , , .
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