Toilet Talk

This is a squatter. I have no idea if there is an official name for this kind of toilet, but this is the most common kind of toilet that I’ve seen around the streets of Beijing.  We call it a “squatter” because that’s what you do — put your feet on either side of the hole and squat.  Toilet paper goes in the waste paper basket.  Most of the time, you need to bring your own tissues, but if you are lucky, there’s a dispenser (usually one big one outside of the bathroom, instead of individual ones inside each stall).

In the worst case scenarios, the bathrooms don’t have stalls. For example, at the school where we painted the walls, there was just one big space with holes in the ground right next to each other.  There was no running water in the bathroom there either, so the waste just went into the ground and there were no places to wash hands close by.  It was rather smelly like a port-a-potty, and it’s hard to get used to the lack of privacy.

Not all toilets are like this. Many places, like our hotel, have Western style toilets like the ones we have in the United States.  In Shanghai, I even saw this super fancy one, which someone told me is Japanese.  It has all sorts of extra special features, like washing from the front or rear, heating the seat, etc.  Pretty fancy! I didn’t try any of the extras, but I enjoyed the seat, liquid soap, and toilet paper in the stall.  After weeks without these bathroom features, it’s easy to forget that they are basic expectations in the States!

People here seem to have different ways of thinking about toilets.  Most toilets have signs that ask you to put toilet paper in a trash can.  Maybe they are trying to prevent clogged drains? I haven’t totally figured it out.

The most bizarre topic for toilet talk has got to be the babies.  They often don’t wear diapers here, but instead parents put them in open pants.  As one local pointed out to me, think about the waste that would be created if a billion people bought and threw out disposable diapers?  As an alternative, parents seem to anticipate when their baby has to go and hold them over a good place to go.  Unfortunately, this means that sometimes babies relieve themselves on the sidewalk, which can’t be very sanitary.  I still haven’t figured out what happens if they start to go on the subway.

It’s hard not to judge the Chinese culture, since I am so used to the way we do things back in the States.  However, I am learning to appreciate the squatter.  Once you get used to it, it’s possible to use this kind of toilet without touching anything except with the bottom of your shoes. And that actually feels more sanitary than public toilets back home! In some areas that we’ve visited, like the Hutongs, houses didn’t traditionally have their own bathrooms in the house.  Many people used these public toilets all the time, and some still do.  Since the public toilets don’t have showers, they would need to bathe using a bucket and sink.  When I think about that, it makes me complain less about using the smelly bathrooms here and there.  And besides, I’ve also gotten used to carrying tissues and anti-bacterial gel everywhere I go.

Categories: China

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11 replies »

  1. i don’t think I would like the squatter, i prefer to sit. but for the people who use them every day’s point of view our toilets must be really weird and new for them.

  2. We were also told to put paper in the trash can in Costa Rica. Hard to get used to, but I’m sure it’s to keep things from clogging up. It does make for a smellier bathroom. No squatters though!

  3. that is interesting! when i think of china, i think of word like: high-tech. modern and big. I though all toilets were like the special Japanese one. I never would have guess it was just holes in the ground!

  4. Holy moly Ms. Krakauer!!

    I remember the squatter quite well from when I was in Beijing. Phoo!! And some bathrooms were super smelly!! When my family and I went places, we brought along a couple/one spare roll(s) of toilet paper like you did.
    I feel really bad for the students at the school, they don’t even have any privacy at all! But, hey, at least they have a bathroom to go to!
    And wow!! You’re hotel must be a real fancy one to have toilets like that!! That has got to be the fanciest toilet I’ve ever seen!! Is it newly invented? ‘Cause I’ve never heard of it before.
    I sure hope that the toddlers don’t go to the bathroom on the subway. But, the parents DO have a point, too many diapers = too much waste. Can you even recycle diapers?
    I feel bad for the Hutongs, they don’t even have a bathroom in their house! At least they have a public bathroom, and they can wash themselves with a bucket and a sink.

    Have fun!!
    😉 ~ Anna

  5. I would not want to go to that school! They have no privacy! What if 2 need to go at the same time? Those squatters make the bathrooms in hockey rinks seem marvelous. (The bathrooms at Phillips Academy’s rink in Andover actually are marvelous to begin with.) But you see my point. Those squatters look disgusting!

  6. I don’t know how I’d (re) cope with “squatters.” In Nigeria, we had something similar to that, but luckily most of my family members had indoor plumbing with running water. Most.
    I also like the Japanese toilet. We need that thing in all houses in America.
    ~ Amara

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