Surviving The Toilets Of China

It was a shock to go to the washroom for the first time in China.  It was during a stop in a rural while taking a Sleeper Bus from Hong Kong to Yangshou. The bus was equipped with a small closet washroom, but I never saw anyone use it. If the locals were not using it, I wasn’t about to.

We had been warned about the toilets in China, but nothing could have prepared me for this experience. I followed other ladies from the bus into the building that housed the facilities. I was preparing myself to use a squat toilet for the first time, but to my surprise it was even worse.

Inside there was a trough that ran from one end of the room to the other. Several dividers that were barely two feet tall separated the trough into several sections. They offered little privacy, I was going to have to throw all modesty out the window and just get on with it. A hole in the bottom of the divider allowed water to run along the trough. Unfortunately the water flow was not strong enough and all kinds of substances were stuck in place. As you can imagine the entire room reeked of human waste. The trough continued through a hole in the wall to the other side of the building, which was the men’s facility. I could only imagine the state of their side.

I quickly whipped down my pants and got on with business, which thank goodness was only number one. If I had to do anything else I think I would have found somewhere outside. During my elimination a scene occurred that couldn’t be more typical of the stories you hear. A chicken walked into the bathroom. I shook my head in disbelief as it pecked around oblivious to what everyone was doing around it.

A common type of toilet found in China is pictured below. It is a squat toilet placed within the floor. They can be located in a private stall, but often there is no door.

Hotels and hostels catering to international tourists will have western style toilets. Restaurants and shopping facilities in high tourists areas will likely offer both options. If you are looking for a western style one they will usually be marked, look for signs. Sometimes you will see “tourist toilet.”

Tips For Using The Washroom In China

  • Don’t assume anything will be provided for you. This includes toilet paper, soap, something to dry your hands or even a sink for that matter. Always carry hand sanitizer and a small pack of tissues.
  • The squat toilets or pits can be gruesome. The floor around it often wet and filthy. Roll you pants up so they don’t touch the floor while you go. Carry a pack of wet wipes if you are wearing sandals in case you need to wipe your feet after.
  • Men have it a lot easier than women. It’s a lot more difficult for us to urinate, mastering the squat takes practice. Place your feet flat on each side of the hole. Make sure your pants are well out of the way and then aim as best as you can. Don’t be embarrassed if you get some splash back on the first few attempts. It happens, you’ll figure it out.
  • If you see a waste basket near the toilet it means it doesn’t handle paper,  put it in the basket. If there is a bucket of water with a scoop it is for flushing down the waste.
  • If you have someone with you give them your extra belongings, purse, bags, coat etc. There usually is not a spot to hang or place them, nor would you want to.
  • It can be difficult to find somewhere to go at times.  If and when you come across a facility use it, especially if you find a descent one. Keep a look out for the international symbol for washroom, the big golden “M”, McDonald’s. Or seek out the washroom in a shopping mall or hotel, they tend to be cleaner and more modern.
  • Have a few rmb coins on you at all times, public washrooms often have a charge for use.
  • To find out where the nearest washroom is most locals will understand if you ask for the WC.
  • Not all washrooms in China are separate for men and women, be warned.
  • As with many other things we do in China as a westerner, using a toilet can spark curiosity. Don’t be surprised if someone is interested in watching your relief efforts.

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