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The low down and dirty on Chinese toilets

When Andres and I were living in China we befriended an American scientist with a healthy dose of wanderlust. He’s been travelling throughout Asia for a while before he buckles down to do his PhD. Along the way he’s been writing about his journey and recently shared a story that was too funny, and way too familiar NOT to reshare. Because as you know, we believe, everyone loves a bit of toilet humour!

I’ve seen so many people urinating and defecating in public that it hadn’t occurred to me to write about it until I watched a video of a guy tricking cops into thinking he was peeing, a prank which would go over most Chinese peoples’ heads. People are not squeamish about their bodily functions here, which I learned firsthand when I landed in Shanghai. I witnessed a beautiful woman tilt her head back, close one of her nostrils, and launch a glob of mucus onto the airport’s floor*. In Chengdu, I saw a man pooping into a bush literally 5 feet away from a major arterial road. NBD.

I guess this is what 1.3 billion people looks like. The country can’t afford everyone their space and privacy.

People are constantly hawking and spitting around you. I have learned to be wary anytime I hear the throaty “HHHHHHHHHAAAWK” because I have been nearly spit on many a time. You understand why after your body reacts to the pollution and bacterial assault that is China: your eyes puff up and you get a permanently runny nose.

Bathrooms are often designed without privacy considerations. In many cases, the bathroom is simply a sloped trough. Fancier bathrooms have ~3 ft high partitions so that people can have their own space, but there is no “front door” and you are watching your neighbors as you take leave a shit. Often times squatters are located under showers and act as a shower drain. I wanted to take pictures of some of the more absurd ones, but photographing a room full of Chinese men while they are squat-shitting is a bit impolite. In hindsight, they probably would not have cared. I have seen Chinese guys pooping in hostel bathrooms without bothering to close the door (hostel bathrooms have doors and occasionally a western toilet to appease westerners).

I can’t help but smile when I look back at my post about the first time I used a squatter toilet. Since then I have become used to squatters (having spent weeks without seeing a western toilet) and have had far grosser encounters with human waste. It took some getting used to going from a country where we fastidiously clean up our dogs’ poop to a country which is a large human poop minefield.

The farther west you go in China, the higher frequency in disgusting bathrooms and poop stories. Especially on the trains. A backpacker I met witnessed a woman in a Yunnan train helping her little kid poop in the bathroom: carrying the kid at the entrance of the bathroom, she took aim and fired a volley from her poop gun onto the bathroom floor.
Actually, babies and toddlers are a great source for poop encounters. They don’t use diapers. Instead, their pants have a large hole in the back, their butts ready for a quick shit. You gotta feel sorry for kids enduring the Beijing winter, all bundled up with their butts exposed to the elements. Potty training consists of mom crouching on a sidewalk, holding the kid up in between her spread legs, and waiting impatiently for the kid to finish.

One day as I exited a Bank of China, a kid squatted and start shitting on the marble steps. Mom ran over and giddily started hopping up and clapping her hands, cheering. As far as I can tell, only adults use diapers when they migrate back to their homes for the holidays, on trains so crowded they are required to stand packed for several days and take standing shits.

I have picked up the habit of public urination. Everyone does it, it doesn’t harm anyone, and it’s super convenient. Public toilets can be elusive and evocative of a Lovecraftian horror. So disgusting that once I walked back outside and pissed against the side of the building. Even pandas develop strange urination habits in China.

Mental note: stop peeing in public and slurping your noodles when you go back home. But, hey, at least I don’t litter like everyone else here does…

A note on hand washing: it doesn’t happen. I try not to think about it when I see a cook peeing behind their restaurant. Also, paper is almost never provided at bathrooms, or even restaurants. Everyone carries around little tissue packets on their person at all times.

*The “ground” as a concept is a realm where dirty and unwanted things such as garbage, unfinished food, and bodily fluids are dumped without second thought. And I don’t just mean outside: people spit and discard cigarette butts on the floor of restaurants, trains, and buildings in general.

Have a funny poop story? Of course you do. Share it with us in the comments!


PS: You can read more of his words and connect with Richard on his Facebook Page.

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Related posts:

Dazed, amused and a little disgusted on Planet China
Photo dump: The dance of the dragon
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