Toilets in China
Shenzhen Travel Blog› entry 74 of 174 › view all entries
Like you didn't see this coming. Did you really think I was going to be in China for a month and not mention the beyond disgusting state of their toilets? Notice how I refrained from commenting on them along the way? I've been saving up kiddies. Those of you holding a danish may want to put that down and rethink breakfast.
Toilets in China are revolting. Absolutely, positively, disgusting. We're not talking the typical "ew" factor that is standard for public restrooms elsewhere. We're talking FOUL. These things don't get cleaned. Ever. And the vast majority of them (as in, it was a rarity for them not to be this way) involved poop where it isn't meant to be, like someone took a dump on a random spot on the floor, or smeared it on the walls, or left piles of it scattered around in various stages of "freshness." Almost like it was a game to leave your mark in the form of poop. This demanded that you not only bring your own toilet paper, but that you also bring a clean handkerchief everywhere you went to hold over your face, and perfect the art of holding your breath for hitherto unheard-of lengths of time.
So, there is the horrifyingly unhygienic state of the restrooms. On top of that, there is the actual structure of the restrooms. I've been to Asia once before, and after clocking in a solid two months into this trip, you can say I'm accustomed to the squat toilets. Certainly not my favorite, and I avoid them where I can (Japan often had both "western" and "Asian" toilet options). In China, there is no choice to be had. Fair enough; I'm on your turf. But what took me a solid three weeks to get over was the stalls. The stalls vary in size and shape everywhere you go. In other words, the height of the stalls is what changes. Some places there are stalls that reach as high as they would elsewhere, blocking the view of those outside, as is standard for pretty much everywhere else. Many places, however, have stalls that stopped below my waist. I imagine this is waist-high for most Chinese (seeing as I towered over them), but still. You stand up and you're looking at your neighbor. No no, let me repaint that for you: you walk into a room that looks like a maze and you can't help but see dozens of people squatting and going about their business. I'd have to squat just to drop my pants. Luckily, I heard about this phenomenon a day or two before I first encountered it myself, so I didn't freak out or shriek in total shock and horror. But even then, the first time I walked into one of those, I visibly recoiled, and was like what the hell am I supposed to do with this?? Little did I know, I should have been thankful for the doors. Yes, doors. Doors are optional here in China. Didn't you know? I encountered stalls without doors more often than I encountered short stalls. And then there are the restrooms without doors or stalls. As in, a row of holes in the ground. Now THAT is a treat.
And the thing is, Chinese women take ALL DAY when they go to the bathroom. Alllllll freakin' day. They just sit there, squatting over a hole in the ground, and think about the errands they need to do, how they really wish they had a husband with a full set of teeth, the meaning of life, and how best to stare and shove and scream at the next foreigner they encounter. Me, I get in and get out. A Chinese restroom is not somewhere you want to be spending even a moment longer than needed. But they sit there, without any doors, and stare at you. STARE AT YOU. This is a public restroom, people! STOP STARING AT ME! So my ass is a little whiter than yours. So what of it? Bugger off!
Then of course there is the matter of relaying to someone that you need a restroom in the first place. "Restroom" and "bathroom" get you nowhere in Asia. (I wouldn't begin to try to convey "water closet.") You need to say "toilet." Which is horribly graphic and crass to me, but I'm under the impression that's standard jargon for Europeans so perhaps that's why Asians are groomed to understand "toilet." Most everyone understands the word "toilet," even if they don't speak any English beyond the customary "hello! bamboo! bamboo! hello! watch! money! hello! watch! bamboo!" Even then, you are bound to encounter someone who doesn't know the word "toilet" either. In these circumstances, I found I got my meaning across by merely pointing at the ground. Totally serious. Just point at the ground, and you're shown the nearest squat toilet. Does this strike anyone else as horribly crass and barn animal-like, or am I the only one?
And then there is the phenomenon of babies in chaps. Yep, you read that correctly. Babies in assless chaps. Crotchless chaps too, for that matter. Every single baby in China is strapped into a pair of crotchless/assless chaps. We're talking infants on up to toddlers. They look like standard baby clothes, with bright colors and whimsical prints on them, and are usually made of cotton. (I've seen them in lighter cotton for the heat and thick quilted cotton for the cold, and even resembling puffy ski pants, sans crotch.) The first time I encountered this was walking past a woman holding a baby on the street in Shanghai, and I was HORRIFIED. I was all "lady, your kid's ass is hanging out." It wasn't until I saw one perched on the lap of his father on a subway that I realized the chaps were crotchless as well as assless, and the shock and horror grew further still. I sat there, directly next to him, making faces and waving at him, the whole time keeping my legs as far away as possible from him; what happens when the baby needs to pee? I mean, seriously. That is a valid question. Babies pee. And poop. A LOT. And these people are carting them around IN CROTCHLESS ASSLESS CHAPS. That has YOUR KID JUST SHAT ON ME written all over it.
Well, I'll tell you what happens when babies need to pee. I've witnessed it, quite a few times. The parent stops, wherever he or she is, and squats down as if they were the ones about to go to the bathroom. They then sit the kid on their lap, the baby's legs spread wiiiiiiiiiide open, straddling his/her parent's knees, and the baby pees/poops. Right there. WHEREVER THEY HAPPEN TO BE. Usually, this is on a sidewalk. I saw a few more considerate parents do this next to the street, as opposed to right in the middle of all the foot traffic. I've seen this against the sides of buildings, on the floors of open kiosks, and once I even saw a woman put a plastic bag on the ground in a tree planter for her kid to then squat over, parent-free (I'd ballpark the kid was 4 or so, he was old enough to pull down his own pants and had hence graduated to fully covered pants).
Apparently peeing/pooping wherever one is at any given moment isn't a big deal to the Chinese, and was downright standard behavior until very recently. Even for grown adults. As you might imagine, it got a bit out of hand. People peeing and pooping all over the place. The government installed millions of public toilets across the country, down back alleys and on main streets and out in the middle of nowhere, to curb its citizens from dropping trou in the street. Furthermore, a huge ad campaign was required to convert these people to using toilets. Not. Even. Kidding. So for babies to be trained to act this way is quite normal for the Chinese; that's what they were taught and what they did themselves until about ten years ago.
I understand the necessity for the chaps though. Paper is hard to come by in China. It's an expensive commodity. I haven't seen diapers sold anywhere; I'm sure they're outrageously expensive and ridiculously hard to come by. I imagine the baby chaps evolved just as anything else does: out of need.
What I want to know is, how do the babies communicate to the parents "ok buddy, let me down, I've got to go." Sure, the toddlers can convey their meaning well enough. But infants? Babies at four, six, eight, ten months? How is this communicated??
Babies in crotchless/assless pants is something I'm not sure I'll ever grow accustomed to. It's WEIRD. And it's entertaining as hell when you're walking through Xi'an's Muslim Quarter with four American dudes and a toddler runs out into the street ahead of you and bends down to pick something up -- you've got five disgusted Americans loudly groaning and fake-retching and shrieking in horror. And one of the boys invariably asking "Which disturbed you more? His asshole or his balls?"
Mmmm, how 'bout that danish?