Friday, May 16, 2014

Bathroom Tips for the Tourist in China

Since arriving in China, I've been thinking about how you can't really judge something as complex as a country or a person based on the limited experience you gain in the course of a couple days. Or really, even, weeks. That's why most people date for months and months before getting married. So, I cannot call myself an expert on China, and I have impressions of the country, but I can't say I have firm opinions or knowledge. However, break off one small piece of the bigger picture, and I think I can have something to say. With this in mind, I offer you my experience with a small (usually, oh, I don't know, 3x4 foot) piece of China: the restrooms.

The sign to signal a bathroom/toilet is pretty much international. It's the sort of stick figure man and stick figure woman, just like everywhere else, but if my eyes haven't deceived me, I do believe the woman on the Chinese sign in slimmer than the standard one in the US. Interesting, but, still, no problem to find.

When you go into a restroom in China, it's a good idea to have some tissues and hand sanitizer with you. Sometimes, there may not be toilet paper or soap available. All set? We're going in...

In case you haven't heard, the Chinese don't always have western style toilets in their public restrooms. Instead, they sometimes have squatty potties. To me, anyway, they look kind of like a urinal that is laid flat and set into the floor. I thought them pretty self-explanatory, by I'm told that some women are really confused about how you have to face toward the door (like normal) and you have to have your pants down to basically your ankles so they're out of the way but not off or anything. Then you squat, as the name suggests, and do your thing. If you sometimes "hover" when using a public restroom in the States, or if you've ever had to resort to using the woods... Well, let's just say that with the fact that it has a door and walls, I felt much less apprehension about the squatty potty than I did about the woods, though it's basically the same idea.

Squatty potties are pretty much the worst case scenario, though, and it's possible to be in China for a very long time without ever having to use one. If you're terrified of them, I offer as your hope a teacher who has lived there for something like 7 months and claims to have only used one or two. If she can survive, so can you. How do you avoid them? You check out all the stalls. Some places have signs on the door that are pretty obvious western-style toilets. Some places have less obvious signs, such as this restroom at the Great Wall:

The one on the left is a western toilet. Handicap stalls usually also have a western toilet. There was a restroom off the lobby of the hotel that had one of each. I ended up using the squatty the first time I went in there without realizing that the stall right next to it was a western one. Should've walked the extra three feet, I guess.

Unfortunately, squatties aren't the only element that can make a westerner squirm in discomfort. I, anyway, found it awkward when I was told not to flush toilet paper. Instead, a wastebasket is in all the stalls and in the bathrooms of the hotel and apartment I stayed in. Apparently, the system isn't set up to handle it, and if you flush it, it can cause some major inconvenience. Toss it in the trash.

You're all set! Now that that's covered, go study up on the fun parts of your trip - they'll be worth it!

Have you ever traveled somewhere and wished you had a guide for how to do something that you've always been able to take for granted in the US?

Your Sister

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