I recently had the pleasure of a dear friend and her sister visiting me in Beijing at the start of their first trip to China, they were blown away by much of what they saw. They had endless questions about life here, and one of the questions was about the toilets. This subject often comes up with visitors new to China, particularly with women.
Why, asked my friend, would a very new, up-market hotel or restaurant have both squat toilets and western seated toilets in the rest room? Why didn’t they just go for the ‘modern and hygienic’ system we are all used to?
The thing is that many, if not most, Chinese prefer the squat loo system . They find the idea of sitting where others have sat fairly disgusting. Chinese learn to squat as young children, and seem to be able to do it easily , which is not true for most westerners (including myself – it is hell on the knees). Many hotels and other modern buildings in China which are equipped with western loos, have to put up special notices to tell inexperienced Chinese that they should not stand on the loo seat and squat, but should sit on the seat.
Even if one has superb bladder control, there will be times when one is caught short and has to use a toilet that not westernised – this will certainly be the case when travelling outside the major cities. You need to be prepared.
The plumbing for most of the squat loos (and some western ones too) cannot cope with toilet paper and so there is usually a bin or basket beside the loo into which you put the used paper – needless to say this is often very squalid and smelly, and the floor can be absolutely horrid.
Bear in mind that in most cases loo paper will not have been provided, so you need to take your own packet of tissues in with you.
In some smaller communities any toilets may be communal and just consist of a room with half-height walls separating each user, no doors, and the drainage system just a trench which runs underneath each section and along which water flows every so often to carry away the mess. Personally I avoid these like the plague if I can – I am just too damned First World.
So, how to cope with the squat loo without becoming hysterical and developing a phobia; these are my tips:
1. If possible go to the loo with a friend or other female. There are no hooks on the doors for handbags (if indeed there are doors) so you take it in turns to hold each other’s bags, umbrella, shopping etc. If you have no-one to help carry your stuff, sling your handbag handle over your head and have it dangling in front of you. And if you are insane enough to have a designer handbag that has only short handles – more fool you. In these situations Prada is nada and a Kelly will get smelly.
2. Always (I cannot stress this enough) carry some small packs of tissues with you, loo paper is not generally provided. Likewise a pack of wet-wipes and/or a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
3. When in the loo, hoick up your skirt and tuck it into your waistband, or if wearing trousers roll up the bottom of each leg, this is to prevent any of your clothing making contact with the (probably wet and dirty) floor.
4. Position yourself with your rear-end nearest to the drain-hole, invariably this means you will be with your back to the wall/piping and you facing outwards.
5. After you have wiped with your own tissues, put them in the bin or whatever receptacle is provided.
6. Exit as gracefully as possible and then clean your hands with your wet wipes.
7. Leave the area with a shudder of relief that the whole ordeal is over.