Saturday, March 24, 2012

Going to the Bathroom in China

At the risk of broaching a subject that is unsuitable for polite conversation/blogging, I would like to take a moment to talk about going to the bathroom in China. While first-time travelers to China often have no trouble with the eating of Chinese food, they can be confounded, stymied, or otherwise caught off guard by some of the practicalities of tending to the other end of the digestive tract. It is for those travelers that I present this straightforward guide to the ins-and-outs, so to speak, of using the restroom in China.

1. Most travelers have been (accurately) forewarned that Chinese toilets are traditionally squat toilets, rather than the Western-style toilets that you actually sit on. This is not to say that you will never see a Western-style toilet in China, of course. You should just be aware that these seated commodes are more commonly found in private homes than in public restrooms. My general rule is to always expect a squat toilet wherever I am. If you are always hoping for a chance to sit down, you will be frequently disappointed. If you've never used a squat toilet, the procedure is pretty self-explanatory so I won't describe it in detail. The only tip I might suggest is to try to keep your feet completely flat on the ground. Most Westerners squat on the balls of their feet, with their center of gravity pushed forward a bit. If you look around China (and other Asian countries), you'll see that most people here keep their heels flat on the ground, which allows them to shift their weight a little farther back, right over their feet. This might feel awkward at first, but it is much more comfortable for long-term squatting (whether using the restroom or just resting). For what it's worth, studies have shown that squatting is a much more efficient way of vacating one's bowels than sitting down in the Cassiopeia position. If you are sitting, your colon is sort of pinched like a garden hose with a kink in it, which means more effort on your part to get the job done. Squatting positions the colon straight up and down, which means most of the work is done by gravity. Benefits include shorter times in the restroom and fewer instances of hemorrhoids. Just something to keep in mind.

2. Some would call this the first commandment of independent travel in China: ALWAYS CARRY TOILET PAPER. It is very, very rare for a public restroom to have toilet paper for you to use. Most people in China carry small packs of tissues with them wherever they go. When nature calls, you don't want to put the call on hold while you go in search of tissues. You can find these packets of tissues at almost any convenience store or small market in China. A pack should never cost more than 2 yuan.

3. While we're on the subject, you generally want to avoid flushing toilet paper down the toilet in China. The pipes can't always handle the paper, which causes clogging and unpleasantness for all. If you see a trash can next to a toilet, you can assume that you should throw your used toilet paper into there. One exception to this rule is on trains. Most train toilets exit right out onto the tracks (yes, it's gross), so there aren't really any pipes to get clogged.

The train tracks are screaming by right underneath that hole.

4. If you're out on the town and need to use the restroom, you have a few options. International fast food chains (especially the ubiquitous KFC and McDonald's) have reliably cleanish bathrooms that you can use without buying anything. The restaurants might frown on this, but they never stop you. If you don't feel like freeloading, you can usually count on finding a public restroom out on the street somewhere. You have a better chance at finding one of these if you are in a downtown area, though they exist in every part of the city. They are generally advertised with street signs that use internationally recognized bathroom icons to point you in the right direction. Most of these restrooms are free to use. If there is a fee, it's negligible--usually no more than 0.5 yuan (about $0.08). Don't expect much from the public restrooms in China. They are there to get the job done, and that's about it. Most (not all) are smelly, dirty affairs. Some have no doors on the stalls. Once in a while you come across one that is just one long trough with short (1.5 meter) walls to offer the tiniest bit of privacy. In general, though, they are entirely functional and usually offer enough privacy for the Western sensibilities. They aren't palaces, but they'll do in a pinch.

5. In closing, some advice about smoking in restrooms:


That's about all I have to offer. If anybody else has further tips on using the restrooms in China, feel free to say so in the comments.

5/3/2012 EDIT
I'm adding one other important item today:

6. I wrote above that public Chinese bathrooms rarely provide toilet paper for your convenience. It's worth noting that the same applies to soap. There is almost always a sink with running water, but very rarely is there any soap to use. If you're the type that likes to wash your hands with something more than water after using the restroom, you'll probably want to have your own supply on hand. 


Alden Kowalchuk said...

An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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