Chinese like to warn me, the stupid Westerner, about two things: how spicy the food is (as if the bright red colour of it wasn’t a clue) and how difficult it will be for me to use the toilets.
The first time the word “toilets” was mentioned during the trip was at Beijing Airport when we landed. We had just picked up our bags and I told Feng and my father-in-law I needed a bathroom break. “Don’t go! These are probably squat toilets,” my father-in-law said. “Well, what I am supposed to do?” I replied, slightly annoyed. “Hold it until I find a proper Western-style toilet?”
Most toilets in China are squatting toilets, as we call them in France “toilettes a la turque” (I guess Turkey has those too?). There is no seat, you basically squat over a hole in the ground (the very cheap version) or over ceramic tiles with a hole. A few “modern” places (some fast foods, hotels, etc.) offer Western-style toilets, but public bathrooms almost always have squatting toilets. Paper is rarely supplied, and if it is, there isn’t a roll in every stall but one single roll at the entrance of the bathroom. The door may or may not lock, and people rarely bother to shut it anyway.
Really, Chinese toilets aren’t such a big deal once you get used to them. Bonus: your thighs get a workout! The hardest part is aiming right, aka “don’t pee on your pants”. I never sit on a public toilet, I hoover—come on, I’m sure you do too!—so squatting over a hole is actually fairly easy.
A dirty toilet is a dirty toilet but I find squatting toilets are overall cleaner than any public bathroom in Paris. The smell can be an issue, though, but again, you aren’t supposed to spend a day in there.
Chinese are so used to squatting that whenever there are Western-style toilets, a sign often asks people to refrain from climbing on the seat and squatting!
Public toilets are surprisingly easy to find in China. Every mall has bathroom facilities, and major food franchises (Western or Chinese) have toilets too. Small restaurants may not have a toilet but there is often a sink with soap to wash your hands. I haven’t had to pay to use public bathrooms, which I find surprising—in Latin America, you often have to give a few cents to get toilet paper (and thus gain admittance), especially in bus stations.
On a funny side note, all babies and toddlers wear “open pants”, i.e. pants with a wide opening at the crotch. Some kids do wear diapers but most don’t: whoever is holding the baby or the toddler just squat them when they need to go. Kids pee and poop anywhere: over a garbage can, in the street, etc. As a Westerner, I can’t help but wonder if it’s very hygienic for kids to sit on the bus or in the playground with their genitalia exposed—it doesn’t bother me at all, but I certainly wouldn’t want to sit butt naked on public buses! On the upside, you don’t have to ask parents whether it’s a baby boy or girl—you can generally see for yourself!