Today’s guest post comes from Chris.
By the time this is posted, my one and only child will be on a school trip to China (along with my one and only husband). But as I write this, we are just about a week away from her departure, and we’re going through a flurry of last-minute shopping, packing and planning.
It’s going to be a grand adventure for both of them, and they are both getting excited about everything they’ll be seeing and doing there. We’ve done a great deal of preparation by researching some Chinese history and culture, looking at the route they’ll be taking on the flight over, and discussing the many things that will be different there than they are here. While my daughter has been outside of the U.S. a few times before, she’s never been to a place where things are as radically different from what she’s used to as they will be on this trip.
Out of everything we’ve discussed during our preparations, one topic has been the focus of more questions and concern than any other: using China’s notorious public restrooms.
Those of you who have visited China before already know what I’m talking about. Chinese restrooms are entirely different from what we Americans are used to. Think of the worst public restroom you’ve ever seen here in the States. Think of the overflowing wastebaskets, the empty toilet paper dispenser, the lack of soap or towels at the sink, the broken locks on the stall doors, the puddles, the stink, the general “Ewwww!” factor.
Now multiply all of those things by 10, add the fact that there are no actual toilets to sit on, and you’ve got yourself a typical Chinese restroom.
For the most part, the only Western-style toilets in China are found in hotels, and in some of the bigger restaurant chains like McDonald’s. Anywhere else you go, you will be hard-pressed to find public facilities, and those you do find will be squat-style, which is really no more than a porcelain-covered hole in the floor. Chances are you will not have a private stall to yourself, since many restrooms are simply a line of holes in the floor located within a few feet of one another. The soap for washing up afterward is generally non-existent. Come to mention it, so is the sink. Toilet paper is never available – not because they’re always running out, but because it is not provided in the first place. If you want to do that fancy “wiping” stuff, you need to BYOTP. And you must remember not to flush it once you’ve used it, since Chinese plumbing can’t handle paper – which leads us to the overflowing wastebaskets, stink, and “Ewwww!” factor that I mentioned earlier.
As it happens, I ran across an article just last week regarding the state of public restrooms in Beijing. It seems officials there are trying to crack down on the general uncleanliness by instituting what is being called the “two fly” rule. As stated by city officials, there will be “no more than two flies allowed” in a restroom at any given time. This rule has already become the target of much ridicule among residents of Beijing, with commentary online and in local news publications pointing out the absurdity of such a provision, and the futility of any attempts to follow or enforce it. As ludicrous as the new restriction may be, it does illustrate the widespread nature of the sanitation issues plaguing public facilities in China’s capital city.
This problematic bathroom scenario is the one thing that has been causing my daughter anxiety as she prepares for her journey. My husband and I thought we’d finished potty training her years ago, but now we find ourselves lecturing her on how to pee all over again. She has been told to carry toilet paper, wipes and hand sanitizer with her at all times, to wear clothing that won’t touch the ground, and to make sure she wears shoes that completely cover her feet and won’t slip on wet surfaces. We’ve even practiced the basic squat maneuver, trying to see how to best balance over an imagined hole in the ground while simultaneously preventing your pants from hitting the floor and/or getting caught in the flow of things. After all of this, I have started feeling slightly less upset about the fact that it is my husband taking her on this trip, and not me. I may be missing out on seeing the Dragon Throne in the Forbidden City, but at least I’ll be able to visit the Porcelain Throne in comfort whenever I want.
What is the most difficult adjustment you’ve ever had to make while visiting a foreign country.