I never really thought deeply about toilets—who would? Well, in China, you may have to do a little more thinking because most toilets are basically just a hole in the ground, and you are supposed to squat and aim (Figure 1).
One of my friends on the NSF EAPSI program told me that the first time she had to use one, she was wearing jeans. If you’ve never experienced these types of latrines before, it is really gross to be wearing pants because aiming is a serious issue along with the splash factor… Needless to say, my friend had her jeans washed thoroughly when she got back.
How in the world is this sanitary?!?! Well, after seeing a public toilet with an actual toilet seat, I understood (unfortunately or thankfully, I did not take a photo). With thousands or millions of people using a public toilet, there is no way a toilet seat could be kept clean from urine and feces. So it is more preferable to use a hole in the ground even if the ground is covered in urine.
However, you’d think that at research institutes, there would be clean toilets. Well, not so much. Even at Tsinghua University laboratories, the toilets are holes in the ground (although there are people constantly cleaning them). What I don’t understand is how could it possibly be hygienic for someone in a molecular lab to be walking around with urine traces on the bottoms of their shoes or even on their feet and legs?!
Not only are there these repulsive toilets, there are sometimes even mold and bacteria-riddled towels (Figure 2). I really wonder what color that towel was when it was brand new. Needless to say, it’s probably never been washed.
Some toilets are a bit more old school… They are troughs with water just running through and no dividers. One of my guy friends went into one of these bathrooms once and saw a bunch of men just squatting, smoking and socializing. I don’t even know where’s to begin with what’s wrong with that picture.
I learned that squatting is supposed to aid in your bowel movements. Well, I decided it wouldn’t if the squat toilet is nasty enough.
When I was at Qufu (where the largest Confucius Temple is located in China), I had food poisoning when I was near what is perhaps one of the foulest toilets in China (Figure 3). As I was entering, a man told me I actually had to PAY to use it. After I gave him 1 Yuan, I was greeted by the stink of weeks (or maybe months or years) old urine and a row of “stalls” that had “doors” which came up to my waist. I say “stalls” because although each hole in the ground had a door, there were no dividers. What in the world is supposed to happen when someone else comes in? Well, I found out. Right when I squatted, this woman came in and squatted right next to me. Our arms were maybe 4 inches apart. And the entire time, a group of men chatted outside. So many feelings were running through me during that absurd moment that I actually burst out laughing.
Grossed out, I ran out of there to breathe some fresh, polluted air.
- Spread your feet as far away from the two sides of the hole as possible. The place where there are ridges for your feet is probably covered in urine and will be extremely slippery.
- Try not to breathe the noxious fumes in bathrooms. It’s bad for you.
- Bring some hand sanitizer - most places don't have soap.
- Not every single place in China has these types of toilets. To my relief, the US Embassy has normal toilets, along with soap and paper towels (although they are trying to go green). Some nice restaurants also have clean, normal toilets (Haidilao Huo Guo, for example).
I had to give a rating of 0 because the toilet situation is just such a disaster. I can’t even say one positive thing about squat toilets in China.