I have had many adventures, if that could possibly be the correct term, involving toilets in China. I know most people have similar tales, mostly involving the squatters. Many Western tourists to the Middle Kingdom find difficulty with maneuvering public toilets-either due to the style or the conditions within their walls.
One of my first experiences with public toilets was on my trip during the national holiday in May to the north of Sichuan Province. It was an excruciatingly long bus ride that included a few stops to use the roadside toilets. At all such stops, patrons were required to pay five jiao for the privilege of using these necessary facilities. I thought I was prepared for all of them, with their foul odors and lack of hygiene. I paid my money and entered the wooden shack.
To my amazement there was a view in the toilet–and it wasn’t a window. I peered into the missing slat in the wood floor to realize that I had to urinate directly onto the steep cliff below. I looked around and wondered if the floor would hold my weight during the time required to relieve myself. Fortunately, it did.
On a summer journey through Beijing, I was out on the town with my new friend Ren Ke and his girlfriend. They wanted me to experience the drinking life of China’s youth in Hou Hai. This includes late night snacks at the less appealing establishments. I was told that the hot spot at one particular hole in the wall was the best, and I must admit that it was quite good. However, it required a stop in the restroom outside.
I have never smelled anything so rancid in my life. I think the last time this restroom was cleaned was when Mao Zedong was still alive. I tried my best to hold my breath and not vomit on myself or others-although, vomit might be an improvement in odor. As we sat back at the table, Ren Ke tried to find the word to describe the horrific smell of the toilet. I had to teach him the English phrase, “That place reeks.”
Quite possibly the worst experience I have had was a few months back when I was afflicted with the horrible intestinal illness that many foreigners succumb to during their prolonged stay in the Middle Kingdom. I grudgingly asked to be taken to the hospital as I felt like dying in my own comfortable bathroom. I was given the usual IVs of water, saline, baijou, berries, roots, scorpions, and seaweed. To make my unsanitary hospital stay more uncomfortable, I had to run to the toilet. It was not pleasant. Squatting over a hole with an IV in my arm and little energy in my body ranks as my worst experience in nine months of living in China. It will take a real tragedy to outrank that one.