The Art of Mastering the Chinese Toilet
This is a picture of a squat toilet in the washroom at Tian'amen Square in Beijing.This was by far, one of the cleaner washroom facilities I ever visited.
When Chinese find a western toilet as their only option, they usually stand on the toilet seat and squat. This is not so easy to do and often leaves a mess behind. So, when a foreigner actually finds a western toilet to use – it may not be usable at all, and be forced to squat over a western toilet!
Tip: if you need to ask to use the washroom anywhere in China - ask where to find the WC. Most Chinese are not familiar with the words: ladies room, washroom, bathroom, or restroom. But most seem to know the British term WC (aka water closet). Also, never go out without a package of tissues in your pocket.
The Chinese people, from an early age, become accustomed to the squatting position. You will often see them squatting when there are no chairs around, and they can stay in that position for long periods of time. So, squatting for the Chinese toilet is quite easy for their body type.
However, for us foreigners, especially if you are carrying some weight, it’s brutal on the knees! Except for their daily constitution, men can stand to do their business. But for women, it can become a very awkward procedure! The majority of Chinese women wear pants. So, to use the squat toilet, you need to be very careful as your drop your pants, not to let your pant legs touch the floor – as it is always very wet and soiled. So, your pant legs get hiked up as you pull your pants down – then you squat – and it is a balancing act – as your pants suddenly become like an elastic band just below your knees! Now, imagine, in the colder weather – when there is no heat and you are wearing 3 layers of clothes and a heavy coat and carrying a handbag – to try to manage all this hiking up and pulling down and squatting without tumbling over! It’s a skill to be attained, believe me! There are never any hooks in the washrooms – so my shoulder bag usually had to go over my head and dangle down over my body – or I held the straps in my mouth. There is no way you would ever set your handbag or anything else down on the floor in a washroom! This added to the trials of trying to squat – especially if you had been shopping and had several bags with you!
Chinese Toilet Etiquette
So here’s the deal. You can buy toilet paper in China, however, it is not supplied free in public restroom facilities. You need to carry your own little packets of paper tissues wherever you go. At some tourist places, you may be able to purchase the toilet tissue at the door before you enter, but don’t count on it.
In the picture above, you can see there is a pail of water for and no wastebasket. Here, you can flush the paper down the toilet - but you must do it yourself using the pan and water supplied.
It took me two years to figure out which way to face when you used the Chinese toilet! I never knew if I should face the door or face the wall. The secret lies in where the drain is located. Your back end should be closest to the drain – otherwise, it is difficult for the flush water to take away all the refuse if it is too high up in the toilet. Now that’s assuming you have found yourself a flush squat toilet. Sometimes, in travelling, you will find what I called chunnel toilets. These would be cubicles lined-up in a row, over a channel cut into the floor. You position yourself over this channel (one leg on each side) to do your business. (See photo on the left.) Sometimes the cubicle would have a door, sometimes only a half door and sometimes no door at all. Refuse would be flushed out of the channel with a hose or pails of water – by the attendant – once your were done.
Chinese Toilet Sharing
The Chinese are pretty unaffected by using the toilet together. There are some toilets that are unisex and may or may not have doors. My husband tells me that in parts of China, there are 3 hole and 5 hole toilets – where people use the washroom together at the same time – similar to our old outhouses! Families would go and use the toilet together!
Chinese Toilets in Homes
In homes, you will often find the toilet located right in the same floor space as the shower. This way the toilet gets cleaned the same time you are showering! There is no shower cubicle – and only the most wealthy have a shower stall or bathtub – so the water goes all over the floor. It certainly made me appreciate the tidy way we shower at home! For some reason I never discovered, the washroom is usually located next to the kitchen. Not good planning. Strong smells usually emanate from there.
Chinese Toilets in Schools
If you are going to China to teach, you will find that the public schools will have squat toilets and the time I worked at a middle school in central China – with a student body of 3,000 kids – the stench coming from the bathrooms was enough to choke a horse! I did not drink water all day – so that I didn’t need to use the school facilities. I would rush home at lunch time to use my great white throne in cleanliness and privacy! Private schools in China may have one western toilet installed somewhere, but squat toilets will be the norm.
Chinese Toilets in Apartments and Public Places
If you are going to China to work – you will likely find you will have an apartment supplied with a western toilet. If not, you can ask for one to be installed. It is not terribly expensive – the only thing is, you may not have a toilet to use for 2-3 days. If you are tourist travelling with a tour company – you will likely find many western toilets.
The picture on the right is a typical public toilet you might find in any city in China.
In the undeveloped parts of inland China, toilets are still pretty primitive. I visited the home my husband grew up in and the toilet there was outside behind the main house. It was simply a half-wall made of brick positioned at the top of a small man-made hill – there was a hole under this wall where the refuse would flow thru and down the hill. No plumbing whatsoever, no building structure to protect you from the weather or for privacy.
Chinese Toilet Stories
One time in Central China, I was in a restaurant and asked to use the bathroom. A few minutes later, a waiter came to get me –took me outside, down an alley, up another street and into a private residence apartment – where there was a western toilet! He waited outside for me. I was very appreciative of the sit down toilet – however, I nearly peed myself on the long walk to get there.
As a foreigner, I found Chinese toilets one of the more difficult things to get use to. It constantly presented difficulty for me in managing the balancing act and the stress on my knees, along with the frustration of not being able to always find a toilet, or suddenly get diarhea from some bad food and not having tissue with me.