Friday 12 November 2010

Fear (Part Five) - Chinese Toilets


This post, as the title suggests, talks about toilets - but not just any toilets.

It talks about Chinese toilets, arguably the worst toilets in the world.

If you are in any way squeamish, it might be better to give this one a miss.

For the rest of you brave souls …

I was worried about one thing and one thing alone when I returned to China this year; yes – the prospect of having to use Chinese toilets.

You may feel that this was an overreaction but I can promise you it wasn’t.

I am used to pristine wonderful loos. I have encountered many disgusting toilets, particularly public ones, in Britain, America, Australia, Europe, Canada, South Africa and similar places but most have been usable. It’s all relative, you see.

Sadly, in China, toilets are quite simply awful. I am really sorry and ashamed to admit that the one thing that struck fear into the very core of my soul was the prospect of eating something that wanted to churn my guts, causing a major intestinal problem and forcing me to use a Chinese toilet that belonged in the seventh level of Hell.

Here are the toilets I encountered on my recent trip to Kunming in descending order of horror.

The Hotel Toilet

I stayed in a 5 star hotel on the outskirts of Kunming. It was a wonderful place with a palatial lobby, perfect food, and a room that was massive and magnificent. On that first jet-lagged day, I walked into the room and goggled at the splendour of the king-sized bed and the pristine d├ęcor.

What was my first thought? It was:

“What is the loo like?”

Thankfully the toilet was pure and unsullied. I sat on the throne and looked out over the Kunming skyline from my perch. It was only later, when I used it for the first time that I realised with the aid of strategically placed mirrors, I could actually see how unattractively podgy I was. I was fascinated by the image of myself sitting there and a little disappointed. I apologise for the picture this creates in your mind, dear reader.

Suffice it to say, I was delighted with this toilet and pledged to use it every day – as long as my body clock could handle the time difference caused by jet lag.

The Office Toilet

My main place of work was on a building site, which I shall describe later. Thankfully, on two occasions I was fortunate to work in an office in Kunming.

“Where is the toilet?” I asked a colleague.

The closest toilet was a few seconds from our office. The sun shone through the window of that toilet for the best part of the day, heating it up and breathing new life into the odours that called the place home.

I used the toilet (having drunk too much coffee) and the smell was almost a physical entity, waiting to slap me around the head as I entered the loo. The technique that worked for me was to take a deep breath, run in, do the business as quickly as possible and then run out again.

Local Chinese office workers must have thought I was a total goon.

In terms of cleanliness, the toilet was of course a squatter, thankfully with traps for privacy, and a flush that worked but couldn’t remove the smell. The stench was terrible and, as the day wore on and the sun beat down, the odour monster drifted out into the corridor and into our office. We had to shut the door to keep it out.

There was no toilet paper.

Bar Toilet

I visited a couple of bars in Kunming and each had a toilet; just one toilet to share between all the clientele, both male and female. In one such toilet was a picture of Mr T pointing at me while I was doing the business and saying:


In another bar, there was a similar warning:

“PLEASE – NO POO!! Public bathroom is across street. If you shit, other people must clean it up because the pipes are too small to pass shit.”

People had added their thoughts at the end of the sign:

“Bad diarrhoea is possibly OK”

“Don’t you mean shit diarrhoea?”

“Is there such a thing as good diarrhoea?”

The toilet was, of course a squatter and once more there was no toilet paper.

Building Site Toilet Two

We worked on a building site – a very muddy, filthy and dangerous building site. As you can imagine, the toilets were pretty grim and very temporary.

Thankfully, the constructors had installed running water, urinals and private traps with flushes. The traps were full of mud and filth and were, in the Chinese tradition, squatters. The smell was almost overpowering, but if you were quick enough, you could escape unscathed.

When I first saw the toilet facilities that were on offer, realising that would spend most of my day at the building site, I began to realise that sooner or later I might have to bite the bullet and use the squatters.

I won’t go into the thoughts that went through my mind but I spent hours concocting a plan for their use. I won’t share these with you, dear reader, because I have had to share them with myself – and they are not pleasant. Sometimes I hate my imagination.

And, of course, there was no toilet paper.

Building Site Toilet One

On our first day at the building site, I asked about the facilities. We were lead to the workers village, a hastily built area where makeshift accommodation had been quickly constructed to house the many Chinese workers and their families. The conditions were filthy; while the men worked, theirs wives and children spent their time in small houses, not much bigger than garden sheds. Facilities such as toilets were laid on for them and we were told that we would have to use these too.

“Where are they?” I asked.

My nose told me exactly where they were.

Several yards away was a building and I looked upon it with absolute dread.

As we approached I found myself being beaten up by the invisible monster that was providing the increasingly vile stench. The monster was rampant and I shrank in its presence.

Somebody pointed to a door.

I had to see what I was letting myself in for.

I walked towards it and, probably being braver than I have ever been, I walked into Hell on Earth.

The toilet was thankfully quite dark and dingy; nevertheless the lack of light couldn’t hide what I saw.

There were five “stalls” separated by walls that were around three feet high. Underneath the walls was a thin gutter to catch human by-products. There was absolutely no toilet paper and even less privacy. I almost wretched before I realised something was horribly wrong.

Squatting there as bold as brass was a Chinese worker having a crap in full view of me. He was in no way ashamed and stared at me as if I were an alien.

I had to escape and did so as if I had the hounds of Hell chasing me to bite my arse.

“What’s it like?” asked a work colleague.

“Put it this way,” I replied. “I hope you are not shy.”

I spent that first night beating myself up, formulating a plan to avoid having a crap in full view of anybody who was there to watch.

Thankfully, we discovered “Building Site Toilet Two” (described above) the next day – it wasn’t perfect but compared to this festering cesspit, it was like the Ritz.

Thankfully, I managed to use the hotel toilet each time and completely avoid any squatters whatsoever.

Sadly, I am going back to Kunming in January or February next year and I fear that my record may not remain intact.

Another work colleague suggested that perhaps when I revisit Kunming, I could avoid using squatters by strategic use of Immodium and laxatives. This was the same person who also suggested that I:

“Keep a stiff upper lip and think of England!”

Do people even say that any more?

I don’t think so!


Kath Lockett said...

Jehovah on a pogo!!! What amazes me is that some people brave the stench in those toilets long enough to add to the 'don't shit here' signs!

Please tell me that it's 'shoes off' at the front door when walking inside people's homes?

As for next time - always a pocket full of tissues and a mini pack of wet wipes. Oh and practice your 'long distance' squat for a few weeks at home before hand - feet as far away as physically possible to avoid any splashes....

drb said...

Yes, your fear is totaly founded!! I have been to 10 cities in China and Kuming did have the worst toilets! I went to the public toilet next to the cable car station (a popular tourist destination). The building was newish looking, all tiled inside and out, wall and floor. Then to my horror the cubicles were stationed over a gutter instead of toilet bowls and there were no doors!!! Luckily, the toilet was empty.

Shanghai, on the other hand, has the fanciest toilets I have ever seen, especially in restaurants and pubs. One has glass lotus flowers as the sink with water sprouting from the middle of the
flower when you put you rhand over it. Another one is in a park and built like a limestone cave with the water coming out of stalactites and the sinks are stalagmites.

The strangest encounter I had was in the France Airport - seeing all these men using women's toilet when the gents are just next door and empty.

Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

My armoury included pockets full of toilet tissues and stuff to wash my hands that claimed to kill 99.9% of all germs.

I am sure that the remaining 0.1% of germs were thriving in those places though.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

I haven't been to Shanghai for 11 years but back then the loos were pretty disgusting. I have been told that since then Shanghai has undergone a massive transformation and the loos with it.

Shame I'm not going there.

Actually, in certain European places (including Paris, France) squatters existed even as recently as 20 years ago. I haven't seen any recently though.




Sam said...

Hi! Stumbled across your blog on blog catalog and I must say-this is very disturbing (to say the least)When my husband explained to me what 'squatters' I nearly died-oh dear God.
I will never voluntarily go to China-Thanks for the warning!
Good luck on your next trip...following now!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Sam,

I think it depends where you go in China - Shanghai is better in the toilet department I've been told - and most hotels have western toilets - Thank God!!