Thursday, January 1, 2009


We encountered our first one in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and walked away. Once we arrived in Africa and later India, we encountered more and they were harder to ignore but often we did. Now that we're in China it's pretty much impossible to avoid. I'm talking about the infamous squat toilet! Easterners have been using them forever but for us Westerners it's just hard to get use to them. I don't know why it should be such a big thing, essentially we squat to go to the bathroom anyway, we're just use to doing it with a seat underneath us. Of course, when we visit a less than clean restroom at home, we don't sit, we squat - so it's kind of like the same thing right?

Our hotel has a "Western Style" toilet which means that it looks like a Western toilet, it flushes like a Western toilet but it can't handle paper like a Western toilet. You therefore must wipe and dispose of your paper into a waste bin and not into the toilet. It sounds a little gross, but it's not all that bad. The bin has a lid so it doesn't smell and they empty the bin everyday. Once you leave the hotel however, it's pretty much squat toilets everywhere.

In a decent restaurant, the squat toilet is not too bad since it is clean and doesn't smell bad. They clean the "toilet" room quite frequently, but they use water to clean the whole bathroom and they don't dry the floor afterwards. This causes a small problem; how to pull your pants down to use the squat toilet but not end up with the bottom of your pant legs all wet. Clearly you attempt to do this by holding on to your pants with one hand while you go to the bathroom and then wipe. You can often successfully get this far but then you are stuck with toilet paper in one hand, your pants in the other hand and you have to both pull up your pants and get rid of the toilet paper. The toilet paper bin often has a foot pedal but have you ever tried to push on the pedal of a trash can to open it while your pants are around your thighs and you're trying to hold the bottom of your pants legs up to keep them from getting wet from the floor? The other option is to pull up your pants with one hand while you hold the paper in the other which then frees up your foot to push the pedal to open the can to put your paper in. Clearly we will not be in China long enough to master this art but we are getting better at it.

Public restrooms are another matter. Just like at home where public restrooms can be pretty dicey, the same is true here, only worse! Squat toilets have no water sitting in them so if someone does their "business" in the toilet and doesn't flush, it is there to stink up the entire bathroom. Plus, these bathrooms are not cleaned regularly. I tried a public restroom just once. I walked in, gagged so bad from the stench, that I left and swore that I would rather use the side of the road if necessary.

The good news is that it is cold outside and no one is drinking a whole lot of water. Hot tea would be good but it is caffeinated so we don't drink much of that either. This keeps our "needs" down to a minimum. The bad news is, practice makes perfect and I guess this is one thing that we just won't perfect!


Jen said...

When I was in Guatemala (way back), you couldn't flush the TP there either. No place, including the house where I lived, had a lid on the waste basket. It would have made a difference! However, they did have toilets with seats, so that was a benefit (even if I often squatted anyway!).

One time, while switching buses after getting a bum steer from a bus driver's wrangler who just wanted my money, I dropped my wallet on a gross, wet, public bathroom floor.

Funnily enough, I think of all of that fondly from my living room in Cincinnati.

Happy travels!

Sophia said...

That I could have done without :) After all I just finished eating.....