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When I first stepped foot in mainland China - in Shenzhen almost a decade ago, I was shocked at the public spitting. China4visitors lists other culture shocks.

Bon Journal

Squat toilets

The culture shock of visiting mainland China is visiting its squat toilets. Friends and relatives have warned me about what to expect, but the reality had to be experienced.

Guess why the local women carry umbrellas into the toilet? To act as doors.

If you're unlucky enough to arrive without an umbrella at a a doorless toilet stall, you'll have to decide whether it's best to face those in the queue or show your backside.

Needless to say, you should bring your own toilet paper in case there's none.

Long time ago in Japan and Taiwan, squat toilets were the norm. After living in Europe and the US for so long, I have forgotten just how to squat. Indeed my first squat toilet in Chong Qing was a bit daunting. I was afraid of falling or stepping into the sunken toilet.

After I became accustomed to the squat position, I then had to learn to aim. I was afraid of hitting my feet or ankle.

Then there was the problem of standing up to dress up. There was always a chance of losing my balance and falling. In some toilets, the adjoining walls are so low that I could see my neighbours still squatting comfortably.

There are no toilets that are perfect - (shi chuan, shi mei - or ten complete, ten beautiful). In the worst case, there are no doors, no water, no flush power, and no toilet paper. Your predecessor's deposits sit cumulatively in the long gulley. You then have to pray for rain to wash it downhill. If there's a door, there might not be a lock. If the doors are lockable, it might be dimly lit.

I've come to the conclusion that toilets outside of five star hotels are dangerous. After nine days of drinking very little water so as to avoid going to the squat toilets, I still have nightmares about slipping into the toilets or getting cramps while squatting for the stubborn number two. If you plan to visit mainland China for the first time, I suggest that you practise squatting.

12 June 2002 Tuesday

Other people have written about squat toilets, which are defined as toilets where you have to cross over and then squat.
Memoirs: the wonders of squat toilets: including a photo of one in Okinawa, where I grew up
Squat toilets as noted by world travellers
Toilets in Japan: lots of photos here
China for visitors: warning of culture shock
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