West Meets East, Part 1: Down the Toilet

I went on my first ever far east vacation recently, to China. I spent two weeks traveling around to five cities, and had a fantastic time. Albeit, there was some culture shock. Like the bathroom situation.

I forgot how much I dislike non-Western (sit down and relax) toilets. The toilets in China aren’t much more than glorified holes in the ground (and some more glorified than others). Growing up an American kid, I didn’t get much practice squatting, so I kind of suck at it. I mean, I can do it, I just can’t do it with my feet totally flat on the ground, so it always feels a little wobbly. And with mere inches separating my body from all sides and the ground of a public toilet, being wobbly to any extent is a worrisome scenario. In the rare case that a “handicap” stall (denoted by a line drawing of an elderly woman) was available and not padlocked or being used as a storage closet, I partook, very carefully hover-squatting the whole time, grateful to at least have my face at a safe distance from the urine-soaked floor. On the plus side, to my own credit, I never once peed on myself!

To add to the fun, the vast majority of public bathrooms in China don’t supply what I consider to be two basic and necessary needs: toilet paper and soap. All I can say is thank god I had the foresight to take some travel packets of baby wipes and Purell with me (I had to buy a bigger purse in China to carry them everywhere). And the soap thing, as much as it made me cringe, I got used to it. Eventually, I was even able to put the thought out of my mind that if a restaurant bathroom has no soap, that means the people working in the restaurant use no soap. (I shudder at the thought writing it now.) And the most mind-boggling of all – on the rare occasions when soap was available, I was the only one using it. (Silver lining: more for me!)

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