Posted by: kim | July 14, 2007

On toilets

After six weeks on the road, you encounter many beds, many chairs and, naturally, many toilets. Sometimes, you’ll want to limit the amount of toilets you need to use — especially on our trip, where there have been some really disgusting ones. Our guidebooks warned against Immodium in case of emergency (‘except if you’re travelling long distances’) as it only serves to stop you from going, and some time down the line you’ll need to and it’ll be too difficult when you do. 

As they say, ‘When you gotta go, you gotta go.’ So I went. In China, the toilet of choice is of course, the ‘squattie’, a little different to the ‘Continental Shelf’ toilets I encountered in Austria which are solely designed for Gillian McKeith to do her health inspections.

Going on trains was a chore. I’ve used squat toilets before, but it had been thirteen years since I used one on a train and all I remember about that was it was a hole in the bottom of the train and everything just flushed out. Things haven’t changed. Chinese train attendants lock the toilet doors as you approach a stop as can’t go during this time (for obvious reasons). Trouble was, it appeared that whenever I needed to go, that’s when they locked the toilet door. Once I was in there and there was much vehement banging on the door, as we were about to approach a station. This was bad. I don’t like to be hurried.

When you do encounter a Western toilet on a train, don’t relax too soon. During the journey, the Chinese passengers were adamant about using those as squat toilets too, so these were even more disgusting as you couldn’t sit on them without wiping the seats down then papering the seat with tissues and using hand sanitiser. Or, as I sometimes did, take one look at it, hold my nose and go to the squat one. You always need to bring your own paper, by the way. Asian people prefer the ‘bidet’ approach by using the shower head next to it.

In hotels, it wasn’t easier, because these are liable to, er, block easily. A couple of wild hand movements and pointing to the picture of the loo using the magical Point It book (a book with photos of important objects) invariably led to a man in blue overalls to come to the room armed with a plunger, and a sheepish me pointing to the offending receptacle. This happened both at Chengdu and Xian, and both times it was a guy in overalls and a plunger. He seemed used to it. In Yangshuo, the places we stayed at had septic tanks and a sign asked us to use the bin for all paper.

At tourist stops…. this was where I saw the worst loos but overall, in most popular indoor places, like museums, it was relatively OK, if only because some provide you with a mop in each cubicle! Once, our bus stopped at a service station, where there weren’t doors, just cubicles with little walls (I avoided this as it was teeming with people and my nose couldn’t cope as I didn’t have the Tiger Balm/Vicks to hand). Remember… I never encountered anywhere with enough paper (if at all) so always bring your own!

-Kim

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