Trekking Through China…Potty Break

This is what our tour leader would call a “no-star” public toilet…these were the ones we avoided unless in dire emergencies.

Enquiring minds want to know. I apologize in advance if the subject matter offends anyone, but enough people have asked me about it to make me think there’s enough interest to warrant a wee mention.

(But I will respect all of our sensitivities enough not to publish a picture of a squat toilet.)

As in any country, public bathrooms in China range from what our tour leader called “five-star accommodations” all the way down to the ones you could smell long before you reached them. We had been warned about the squat toilets in our orientation gathering, and I have to admit to experiencing significant anxiety in the weeks before we left for our tour. With knees that often don’t work well, I had nightmares about being unable to get up from the squat position and tumbling over into the hole. I’m happy to say that those nightmares never came true, though there may have been a few harrowing moments here and there…

In our 23-days of touring, we visited the whole gambit of public bathrooms. I learned some valuable lessons along the way and generously offer up my wisdom here today for anyone who really wants to hear it.

The Five Most Valuable Potty Lessons I Learned:
1. Before leaving the hotel (which was sometimes very early in the morning, so we had to be alert enough to remember this one or we regretted it for the rest of the day), stuff every pocket of your jeans, sweater, jacket, backpack and purse with little (sufficient for one use each), easy-to-grab wads of toilet paper. Many public toilets do provide toilet paper, but keep the toilet paper dispenser at the entrance to the bathroom and you have to remember to grab it BEFORE you enter the stall. Many public toilets DO NOT provide toilet paper. I can’t remember if more did than didn’t, but it didn’t matter, we just never left the hotel without enough to last for the entire day. (I had brought 2 rolls from home in my suitcase, and always kept one in the backpack that we used for the day trips.) Men, you have it much easier in this regard…if you’re traveling with a woman, maybe offer her some of your spare pockets…I can speak from experience how welcome those extra gifts of TP were at times.

2. If you’re willing and able to use the squat toilets, you spend significantly less time in long line-ups. Many public bathrooms only have one western toilet, but lots of squats. If you insist on only using a western, you could wait a long time for your turn. At some stops, this makes the difference between being able to buy a postcard or not.

3. Most squat stalls did have something to hold onto. There was almost always a toilet paper holder, (albeit usually empty), or piping, or sometimes even an actual rail that could be used to help balance oneself. This was always a welcome sight for me personally and helped me to quickly gain confidence in using the squat toilets. And as my knees and upper thighs gained strength, these became less necessary anyway.

4. Even when there were western toilets available, it was often more sanitary to use the squat. I will spare you the details; suffice to say that unless you carried a whole arsenal of disinfecting cleaning supplies in your backpack, many western toilet seats in the public bathrooms were simply too gross to use and one would end up having to squat anyway. Even the package of toilet seat covers in my backpack couldn’t begin to make the seats any more useable.

This is one of the nicer outdoor sink areas. The entire bathroom was outside on the roof of the restaurant. As I recall, there was no soap, BUT a huge mirror behind the sinks provided users with a gorgeous view while washing their hands. Come to think of it, there may have been a soap dispenser inside the men’s bathroom. How handy was that!

5. Always carry hand sanitizer. Many of the sinks were located outside of the bathrooms and were used by men and women together. Many of those public sinks DID NOT provide soap! Not having soap available, especially under some of the grosser unsanitary conditions, was a constant source of frustration (and anxiety) for many of us. If possible, carry enough hand sanitizer to share…when you’re traveling in such close quarters on a tour bus, it’s to everyone’s benefit that everyone uses the hand sanitizer, right?! I had bought a small plastic pink purell-holder that looped around the strap on my purse, making the hand sanitizer easy to use.

I cannot lie…the unsanitary conditions that we were often forced to deal with still make me cringe and recoil in disgust. While many of the bathrooms in the factories and restaurants were top-notch (five-star), I’d have to say that equally as many were not. We dealt with it, we survived and we came home ever-so-grateful for the not-so-simple things so many of us take for granted…running water, HOT water, toilet paper, soap, disinfectant and clean toilet seats.

Be it ever so humble, when it comes to taking a potty break, there really is no place like home.

This was one of the best public bathrooms, in one of the factories. The little teapot on the left was the soap dispenser.

Photo taken at the Three Gorges Dam (we’ll trek through there later). But you can see my handy pink purell holder hanging off my purse!

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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2012. All rights reserved.

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About Sharon

I love to write. I love to write myself into being right here right now. Writing releases something in me that needs wings, writing opens doors and windows that I often don't even realize are possible, writing helps me breathe out the dusty old, and to breathe in the new and possible. My hope is that maybe writing here in this blog will bring new light into these dusty old hallways and help me to clear out the thinking processes and mindsets that just don't work for me anymore. I seek to breathe new light and life into the nooks and crannies of a soul that has been feeling somewhat lost and frayed because of the last few patches of road I've had to travel.
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7 Responses to Trekking Through China…Potty Break

  1. angelika says:

    So maybe that’s why; excuse me please,
    The folks over there have bowlegged knees!
    But frankly, I’d not only squak about squatting,
    It’s the horrible smell and filth while potting!

    There’s no need to be constipated, I say!
    When driving in our trailer on our holiday.
    A great vacation is where there’s a nice place to fart;
    That’s where home is, I swear by my TP; cross my heart!


  2. Wow! Interesting stuff. I guess there is so much we have that we should appreciate more than we do; so much we take for granted. It takes seeing how other people live to be thankful for what we have!

    Angelika; I love your little poem. It made me laugh!


  3. Dee says:

    What an interesting experience for you…difficult but wonderful, too, yes? Love hearing about your trip to China.


    • Sharon says:

      Thanks Dee! Yes it was difficult in many ways (the brutal pace was the most difficult thing we had to deal with), but absolutely wonderful overall. The pace was what allowed us to pack so much sight-seeing in.

      We’re glad we went, but our experience of the constant exhaustion, then the severe jet-lag and miserable illness we all came home with have left us cautious about choosing such an ambitious tour ever again.


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