KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I want to point out that this entry is an "unedited" version, as my trusty editor refuses to read anything I write about toilets or bodily functions! However, there are a few things about toileting in China that surprised even me, seasoned traveller that I am.
I'll begin with toilet training of young infants. When I first started travelling many, many moons ago (no, not that kind of moon) I learned that most people in developing countries don't diaper their babies. In warm climates, babies are often kept naked or else a small cloth is placed on the mother's knee to keep Mom relatively dry. Many cultures begin toilet training at one month of age. The mothers become sensitive to the baby's signals and hold the baby so that it can do its business without soiling anyone. After the child learns to walk, it usually just squats down and gets the job done, so to speak.
With much of China facing cold winter months, babies must be clothed to keep them warm. The Chinese have long dressed their children in trousers with a split crotch, so that when the child indicates the need to relieve itself, the parent simply pulls the baby's knees up to its chest, the trousers separate, and the bottom is cleaned when the job is done. Seems to have worked for centuries for billions of babies! Now, the fascinating thing for me is that we are visiting China in the cooler fall season and I can't understand why the youngsters don't complain about cold bottoms. Many toddle around with their cute little cheeks peeking out from the opening in their quilted pants. I even saw some little ones in Tibet sit down on cold stone steps without complaint. It sent a chill through my entire body. Brrr!
Okay, now everyone is completely toilet trained and manages things themselves. The second thing that has surprised me in China is the abundant supply of toilet paper. There are towers of the stuff at the entrance of most small convenience stores and all the hotels supply TP to all their guests. Many public toilets have toilet paper, something I haven't encountered before in Asia. I do like the fact that there is often one dispenser near the washbasins instead of rolls placed in each stall. It means you have to remember to get your supply before you go into the stall, but it ensures that you don't find yourself with an empty roll in the stall dispenser. Unfortunately, all toilets ask users not to flush paper down the drains and wastebaskets are supplied in all stalls. Too bad they don't get emptied often enough.
I have become used to carrying my own toilet paper when travelling because in countries like India, toilet paper is a rarity. Many modern families thoughtfully supply it when we visit, but when we want to buy our own supply, we have to go to a pharmacy and buy one or two rolls at a time. The rolls are usually tucked far out of reach and the packages are often dusty as there is not much demand. Suffice it to say, people in these countries manage to keep themselves very clean but I won't go into how they do it here. Too delicate a subject.
Most toilets in China are the squat variety, and I have to say I prefer these when travelling in Asia, as they are usually much cleaner than the western style we use at home. I was pleased to see how many public toilets are now available throughout the cities and many of these charge a nominal amount. I am happy to pay the half-yuan if the money goes to pay an attendant to keep the area clean. What has surprised me is the Five Star toilets we've encountered here and there. These are usually located inside a tourist site where the toilets are free and a substantial entrance fee is charged to visit the monuments. Many of these public toilets have special stalls for the elderly and handicapped. They provide a sit-down toilet and handrails.
The most impressive public toilet I encountered was in the Old Town of Lijiang. For the half-yuan fee, we were provided with a sensory experience to remember. The stalls were all built from beautiful pinewood, there were potted plants on a ledge at the back of the stall and when I squatted down, I saw a small DVD monitor at eye level with a music video playing to entertain me. There was an ashtray and a fresh roll of toilet paper to complete the amenities. I thought I'd seen it all, but I was astounded to find hot water in the taps of the hand washing station. Needless to say, we spent many a yuan at this five-star facility during our week in Lijiang.
There have been a few unmentionable public toilets during our travels around China. I had become somewhat used to the open stalls separated by waist-high walls where women squat over a deep trough in the middle of the stall, with the side of their bodies turned to the center corridor. I have to say I was more than taken aback when we stopped at a spotlessly clean gas station in Yunnan and I found that the squat toilets were placed so that the women had to face each other in the open stalls while they did the needful. I was more than a little relieved that I was alone at the time. Yuck!
Now the best for last! I have included a photo of a sign in a shop's toilet next door to the Lammu café in Lijiang. The ancient plumbing system in the old town is so antiquated that people are asked not to defecate while using the older facilities. There are thousands of tourists who stay in the quaint guesthouses in the old town each and every night during the height of the tourist season. I can't imagine how they cope with this injunction. We were delighted to be staying in a modern hotel outside the old town and didn't have to worry. I chuckled when I saw that someone penciled in a correction to the sign. It changed it from "No sh***ing in toilet" to "No sh***ing in this toilet". A subtle but important difference.
Enough said, right?