There are three things you will need to survive the perils of toilets in China: a constant supply of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and a strong stomach.
We had read before coming to China that toilets were something to be avoided at all costs, and if entered to be sure you come equipped with the proper tools. Considering we were going to be in China for almost a month, it seemed pretty damn impossible to “hold it” for that long, so instead we prepared ourselves as best we could. Like most mental preparations we had done before coming to this country, they did not prove sufficient when faced with the real thing.
My first encounter occurred in Beijing when I entered our hostel room to find no toilet paper and what appeared to be a spider-grasshopper bug-of-doom. Instead of being irritated by a lack of wiping material, what I should have been happy about was that the seat of this toilet could be reached at a comfortable distance, rather than a full crouching position in which your ass never even reaches a seat because it simply does not exist. A lack of toilet paper was the least of my problems, I just didn’t fully realize it yet.
This brings me to the main type of toilet you will find in this country: a hole in the ground. To be fair, unless you’re on a train these toilets do have a flushing ability, but that’s not to say everyone whose gone before you has the aim of a first-class marksman. There’s a 99% chance that once you’ve gone to the bathroom in a public toilet, the bottom of your shoes will be covered in a thin film of urine. Although my aim improved slightly over the last month, no one knows for sure which way things will fly when you’ve really gotta go. For these types of bathrooms I would recommend extra toilet paper just in case, as well as extensive use of hand sanitizer when done (most restrooms in China do not have soap either – surprise, surprise).
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse when dealing with toilets here, we decided to take a bus from Shanghai to Huangshan. To avoid any possibility of relieving myself while on the bus (some parents actually allow their kids to pee in the aisles of trains), I popped into the public restroom ahead of our scheduled departure. Upon entering the stall I was greeted with a river of sorts, about half a foot wide that stretched all the way from one side of the bathroom to the other. Confused, I stood above this odd contraption, one foot on either side and wondered if this really was what I thought it was. As if the person to the stall behind me had read my mind and was hoping to demonstrate that this was, in fact, my worse nightmare, a brown lump went bobbing between my legs, down what had now become the river of shit and presumably out some hole on the other end. The questionable sanitary practices in China had just reached a new low.
In short, there are three types of toilets you will find in China: first, the rare species involving a seat and an area that actually contains urine in a confined space (but with no toilet paper to be found). Second, a hole in the ground that, if you’re on a train, leads directly out to the tracks for some poor soul to step on. And last, a shit river that you have to crouch over and pray to God the person in the stall behind you has not eaten spicy Sichuan curry for lunch. Welcome to China.