The scariest things in China aren’t the sketchy alleyways, the zooming cars running the red lights or stop signs, not the huge crowds of people and not the pollution that fills the city’s skies. The scariest things in China… are the restrooms. Now I am by no means a high maintenance person. I have stayed in many hostels and slept in cars and don’t think twice about squatting if I need to go pee and there isn’t a restroom in sight. But the “unknown” nature of a restroom in China is… let’s say hazardous, risky, dicey? I’ll stick with… unpredictable.
I don’t know if the conditions of the restrooms are like this in China as a whole, but in Beijing and the surrounding areas, it was. Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on China. I know every place has their own standards of hygiene and cleanliness and some of the bathrooms were considerably clean. One thing though that I learned is always carry your own toilet paper with you, the majority of bathrooms don’t have it or won’t offer it. It may also be a good idea to always have hand sanitizer with you as well. My friend Lei (who I was traveling with) and I started to make a game out of this scenario. We’d guess what the conditions of the restrooms would be before we walked in. Surprisingly we noticed that the nicer the locale, the worst the bathrooms were. Thought that wasn’t always the case, it was pretty close to it. Here are a few examples:
Lei and I were in this really high end Jade jewelry store on the outskirts of Beijing. The store was clean and the workers were dressed to impress. Lei and I were on a bus heading to the Great Wall and this Jade store was one of the many rest stops along the way. We went into the store to look around at all the Jade, after we were done we decided to use the restroom before we left. The restroom was located through these doors exiting the Jade showroom and down this long corridor. As we both made our way down the hall we could start to smell the restrooms. There were no doors to the entrance of the women’s bathroom, only thick long strips of clear plastic like the ones you see in industrial kitchens. There was no doors on the stalls as well (which isn’t uncommon) just a small hole in the ground. Stepping into this restroom the smell was over powering and flies littered the walls. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t stay in that room long enough to use the restroom. I didn’t know when and where the next stop would be, but I decided that I’d take the chance and hold it until the next opportunity came.
Another example of the unpredictability of restrooms in and around Beijing was a busy McDonald’s restaurant at a very bustling intersection. We were eating a quick breakfast before starting our day in Xi’an, Shaanxi. I wanted to go to the bathroom and there was a huge line. I expected the volume of people that uses this restroom that it wasn’t going to be the cleanest. To my surprise it was clean; there were doors on the stalls and toilet paper available (which most never have), though one of the workers took out the toilet paper out when the line got too big (they didn’t want to waste their toilet paper if they did have to). I know this was a McDonald’s restaurant and they probably have different standards, but not every place like a McDonald’s was as clean. It’s really hit or miss what you are walking into when you walk into a bathroom in China.
The restroom situation wasn’t much of a bother to Lei or I, it’s something you get use to fast. With as many people as there are in China you get use to not having privacy or personal space. It’s all about putting yourself in that culture and not judging it on the basis of how you live in your world. I have so many more culture shocks and adventures in China I’d like to share, from exotic foods to a run in with a Chinese officer, there is so much more to tell. It’s amazing when you travel what you learn and experience when you are a blank slate.