In theatre there is not usually an intermission between Acts One and Two. However, I need to tell you about the toilets in China and I really don't want them to have an entire act to themselves. So, I'll call this part the intermission. Don't you usually get up and go to the bathroom during the intermission anyway?
Oh, where to start! I think I'll start with the fact that my friend, Malinda Hamby, gave me very excellent tips about traveling in China. She and her husband had gone a few months prior to my visit. Malinda gladly gave me all the shopping tips she could think of, complete with business cards of her favorite merchants! LOVED that! Malinda is an excellent bargain shopper, so her tips on bargaining were valuable. But, perhaps the best thing she did was send me not only all her China travel guides, but a "China Survival Kit". Which had bug spray, Visine, and several little packs of tissues and a couple packs of antibacterial wipes. I was a bit shocked, frankly. Why did I need tissues and antibacterial wipes!? They proved to be mandatory for any potty stop in China!
It is hard to really picture what that means when you haven't been there. I'd been to the toilets in Brazil, France, South Africa, London, and some other places that might be considered a little "backwoodsy". So, I had a feeling that I kinda got it. But, nope. That knowledge will only come to you with your own visit to China. You see, the toilets are more like urinals that are not mounted on the wall but are actually flush with the floor. Can you picture that? It's really just a porcelain hole in the ground. Now, there are a few places (mostly nice hotels that are Western) that actually have a toilet like we Westerners are familiar with. However, those are not the norm at all. Even really nice restaurants, like the famous Peking Duck restaurant we went to in Beijing were we had the pleasure of dining with 400 other people at once, even these only have the hole. I hate to say that I have almost as many potty stories of China as I do fun touristy tidbits to share! I kept saying to my traveling mates, "I HOPE this trip does not turn out to be only about the potties!!" I will share only one of the dozen stories of the glorious potty.
We were on the train to Ningbo, a three hour ride from Shanghai. We all used the potty at least twice if not three times before leaving our hotel. We found that the train station in Shanghai is big enough that the bathrooms there were not too bad even though they still only had the hole. (As an aside, the term "bathroom" is so confusing to the Chinese when you say that in English. I really don't think they understood. Finally, I just would ask for the "toilet", which they understood.) Once we got on the train we all agreed that we'd just have to wait until we got to Ningbo for any facilities. By the time we got to Ningbo we all agreed that we should at least try for a potty before going to a factory which would be guaranteed not to have Western potties. We were a bit surprised to find pretty decent toilets in the train station, not the norm! But, this train station is brand new! As the three of us headed to the bathroom I began handing out the tissues while we all chuckled about that. I had noticed another Anglo on the train with us. It looked like she was on a work trip too, the only woman with a group of four business men. Fate would have it that she ended up in the bathroom with us. She was a charming Brit who bravely asked, "I just need to know which way to face on these things." She was quite serious. We all laughed together and said that it really didn't matter as long as you don't fall in and don't flush any tissues. Above all, do NOT touch anything and try not to let any of your garments touch anything either! I think we shared tissues with her too. There are usually not sinks with soap either. So, the antibacterial wipes were way handy. Poor girl. She really looked a bit shell-shocked. In the train station before we left I found her again and gave her a pack of wipes. She sheepishly thanked me and looked like I had just given her gold.
I will spare you the story of the hotel lobby toilet that was computerized! Or the one Western style potty at the Palace of Heaven that was so unheavenly I turned around and left as quickly as possible. Or of the one potty stop where my friend tried to get me to use the one Western potty that was supposed to be for handicapped ladies! I didn't take pictures of the potties because it was just so sad. When I was a teenager on a trip in France, I did take pictures. I will say that I had packed mostly skirts because David had asked me not to wear jeans for Act One and Act Two. He had no idea that it would be such a good idea because of the potty situation. I had even asked him ahead of time if he had any China potty advice! Of course because he is a man, he had no clue. He did say that he doesn't think there is much hand washing in China. Sigh.