I have one of those liberal arts degrees that turned out not quite as useful as university recruitment would have you believe. It’s been five years since graduation and I have yet to work in my field. I’m not bitter though—college was the most fun I’ve ever had with $60,000.
The most intense learning I did in college was during my study abroad. Never one to do things halfway, I took an entire year and went to China. It was there that I learned my most valuable life lesson:
Before you pee, secure your TP.
Toilets in China were in general an adventure. Only private homes have Western-style toilets, while public areas or dormitories have “squatty potties.” These vary in style, ranging from clean porcelain below-floor plumbing to poop troughs.
However, once you become… I won’t say used to it, you never become used to it… acclimated to squatty potties, they seem practical. Do you want to put your bare ass on something that half of a BILLION people could have their bare ass on?
The grossest toilet I encountered in China was on a boat traveling from Yantai to Dalian. This was the poop trough that I mentioned earlier. To maximize efficiency they had created one long recessed channel into which you could do your business, and then sectioned it off with three rickety stalls. As I straddled the trough, I could see the leavings of previous stall tenants and as I saw to my purpose there, I heard a rumble… A tidal wave of toilet water came rushing from behind me, splashing and roaring and pushing all of the waste away. Apparently this was a regular occurrence, but not regular enough. The air was so thick with smell that my eyes watered.
The strangest toilet I encountered was is Sichuan province, not far from the famous lakes of Jiuzaigou, which you might remember from the lake fight scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Since the area is karst, any detritus would enter the pristine lakes. Some ecological group had therefore donated a latrine, which at first could easily be mistaken for a grounded UFO, if UFOs were designed by 1960’s scifi writers with a PVC fetish. The toilet used no water, but instead had a strange swallowing motion like the sandpit monster from Star Wars.
Any water that was conserved by the toilet was negated by the massive use of plastic, made all the worse by the Chinese reaction to the waterless flush, which was to do it three more times, finally taking a cell phone video.
The greatest difficulty I had with squatty potties was aim. As a female, the adjustment from toilet to hole in the ground was a process of trial… and error. I could not get my stream to gracefully cascade into the bowl at my feet. Instead, it spastically jerked around until it was ON my feet.
And being a Westerner, I was too embarrassed to ask for advice. Instead, I widened my stance like a cowboy from Blazing Saddles.
Should you ever travel to the Middle Kingdom I have to pieces of advice: First, face the stall door. This is less based on the physics of using a squatty potty and more about stall defense. In this position you are prepared to slam the door shut should an impatient local decide you’re taking too long. Also, for those of you who are female, wear flip-flops your first few times using a squatty potty.
That way you won’t have to wash out your socks.