Wednesday, September 17, 2008


So have I mentioned my fear of public restrooms? Well, it runs deep – very, very deep. Probably stemming from those early childhood memories where I am standing - no taller than the toilet, my mother at my side plastering the entire piece of cold white porcelain with prodigious amounts of scratchy toilet paper. “Don't touch the seat! Don't let your legs touch the sides! Don't hold on to any part of the toilet!” Leaving one small child precariously balanced with arms and legs outstretched and trembling upon the edge of what I was convinced was a giant germ ridden throne of death. Enough to give anyone a deep and abiding complex, complete with nightmares. Oh my yes, I actually still have recurring dreams about white tiled public restrooms, complete with loathsome crud and an urgent need to relieve myself with no where else to go. Horrible, simply horrible!

In China, “western” toilets are not common. A western toilet is the kind where there is somewhere to sit, and though I don't like for myself or especially my child to sit on a public toilet, and like my mother attempt to plaster it in paper, nothing compares to the experience of an Asian toilet, which is basically a porcelain, flushable hole in the ground.

So too late did it occur to me that Lily, my eight year old, might need instruction in the proper way to use a Chinese toilet. We were at the Lama Temple in Beijing and were told by our guide Thomas that this would be a better place to use the restroom before we went to lunch, it being relatively cleaner than the restaurants. For those who do not know, a Chinese toilet is flush with the floor. It is also white porcelain and flushes like a western toilet, but there is no where to sit, you must squat over the toilet, balancing precariously and concentrate on many things at one time; hitting the right spot, NOT hitting the wrong spot, such as your clothes or shoes. It would help if there was a handle of some sort to hold on to, but there is not. And of course, there isn't much room in which to work all this magic. And most restrooms don't have toilet paper, you must bring your own, and if there IS toilet paper to be had, it is in a role when you come into the restroom and you have to remember to get some before going into a stall or you're stuck empty handed so to speak.

So into the stalls we all went, the silly Mama not giving any instruction nor grabbing any toilet paper. And while I was busy and unable to do anything about it I hear Lily tell me she is sitting on the “floor” to go potty, isn't that cool?. “You're what?! Seriously? You're sitting on the floor?!”

Small unsure voice from the next stall, “”

“Lily, tell me the truth, did you sit on the floor to go potty?”

“Yes....I'm sorry! I didn't know!”

“Okay, don't do anything else, have you pulled up your pants yet?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Hold it! Stop! Do nothing else!” I shout. I finish doing what I need to do as quickly as possible and rush to my child. She has indeed already gotten her clothes back up, which horrifies me further since now it probably won't make a bit of difference whether I attempt a clean up with wipes or not. Then I spot her backpack on the floor, oye! how it didn't get soaked I will never know. I try my best to wash her down while she strattles the toilet since there are now two of us in the small stall and no where else for her to go. Once she is as clean as is possible under the circumstances and put back together, I point to the foot petal that is used to flush the toilet and Lily for some unknown reason thinks I am pointing to the toilet itself and puts her foot right down in the center of the thing. Arrrrgggg! NO NO NO! This isn't happening! She has now stepped in the worse possible spot imaginable for someone as germophobic as me. Fortunately, I had invested in waterproof hiking shoes for both of us before traveling and soon have her hopping to the bathroom sinks. So there we are at a temple, me lifting my child to run her entire foot, shoe and all, under the tap. I certainly hope the laughing Buddhas were laughing at this spectacle. After taking a deep breath, the humor in the situation hit me and as I waited for my friend Pegeen outside I told our guide Thomas what had happened. I do believe he was horrified that I was even telling him about it, and possibly even more horrified that I thought it was funny.

So get busy all you soon to travel Mamas out there, start practicing your deep knee bends and squats, you'll need the extra training, believe me। And instruct those young ones, this could happen to any of you! Be vigilant. Be prepared. Mothers have enough complexes when it comes to their children without adding the fear of tumbling into an Asian toilet.

KKW ©2008


thebaglady said...

that's hilarious...those porcelain toilets are actually the upgraded versions. When i was young the elementary schools just had a big pit that you pee into. Supposedly some kid drowned in it.

Charndra at Part Time EC said...

what an account! That is very memorable, I'm sure. I've seen some asian style toilets here in Australia - in tourist places. That porcelain one actually looks ok. I haven't used one myself - my knees are NOT goot for bobbing up and down like that!