The Commode

It’s known by many names, some derogatory, others less insulting, and the rest quite ordinary. In England, they call it the W.C. In America, they call it the toilet. But in China, it’s affectionately known as the squatty potty.  On occasion, you can find a hotel or restaurant with a toilet, but squatty potties tend to dominate the market. Despite their simple use, one can choose from a multitude of options in the city.

If you’re looking for comfort, check out the five-star hotels or stores selling luxury goods. With expense comes comfort, and the restrooms are no different. You should expect an American toilet along with complementary toilet paper, which is not a typical addition to Chinese restrooms. If a store is selling items worth more than your apartment, they usually can afford some American Standard toilets too. Another option may be an American fast food restaurant. Usually, you are guaranteed some kind of toilet with toilet paper. Granted, the aroma may be more unpleasant due to the masses of people eating there, but you should at least be guaranteed a seat and even some soap too.

If you’re feeling ambivalent, you can opt for the three-star hotel. Most are unpredictable when it comes to bathroom conveniences. Some may feature toilets and others the common squatty potty. It’s often a 50-50 chance for either one, and sometimes they even have both. Another option could be a fine arts center. While you may be stuck with the lowly squatty potty, you could be serenaded by a playful violinist or pensive pianist. Almost like singing to yourself in the shower except that the song is not off-key and more fitting for a comedy club than a concert hall.

If you’re feeling desperate, you may have to resign yourself to an olfactory nightmare. In other words, don’t breathe through your nose until you’ve cleared the exit. Most of the lower strata of squatty potties are found in any public venue. Shopping centers, public parks, internet cafes, universities, seedy hotels, and cheap restaurants are all fair game. A major shopping center will never have any toilet paper and will always have a squatty potty. As a general rule, they tend not to offer any soap dispensers with the sinks. Cheap restaurants could be quite hazardous. Some may be cleaned once in a while; others may have been cleaned once and then completely abandoned by mops. And of course, if you don’t have toilet paper, you may find yourself in an unpleasant situation. University restrooms are for courageous expats indifferent to their immediate surroundings and driven by great necessity. At times, you may be greeted by a trough with running water or perhaps a stall that was the byproduct of a faulty science experiment. Regardless, it is not a time for messaging a friend or playing Angry Birds on your iPhone. Once the task is done, you usually can choose between the partially clogged sink with bits of debris in it or the empty sink that may or may not produce water.

For anyone who has never had the privilege of a squatty potty encounter, some words of advice. Prepare yourself psychologically for whatever odors or sights you may see when you enter the stall. Always remember to bring a roll of toilet paper – it will be your ray of hope in a dark, unpleasant world. Bring some hand sanitizer if you want fresh, clean hands. Finally, don’t give in to despair. Many other expats have surmounted the same obstacles and lived to tell the tale. You are not the first, and most certainly, won’t be the last to survive. As Nike would say, Just do it.


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