Wednesday, March 25, 2009
One amenity Beijing has in impressive abundance is public restrooms. (Unlike New York where pedestrians in need must seek out empathetic staff in shops and restaurants where “For Customers Only” signs are prominently displayed.)
And public restrooms have come a long way since 1982 when I first visited China and was appalled to discover they were no more than troughs in the ground, over which you were expected to squat, conducting conversation congenially along with your business. No toilet paper, of course. BYO newspaper.
Now most restaurants and hotels catering to tourists feature upright (Western) johns along with porcelain squatters like this. In neither are you supposed to put TP, which is generally provided. You’re to direct paper instead to a little wastebasket set out for the purpose. Something everybody knows. Except barbaric Americans. Which is why signs in stalls are only in English.
For those too young to make use of toilets, the Chinese favor an ingenious centuries-old option. Split pants. (Still popular despite P&G spending millions to popularize diapers.) So the child can take care of business by simply squatting. No fuss, no mess. Unless he gets the urge in a subway car as happened to me once when riders starting shouting and pointing to my bag on the floor. I didn’t know what they were saying, but instinctively picked up the bag. Just in time to keep it from being ruined by a puddle lengthening from the other end of the car.