Guest Post: Chinese Potties, or Why I Love My Bathroom

While I’m in New Mexico soaking up
all things “America” I didn’t want to leave this space hanging, so I
gathered some pretty top-notch bloggers to strut their stuff. Today’s
post is from DixieChick! She blogs over at Southern Tales and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for several years. If you’ve ever been curious about life in the deep south then you must check out her blog—she’s hilarious and tells everything exactly like it is.

As a proud guest blogger for the always awesome Jessica,
I’ll start by introducing myself. In blog-land I go by the name of DixieChick,
and I started blogging back in 2008 when the realization that the Air Force had
really moved us to very rural Georgia finally started to sink in.  I’m Dutch by birth, American by choice,
and work as a professor at an undisclosed university in Georgia. I also love to
travel and am absolutely not squeamish, two facts which are very important to
this particular post.

As a self-appointed globetrotter, you can imagine how
thrilled I was when my university asked me to be a part of this year’s study
abroad program. Travel and Dixiechick is a winning combination. When I realized
where I would be headed, I was almost beyond excited: China. 

photo source
Having backpacked throughout South-East Asia when I was in
college (it was the “in” thing to do among Dutch college students in the
1990s), China was always the pie in the sky. It was the vast, unexplored
country filled with historical and cultural riches that was always just too far
to hop over to, or just too expensive to fit within a poor student’s shoestring
budget. So getting the opportunity to go, albeit as an assistant coordinator
who was also expected to teach three classes, felt like a long-overdue chance
to finally see what I had been missing out on.
Now maybe it’s because I’m obviously older than I was when I
was in college. Maybe it’s because I’ve since grown accustomed to my
comfortable, American lifestyle. Or maybe it’s because I really should just
learn how to quilt and make bread and stay home. But if you were to ask me what
I thought about China, chances are that the second or third thing out of my
mouth (right after I briefly mention the temples and other awesome sites) is
always the bathrooms, and/or Chinese hygiene in general. In fact, I’m more
likely to mention the roach-infested trash can filled with everyone’s toilet
paper on our form floor than our trip to the Great Wall. As someone who used to
think nothing of riding an elephant into the jungle, going days without
showering, and who thought that spending 36 hours on a sleeper train was the epitome
of luxury, I’m not sure what happened. I came up with two reasons why I went
from an adventurous happy-go-lucky backpacker to the woman whose first shopping
trip involves the purchase a bottle of bleach. One: I’m unnaturally obsessed
with bathrooms, and two: Chinese bathrooms are really disgusting.
Unfortunately, both have something going for them.
You see, I really do have a thing for clean bathrooms.  I’m sure everyone likes having a clean
bathroom, but I just plain love it. I love nothing better than sitting on a
shiny clean toilet seat, using a shower where the fixtures are shining, and
sitting in a pristine white tub. I love it. Seriously. Whenever we check into a
hotel, husband-dear will be the first to check out the firmness of the mattress
and the pillows, and I will be the one in the bathroom looking at the toilet
seat. I will also be the person who, if a bathroom is particularly disgusting
will just not go, or pick out a nice-sized bush outside.
But having travelled all over the world, and lived in four
countries, three states, and about sixteen different locations, I have learned
that imposing one’s norms about cleanliness on other people used doesn’t go any
place nice. I mean, after having lived in Germany, where most Germans decried
my bathroom and my house in general as just not clean (“what do you mean you do
not clean your windows every week?”), I know better. So I know that not every
culture uses toilet paper, for instance. In Thailand, all bathrooms are
outfitted with a hose, and if they’re a little less high-tech, with a bucket of
water and a little scoop. I’ve even heard this is a lot healthier than toilet
paper. I know that some countries (e.g., France and Thailand again) insist that
squatting toilets are the way to go because they’re cleaner, which is mostly
true, while in other countries, the amount of water used to flush is so sparse,
courtesy flushes are the only way to prevent real embarrassment (all of Europe,
pretty much). So when I left for China, I thought I was prepared. I realized I
would need to bring my own toilet paper (check), and better work on my squat for
all those hovering toilets I was bound to encounter (check).
But in spite of all of that, Chinese bathrooms really
managed to edge me out of my comfort zone. While I managed to keep my own
bathroom clean, thanks to the awesomeness that is bleach, there were many
occasions when we’d be away, and had to rely on public restrooms. And that’s
where I really learned what it meant to “hold it”. For one thing, in China,
although people do use toilet paper, they know to never flush it down the
toilet, because the pipes can’t handle it. That’s fine. It was the same in
Thailand, so I was prepared for the little trash can full of used toilet paper.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the fact that in some public restrooms
this little can didn’t get cleaned as often as it could, and so used toilet
paper would be spilling over the edge of the can and on to the floor, allowing
everyone to inspect what previous occupants had been up to.
Then there was the fact that using a squatting toilet can be
fairly difficult when one is wearing long pants, or one’s knees are no longer
as flexible as they once were. Subsequently, the bathroom didn’t smell as
awesome or sport floors that were as un-sticky as they could have been. Knowing
all of that, you can imagine that there were times when going to the bathroom
involved an interesting acrobatic act where you clutched your purse over your
shoulder lest it touch the floor, put your little charmin-to-go container in
your mouth as you needed your hands to manage your shorts, and prayed to the
heavens above none of your extremities would touch anything in the cubicle. You
can also imagine, I’m sure, that there were times when you’d take one look in
the bathroom and decide that you really didn’t have to go that bad.
Now I don’t want you to think that my trip to China centered
on nothing but public restrooms, because it didn’t. It was an absolutely
amazing experience, one that opened my eyes to a whole other culture, a whole
new set of norms, values, and ways of looking at the world, and one that I
would love to repeat. But I just can’t help but wonder if perhaps it’s time for
me to retire my traveling boots. I mean when the best part of coming home is
being able to sink down on to your own toilet seat with a satisfactory sigh,
isn’t it time to find a new hobby?


  1. Okay, you had me grossed out at roaches. 😛 I used to live near an AZ border town and the McDonald's on the American side, although equipped with toilets that could freely accept toilet paper, always had a pile of used toilet paper in the corners of the stalls. I learned to hold it.

  2. YIKES!!! I have a thing for clean bathrooms too, although I will say that mine is not quite as shiny as it once was. There have been times even in the US that I've decided I didn't really need to go that badly. =P

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