19 July 2003 2003 nian 7 yue 19 hao

Journal: Big Convenience

As in English, the chinese word fangbian (convenience) can be used as a euphemism for toilet (a "loophemism"). If you want to get more specific about your purpose, you can differentiate between xiaobian (little convenience) and dabian (big convenience), although it seems to me that the latter is really a big inconvenience, especially in a country were most public toilets are designed for squatting, not sitting.

But my apartment has a seat toilet (as in fact many modern apartments do), so I have been able to avoid the acrobatics of squatting for the half year that I've been in China. Until yesterday, that is. After spending the night at a friend's place in Dalian, I wanted to visit a large Xinhua bookshop before catching the bus back to Kaifaqu. But on the way to the shop, I realised I had to attend to some more urgent business first.

I ducked into a shopping centre, and found a toilet. Perhaps it wasn't fit for an emperor, but it was pretty good by other standards: clean, well lit, with two lockable cubicles, the unoccupied one containing a flushable toilet, namely a small porcelain trough just above ground level. A welcome sight for a squatting virgin, although I must admit that I stopped to weigh up the pros and cons of just taking a leak and leaving as quickly as possible.

Toilet paper is not provided in China, but like most of the locals I have adopted the practice of carrying a small pack of facial tissues on my person. Now that I think about it, I guess people must carry toilet paper too. But for me, the three tissues remaining in the pack would be sufficient. I got them out, ready for action. Then I put one foot on either side of the toilet, pulled my pants down past my knees, and squatted. This is a a little uncomfortable for me, not to mention slightly unstable, because I have to balance on the balls of my feet. I can't squat all the way and keep my feet flat, because I have unusually short tendons in my calves. This is a pity, because squatting is quite common in chinese culture: in the street, you often see people squatting, rather than standing or sitting.

It was not until I was squatting that I realised a problem: my pants were in the way. There was never any mention of that in my Lonely Planet guidebook! Feeling that even David Copperfield would have been stumped, I decided the only way to proceed was to take one leg out of my jeans. This involved unlacing one of my shoes.

By this time, the person in the cubicle next to me had finished. I heard a flush, and then...the unmistakable sound of a toilet lid dropping! Yes, the other cubicle had a seat toilet. Oh well, I figured that "the arrow was on the string" (as they say in China) and it was too late to turn back. However, something seemed wrong. I was facing the back wall of the cubicle, rather than the door. I wasn't sure what the convention in China was, but I figured that if I ever had to do this in a toilet without a reliable lock, and somebody did burst in, then I'd rather greet them with a rascally wink rather than my white bum. So I turned myself around.

The actual bowel movement was completed without any complications. Actually, the medical concensus seems to be that squatting is the healthier method. Something about aligning your colon. Afterwards, I was a bit unsure which way to approach with the tissues, so I tried all three. The third, if you can't guess, is from the side.

In the future, I will carry toilet paper wherever I go, and also soap (another thing which is not provided in public toilets). I've been practising some postures while writing this article, and I think next time I might try keeping both legs in my pants and just pulling the bunched up pants forward a little bit. I think it might be possible after all. And if you think I'm the only person who would write about taking a dump, then you're sadly mistaken. If you'd like to continue researching squatting techniques on the internet, I recommend Neville Kilford's article on eTravel.org, Anne Ku's article, and the links on the latter. There is an informative cartoon available too. This discussion on a mailing list for British expats basically lacks any concensus, but I think the moral is that you should just do whatever works best for you.

One thing I've learnt from the links above is that flushing the tissues was not the proper thing to do. I'm sure that Dalian's sewerage system could handle it, but since that might not always be the case I had better get into the habit of disposing of toilet paper in the small bin provided in the cubicle.

So far, the only time I've encountered a realio trulio hole-in-the-ground style toilet in China is when I had dinner at the house of a friend who lives in a village not far from Kaifaqu (he is the bus driver you met in this article). In front of his house was a little shed with a long rectangular slot in the concrete floor. I only wanted to execute a "little convenience", and I'm pretty sure it's possible to do this standing up. There are only two ways to approach it, either from the short side of the rectangle or the long side. Would you believe it, I chose the wrong one! Keep in mind that getting the direction right is far easier than getting the distance right, but I approached from the long side of the rectangle and the result was a bit messy. But considering that it was pretty dim in the shed on that winter day, I don't think anybody would have noticed.

lol. I've squatted before aswell, not the most comfy thing, and in my small town, people will just piss on the floor of the 'bathroom'. I've said it many times, BoTou is hicksville but for some strange reason I like it here
matt [homepage]
20.07.2003 , 00:27

Funny and descriptive account of your squatting trials and tribulations! I'm finally getting used to it and yes, you definitely have to carry aroudnd TP (toilet paper). I'm going to write a post about squatting as well, I think many people in the West don't even know what a squat toilet looks like so I'll be sure to have a photo of one!

Here'a tip: if you can hold off, try to find a 3-4 star hotel or upscale store/mall where they will more than likely have sitting toilets, TP and soap.
dezza [homepage]
20.07.2003 , 07:48

Sure no one may have noticed but anyone who read this certainly knows! ;?)

I can't squat flat footed either; I think it's simply a matter of westerners not stretching their calves. Perhaps I will practice every morning when I get up and every night before I go to bed! I WILL master the squat! Err.
Cyrus [homepage]
20.07.2003 , 23:40

Heh! Amazing how durable this topic is! On a recent radio program they provided this summary of the bog world: 2 kinds of user-squatters and sitters; 3 kind of convenience-flush and forget/sit and stink/compost and recycle; common to all-desire for privacy or at least dignity. The public ones in China seem to lose out on the latter!
PS: Watch out for your keys!
Ian A [homepage]
21.07.2003 , 07:59

I can sympathise with this one. I was totally puzzled when I encountered my first squat-dunny in Turkey.

The advantage of the squat toilet is that it's a great exercise for your quadriceps. Take some dumbells for added resistence as your muscles adjust.

The disadvantage is that your trousers prevent you from doing a "little convenience" at the same time, which I think is inefficient. Perhaps this isn't a problem for the ladies.
Darren H [homepage]
23.07.2003 , 03:30

That was my view too, Darren, but on reflection I think that if you've got a hand free then it should be possible to "point Percy at the porcelain". Although when I say porcelain, of course I don't mean to ignore the diversity of toilet types in the world.
23.07.2003 , 18:29

A quite thorough explanation of the medical benefits of squatting can be found at NaturesPlatform.com.

Many diseases that have baffled modern medicine are due to the use of sitting toilets. It would be quite simple to eradicate colon cancer, prostate cancer and appendicitis, if everyone converted to squat toilets.
Jonathan [homepage]
16.12.2003 , 10:41

Comments disabled. Sorry for any inconvenience.

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