Everything you need to know before squatting over an Asian toilet
I figured having been here almost two months, it was about that time. It’s a fact: come to Asia and at one point or another, you’ll have to squat while going to the bathroom. I’m fortunate enough to live in a Western-styled dorm, so I rarely have to use that “other kind of toilet”, but I do use them and with a good amount of success. I realize I’m not the first person to write on the subject – Marco Polo probably did back during Mongol rule when squat toilets were just dirt holes (still primitive when compared to the outhouse). However, his description didn’t have the colorful pictures, translated signs, and detailed diagrams that mine does. There’s more to it than just the perfect squat angle you know. Take a read, you won’t regret it when your bowels are relieved and pants are dry. And in case you were worried, it’s relatively clean for a post about toilets. So here’s Everything You Need To Know Before Going To The Bathroom In China.
First, a few quick notes
1. China is a BYOTP country.
If you didn’t catch that, BYOTP is “Bring Your Own Toilet Paper” – 卫生纸 “weishengzhi”. In some of the more upscale, fancy, or international places, toilet paper is provided. But on the whole, if you don’t bring your own, your two options are to A) ask the guy in the stall next to you to borrow some, or B) walk home with a little extra something in your underwear. You can buy single rolls of toilet paper in just about any small store for less than a quarter, and I would suggest keeping a pack of pocket tissues with you at all times.
2. Yes, that’s a trash can in your stall. No, it’s not for trash.
I haven’t been able to get a definitive answer on this, but in most places in Beijing, flushing toilet paper is a no-no. The sewage system in Beijing (and I’m pretty sure all of China) is old and worn out, and while you might be okay flushing one piece by accident, two is pretty much a sin. That’s right, no need to hesitate, you can just throw it right in with all of the other brown and white tie-dyed toilet paper wads. I like to think that those cans get emptied once a day, but I know that’s a little optimistic. On the positive side, there’s never a need to ask where a bathroom is…the constant stench of festering dirty toilet paper (or toilet paper composting if you will) is a dead giveaway.
Different Names – formal and not so formal:
- Squat toilet
- Squatty potty
- Pit toilet
- Shit pit (apologies for the language)
- The Asian toilet
- The Eastern toilet
- Poo hole
Moving on – Important signs you should recognize.
Most signs will probably have the English underneath, but just in case…
Men and Women
Different words, essentially the same meaning
Because flushing isn’t the same everywhere
The proper method. Again, I’m definitely no expert…
Pre-Squat: Make sure you have toilet paper in your pockets BEFORE you go in the stall. Also, be aware that in some places, just like the trough urinal in the West, in the East, some squat toilets are are simply door-less stalls with a trough that has water running down from one end to the other (although I’ve yet to encounter one of these).
First and foremost: Face the right way, usually in the direction of the porcelain hood. Note point “A” in the diagram. Avoid this common mistake: Don’t go over the hole – by going over the opposite end (the end without the hole), you avoid any sort of splashing or the like.
Second: Drop your pants to your ankles. Some toilet experts recommend that beginners de-pants entirely, but there usually isn’t a place to put your pants, so I say man up and leave them on. One quick note: The floor is usually covered in a flood of urine, either from people (Westerners) who obviously didn’t have the technique down or people who just mis-aimed. You’ll want to try and keep your pants off the ground as much as possible, and once you master the squat, you’ll probably be able to keep them about an inch off the ground without a hassle.
Where do your hands go? It doesn’t really matter…the wall is just as dirty as the floor. Pick your poison.
Next: Place your feet accordingly. If there are grooved footholds on either side of the toilet, use those. If not, I go about shoulder-width apart.
And for the most important part, the squat: Don’t try and level off at 90 degrees. It will become uncomfortable in about a minute and a half, and you’re much less accurate. I say the position should resemble that of a baseball catcher or an alpine skier. The lower you go, the more support you’re giving your quads, and the more stable you are. Take note of point “B” in the diagram.
Now just let it ride. If you’re a guy and you have to go number 1 and 2, aiming with one hand and pulling your pants forward a bit with the other not only helps you avoid unintentionally peeing your pants, I’ve also found that it balances you out a bit. If you’re a girl…good luck. As another blogger writes, “this is a good time to pretend you’re not a miserable tourist with your pants around your ankles, squatting over a barbaric poo hole.”
Another newbie mistake to avoid: Either give what’s in your pockets to a friend or attempt to keep control of your pockets while simultaneously trying not to fall over into a urine bath.
Now that you’re done, it’s time to wipe. The mission is to maneuver yourself in a way that allows you to retrieve the toilet paper from your pocket, wipe your area, then throw used toilet paper in the trash can – all while squatting, and all while not falling over. It is possible. The reason that no accepted method of doing this exists is that back in the day, there was a bucket of water in the stall, and you sort of just, splashed yourself, using your fingers to clean out the leftover bits, then washing your hands thoroughly.
And finally, if there’s a pedal to start the running water, tap it. If there’s a bucket of water which is to be used for washing your stuff down the hole, use it. Stand up, evaluate the new wet spots on your pants, and move on. You’ve succeeded.
My first experience using an Asian toilet
I was out and about with some friends one of my first weekends in Beijing, doing what 22-year-olds do on weekend nights. We were at a subway station when both my friend and I realized our bladders couldn’t last the journey to the next place we were going, so we opted to use what I would guess is one of the dirtiest facilities in the city. (This was at Xizhimen Zhan for anyone out there that knows Beijing.)
CET prepped us for the fact that most places don’t provide anything to wipe, so luckily I had equipped myself with a pocket pack of tissues before I left. I wasn’t kidding about the floor being covered in puddles of pee. Too bad Moses wasn’t there, he could’ve parted the Green Sea to make way for me.
Anyway, from what I remember, I was facing the wrong way (didn’t know it at the time), and my pants acquired some hardly noticeable wet spots, however, on the whole, I managed to stay dry, and as far as I know, wiping was not a problem.
By the way, If you didn’t know, we Westerners are going about it all wrong
The assumption that everyone would like to use a Western toilet is incorrect. I’ve been in a many a bathroom that had both Eastern and Western toilets, and the Chinese people opted for the former. It’s partially because it’s what they’re used to, but also because scientifically speaking, it’s the right way to go.
Here’s what the medical experts at Wikipedia have to say:
- Squatting might help to build the required exhaust pressure more comfortably and quickly.
- Squatting makes elimination faster, easier and more complete.
- For pregnant women, squatting avoids pressure on the uterus when using the toilet. Daily squatting helps prepare the mother-to-be for a more natural delivery.
- Squatting may reduce the occurrence or severity of hemorrhoids and possibly other colorectal disorders such as diverticulosis and appendicitis.
On that note, who’s ready to convert?
Thanks to Notes From Beyond for the inspiration, and if you’re looking for more resources, check out:
- How to Shit Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling (Travelers’ Tales Guides)
- There’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled: The Best Travel Humor and Misadventure (Travelers’ Tales Guides)
If you have any other questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch!