Sunday, March 28, 2010

Making The Sacrifice – Part 2 or Why We Don’t Wear Our Shoes In The House

Posted by He Said

WARNING: This post may be Too Much Information or might just plain gross you out, but it is a story that must be told. I know that many of you probably don’t use a toilet, but for those of us who do, you will likely be able to relate.

In my prior post, Making The Sacrifice, I was a Chinese Water Closet Newb, and I approached the topic of using a public restroom in China as someone who had only heard the horror stories of others.

I can now tell you that all of my preconceived fears were NOT UNFOUNDED.

I am now a well seasoned visitor of these places.  Oh, not for my own use, other than the occasional urinal visit in a public place; I take care of my business at home.  So far this has worked out for me.  I even try to avoid using the toilets at work for reasons you can imagine.  When I did have to check them out the other day, I heard an angel chorus as I walked in to discover a Porcelain Throne, and a very clean one at that.  I digress, but as any regular reader of this blog will know, that is the norm.

Yesterday we had a great adventure at the Silk Market.  A place that is “just for foreigners” as we are told.  Frankly I can understand that.  They all speak English, they have everything under the sun, things I would have trouble finding seeing as I don’t speak Chinese (have I mentioned that more than 10 times yet?), and they let you bargain.  So yeah, it’s made just for foreigners, and it’s a blast.  Where else can I order a custom tailored silk suit THAT I WILL NEVER WEAR, unless Bill Gates calls and offers me work at his foundation.  Hey, Bill, did you get my email? Call already!

Susanne and I have learned very quickly just how much “adventure” our children can take and have developed a keen sense of JUST how much cheek and hair stroking they can take before the meltdown.  This is also just about the same time they will need to use the public WC.  During lunch at McDonald’s (groan), I could tell that they were reaching this inevitable meltdown, so I decided it was time to head home and let Susanne go back to the market and offer a few more joke prices.  I offered to take the kids home on the subway by myself to let her continue shopping, and the kids each insisted they didn’t have to go potty when asked.

Do not be impressed, dear reader.  As we headed into the subway station, I was putting on my best public harmony face while inside I was just as scared as my children who won’t go into the GLASS BATHROOM because they “don’t want to be by myself!”.  I was a little worried, but because Susanne goes to the market with the children without me on a regular basis I had to be the big strong American that everyone thinks I am.  Can’t let my bad boy image be damaged.

We got to the first transit station without incident. We were over in the busy side of town and got off the subway 1 Line to switch to the 10 Line which would take us nearly home.  About a 40 minute ride. 

Things were going well, as we dodged people in the station.  Although I was holding two shopping bags in one hand, the camera around my neck, and I was holding both the children’s hands in my other free hand, we were having fun and my attitude was positive. Braedyn was being an angel and Emily was being a good sport as she walked between us holding her hand straight over her head to hold onto one of my fingers.

I knew the inevitable would be coming soon, so I pressed and I prodded as we walked a very long distance to the other train through HORDES of Chinese locals.  ”Do you have to go potty?”  The answer was over and over again the same.  “No, Daddy!” or “I already told you Daddy, NO!”

You know those videos you see with the MILLIONS of Chinese walking the streets and subways shoulder to shoulder?

They are faked to make this place look less busy than it actually is. Chinese propaganda I say.

If I wasn’t such a large man, I probably could have pulled a Crocodile Dundee and walked on their heads and shoulders through the subway.  It really is that crowded. On second thought, they are packed so tight I don’t think anyone would fall over…maybe I will give it a try next time. 

So the children assured me over the length of a 15 minute walk from one train line to the other that they DID NOT have to go potty.  Now you parents out there are saying, “JUST TAKE THEM, YOU MORON!”  To you I say, “YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN IN A CHINESE PUBLIC WATER CLOSET, YOU JERK!”.

Just, and I mean at the very exact moment that we stand in line at the 10 Line and stop moving our feet, Emily speaks. Yup, you guessed it.  “I have to go potty".  At that very moment I pulled out remaining hairs from the top of my head.  It was a 10 minute walk BACK through the crowds to the nearest public toilet.

WARNING: I already told you once that this was not going to be pleasant.  You are still around, so either you are a sicko, a rubbernecker, or just flat out don’t believe me. (sicko).

When I followed the signs, I was at first confused.  The arrow pointed me into a hallway.  On one side was a line of sinks.  No soap, no paper towels, no air dryers.  On the right was a line of women standing just outside a blue cloth hanging only halfway down in a doorway.  At the end of the hallway I saw men going under a similar blue cloth. Both had only Chinese writing.  Yup.  This must be the place.

I squirmed and wiggled my way between the women and the sinks.  Holding Emily on my right arm, Braedyn by my right hand and the two shopping bags in my left. I was also wearing my jacket and already sweating like the overweight, out of shape American that I am.  As the sweat was dripping from my face, we went under the curtain and the heat and stench hit me.  Sewage, sweat and urine.  I immediately noticed the floor was muddy and wet, and I don’t think it was only water and dirt. 

It was a small room with perhaps 5 urinals closely spaced against one wall and two very narrow stalls at the end.  The men were lined up almost back to front, three deep behind each of the urinals.  There were two men standing in the corner by the stalls, and we took our place in line there.

And the stench was horrible.  Both my children were covering their noses and telling me how stinky it was.  I have stopped worrying about this offending anyone as most people speak as much English as I do Chinese. Braedyn was offering to go wait out in the subway. I asked him if he wanted a sign to wear around his neck that read “Take Me”, but I don’t think he thought that was funny.

So here we are.  I have a daughter who is wriggling and telling me she is going to pee on my arm, my son is struggling to stay in the room, and I am still holding the shopping bags and ABSOLUTELY cannot put anything on the floor.  And the two men in front of me?  They are smoking.  Yup.  It’s against the rules to smoke in the subway, but I guess bathroom smoking is like pirated DVDs. Tolerated.

And the men in the stalls took forever.  These Chinese guys must have quads, thighs and buns of steel, because I could never squat for as long as we waited outside those stalls. One man left and then, the guy right in front of us finished his cigarette and left. That’s right, he wasn’t even in line for a toilet.  He went into the nasty, rank public toilet to smoke his cigarette rather than leave the subway and pay the 30 cents to re-enter.  If my addiction is going to make me spend time in a place like that, it better make me feel REALLY good.  You know, like heroine or crack cocaine.  C’mon, you all know what I am talking about right?  You have all seen Trainspotting, you know, the GOOD stuff.  Trust me, you thought Marlboros smell bad, you should smell Chinese tobacco.  I’m not even sure it’s tobacco.  It might be recycled wallpaper based on the smell.

But I digress.  Again.  But I am doing this to give you one more warning.

WARNING: This is where it gets gross. Skip to the next bold words if you are afraid.

A tiny stall opens up.  I order Braedyn to stand just outside the stall in the corner and keep talking to me as Emily and I head in, and I thank the FSM that there is a HOOK, yes a a FLIPPING HOOK, to hang my bags on the inside of the stall.

You see, if I didn’t have a hook, I would likely have had to set my bags on the urine and feces covered floor in order to help my daughter pee.

Yes, there were yule logs on the footrests and lemonade covering the floor (I am using euphemism’s here, if you need help with these, then you should have stopped at the third warning), and I was shuffling my feet like an old man just so I didn’t slip. The garbage can in the corner is overflowing with used toilet paper. PLEASE, SOMEONE TELL ME WHY THEY DON’T FLUSH THEIR USED TP, OR AT LEAST FOLD IT OVER SO I DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT IT?!?

End Of Warnings: If you skipped to here, I just have to say…WIMP.

I managed to help Emily take care of business without ever putting her down and then, while I am trying to pull my personal stash of toilet paper out of the camera bag hanging around my neck, she starts squirming and the toilet paper slips from my fingers. And because there is some weird time continuum here, everything moved in slow motion again, and I watched my roll of toilet paper unfurl and float to the floor.  I quickly reach down and grabbed the last square a mere two feet from being moistened and stuck to the floor. The paper between my hand and the floor is still MINE, MINE I SAY!

YES! I still have toilet PAPER! What is happening to me that a few squares of my own personal toilet paper bring me joy?  Well, they did, and they probably will again before we leave Beijing.

Time returned to normal speed (it happens here), and I was able to finish our business, get my things and get the hell out of Dodge.

I am considering allowing my children to have a potty training setback and just start wearing diapers again.

Hell, if anyone wants to ship me some Depends I might start wearing them myself.

P.S. I promise not to tell anymore potty stories.


  1. Can you put your shoes in the ozonator?

  2. You know those plastic bags they want you to pay for at the grocery store? I think you can just hold it under your kids in a sly corner and people will just think you're a weird foreigner...