The second day that we were in Beijing and shopping at Carrefour and my daughter has to go to the potty.
If you have never heard stories of the bathroom facilities in china then you have no understanding of the dread that washed over me. I had been told stories of bathrooms with just simple holes in the ground with ledges on the side for your feet. Public bathrooms lacking toilet paper and garbage cans full of used tissue because you cannot throw them in the hole.
Now perhaps my fears were a little unfounded as I was not in some far flung remote village in the backwater of China. That did little to prevent me from having visions of urine soaked paths leading up to a dirt hole lined with ancient crumbling tiles to balance on while I held my 4 year old daughter over the gaping hole to pee as she screamed in fear of being dropped in as a human sacrifice.
But first I had to find it.
I asked our kind host how to say bathroom in Chinese. I practiced the word he told me over and over until he smiled and nodded. “Great, I’ve got it,” I thought and headed off to be directed to the nearest sacrificial pit.
I found the nearest employee and asked where the bathroom was in my new well practiced Chinese phrase and was presented with a blank stare. I asked again and simply received a shaking head and a string of Chinese phrases I cannot even begin to comprehend. You see at this point my vocabulary is limited to hello and thank you, and I THOUGHT bathroom.
She pointed me around the corner to a desk with a sign in both Chinese and English. “Customer Service”. Here we go again.
When my turn at the counter came I simply said “English"?” and as the soundtrack chorus sang she said “a little.”
Small important detail to keep in mind here. I am carrying my now squirming 4 year old daughter who REALLY has to pee at this point. Every second that passes I can hear the second hand of my mental clock ticking and bringing me closer to the brink of a urine soaked arm and shirt.
“Bathroom?” I ask in my newly learned phrase. A phrase that has apparently already mutated.
More blank stares and a shaking head.
I am more fearful of being peed on as every second passes and my mental facilities begin to leave me. A brilliant stroke of genius hits me. I signal for pen and paper (thank the FSM for universal hand gestures) and draw the universal symbol for toilet.
Now as I finish this drawing I realize that the fear of being pissed on as made me completely retarded. Now maybe that SHOULD be the universal sign for toilet, but it isn’t and at this point I am in almost in a panic.
Incredibly though, this works and I see the light go on in this very kind woman who is trying to help me. “AAAH,” she says, “dubbaya see’. I am slightly baffled by her response and seeing this she draws a picture for me.
Now many of you readers may get this, and in HINDSIGHT it makes perfect sense, but I am in a HAZE of fear of being peed on AND hanging my daughter over the bog of eternal stench WITHOUT toilet paper. Yes, at this point I realize I forgot to bring my public toilet paper with me, but a flash of inspiration hits me and I draw this.
She smiles brightly and says “Yes, yes, dubbya see” and I realize she is saying W C and is referring to Water Closet. At this point I wish we had not only driven the British off the North American continent but pursued a worldwide campaign to wipe their sordid snobby language off the planet. Water closet, loo, restroom, bathroom. How many names do we need for a TOILET.
After a very quick but gracious “shea shea” (谢谢 – thank you) I am sprinting as fast as you can while holding a squirming 4 year old through a crowd of people in the direction she points. Sprinting to the pit of doom.
The floors were tile, the floors were wet (and I don’t think it was water), the hole was porcelain and it was at floor level, and my daughter did scream like she was about to be sacrificed as I held her over it …. and the toilet paper? Let’s just say nobody noticed that my knee was a little wet and I washed my pants as soon as we got home.