When I Googled “Chinese toilet” to bring you the image accompanying this post, I saw a lot of pictures. Obviously, I’m not the only person to travel to China and get all squeamish and Western about the facilities. And those pictures … man, they took me right back. So, so many vile toilets in China. But none like the one I experienced in the story to follow.
(To all the Lonely Planeteers, who are rolling their eyes and thinking I’m high maintenance — you’re right. I refuse to apologize for the fact that I prefer my toilets to be elevated. Also, not full of human waste.)
One day, we were parked in the van with our driver, waiting for Sherry to pick up one of our Important Documents. That’s when XJ started saying “Niau Niau,” which means, “I have to pee” in kid Mandarin. If you said that to an adult, they’d think you were an imbecile.
Steve and I looked at each other. The cadence of XJ’s whimpers indicated that the situation was becoming increasingly urgent. The driver, who knew very little English, understood our frantic hand signals and he hopped out of the car, scanning the nearby businesses and finding one that he thought might be of help.
I grabbed XJ and we raced to a storefront that said “Language Institute.” Our driver had a quick conversation with a security guard inside. The two of us pounded up two flights of stairs, me holding my new child, who’s crying “Niau Niau! Niau Niau!” and I’m like, I get it, buddy, just hang in there and then, we arrived at the women’s toilet.
OK, so I’m going to try and paint a picture here. Outside the lavatory, there was a trough-like washbasin, which was leaking and rusted. The air already smelled strongly of urine. I pushed through the plastic strip doors and Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the cacophony of smells in there — I can’t describe it. Trust me. You don’t want me to.
So, there were four stalls in the bathroom, where you can squat over your pit in private, but they were all occupied. At the very end, there was a pit toilet out in the open, up a wide step. XJ was practically clawing at my arms at this point so I staggered up the step, trying not to trip on the drying urine puddles and got his pants off. With one arm, I held him under his shoulders and across his chest, and with my other arm, I bent his legs at a 90-degree angle, my giant handbag dangling precariously from my elbow. (Did I mention that I have an injured rotator cuff for which I’ve done twice-weekly physical therapy session for the past six months? Oh well.)
Then what happened? Pretty much the worst thing you could imagine. I forgot to push his little penis down between his legs, and his urine stream did two things: It went up, hit the ceiling and dripped onto my hair, and it also ran down his legs, soaking his pants, socks and shoes.
Poor little guy was then wet, crying and undoubtedly concerned that his new mom could not navigate a damn hole in the ground. So, I’m simultaneously saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK” in Mandarin and doing arm origami to get the wipes out of my bag — there WAS a reason for the giant handbag — but it wasn’t possible. So, I had no choice but to place my pristine, Western knee on the urine-covered step to get the wipes and there, six inches from my face (which had pee on it), was, quite literally, a steaming pile of shit. I remember very clearly thinking: Well, this is a particularly low point.
But, one must endure, so I wiped down XJ as best I could, and beat it the hell out of there, eager to get to my antibacterial gel.
“How’d it go?” Steve asked as we climbed back into the van.
I shook my head. “That’s the most disgusting bathroom I’ve ever been in. You owe me one.”
Then we went back to the Sheraton and burned our clothes.