One of the most common questions I get asked is about culture shock. “I wanted to embrace the new culture!” I tell people. What I didn’t expect, was how many times I would have to pee in a hole in the ground to do it.
Squat toilets can be daunting, especially for less agile first time users, who find the mere idea of balancing on their honkers troublesome, let alone relieving oneself while doing it. Here’s some nuggets of wisdom to chomp on:
- “Do I take my trousers off?”
Removing clothing is not necessary. Simply pull your trousers down below your knees. If they’re tight fitting even better. If they’re loose fitting (including elephant pants, or a long skirt), this will be a trickier affair. Be sure to bunch all the material up towards your crotch before squatting. Unnecessarily dipping your lovely garments into the squat is not ideal.
- “Squat to pee, lunge to poo.”
Some vital advice given to me in my first few weeks in China. Our Western legs aren’t used to squatting for longer periods of time- unless your eighteen months old. The blood supply can cut off fairly rapidly, making the rise back up to standing position dangerously challenging. Toppling backwards into a squat toilet would be grim. If you’re not used to squatting onto your honkers, the lunge, or side squat as we’ve often called it, can aid balance and is an easier position to hold for that longer needed number two time.
- “Get in, get out”
If you’d wanted to relieve yourself at a leisurely pace, forget it. Squat toilets are purely functional and in the most populous country on Earth, there’s usually a queue. While trying to focus on the correct stance, there may be people shouting, children banging on the door, and just a general ruckus which may detract from the relaxing wee you’d had in mind.
- “What is that scent?”
Drains in China are notoriously stinky. It’s likely that toilet paper will easily block these stinky drains, so all used toilet paper is disposed of in a (usually brightly coloured and well decorated) lid-less bin inside each squat cubicle. If you’re a woman, everything else is disposed of in those bins too, so good luck.
- “Always, always carry toilet paper”
Toilet paper is usually not provided in squatters, so bring your own or be stuck having a good aul shake to get rid of the excess. If you’re lucky, it’ll be shakeable.
If you’re not, well, you won’t forget toilet paper again.
- “Ladies, heals are easier”
About the only thing easier to with heals on, is use a squat toilet. Something scientific- heal elevation, balance, who knows. If you’re wearing heals, a comfortable squat is almost guaranteed.
- “Splash back exists”
Ah the splash back. There’s not much that can be done. Each kind of footwear has its merits. Flip flops are easy to wash, and so are your feet, but splashing your feet with your own pee is a little too gross for some people, but is it better than splashing your nice pair of Converse?
In case you wondered why you always take your shoes off when going into someone’s home in China, that may have something to do with it.
- “It can always get less glamorous”
Despite originally thinking they’re all yucky, the lesson is quickly learned, that squat toilets are not really all that bad, and some are definitely worse than others. Be grateful if:-Your toilet has a door or walls. Many don’t. You think your white face is intriguing in China, wait till you get your white arse out.-There is not a puddle of urine to wade through before making your deposit.
-It can be flushed with a foot pedal. The alternative is scooping out stagnant water out of the drum provided yourself, and flushing the old fashioned way.
-It’s a single squat toilet. Trench squats are another delight of China, whereby everyone pees into the same drain. Nothing like seeing someone else’s excrement float by underneath you.
-It’s not a raised squat toilet. Another level of balance required for these.
-You are aiming at an immobile target. Peeing on the train brings the squatting skill up a notch and makes you grateful for all those times that hole in the ground wasn’t moving. At least the handles are provided at just the right height for holding on. Unfortunately, usually in primary splash back zone, these are only to be used in extreme circumstances.
But don’t worry lads, it’s not all doom and gloom. Bigger cities and fancy restaurants have Western toilets. During my first few weeks in China, our restaurant selection would depend on toilet facilities “Let’s go to the place with the nice Western toilets”. If you can’t locate either of those, you can always wait till you get home. Squat toilets are usually saved just for the public domain and most apartments have a nice comfortable loo as we know it.
On the upside; squatting means you need not touch anything unsanitary to have a wee. Hitting Dublin on a Saturday night and trying to hover oneself over a vomit covered toilet bowl can be a a much more challenging feat.
Humans were built to squat and just like the cavemen, we can really empty what’s in there with the correct squatting position.