step by step

This is the toilet post. Every trip overseas has its toilet stories. I will share mine.

The traditional Chinese toilet experience can disturbing to some foreigners – inside a market in Suzhou, I once entered a large square with six parallel 80 cm high walls on the right. Men, pants down, were crouching and smoking between these walls, doing what they had to do. Tobacco was not the only smell in the room. These toilets are actually nicely social – my friend Juliette said a woman once commented to her ‘wow, you’ve got a really white ass’. With white skin a touchstone of beauty, it was a compliment too.

But now, in the central bits of big coastal cities, public urinals have a little sign saying ‘one little step forward, one big step for civilisation’.

Little gestures, repeated daily by hnudreds of millions, will eventually lead to change – like the yellow river, pressing against its banks for centuries, changed its own course a number of times.

I have to say, China’s doing well in terms of public toilets. Shopping malls, bookstores and stations have one in every corner. There are many street signs indicating where the closest one is in tourist areas. Much better than Paris, where you struggle to find a booth – and half the time, it’s not even closing properly.


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