What are Chinese toilets like?
As the saying goes..”When ya gotta go, ya gotta go”. When this happens in China, you will most likely encounter a squat toilet. There are pros and cons between squat and sit down (western style) toilets in China. The squat toilet is more sanitary because you never touch the toilet unless you fall in. The cons for westerners are our leg muscles are not used to squatting. Western toilet allows you to sit down but may not be the most sanitary in China.
Keep Toilet Paper or Tissues with you at all times, if you are lucky to have TP it may be the typical Chinese style which is thick pink sandpaper like, so bring your own.
Squatting – Practice, Practice, and Practice at home before your trip
If you need a western sit down toilet, go to a hotel (Chinese or Western Chains), or Museum (check the handicap stall) is your best bet.
KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and Starbucks will most likely have squat toilets (bring TP!).
Major airports will have western toilets, but smaller airports may have squat toilets.
Do not put USED TP in the toilets; use the wastebasket next to the toilet, see photo.
Refer to the term “Toilets” or Wash Closets (WC), typically the words “bathroom” or “restroom” are not used.
Cultural Difference – Toilets
The majority of toilets in China is squat style and in America uses sit-down style. Chinese prefer squat toilets and are found in most public places. At times you may see footprints on western toilets in China because Chinese have a long history of squatting. We have found that in most apartments and newer houses built in the last ten years they have westerner toilets.
Typically toilet paper is not offered in the toilets, so be prepared and always keep TP or travel tissues with you. This is an added expense to the proprietor so it is NOT typically offered and Chinese know to bring their own.
Chinese will place their used TP in a waste basket, and westerner uses the toilet in America. There are two reasons for this. The first is infrastructure for waste management is not the same in the US, so please do not put used TP in the toilets, if will get stuck and not flush. Do not look in the wastebasket; just place your used TP in there. Second is the habit and or if you are invited to a farm or a rural area, you may encounter a bucket, not a toilet. This will be used for fertilizer. This is a reason why Chinese typically do not eat raw vegetables.
My first experience with squat toilets was an emergency. We were at a bowling alley and had to go. I went into the toilets with ten stalls, first stall NO TP, second NO TP, third NO TP, etc… Then I checked for paper towels, nothing! Nature was calling, so I did my business and used the only available article of clothing which was my underpants. Lesson learned the hard way, always carry TP with you! Do not assume airports, train stations, bus stations or hotels have toilet paper they may have a toilet paper holder but it may be empty so be prepared.
After using the squat toilets several times and my leg muscles not used to squatting. Usually, there is nothing to hold on to in the stall (nor to you want to) so what I do before traveling to China is practice squatting. Typically one month before my trip I will practice squatting (like any other exercise) in my living room. Other than bringing TP with you, make sure to practice, and you will thank me later.
When I am in need of a western toilet, I will go to the nearest hotel which can be a Chinese or Western chain. Just walk in and look for the toilets or wash closet signs, some may locate on the second floor, just ask and someone will be willing to help you. Do not assume western brands like KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and Starbucks have western toilets they cater to the local market and will have squat toilets. Another good option is a museum and if they have squat toilets look in the handicap stall which maybe a western toilet. This happened to my mother when she traveled to China for my wedding. We were in a museum in Nanjing, and she used the squat toilets without looking in the handicap stall.
My first visit to my wife’s grandmother’s house which in is a farming village they did not have a toilet. They used a plastic bucket with a rope to carry the bucket to the garden which is then used for fertilizer. Therefore no toilet paper was put in the bucket it was put in a waste basket. Interesting fact, when my wife first came to America, she would not eat raw vegetables stating they need to be cooked, or she would get sick.
The most effective method to Use a Squat Toilet in China.
Using squat toilets in China may not be on a man’s “top 10 list” for their vacation. However, it turns into a part of their Chinese experience. Open restrooms are getting increasingly sanitary in China. However, some are as yet shocking.
Learn to speak the Chinese word for toilet/bathroom/restroom/wash-closet, which is 洗手间 Xi Shou Jian (I would pronounce SheSHOWgen). I learned the hard way again. I went to a foot massage place with my father-in-law (who does not speak any English), and I did not know the word for the toilet at the time (my wife was out shopping). I thought they would know the word for a toilet, but this was a locals place without too many foreign visitors. I tried to motion out the number one toilet (pee) action, but I was brought to a room with massage tables, I stated no, so I was then brought upstairs to a room with only a mattress on the floor, I again stated no (what would my father-in-law thinking!). We went back downstairs, and I took the initiative to search and finally found the toilet. After this ordeal, lets says my wife made sure I knew how to speak the Chinese word for toilet.