I will warn you. This will not be pleasant for some of you to read. This is not about the toilet that you have at home. When visiting Beijing, prepare to squat.
This will also be more important to women, as most restrooms will have standalone urinals, or urinal troughs. Still, both sexes may find the need to do the #2 business when out and about. Some of you will not care what a toilet looks like; any adventure is a great adventure to you. My hat is off to you. When it comes to toilets, I prefer less adventure.
In the States, and most European countries, and Australia (bless them), we have developed the tradition of sit-down toilets. I guess it was from all the one and two hole outhouses with splintery boards that set us up for this style. I’m just guessing.
Anyhoo, we in the western economies have fooled ourselves into thinking this is normal. Well, it is not. Most of the rest of the world squats. Whether indoor or outdoor, they do. Here is advice on what to expect in Beijing, China.
Thank Goodness for the Olympics
The one advantage is that the Olympics happened in 2008, and this is 2012. Lots of new hotels were built, and many Chinese locations prepared for the arrived of the rich foreign devils. That greatly expanded the amount of western style plumbing for us to use.
“Definitely Sit” Places
Western and International Hotels – If you are at a Western style hotel with a name that you recognize like Marriott, Days Inn (yep,they are there), Holiday Inn, etc, it is a safe bet that they have American citizen approved sit-down “thrones”. They even have toilet paper included in the price. More about that later…
US of A Embassy – If you go to the American Embassy (and I am guessing the British one too, hehe), you can bet that there will be the best American style toilet that the American government can overspend on. There is even overpriced toilet paper as well. We have a deficit for a reason. No need to salute when you use it, unless you want to. (eh… you actually need a reason to go there, other than to use the “potty”.)
The International Airport – Yes, your first restroom in China will have that touch of home, a sit down and relax toilet. After being cramped on the airplane for so long, a Beijing airport restroom will seem roomy. Enjoy before you leave for the city. If there is a traffic jam, it may be a while before you get to your hotel.
2008 Olympic Locations – If you are visiting the Birdsnest Stadium, I bet you’ll find both styles there. I will personally check that on my next visit. Ran out of time on the last one.
Hmmmm. That is a short list.
“Maybe Sit” Places
High End Restaurants, Art Galleries and Concert Halls – These locations that have lots of western tourists and businessmen may have both. Have both? Yes, some Chinese are not used to our weird toilet habits, and prefer to have their style. After all, it is their country and we are just visiting.
Western Chain Restaurants – They are not stupid; they know that the western tourists may be drawn to the familiar brand like a moth to flame. You may SAY you don’t want to go to McDonalds, but I bet you will end up there at least once. I did. They will have a higher propensity to offer a western style toilet, though there is no guarantee. Still, expect to find the squat style as well.
Walmart? – I am guessing, at least for the Beijing area, that Walmart has both styles. The western inspectors and managers would want some for their use, certainly. I will verify on the next trip. Again, moth to flame…
Shopping Malls? – One of the resources listed below says shopping malls should have them. I cannot vouch for that, though it is possible.
Tour Hotels – A lot of Chinese hotels advertise to western tourists, or have agreements with Chinese based tour companies. These will generally have western style toilets, though not in every room. Verify before you book.
“Probably Not Sit” Places
Most Tourist Sites, Train Stations, Subway Stations, and Bus Stations – They will have just squats. Despite the number of Western tourists, the number of Chinese tourists is far higher, and they are just fine with that style. Expect only squatting there.
Smaller Chinese Restaurants – Even though they look great, and the food is great, don’t expect to find great western style plumbing. The picture above is from one such restaurant. Great place to eat, great atmosphere, no pot to sit on.
Bargaining Malls – If you like to “haggle” over price, then you will end up at a bargaining mall. This is the same place where Chinese go to spend hours attempting to “persuade” the vendor into lowing the price a Chinese buck or two. You may find the best prices here or just overpriced junk to buy, but you will not find a proper American toilet.
Most Tour Arranged Shopping Locations – Chinese based tour companies “arrange” visits to silk markets, massage centers, pearl centers, and jade carving markets while taking you to and from the main tourist attractions. While these shopping places are more upscale than the bargaining malls, don’t expect any western style stall plumbing.
Take advantage of your hotel. Use it, especially just before you leave for the day’s activities. Pretend you are going on a long car trip, and everyone go to the bathroom before leaving.
When near a place on the “Definitely” and “Maybe” lists, take the chance to go there. While I am not suggesting that you constantly think about going to the bathroom (that will make you need to go), I am suggesting that you be aware of your “opportunities”.
You have to admit, though. The above suggestions are basic “Tourist 101″ stuff. Whether visiting Beijing, New York City, or Paris, go when you have the best facilities available. Don’t wait until you are desperate.
I am going to tell you this so you don’t look stupid in front of the Chinese.
All stalls have a little circle midway on the door that shows either a little patch of red or green. It is easy to miss, if you don’t know to look for it. Red means occupied. Green means empty. Even if green, best to knock, just in case another tourist is in there and got confused on how to latch the door. Individual stalls may have a symbol indicating a sit toilet, though I don’t know what that would look like. -Note to self, add picture when I find out.
Always look for a queue, especially in busy locations. If there is a queue (line for you Americans), take the first stall that is available. Don’t hang back and open each stall one at a time until you find the approved American setup. Be thankful you got a stall, period.
Don’t mess up on either of these. At best, the Chinese will ignore you or quietly snicker at you; at worst, you will create mass confusion in a very busy restroom. I learned this the hard way in the Beijing Train Station.
Toilet Paper and Pay Toilets
First, toilet paper is not normally available in the toilet. You need to pack your own. Roll off some from the hotel restroom and place in your purse, bag, or backpack.
Second, some toilets will be pay toilets. The paper is normally included in the fee, but there are a few where the tissue is an extra charge. These fees can be anywhere from 1RMB to 2RMB. Just have a few coins in your pocket in case you run into these. I personally did not come across any pay toilets. Best to be ready, just in case.
Use the Basket, Luke
Wonder if Ben Kenobi learned Wushu KungFu in China? Ehhh. One very important thing to remember is that toilet paper does not go in the toilet. WHAT!? YOU ARE KIDDING! No, no, I am not. The plumbing systems in most restrooms have trouble with toilet paper; it clogs them up.
There will usually be a basket in the corner behind the toilet. You place any paper that you use in that basket. Just don’t look in. It will not be pleasant. If there is no basket, then feel free to place in the toilet.
My Experiences with Beijing Toilets
To my knowledge, everywhere I went outside the hotel did not have any sit-down toilets. EVERYWHERE! Forbidden City, Great Wall, restaurants, Temple of Heaven, you get the picture. It was not bad for me as I am a man, and could use the urinals. It would be much worst for a lady.
The restrooms at the tourist sites and the train station were very busy. I went out of turn to a stall at the Beijing Train Station. Having “jumped the line” without realizing it, I caused a human traffic jam right in front of the stalls. That was embarrassing. So, watch out for the lines, and make sure you queue with everyone else. Hehe, got the American and British terms in there.
In general, the restrooms were clean, or at least not filthy. I did not feel any threat of catching a disease in the next week just from having been there.
I did have to use the squat toilets a couple of times, and it was not a problem. I did not have to pay at any, though. Most did not have paper. Looked in the basket once. I won’t be doing that again. Baskets are cleaned every day, but don’t look anyway.
One important piece of advice about bags and backpacks. Have someone with you keep them outside. There is just no room in the stall to put them down beside you. Plus, the floor may be wet. If you wear a backpack in a busy restroom, you will hit another person in the head every time you turn around. Don’t want you in jail for accidently assaulting Chinese citizens.
And….please remember to retrieve the toilet paper from the backpack before having your buddy or guide hold it. The paper won’t do you any good if it is outside when you finish your business.
Wrapping Up (Or is that Wiping Up?)
You can survive the lack of American Standard type toilets. Using a squat toilet in Beijing is not the end of the world. But if you want to avoid it, take heed of the information above. Plan to go to the restroom at your best opportunity instead of waiting for the “urge” to start looking for one. …and bring paper and some coins.
Bob and Mark, if you read this far, I want you to know that I wrote this just for you.
Share this with your buddies. Also, comment below. Try to keep the bathroom humor down, though. Hehe
Additional Resources for What to Know When You Have to Go in Beijing
- Sara Naumann has a great article on “How to Use a Squat Toilet in China” that gives even more tips. Being a women, she goes into practical details that a woman would want to know.
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