Beijing bathrooms not flushed with success

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The Independent Online

I wasn't going to mention this but those in charge of Beijing's toilets have made Olympian efforts to please.

Those who have been here before will know that Beijing's toilets have a legendary reputation. It's not good, so those of sensitive mien look away now.

Walk into a pre-Olympics toilet in Beijing and you were likely to be confronted with several issues. No soap. Even worse, no toilet paper. And plenty of evidence that someone had used the facilities before you. The word ‘disgusting' doesn't quite cover it.

Nearly all the loos were Chinese-style squat versions so disliked by Westerners. Well, I mean, you never know whether to take your trousers right off (difficult if you are wearing shoes) or just ankle them and try to hold your balance over the yawning chasm underneath you.

Only, in old-style Beijing loos, they were never as empty as the word ‘chasm' makes it seem. In fact, they were routinely full. Brimful, in fact, of the most unmentionable stuff it would ever be your misfortune to see or smell.

It used to be that you could travel round Beijing for a few days and then leave convinced that Beijingers do not ever flush their loos. They also use them to smoke in. Quite why anybody would want to smoke while they are, er, busying themselves is beyond me.

But, lo and behold, the Olympics have prompted an ablutions re-think. Beijing has upgraded 5000 toilets and is striving to keep them clean. Thank you, the old Beijing blasters could ruin your day.

I have personally tested a few of Beijing's greatly feared public loos and they do seem to have improved a great deal.

In the three public loos I have visited so far, there was both soap and, magically, loo paper. There also seemed to be more Western loos about - although I must say at this juncture that I think the Asian toilets probably have it over us for logic.

The Chinese don't like Western loos because they object to plonking their behinds where so many behinds have been before them. That is why, when confronted with Western loos, they often stand on the seat and, er, behave as normal.

There is an old saying in expat communities in Asia which you will now understand: When the footprints on the toilet seat are your own, it's time to go home.

But someone has forgotten to launch a similar campaign to persuade more people to wash their hands. All too often you can spy a local heading off into the day from a loo without doing the hand basin thing.

It's a bit disconcerting especially when you discover, as one of our number did recently, that the bloke pushing past him out of the loo - without washing his hands - was one of the chefs from the restaurant that feeds us every day. Groo.

And there's a strange sign on the doors of the cubicles in the gents' loos at the Main Press centre (MPC) in Beijing. It tells you that once you have used the toilet paper, would you kindly deposit it in the bin next to the loo (and not flush it down the loo).

There is no explanation for this. Apparently, however, Beijing's sewerage system is struggling and may not be able to handle all the extra loo paper from the efforts of thousands of visitors. I am not sure what this means and do not care to contemplate it overmuch.

The sign tells you what to do in English, Chinese and French (the Olympic language) and I can exclusively reveal that the word for bin in French is ‘poubelle' - which seems an entirely contradictory word to me in this context.

But, in all the loos I have visited away from the MPC, I have seen no such signs. So it's just us then. Maybe the Chinese have a rooted objection to journalists' excrement. I will pause here to say to various friends of mine - don't send me any texts saying that you see my excrement every day, in my writing; it's not funny.

But seriously, folks, the mystery of the toilet paper in the basket is beyond me. Literally. For I have struck a blow for freedom and human rights. God, I'm a rebel. I flush it.

If they come for me in the middle of the night, my next piece may be a little delayed. And it probably won't be a piece about bogs.

This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald