The debate about squatting VS sitting rages on

By Li Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-23 18:13:01

Photo: CFP

"How to use a squat toilet in China" has become a commonly seen guide on many tourism sites catering to visitors to China, indicating that using these types of toilets can be quite an adventure for many foreigners.

These sometimes stinky, no-toilet-tissue, no-door, occasional-just-a-pit toilets are a nightmare for many foreigners who have been to China.

This is not to mention the occasional staring and discussion among strangers that comes when squatting on a toilet, since it's a rarely seen sight for some locals to see a foreigner "doing their business while squatting."

Yet these situations are pretty much unavoidable since squat toilets are the most common kind available, especially in older parts of cities like Beijing. If visitors want to appreciate exotic, traditional Chinese architecture, they have to find a way to deal with these bathrooms.

"Those hellholes scare the crap out of me," Richard (pseudonym), a Canadian that works in Beijing told the Global Times.

However, since many good bars are hidden among Beijing's hutong Richard can't escape using these toilets after hanging out with friends.

"For guys it's different, we just stand there. And the other stuff, I just hold it until I find an actual toilet," Richard said.

What's even scarier for many foreigners is that the squat toilets you find in big cities like Beijing are far better than those in less developed remote cites.

Although he's seen quite a few disgusting toilets after coming to work in Beijing, Mark (pseudonym) from the UK told the Global Times that at first he didn't find public toilets in China any worse than the ones in his home country.

But one toilet at a bus station in a small city in Yunnan Province was an entirely new experience for him.

"The toilet was basically a long, dry trough that people pooed into. The turds just sat there, sweating away in the humid September heat, covered in flies. Presumably a cleaner came by periodically to clean them out. I couldn't even stand in that room for longer than a minute, let alone use it," Mark said.

After that experience, other public toilets were bearable in comparison. 

Besides the wonderment many feel as to why public toilets in China can be the way they are, a bigger query is why Chinese love to squat in the first place. And why can't most Westerners squat like Asians?

The clean squat

"If it weren't for my pregnancy, I would still use squat toilets in public bathrooms," a Chinese girl named Shirley Shao told the Global Times.

"It's more hygienic."

She's worried about getting some unknown disease by touching the same seat some stranger's butt just touched.

Although most bathrooms in more developed places like shopping malls do have the sit toilets, and even provide toilet paper, they also provide squat toilets for those that prefer them. Quite a few Chinese prefer squat toilets. Even when sit toilets are available and there is a line for the squat toilets, many would rather just wait in line than use a sitter.

In many people's minds, sit toilets are for privileged people like the elderly, pregnant women and the disabled.

Some people, even when they do use sit toilets, tend to either squat over the seat or half-squat to make sure their butts do not touch the seat.

"Hygiene is priority. Toilet seats are stepped on by many people, or some urine gets spilled on them. How disgusting is that? We have to grab some paper to clean the seat before we use it. That's just too troublesome," Jun (pseudonym), a Chinese woman who always chooses to use squat toilet in public bathrooms, told the Global Times. 

If she ever came across one of those hi-tech Japanese toilets which squirt water to clean your posterior and automatically change the toilet seat covers, she would definitely be willing to use it, since they are "clean, safe, comfortable" and "keep your butt warm."

Anytime, anyplace

Chinese, and probably most Asians, can squat anytime for any reason: to relieve themselves, eat or even rest comfortably for long periods of time.

For those growing up in Asia being able to squat isn't thought of as anything special. That is until they find out that most non-Asians are not able to do it. There's a reason why the squat Asians do is called the Asian Squat.

An Asian squat requires that you keep both feet flat on the ground, your body low and your butt touching your ankles. This is something that even those non-Asians that can do it can't do it for long.

In a number of places in China, squatting is a natural habit. In Shaanxi Province, one of their famous "Eight Odds" is that they "don't use chairs, but squat instead."

It's a habit that traces back to agrarian society in ancient China, when poor people couldn't afford to buy a lot of furniture.

Even nowadays in rural areas, people squat to eat when there aren't enough seats, or they want to take a break.

Many also believe that squatting is actually beneficial to defecation as it keeps your intestines from kinking up, puts more pressure on your stomach than sitting down and reduces the chances of bowel cancer and hemorrhoids.

Besides the Asian Squat, another hit term is the Slav Squat, which refers to the squat done by Russians and other Slavic people.

It is believed that such a position comes from the customs when Russia was ruled by a Tsar. To prevent prisoners from escaping or misbehaving, prisoners were required by guards to squat down with their hands behind their back. This position also allowed prisoners to relax without getting dirty from sitting on the ground.

Nowadays it's still common to see Russian squatting while relaxing or doing just about anything. Some of them even squat with their feet on a chair.

The Slav Squat is almost the same as the Asian Squat, which means this type of squat isn't just an Asian thing. Visitors to China just need more practice to get used to it!

Newspaper headline: Toilet tourism

Posted in: Culture & Leisure

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