When I came to China about 17 years ago, I thought about everything, and not wanting to use a public toilet became one of the biggest challenges to my health.
From the early 1990s to the middle of the 20th century, we worked on the ground floor of a commercial office building in Beijing with squat toilets. To this day, my colleagues have relished how I crouch in the toilet. We are a creative marketing service that has decided to rent office space in a cluster of abandoned schools in north Beijing. I clearly remember that my first task after I arrived was to persuade the owner to change the toilet. My boss and the head office have approved it, as long as the landlord allows it. We are even willing to pay for the decoration. To me, it's not a question of choice. I certainly have seen the humble country toilet. My problem is that I had knee surgery while I was in college and squats were quite difficult. In addition to my knee problems and poor technique, I must admit that I have never really mastered squat toilets. I thought the landlord would be happy to let the tenant pay for the toilet upgrade.
Well, except for the landlord. Remember, this is the mid - '90s, before China's sense of service was formed. Moreover, unlike today, there is not much commercial property around. At first we were told, "no way." No way. It's impossible. Don't allow. We tried to persuade the guy in some way, but he seemed content to refuse our request flatly. Not even a packet of double happiness cigarettes touched him. So I'm on my own.
On my less busy days, I take a 10-minute taxi to the kunlun hotel to use their bathroom. The kunlun hotel has some very comfortable bathrooms, which, by the way, I didn't know until that time. My boss kept asking me why I had to go to the bathroom several times a week for 30 minutes on my time sheet. She wanted to know what "value" these 30 minutes would bring to my clients. I have thought over many answers to such a question, but I don't want to lose my job. Well, when I went to the kunlun hotel, the meeting went much better.
I also had a hard time getting out of my body, so I bought a toilet seat, the kind used by disabled people. A round seat with red cushions and a hole in the middle. During the lease, I must have bought about five of these chairs. Their "toilet life" is short, up to three months, because of poor quality. It often rusts or breaks down. However, the "hole" seats are still used so frequently in our offices that I even proudly lend them to visiting foreigners. It takes skill to learn to use these chairs. I won't go into details, but it means you can't sit down like a dunk. After moving into the new office building, we eliminated these toilet facilities. We held a ceremony to mark the end of my toilet struggle, and we made a bonfire and set the three remaining chairs on fire.
This early experience made me quite sensitive to the toilet and Chinese topics. I'm not sure sitting is better than cratering. A billion or so Chinese people are skilled in craters, and I'm clearly one of the few. But I must say that I was very anxious when I traveled in China because I had to look for a toilet to sit on. Whether it's giving a speech at a university in guangzhou, visiting our office in chengdu, taking a vacation in qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, or climbing the Great Wall for a day, I can't escape the pit anxiety.
But there is also hope in overcoming fear. In the late 1990s, my wife and I had a friend working for an accounting firm whose only client was a cleaning company. She used to tell us that her clients were doing very well. "Don't worry, Scott," consoled Judy in the bathroom. "Reinforcements are on their way."
Then came the world toilet conference in Beijing in 2004. Thousands of people came to the city to talk about toilets. Some have dubbed it the Olympics of the toilet industry. "Hot and furious," ABC news declared, citing "toilet jokes" during the discussion. Officials at the meeting pointed out that the cleanliness of public toilets is directly related to the development of the country.
I recently saw a report on some clinical studies that said squats are healthier than sitting. The report listed several advantages of squatting, such as preventing "fecal stasis" that can lead to colon cancer. It's persuasive, but it won't change my habits. But it's also good to know why.
Today, you'll find many Chinese want to upgrade their squat toilets to squat toilets, but the overall evolution will not be easy. When I was in China, I saw a lot of footprints on the toilet seat, and I was worried about balance for those who were sitting in the air. I'm sure the local hospital has a lot of them. I wonder why manufacturers don't invent a sit-squat toilet: two habits at once.
I am fortunate that the situation is improving. Many public buildings now have sitting and squat toilets. It seems that this trend will continue. Toto, the Japanese company that makes modern toilet seats in China, says the outlook is positive. "Due to the increase in new housing in China and strong new factory sales, both its revenues and profits have increased," read the first paragraph of its 2011 financial report.
I don't know about you, but I bought dong tao stock.
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