Dec 012011
The "stalls" of a Girls' Bathroom in a Yunyang, China school.

The "stalls" of a Girls' Bathroom in a Yunyang, China school.

Never in my life have I been more dizzied from cultural differences than the afternoon I saw the Girls’ Bathroom in a 4,000-student school of Yunyang, China.

It wasn’t that the bathroom was rather run-down and dirty that shocked me. No– I’ve been a teacher in large urban schools in Boston for seven years and have seen (and smelled) my share of dirty school bathrooms. I’ve also squatted in all sorts of nasty toilets around the world, like (click for photos)Β hole-in-the-ground-in-a-hut toilets in Ghana, and filthy toilets in Thailand.

BUT all of those toilets around the world had one blessed perk: PRIVACY.Β The giant shock for me about the China school toilets we toured was the fact that everyone is supposed to “do their business” with other people walking by and looking!

What the toilets look like in the Girls' Bathroom of the school.

What the toilets look like in the Girls' Bathroom.

Study the first photo of this article. See those low walls? Those are the “stalls.” No door. No front of the stall to shield you. You just walk right in and squat, exposed.

Now here’s what REALLY made me almost faint: this is the bathroom the TEACHERS use, too! This would be my absolute worst nightmare: to be squatting, exposed, while my students walked by. It’s like a nightmare come to life.

Now, it would be one thing if this were a poor school we were visiting… but it wasn’t.

Not only did this school have a new computer lab, but it had a gorgeous, 20-foot-tall steel electric entrance gate.

Clearly the school had money… they just chose to spend it on the outer, most visible aspects of the school.

What a massive cultural difference! It’s not necessarily good nor bad; it just highlights what is and isn’t valued by each of our cultures.

What are YOUR thoughts on this particular school toilet situation?

See how open each toilet stall is? Imagine being a teacher squatting at one while students walk by.

See how open each toilet stall is? Imagine being a teacher squatting at one while students walk by.


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  99 Responses to “The School Toilet in China That May Make You Gasp”

  1. I think I once saw these toilets in the Hutong neighborhood of Beijing (or was it Shanghai) but there were no dividers at all. The squat toilets were right next to each other and it was so open.

  2. I personally would be very,very uncomfortable having to forcfully use a bathroom this way having everybody watching you do your business which needs privacy.Although we are all girlsin the bathrrom having at least one bathroom with a door would really help. Just to say if I was a millionare I would build better bathroom stalls for the school girls. (WITH DOORS)!!!!!!!

  3. Umm… If we had that toilet in our school I would file a complaint. I thought our bathrooms were pretty run down compared to my old school, I think I should be more grateful after reading this. If I went to this school I would probably not use the bathroom until I get home.

  4. Interesting! I have treavlled to America (I’m from New Zealand) quite afew times and stayed in College dorms. I have always found the lack of privacy in American public bathrooms difficult to deal with. I hate the way that you can see through the gaps at the edge of the doors and there are huge gaps under the doors as well. The dorm showers often mean that you have to get dressed publicly. Makes me feel very uncomfortable.

  5. I would not work or live in a situation such as this… However, with this said many millions of people around the world don t even have the benefit you see. If I had to I would. Just saying my honest opinion. Peace!

  6. I have an upcoming trip to Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The toilet facilities are a concern for me. I have heard that I can ask for a Western toilet in some places. Are they readily available in most tourist place in these cities? I have and artificial knee and I am worried about squatting and the potential need to hang on to something. Getting down I think will be less of a problem than getting up and I don’t want to have to ask the students for help. I have also talked to people who have gotten diarrhea and I have been warned to ONLY drink bottled water with sealed lids and to pack Imodium. I have also heard that some toilets are pay toilets. I assume they use coins. Any idea what type of coins and how many?

    • In tourist areas, you should be able to find “Western Toilets” no problem. Remember that the toilet pictured above is a very off-the-beaten-path location in Central China. I do agree with your friend’s suggestion about water, though Immodium should only be taken in certain circumstances. (Check the instructions.)

      Regarding pay toilets, it’s not coins– There is a person sitting at a desk who accepts small bills in return for handing you toilet paper. Is your trip an organized tour? If so, you should be totally fine because the tour guide will be used to making sure Western participants are comfortable. Good luck and enjoy!

    • Thank you my anxiety is now back down from a 10 to a 2. πŸ™‚

    • Oh good!

    • you pay an attendant small amount head for a restaurant or macdonalds I spent 9 years in china

  7. Lillie, all the toilets in the public high schools in my hometown in Virginia were door free as part of an effort to decrease drug use and sales. People just kind of got used to it. When my mom saw that she decided to send me to Catholic school instead. πŸ™‚

  8. Actually the weird thing is, I’ve been to the women’s room at some shopping plazas in China and they have doors but they just leave them open anyways! This was in Guangzhou. So I guess they think: since they won’t be using the doors anyways to heck with them, let’s spend on something else.

  9. Those toilets are also popular in the Middle East. In fact, for mid-eastern US army bases, ZURN makes them. Solid metal, or porcelain coated metal. No, the GI’s generally don’t want to use them. But local workers cannot seem to get used to Western washrooms. Therefore, both kinds are available.

  10. Well, in the 1970’s, in Phoenix Arizona, the “Boys Room” at my high school, was very clean, smelled ok, had sheet metal side walls to the stalls, but had no doors. I never could use the place.

    I have no idea what the girl’s room was like. The faculty had their own washrooms.

    This is actually common place, around the world. All washrooms should have doors!

  11. I’m contemplating going on a school trip with students to China in the spring. So I guess I’ll have to bring a shower curtain along for those stalls! (we did that in one BPS girls bathroom that was missing doors) Can I assume that all bathrooms are same gender and not coed? Dare I ask where the toilet paper is?

  12. works those calves and gluts!

  13. I’m down with the floor toilet. Explosive diarrhea aside, it’s more hygienic. Nothing to touch, no surfaces to share besides where you put your feet, and more ergonomic for the body. On the road I much prefer these to Western toilets. At home, I prefer comfort though πŸ™‚

    • I agree squat toilets can be more hygenic (I hate those splattered sit-toilet seats in public stalls) BUT my issue with these school bathrooms is the lack of privacy!!!

    • My high school in Strongsville, Ohio also had no doors on the stalls. Apparently it was to curb/eliminate smoking. As a result ,I held it for four years…

    • WHAAAAAAAA??!?!?!! How did parents not complain and get that changed?????

    • I don’t think I said anything. But ya, in retrospect it’s hard to believe since there were like 2300 kids and it’s one of Ohio’s biggest high schools. Anyway, learning how to hold it prepared me well for the nomadic lifestyle… πŸ™‚

    • πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  14. LOL! You just documented my daily existence in China. Same kind of toilets everywhere, even in major shopping malls. πŸ™‚

  15. That toilet is actually better than the ones in A LOT of other schools in China. I’ve lived in China for a time, the toilet in my school had concrete walls and floors, and the toilet itself was basically a trench dug in the grounds ( it was an outbuilding actually, located by the field. And it was the only toilet in the school). The area I lived in wasn’t particularly developed, but it wasn’t rural either, and I’ve heard that the toilet in my school was more or less standard in public schools……

  16. I’ve been to China and had to use those bathrooms. You did not have any privacy at all! Thank God at the hotels they had normal bathrooms. People should not complain about our bathrooms!

  17. Wow! How do they use those toilets to do number two?

  18. I’m not at all surprised. In the four years I lived in China, I actually started to prefer public squat toilets over the “ma tong” (the kind of toilet with a seat.) I adopted the Chinese logic of preferring not to touch anything. Lots of Chinese women have full conversations in public bathrooms like this, in schools, train stations, and throughout Beijing’s hutongs. I agree with the previous commenter: the Chinese don’t have a hang up with this, but we do!

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