stall 2

To everyone who’d been nagging me to update, I explained that of late, my life has been for the most part pretty boring, and that unless you wanted excerpts from my notes about textual variations in Zhuangzi, or the functions of 了1 and 了2 in Modern Chinese, you wouldn’t like any updates I wrote. Still, some people persisted in their demands for a new post, and so, for reasons childish and scatological, I present you with “The Worst Toilet Ever” as proof that you really didn’t want an update.

Chinese toilets are of the ‘squatter’ model: a seatless depression in the floor, usually flushable. It’s common to hear foreigners – especially new arrivals – complain about them: “They’re filthy! They clog! The basket next to them is always filled with used toilet paper! They SMELL!”
While basically sympathetic to these complaints, I always feel compelled to educate the complainers, firstly by explaining to them the basics of how Chinese toilets are to be used, and secondy by informing them of just how much worse things could be. Here goes:

As unfamiliar and uncomfortable as the squat required by Chinese toilets may be to those of us who grew up with Western-style sitdown toilets, it has some major advantages over the ostensibly more comfortable ass-planted-on-toilet-seat position, viz.:

– It provides good exercise.

– While reading a book or a newspaper is probably not feasible, you will be able to use the time you spend perched uncomfortably over the toilet to contemplate all of the things that have gone wrong in your life.

– At no point does your ass – or any other part of you – come into contact with the toilet. When you consider the number and variety of asses with which the average toilet seat is burdened throughout its lifetime – and you will consider it if you go home after getting used to squatters – this is a great comfort.

As for the basket next to the toilet: that’s just where the toilet paper goes. There’s sometimes a sign to this effect, but most Chinese people don’t need to be told. Think of it as a 对联 duilian antithetical couplet for the indoor-plumbing era — 水管窄, 水压低: “The water pipes are narrow / The water pressure is low.”
So yes; you are supposed to put your toilet paper in that basket after you’ve finished with it. You might be able to get away with flushing it along with the rest of your detritus, especially in a modern building, but be warned that it may well clog, leaving you with a backed-up john and the enmity of the service staff and future bathroom patrons.

Then there are the toilets that admonish you to 请勿大便 — “No a faeces,” as one Beijing duck restaurant memorably translated it. Take the advice, and here’s why: some toilets have had grates placed over the hole to keep people from flushing toilet paper, cigarette butts, evidence of recently-committed crimes, etc., and these grates will catch solid waste of other forms as well. And then there’s the problem, mentioned before, of the narrow pipes and low pressure. Besides this, if you’ve spent any amount of time in China you’ve probably come across toilets that ostensibly permitted Number Two, only to find that the person who used the toilet before you had left proof that this was not the case.

Even if you haven’t had this happen to you, I have, and so here’s a little story that I like to call “The Worst Toilet Ever.”

It was August, 2001, and my classmates and I were on a bus from Beijing University to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

About an hour and a half into the trip, our bus stopped at a large roadside restaurant for a pit stop and we all piled out. Beijing and environs are hot and humid in the summer, and going from the bus (which was air-conditioned) into the great outdoors and the restaurant (which were not) was a rude shock. Beginning to sweat and stick to ourselves, we walked upstairs to the bathroom and saw…

…a perfectly ordinary truck-stop bathroom, with a piss-trough along one wall and squatter cubicles along the back wall. You could smell it from the hallway, but that wasn’t really anything special; you could smell the bathrooms in Shaoyuan Classroom Building 2 from like 10 metres away. On the face of things, this bathroom seemed no worse than most we’d seen up ’til then, and a good bit better than some, and so we went in, did our thing at the piss-trough, and then turned around to go to the sink.

And that’s when we saw Stall 2.

The door was open, revealing that someone, at some point, had deposited a prodigious amount of shit in and around the squatter. It had splashed all over the floor, and up to a height of about two feet on the wall behind, a blast radius indicating a violence that it didn’t take a forensic excretologist to imagine, but the majority of it had landed in the basin of the squatter, heaping in a quantity that suggested something inhuman.
“It’s like a shit-baby,” observed my classmate, and it seemd entirely plausible that someone, or something, had been incubating this shit in their colon for the past nine months only to unload it in a massive, explosive fecal birth.
Worst of all were the footprints on the floor, leading away from the pile. One of them swept out in a curve that suggested that their maker had slipped – and sure enough, the shit-baby had a butt-print in it where someone had fallen.

“Whatever you do,” we advised the classmates who were coming in as we left, “don’t look in Stall 2.” Then we went back on the bus and waited to go.

“You assholes!”– this was from the classmates we’d warned before they went in — “Why did you tell us to look in there?”

We made no reply, having decided that our lives could now be divided into two periods, “Before Stall 2” and “After Stall 2,” and as the bus ride went on towards Mutianyu, we fell silent, brought closer by shared adversity, knowing that we could never explain it to anyone who hadn’t seen it.

Comments (32)

  1. chriswaugh_bj wrote::

    That’s a great story!

    Monday, May 3, 2004 at 11:20 am #
  2. Luna wrote::

    HAHAHAHAH!!! Ahh, I like your classmates’ response. :)

    Monday, May 3, 2004 at 11:57 am #
  3. wayne wrote::

    One time when I was travelling in Qinghai, and under the most dire of emergency circumstances, I took a crap on a squatter that was already clogged with a big pile of shit. It wasn’t so much the squishy sound of my shit hitting other people’s days old shit that disturbed me. It was more the cloud of flies that my bowel movement provoked that really got to me.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 1:12 am #
  4. Dnl wrote::

    I dont have a problem with gazing at a reeking pile, its afterwards thinking about the person
    that has to get in there and clean it up, and there
    always is a someone . .

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 1:21 am #
  5. Max wrote::

    What I love is when you have to throw down 5 mao for the pleasure of viewing these horrors. It’s like some sort of twisted East Asian fecal sideshow.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 1:55 am #
  6. perigrini wrote::

    I laughed so hard at your story (one that, unfortunately, is all too common) that my eyes watered up…perhaps in sympathetic response.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 5:52 am #
  7. Alaric wrote::

    Hi Brendan! I can only think of one thing that would make your extremely entertaining, very funny, and completely disgusting (but in a fascinating good way) story better… and that would be photos!!!

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 7:24 am #
  8. Sterno wrote::

    Well, perhaps there are times one should take pause from their writings and reflect.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 10:02 am #
  9. pdwalker wrote::


    In Hong Kong, the people are no better.

    One of the toilets had shit marks that reached 6 feet up. To this day, I still have no idea what kind of violence must have been done to get it that high. The best explanation, based on the height and the blast radius, that I can think of, is extreme pressure.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 12:19 pm #
  10. Kaiser wrote::

    I always tell myself not to look at the big pile of shit. “Don’t look at the big pile of shit,” I say. And then I invariably look at the big pile of shit.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 12:22 pm #
  11. Michael wrote::

    You told them not to look…I’m not sure what they wanted.
    I saw something similar once in a public toilet in Beijing. I’d rather not talk about it.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 12:46 pm #
  12. rachel wrote::

    XDDDDD!!!!! You made my day!!! I actually still remember this from my childhood in China.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 5:11 am #
  13. David Mercer wrote::

    The only time I’ve heard of a shit plume that high (6 feet!) or higher was the tale of a friend of mine. He is a very, very large man, and in the early 70’s was on Preludin for a while (the very strong amphetamine family stimulant lauded in the song “Pink Cadillac”) for weight loss.

    Yes, his colon was VERY packed; he was on lots of Preludin; he needed to take a shit. No where in the South Bay (south of SF in CA) could he find a public restroom off the Freeway. Finally, after holding it for WAY too long, he got to a bathroom.

    And experienced the most intense ass explosion I’ve ever heard of in my life (you normally have to get him drunk to tell this story!)

    The entire stall interior, and most of his clothes, were covered in the semi-liquid expulsion from his ass. No amount of paper towels are going to make that better!

    Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 6:54 am #
  14. Samuel wrote::

    hi…nice to meet you…

    Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 11:28 am #
  15. Adam wrote::

    Yo, loved the shit. By next week I hope to have my own Classical Chinese blog set up. In commemoration of the inspiration your blog has given me, I’ve composed a Tang style Shi in honor of your latest entry:


    You went to Beijing in search of a clean place
    Shit and piss stained the white porcelain
    Tears streaming from the stench you helplessly squatted
    After an eternity you finally knew satisfaction

    Thursday, May 6, 2004 at 1:07 am #
  16. Brendan wrote::

    Adam: You just made my day, if not my week. Looking forward to seeing your blog — email me if you need any help with it.

    Thursday, May 6, 2004 at 3:05 am #
  17. Zak wrote::

    I’m in a cyber cafe, reading the shit story and cracking up with laughter. EVERYONE is looking at this ridiculous laowai laughing to himself.
    ?Insane? My fiancee next to me is also scowling :-) Loved it ! Been there, done that.

    Friday, May 7, 2004 at 4:05 am #
  18. Maile wrote::

    Sweet Jesus! That was the funniest thing I have ever read in my life! Can I link you to me?

    Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 6:23 am #
  19. yoshio wrote::

    just when i thought i had that “shit” repressed from my memory… i hate you brendan!

    Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 7:02 am #
  20. As much as I hited to be reminded, unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst in my memory.

    Let me say no more, because my dinner is coming soon.

    :-)) )

    Sunday, May 9, 2004 at 7:05 am #
  21. frank wrote::

    Come to Jesus sinner – it gets worse. One friend told me that after he took a crap in an outhouse in rural China he looked in the hole. He saw another pair of eyes looking back at him. It seems that there was a pig at the bottom of the shithouse. They really do feed shit to pigs…which inevitably becomes tomorrow’s roast pork.

    Monday, May 10, 2004 at 3:54 am #
  22. Brendan wrote::

    Frank – good thing I eat a lot at 清真 places, then…

    Monday, May 10, 2004 at 10:08 am #
  23. Lyle wrote::

    Ok this if totally off the subject, but this is for Brandan or anyone else with an opinion on this….I just accepted for a year long Chinese program at BLCU and Beida in Beijing. Which one should I chose???

    Wednesday, May 12, 2004 at 12:25 pm #
  24. lils wrote::

    I think I’m going to quit my job and play er hu for money in central park. homeboy there now kinda sucks, so i figure i could gain some market share. B-what do you think?
    Yo has explosions of that sort every morning, btw.
    OOoh yEEA! commenting on poo in porcelain is truly getting sinologiggy wid it.

    Thursday, May 13, 2004 at 5:57 am #
  25. Ari wrote::

    Well my aunt was in singapore and commended the bathrooms there. mind you she chose to have the pay for the stall bathrooms. She said she learned to wear skirts and no panty hose.

    And if you’ve been in public outhouses surely this can’t be much worse. ok maybe stall number 2 with the spray radius but you still don’t wanna touch anything in an outhouse!

    hmmm reminds me when i worked at mcdonald’s once someone smeared crap all over the men’s washroom stall.

    Monday, May 17, 2004 at 8:41 am #
  26. Brendan wrote::

    Lyle – if you’re going to be going there at the beginner or intermediate levels, I’d say that it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, although from what I’ve seen, BLCU has better textbooks than Beida. If you’re going to be going in at the advanced level, and want to take something besides pure language classes, Beida is probably the place to go.

    Monday, May 17, 2004 at 10:01 am #
  27. Brendan wrote::

    Although I should note that I’ve never gone to BLCU, so my only knowledge of the classes there comes from their textbooks, which as I noted are much less lame than Beida’s.

    You could try asking your question on – you could probably get more useful information there.

    Monday, May 17, 2004 at 10:58 am #
  28. Blinger wrote::

    I’ve seen some shitty toilets in Korea, but nothing to compare to that story.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2004 at 9:47 am #
  29. Lyle wrote::

    thanks Brendan, I think I’ll try BLCU and see how it goes.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2004 at 11:29 am #
  30. paul crudden wrote::

    marvelous to meet you .tearfully funny.Reminded me of my Thai experiencs
    were I was sometimes the guilty party
    life will forever be befor and after stall 2
    thanks again honestly
    paul crudden

    Thursday, May 20, 2004 at 8:39 am #
  31. Vlad wrote::

    You get that kind of thing in the “first world” too; at the bathroom of the train station in Nice one time, all the stalls were occupied, except for one, for which there was not a line. Never hesitant to take the path less traveled, I soon discovered why this was the case.

    Sunday, May 23, 2004 at 7:20 am #
  32. raining wrote::

    Adam: You just made my day, if not my week. Looking forward to seeing your blog — email me if you need any help with it.

    Is that Brendan? you desponded me so much !

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 1:21 pm #