A Toilet Memory from China, 1995

I was chatting with one of the school mum’s at a birthday party yesterday. She’s from China and incredibly sweet. I told her I backpacked solo around China in 1995, and while one of my most rewarding trips; it was also incredibly difficult back then – especially when you got off the beaten track. A different place now right? She said I must go back and I have, but it was on business, so that’s a whole new world of travel. Hey five star luxury has its merits right? Then I asked her something – have they started to address the issue of putting walls and doors up in public toilets to give the user some privacy? She thought I was hilarious and so I told her a story.

One thing is definite, my personal toilet stories from around the globe could fill a book, but there is one story in China I will never EVER forget. It was the day in 1995 I visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. While wandering around the Square – trying to capture an essence of what had happened only a few years before – that feeling came over me, the feeling of you need to go to the toilet and you need to go NOW. Hey, I was travelling, and sometimes you eat the most curious things, and those curious things often need to get out fast…. need I say more?

So I ran – and I have done this desperate dash many times in many countries, and I can tell you one thing, it is not a pleasant experience. Thankfully there were toilets on the edge of the Square and after scrambling in my bag to pay the small fee and probably paying more because I couldn’t be arsed looking for change, I was in. But then about 20 women followed me in and here I was desperate, with an audience, yet resigned to the fact nothing could get in the way of my need. The problem was the “toilet” was a long channel with no walls or doors. We were required to squat over said channel, in full view of each other, and the 20 women who followed me in were not there for their own personal ablutions – they were there to check out the funny white girl.

I squatted, closed my eyes, resigned to the fact that even in this most intimate of acts I was a curiosity, and could hear the girls giggling as I did my business. I opened my eyes and ahead of me five girls were squatting and smiling at me, a couple bending down to get a better “look,” and behind more were doing the same – not a nice view. The rest were just standing there looking at me with big smiles on their faces.

Before I travelled, the prudish me could never have imagined being in a situation like this, but since then I’ve learnt to live and let live – because in hindsight they are always hilarious situations and let’s face it, good conversation fodder for a night in the pub. In those days in China, the majority of people never left the country, and someone like me was just too different to be ignored. However, their curiosity was always gentle, and most of the time it was very welcome. I just would have preferred some privacy on the bog.

Any worthy toilet stories to share? I could go on all day!

Yours, without the bollocks


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