The Old Must Go for the New to Come

In January 2010, I crammed 25 years of my life into two little 50 lbs bags and headed out on a China-bound plane to educate the young and inquisitive minds of Dalian on all things American. But why? Why leave a coveted associate producer position at CBS (and six years of journalism training to boot) and head off to a lowly English teaching position in China? Why? Because, frankly, I've learned getting what you think you want out of life isn't always what it's cracked up to be. What follows are the tales of my trials and triumphs (like overcoming my fear of the dreaded squatty potty) and the lessons I've learned along the way...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mastering the Art of The Squatty Potty

Rest-assured, Americans, in China (or at least in Dalian) there are westernized toilets available in most residential areas and major food/department store chains (and that was one of the first questions I asked my employers upon my job offer to come here.) BUT also be aware that there comes a point in every China-dwelling expat’s life when he or she must inevitably encounter…the Squatty Potty—basically a porcelain hole in the ground.  For men, I assume that, with the exception of number two, this is a relatively simple process. For women, however, it is a feat requiring a mastery of balance, proper aim, attention to detail and strong leg muscles. Failure to meet these requirements could result in an embarrassingly messy situation. And while you can try to avoid it all you want…eventually, your bladder (or your colon) will give you no choice but to submit (I’m a witness.) So rather than fight the urge, here are a few pointers on how to make your squatty-potty experience a more pleasurable one:

  1. Always be sure to bring a pack of tissues with you. Nine times out of 10, there will not be any toilet paper available in your stall (the Chinese are very thrifty, and I suppose, toilet paper is just deemed as a frivolous and costly Western luxury—but before you ridicule, let me remind you that we do owe them $700 billion)
  1. Take note of your surroundings: Are there coat hangers available outside of the stall? Is the latch on your stall door working properly? Do you even have a latch on your stall door? Where is the flush lever (sometimes it’s up near your hand like a western toilet, sometimes it’s down by your feet.) Is there any fecal matter left residing on or around the pot or surrounding area? (and given China’s not-so-efficient drainage system and the relatively low flushing pressure of most toilets, there’s a good chance you’ll find a little something nice leftover from the last patron.)
  1. Make sure you’ve stowed all outer-wear and carry-on items (purses, shopping bags, cell phones) safely in their proper place (i.e. on either the hanger on the inside or the outside of the bathroom stall.)
  1. Place both feet firmly on each side of said porcelain hole. Remember the pool is shallow but bad aim can create a big splash, so don’t be afraid to spread those feet wide.
  1. Shift underwear/pants/tights down to just above the knees (sometimes, it also helps to use one hand to hold any loose clothing in place.)
  1. Position legs at a 90 to 45 degree angle (depending on your range of flexibility). For beginners, I recommend using your other free hand as an anchor against the wall behind you for balance. However, the true potty aficionado knows that the ability to master the one-handed squat will serve one well in the event that one inadvertently finds oneself in a stall without a working latch (which accounts for about 80 percent of all bathroom stalls in China.)
  1. Aim (cautiously) and release.
  1. Flush (if you followed my directions up until this point, you should have already observed whether the lever in your stall is at western level or by your feet). If the lever is by your feet DO NOT flush it with your hand (Why? Just think for a moment about all the things that probably managed to splash all over that foot-level lever.) Push down on it with your foot.
  1. Pull up your pants, gather your belongings, and pat yourself on the back, you just successfully eliminated waste in your first squatty potty!    
Oh and don’t worry about washing your hands…nobody else ever does. JUST KIDDING…(No, actually I’m not. People really don't seem to wash their hands in this least, not after using the bathroom), which is why I guess it’s a good thing people really don’t shake hands here either and why I always carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere I go and pray over all my food…but that’s a whole different blog for another day.) In any case, it is my sincerest hope that this little tutorial will empower expats around the globe with the courage and confidence to stop running to the nearest western-style WC. You don’t have to be afraid anymore, my pampered Western friends. The time has come to finally stop, stand up and squat on the pot. We can do this, my friends! Yes we can.

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