15.1 Fragrance

Among the many peculiar fragrances that embody the experience that is China, the one most common nose-assaulting culprit is that of sewage.

I’ve smelled it everywhere I’ve gone, in the restaurants, coffee shops, and on the subways of Beijing to the streets of my small hometown in Hunan. It’s a smell that doesn’t distinguish between urban and rural, rich and poor, North and South.

It’s a rather uncomfortable experience to have your nose assaulted with the stink that comes with the most primitive of human wastes. I attribute its far reaches to the use and abuse of squatting toilets. Even though I was born and partially raised in China, I still cannot fully comprehend the stubbornness with which squatting toilets persist. They are everywhere, except in the high-end Western hotels. Of course, their prevalence is slowly being cut down by the increasing presence of modern sitting toilets, but nonetheless, they are still there.

I’ve heard Chinese people, especially the older generations, prefer squatting to sitting, not only because it’s more familiar to them but also they claim that squatting toilets are cleaner. Your precious behind doesn’t touch anything when using them whereas, who knows what kind of bums have infested the seat of a sitting toilet. In a way, I quite understand this way of thought.

But just because we share a seat, doesn’t mean that seat can’t stay clean. In Japan, they’ve come up with self-cleaning, self-warming sitting toilet technology. Installed in all bathrooms are bacteria killing wet wipes for your cleaning convenience. In Canada, hand-sanitizer machines are widespread. Janitors keep washrooms spic-and-span. Plus, not only is there toilet paper for public use in every washroom I’ve ever been in in Canada, the US and Japan, but most also come with disposable toilet seat covers.

It sounds rather spoiled and first worldly, but there you have it. So whether you are in China already or arriving soon, toughen up your senses and tolerance. There are quite a lot of things to get used to.


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