The facade of a "five-star" public toilet in Linfen, a city with rich historical sites in Shanxi province. Photo: China Daily
Foreign tourists can expect more and cleaner public toilets across China′s many scenic spots, along with better stocks of soaps and paper.
China will build new restrooms at scenic spots and improve existing ones nationwide beginning this year, in a bid to beef up tourism infrastructure, officials say.
A total of 33,500 modern public restrooms are likely to appear in tourist sites, transportation hubs and entertainment facilities in the next three years.
By 2017, the National Tourism Administration expects all such restrooms to meet its "three-star" standard that includes a toilet to be built on more than 60 square meters area, separate units for men and women and the availability of free toilet paper, among other requirements, the administration′s officials add.
The toilets will be rated on the basis of the number of squatting pots, pedestal pans (standard Western toilet), public resting space and outer facilities.
The "three-star" toilet outside the north gate of the Forbidden City has seven squatting pots and one pedestal pan in the ladies′ room, and each of the "four-star" ones inside the city has three pedestal pans and more than 10 squatting pots.
A newly built "four-star" toilet in a park in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
Both sets of toilets have clean public spaces, free hand-washing liquid (not just empty containers) and toilet paper, and don′t stink significantly at most times.
Foreign visitors would rather not heed nature′s call than use toilets at most tourist sites. But when they can no longer do so, they hold their breath and brave the unpleasant odor and mess.
The availability of clean toilets is a decisive factor in foreign travelers′ choice of China as a tourist destination, according to Liu Zhiming, chief analyst for the National Public Opinion Poll Lab.
"Many big scenic spots in China have only a few toilets, and some small ones don′t have any," says Liu.
The most famous scenic spots usually have sufficient toilet facilities, while those off the beaten track are poorly equipped in most cases, according to him.
Poor toilet conditions have increasingly irked many foreigners who visit China to savor its centuries-old historical sites and culture. Checking out toilet conditions has become a routine for many prior to planning visits.
"It is a must to find out the sanitary conditions before I go there (a scenic spot)," says Jimmy Page, 26. The Australian has been in Beijing for just one week.
Some Chinese have yet to develop the habit of waiting in line and maintaining a clean environment at toilets, according to a few cleaners interviewed at tourist spots in Beijing′s Dongcheng district.
Page says that he counted six queue-jumpers while waiting to use a restroom at Yonghe Lama Temple. It was supposed to take him two minutes, but he ended up spending 25 minutes waiting.
Another problem that visitors often face is the lack of free toilet rolls at public restrooms.
Toni Pearcey, a 26-year-old Australian who has lived in Beijing for about two years, still feels embarrassed recalling her first experience in a Chinese public toilet.
"I had diarrhea on the day I traveled to the Great Wall. I trotted quickly down to the toilet, only to find that there was no tissue paper available when I stood over the squatting pot," she says.
In Australia, free toilet paper is generally available in public restrooms. "Now I carry tissues whenever I go to a toilet anywhere (in China)," she says, laughing.
Generally speaking, Beijing′s hutong areas have a sufficient number of toilets. Visitors can easily find signs that lead to them. But most such toilets are filthy.
"I cannot see any cleaners but only squalid floor, used toilet paper and sputum. It can be a nightmare," says a male student surnamed Gao from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
A 59-year-old unnamed female toilet cleaner in Dongcheng district says group travelers often jump queues when using public toilets.
"Many visitors use toilet rolls indiscriminately and often spit on the ground," she says.
The reasons behind the under-developed public toilet system in China are complex.
Some scenic spots are in suburban areas and far away from sewage-treating facilities. There are also no underground pipelines in hilly areas at the moment. Both incur higher costs, Liu says.
In addition, some scenic spots have difficulties in choosing toilet sites, because of potential bad smells. Most scenic spots rely on ticket sales for revenue, which is mostly used up in maintenance of such sites, rather than in the expansion of facilities.
"The government should take the lead in improving toilet construction and offer a fiscal subsidy," Liu adds.
Until now, public toilets at renowned tourist sites, including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, are rated three or four stars. Tourist restrooms will have their star ratings changed if they fail to pass corresponding standards during inspection, according to him.
Russian Alex Mazower, who has worked in Beijing for a year, says change is underway. "It has become easier for me to find a toilet in a tourist site, compared to even a year ago."