By Maggie Cai
As I stepped into the tiled bathroom stall, I was soon overwhelmed by the dirty footprints on the wet floor, the nostril-stinging stench of urine and the buzzing flies. This was nothing compared to what I saw next: a porcelain hole in the floor.
Beside the porcelain hole stood a trash bin filled with soiled toilet paper. Five flies buzzed above the bin and three dead ones laid at my feet.
I soon had the sickening realization that this was the toilet. And to use it I would have to squat over this fly infested hole.
This was no outhouse somewhere in Appalachia. This was in Beijing, the Capital of China and its second most populous city with more than 20 million people. Who would have thought that a city with hundreds of towering skyscrapers would still have squat toilets?
Squat toilets have neither covers nor seats. They are simply porcelain bowls in the floor. There are grooved platforms on either side to help people maintain their footing over the bowl. To use these bathrooms you must employ the infamous “Asian squat,” in which you balance your body weight on your heels. Americans may know how to do squats for exercise, but the”Asian Squat” is much different. It takes real skill to squat day after day over a Chinese toilet.
Squat toilets are beginning to disappear as China becomes more westernized, but they remain a lingering nuisance. Though difficult to use -and possibly requiring bringing your own toilet paper – the Chinese continue to use them. It’s not just because they are poorer than Westerners. Squat toilets actually have many health benefits.
The squatting position is considered the most natural and efficient way to go to the bathroom. A clinical study done by an Iranian radiologist, Dr. Saeed Rad, found that squatting toilets are “a more comfortable and efficient method of bowel evacuation.” In addition, the squatting position can help prevent cancers of the colon and prostate. and appendicitis. It also prevents appendicitis and hemorrhoids while warding off problems in the bowel and bladder.
No wonder other cultures also prefer squatting over sitting, including others in Asia and some in the Arab world.
The squatting toilet may be no porcelain throne, but it does the job.