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All right, I know that my interest in toilets borders on a scatological obsession… but I really think they say so much about the local culture! Here’s an example: after I’d been to Taiwan my friends would tell me “now you need to go to the mainland to experience the REAL China!”. And so I have! I’ve come to Hangzhou. This is real China, right?

Wrong. And I discovered it after a long, looong time, when I finally went on a trip outside the city and needed to use the facilities. That was an eye-opener. Then I went to Shanghai and my suspicions were confirmed: a place’s state of development can be clearly defined based on the look of its public toilets. Proof:

Shanghai is a great metropolis and an international business centre. Here, when you go to a park, there’ll be a separate loo for the elderly.

Most facilities in Hangzhou look like this: squat toilets, not terribly convenient, but there’s plenty of them and they’re mostly surprisingly clean.

In places aspiring to be more cultured (read: more tourists) and in some new restaurants there’ll sometimes be a Western-style toilet.

If the place is very uppity, there’ll even be some toilet roll! But don’t expect it and go nowhere without a pack of tissues.

And here’s how I discovered I’m still not living in the REAL China. A REAL Chinese toilet looks like this: no individual holes, just a ditch in the floor, going through all the stalls… oh, and the crowning detail: the wall between the stalls is about waist-height. If you stand up, you can see perfectly well what’s going on next door. Yaaay…