That Time I Got Excited About Toilet Paper…

Parkview Green Mall--one of the coolest and most luxurious malls I've ever seen

Parkview Green Mall–one of the coolest and most luxurious malls I’ve ever seen

Last week my office building installed something that will change the future of my time spent in the office. Something that made me jump up and down and clap my hands. Literally. And then I thought, why the hell am I so thrilled about this? You’re probably thinking, hmm this girl is in China. This thing must be some cutting-edge technological device. Oddly enough, this thing is something that would be absolutely required in every single stall of a bathroom in the U.S., but here I am finding myself overtly excited about it.

The addition I was so enthusiastic about was a toilet paper dispenser that my office building’s maintenance workers had slapped right onto the middle of the bathroom wall. It wasn’t even in the individual stalls or anything (just think how elated I would be about that).

Basically, in public restrooms here, there is a ceramic hole in the ground that flushes. If you’re really lucky there’s an “above ground” toilet. If you have really hit the bathroom jackpot, there’s a toilet paper dispenser in the stall. Because of the lack of toilet paper, women are always carrying packs of kleenex with them…and it’s slightly awkward when men take toilet rolls with them.

This place that has some of the most up-to-date technology, but still hasn’t quite gotten down the whole toilet thing goes in hand with the vast contrast of Chinese culture. The smart phone loving, forward thinking side of China is represented with glittering skyscrapers and shopping malls filled with luxury goods while the traditional side is still glaringly evident. The hunched over, arthritis ridden man grilling your chicken kebab just outside of his hutong home still must walk outside each morning to use a public bathroom. A bathroom that doesn’t even provide toilet paper.

This is what remains so fascinating and, at times, frustrating. Beijing is a city of polarity and it’s compelling to see the culturally advanced part mix in with the traditional. Even if it does mean that I have to carry my own toilet paper.

When In China, Do As The Chinese Do

Thursday, August 30, 2012

After getting into Beijing Thursday night and feeling absolutely awful, I was greeted in the airport by my AIESEC contact, Alex. He was the nicest guy, offering to help me with my bags and insisting I didn’t lift a thing. His uncle was driving us back, which was actually more like careening through traffic on the shoulder of the highway, honking his horn at everything that moved.

Alex said he noticed I felt sick, but would love to treat me to dinner. I told him how nice it would be, but politely declined and asked for a rain check (and explained for about five minutes what a rain check was). He said okay, but then a minute later we arrived in front of a grand hotel, which he announced we’d be dining. Oh, Lord. Well, all I could really do was suck it up and try to be grateful.

I was so bummed because these were all foods I would have loved to try, but my stomach was not agreeing with me. We were in this grandiose private room in a hotel and I could tell this was a big deal. After forcing down some very foreign things with eyeballs, Alex could tell I was tired (and on the verge of getting sick) and insisted I lay on the couch. I obliged, but felt quite awkward laying on a couch kind of watching them all eat. I had no idea what to do when it came to paying (is it polite to offer to pay for myself? Insulting? Hmmm…) so I asked if I could help with the check. Alex informed me, when in China, I should do as the Chinese do, and that, “in China, we don’t ‘go Dutch.’” It’s amusing that they know idioms like that.

I was pleasantly surprised by the condition and company in the hostel I chose when I arrived. I expected some sketchy characters, or at least one huge, smelly, snoring guy. But there were two girls, one Russian and very nice, and the other Lithuanian, and one German guy. The shower was typical of those in Beijing, which are just on the right of the toilet. It feels so weird standing in the middle of the bathroom, with a shower spouting water all over the place. Yes, the bathroom floor will always be wet. And yes, this is normal here. The smelly plane guy warned me this is a terrible aspect of living here, but, honestly, it doesn’t bother me that much.