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Toilets of the Forbidden City (and beyond)

Posted by Scott LaPierre  August 22, 2008 10:05 AM

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In the past few years, Beijing has begun star rating their public bathrooms in an effort to make the city more attractive to tourists. In my city wanderings over the past few weeks, I've had the honor to sample a few of these. This week, for example, I took a day to do some much-needed sight-seeing and visited the Forbidden City, which boasts a gorgeous four-star commode. And, a little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to visit an authentic no-star facility on the other end of town. Without further ado, here's news you can use on what to expect (men, at least) when making pit stops in the ancient capital (note: I didn't see any five or three stars):

4 star: Squeaky clean, plenty of sit-down toilets, some with toilet paper. Someone is actually cleaning each 4-star bathroom as I'm in it, and I have the feeling that it's where they spend their entire work week. They always seem to be cleaning the sinks when I'm in a 4 star, and I have yet to be able to wash my hands in one. Smells like cleaning product.

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2 star: Mostly squat toilets, except for one sit-down toilet for the disabled. Stalls have doors and divider walls, but no toilet paper. Doesn't smell like cleaning products.

1 star: Not much different than 2 stars, but minus any of the charm, and sometimes minus the stall divider walls. Smells like you would expect.

No stars: No doors, no divider walls, no stalls per se, holes in the ground, and a row of seven or eight men squatting cheek-to-cheek, reading newspapers and smoking, a couple on cell phones. Quite a collegian vibe, actually. Seems to be a no-eye-contact rule. You have to smell it to believe it.

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