Up Close and Personal Part 1: Housing and Toilets

Since we’ve had some downtime lately, I thought I’d do a little “Living in China” mini-series.  We’ve shared a lot about our travels, but not too much about the day-to-day of teaching in China.  I’ll cover topics people have asked me about in the past and anything new that comes up, so let me know if you have any burning questions!  First up, where we live and what scared me the most about moving to China: ~~toilets~~.

Housing in China

First up, where we live.  Let me just say, our apartment is awesome!  By Chinese standards, it’s quite modern and Westernized.  It has a separate living room, bedroom, and bathroom.  We share a large kitchen with three other foreign teachers who live on the same floor as us.  The kitchen is the real gem, because China is known for teeny tiny kitchen with hardly any appliances.  I actually like sharing it with the other teachers, because whenever we run into each other in there we end up chatting and swapping stories about what’s going on in our lives.

The kitchen has a small side room with a washing machine.  Unfortunately, there is no dryer so we end up hanging our clothes from the curtain rod on laundry day!  The washing machine is a little different from what we are used to in the States.  It’s pretty viciously strong, so our clothes are getting a little beaten – but at least they’re clean!

As for our private apartment, we really lucked out.  The first night that we arrived in Sinan, they took us to an apartment near our schools (maybe a 10 minute walk away).  It was huge – four (!!!) bedrooms and a large living room.  But… the kitchen was super tiny with basically no equipment and the bathroom was equally small with a really funky looking drainage system.  The whole apartment had barely any furniture, and the items that were there were kind of creepy – a well-worn woven straw cot bed, a curtain at the back of a room hiding a rickety chair and huge tangle of wires, etc.

A liaison from our placement agency had accompanied us, and after seeing the apartment (provided by the school) he offered to show us a different apartment.  We agreed and drove back to the apartment complex  where we had just dropped off the other American couple.  The liaison didn’t have a key for the apartment we would be in, but the Americans showed us their tiny but new and well-furnished studio apartment and the large kitchen.  We happily accepted this option and they set us up in a hotel for the night while they looked for the key.

Apartment in China Living Room
Living Room – Note the Christmas tree in the corner, pumpkin on the minifridge, and witch’s hat on the lamp. We keep it festive! 😉

The next morning we were shown our apartment and found out it was much larger than the neighboring apartment!  While they have only a hotel-size room and separate bathroom, we have a large separate living room and decent-sized bedroom.  Later in the year, an Australian moved in to another apartment on the same floor, and her apartment is also different.  She has a studio apartment like the Americans, but it is much larger.  Our best guess is that the apartments is that they are assigned to the schools we work for, since we are all teaching at different locations.

Apartment in China Bedroom
Bedroom – behind the curtain is a large window seat, but we don’t use it much because it’s cold in winter and buggy in all other seasons. Raid mostly takes care of the sneaky insects, but I don’t like the surprises that make it in.

The only real downside about our apartment is the bathroom, which is the style called “wet room.”  A wet room is a bathroom with an open shower – no shower curtain or door.  Our shower head is directly across from the toilet, and because the room is pretty small you can’t run the shower at full pressure unless you want to stand on top of the toilet!  This also means that the whole floor gets wet, so if you want to use the bathroom after the shower has been used you have to wear flip-flops.  On the plus side, it does have a Western-style toilet!

Toilets in China

I didn’t feel like writing a whole post on China’s sanitation system (*yikes*), but it is pretty different so I’ll include a few notes here!  The main topic, of course, is squat toilets.  Here are a few photos of what they look like, in all their various forms:

The first photo is pretty typical for restaurants and bars, and would be either a single one in a private room or 2-3 enclosed stalls.  Rest stations along the highway usually have a huge room with lots and lots of stalls.  The second photo is something I actually have never seen in person, but have heard are pretty common.  Same design, but very open to everyone else in the room – yikes!

This style of toilets is more common in public buildings.  The school that I teach and the local hospital both have this style of bathroom.  Basically, it’s a long trough with semi-private stalls built above the trough.  I really try to avoid using these because there is no way to flush.  I think at some point in the day someone turns on a spout at the end of the trough to wash it all down, but in the meantime it gets quite stinky.  Some teachers actually punish naughty students by making them stand in the bathroom because it smells so bad!

Using squat toilets is actually a lot easier than I first thought.  It’s not my favorite after a long day of hiking or a couple beers, but I’m no longer afraid of them.  For anyone very curious, here’s a Wiki article where someone actually explained the process.

One really funny thing about the prevalence of squat toilets is that when there is a public Western-style toilet, they need to post signs explaining how to use it.  It’s pretty common around big cities like Shanghai and Beijing to see signs like the one above inside the stalls.  Many Chinese people don’t like to sit on Western-style toilets because they think it’s unsanitary, so they will sometimes try to squat on top of them.  Yes, I have seen footprint marks on the seat!  If given the choice in a public Chinese toilet, I actually have begun opting for the squat-style because I’m scared that the user before me might have squatted on the seat and left street dirt/germs all over it.

Final tips: If you ever find yourself in Asia, bring toilet paper with you everywhere because the restrooms do not provide it.  Never flush it down the toilet (even if it is Western-style), as their plumbing systems just can’t handle it.  There is almost always a small waste-bin near the toilet to dispose of your used paper.  And don’t worry, you’ll get used to it all!

That’s about it for my first “Living in China” post.  Let me know what topics you want covered in the future! Lots of love from China.  

One Reply to “Up Close and Personal Part 1: Housing and Toilets”

  1. Thanks so much, Emily! Your apt. looks very much better than Jim and I had in New Richmond, Wi! Glad you are having this experience, and I’m glad your grad. gift is bringing you such wonderful learning experiences! Thanks for the pictures!

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