For those who missed my arrival in Shanghai and introduction to hostels, catch up here. For those who are up to speed and anxious to hear my thoughts on Asian toilets, welcome back.
After an early bedtime my first night in China, I woke up with no jet lag, ready to hit the streets and explore Shanghai. Despite my enthusiasm, the weather was sufficiently gloomy, causing a necessary stop to buy umbrellas at the corner store at the end of Pet Shop Street. I’m not sure that “store” is the right term as this was really just an open air stand that sold fruit, cell phones, liquor and ice cream (although no live animals, despite their prime location). Only the necessities. Two pink umbrellas* and some bananas for breakfast later and we were off!
*It is worth noting that our umbrellas were REALLY cheaply made and consistently turned inside out or only worked on one side, doing very little to protect us from the rain. We laughed A LOT about our “losing face umbrellas” that got lots of side eye from the locals. Case in point: When you really need an umbrella, don’t go for the bargain at the corner bodega.
Our first stop was the Shanghai Museum, it was full of beautiful, ancient works of art and most importantly, it was free and indoors. I enjoy museums and this one had a very diverse set of displays. There were jewelry and pottery collections, beautiful, antique furniture, rooms full of statues and carved masks and even a fashion exhibit that included a suit made from salmon skin.
I imagine this was both tedious to make and uncomfortable to wear.
My favorite part of the museum, and really of all the artwork I saw throughout my time in China were the carved and painted screens. The minute detail and incredible amount of skill and time that must have gone into producing such pieces is awe inspiring. The creation of art like that and more importantly, the appreciation of it truly seem like things of the past in our fast paced, modern world.
After a morning spent dodging the rain and appreciating China’s past, it was time to step back into the present, and not a moment too soon as our breakfast bananas had worn off back around the salmon skin suit! Anna knew of a nearby fast food place she wanted me to try so we headed that way, but first, a stop at the public restroom outside the museum.
This may look like your typical outdoor rest area, but lo and behold, if you’ve never been to an Asian country, you are in for a treat once you open the door.
Things you should know about relieving yourself in China:
1. Toilet paper is a luxury. You are unlikely to find it in most public restrooms. Buy tissues, or even a roll, and carry it on your body at all times.
2. Squatting is the new sitting. Or rather the old sitting as China’s got a few years on us. If you encounter a western style toilet in China, count yourself lucky! You are much more likely to run into a “squat toilet” which is really just a hole in the ground with a urinal over it. You can WikiHow the steps for how to use one if you are really curious, but in a nutshell, you position your feet on either side and well, squat. “Aiming” is not really an art most females are familiar with, combine that with the thought of trying to squat in skinny jeans, high heels and other fashion choices that don’t lend themselves well to balance and you can imagine the state of these restrooms.
3. Crotchless Pants aren’t only for strippers. If you see a child on the street and notice there is some material missing from a very critical area of their outfit, don’t be alarmed, it’s on purpose. China does things a bit differently when it comes to toilet training. Rather than diapers, children wear special pants that are split open in the crotch area. When a child feels the urge, they just stop and go, right there in the street! Anna explained to me that in the case of a bowel movement, parents try to rush and hold a child over the nearest trash can, but obviously you can’t make it every time. The naked baby bums all over the place are pretty adorable, but I found this process to be both fascinating and disgusting all at the same time. It also accounts for many of the unique street smells I encountered throughout my trip. I never managed to catch a good picture so I highly encourage you to google image “chinese potty training”. You won’t be disappointed.
Hope that you found those bathroom tips educational rather than gag-inducing. In China’s defense, I have read several articles that support squatting rather than sitting to defecate, claiming that it’s easier on your body as your internal organs were designed to relieve themselves in this position…hence why little children naturally do it. I’ve also heard that children potty train faster using the above method than they do with diapers. Something to consider!
Ok, enough potty talk, on to lunch! We stopped at this cute little fast food place that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. It looked exactly like a McDonalds or any other fast food place you’ve visited before, but of course served dumplings and rice instead of burgers and fries. Although if you are a burger and fries type, there are actual McDonalds (and KFCs & Pizza Huts) on just about every corner in any major Chinese city. Be forewarned though, they do put their own twist on many menu items. The food was decent, arrived very quickly, and easily held us over so that we could continue exploring the city into the evening!
East Nanjing Pedestrian Road at night
Evening view from The Bund, waterfront area
Despite the rain, it was a great first full day in Shanghai! Up next, Yuyuan Gardens and a Chinese nightclub!