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June 24th 2008 by Tina
Thank You For Not Smoking

Posted under China

After our cruise on the Yangzi, we had a long, uncomfortable day of travel to Wuhan. Our cruise ship docked in Maoping where no English-speaking person could tell the group of confused- and frustrated-looking foreigners which public bus went to Yichang. By some miracle, we did make it onto the right bus and were delivered to the bus station in Yichang, where someone was supposed to be waiting with a sign. No such person was there so we dropped our bags on the front steps of the station and waited.

It was at this juncture that I experienced a squat toilet situation which exceeded all others in utter ridiculousness. I entered the ladies room to find a row of four squat toilets on each of two opposing walls – no doors, no walls separating them – and naked, squatting Chinese butts everywhere. To clarify, the space between the butts and the receptacles was clearly visible to anyone in the room. I flinched at the sight of it but quickly regained my composure when I realized that everyone was looking at me. My instinct was to turn around and walk out but I knew that the bus ride to Wuhan was four hours long. In the end, I pulled out my white bum and squatted with the rest of them while inwardly churning spiteful thoughts about China.

Back out on the steps, we spent the next half hour surrounded by Chinese chimneys before a young man finally appeared with a small rectangle of paper with our names phonetically spelled out in pencil. We gathered our bags and followed him several blocks to an empty minibus parked on a quiet sidestreet. We all piled in – two of the Brits and a Polish-Canadian couple from our cruise. The bus moved only a few blocks and then stopped on another street where, after a half-hour of twiddling our thumbs and wondering what in the hell was going on, we were joined by a large group of boisterous, rural Chinese; the dynamic of weary, quiet foreigners quickly changed to noisy chaos. After they filled the bus to capacity, the steward walked down the aisle, passing out “barf bags”. Apparently, Chinese people throw up a lot on public transport. We had heard firsthand accounts from other travelers but had not personally experienced it. The mere thought of a Chinese “barf-o-rama” in confined quarters gave my own gag reflex a tickle.

Thankfully, we didn’t witness any vomiting, although the constant hocking of mucus and saliva and subsequent spitting on the bus floor was equally foul. At one point, a passenger at the rear of the enclosed, air-conditioned bus attempted to sneak a smoke but, miraculously, the steward raced to the back and ordered him to extinguish it. About 50 kilometers short of our Wuhan, the bus ran out of gas just in front of a toll booth, causing a bottleneck and excessive honking from the annoyed drivers behind us. Several men got off the bus to push it through the toll booth and off to the side of the road. During the melee of refueling, the same perpetrator lit a second cigarette in the back of the bus! With the steward attending to the refueling, there was no person of authority to deal with the offender. The cancer fumes wafted through the bus and I quickly fished out my double-layer of hospital masks. Before I could get them on, my chivalrous husband, in a gallant attempt to protect the integrity of my shrine, began yelling and pointing at the smoker until he put the cigarette out. My hero! We have noticed that Chinese people do not hold each other accountable to rules. That’s why everyone cuts in lines, why people spit on bus floors and why motorbikes ride on sidewalks…because no one says a thing!

From the gravel parking lot where the bus made its final stop, we took a taxi to a hostel in Wuhan, at which we had a reservation for one night. We had an early flight to Shanghai the next morning, which was actually cheaper than the train. After a long day of rough travel and squat toilets, I was dreaming of a normal hostel room in which I could finally relax. The check-in process took so long that I was exhausted when we reached our room on the second floor. We dropped our bags on the floor and began to settle in. When I opened the bathroom door to find a squat toilet – the first time EVER in a hostel room – I wanted to scream but all that I could do was stare stoically at Aaron with one hand on the bathroom door. He laughed because he thought I was joking. We have often joked about this very situation, though it had never really happened before. This time, it was no joke. It was the final nightmare of the Yangzi.

The icing on the cake was that the shower head was almost directly above the squatter; you had to stare at it throughout your shower to keep from accidentally stepping into it and if you dropped the soap…well, that soap was history!


3 Responses to “Thank You For Not Smoking”

  1. Bear Mom on 28 Jun 2008 at 2:44 pm #

    Well it looks like the potty police are learning to adjust. Ugh!

    I hope you didn’t drop the soap, though I would be happy to bring some to you next month.

    I do have a few surprises for you two and look forward to providing any additional items you may need.

    Wish I could smuggle a little furry one with me.

    Hugs, Mom

  2. Jean Nelson on 29 Jun 2008 at 7:33 pm #

    You are saints! I am sure I would have been screaming at the smoker and screaming at the squat toilets!! It’s time to leave China!!

  3. Ollie SimpSon on 07 Jul 2008 at 5:41 pm #

    Man, I know why you don’t mention any black men there cause I ain’t havin” that squat toilet thing. I need privacy and a good book or magazine to read while…