personal note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order a copy from Amazon.com Enjoy it and share it with your friends. Peace, Steve, usa, June 4, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org, blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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After two days in Hangzhou with Yang Kun and her son, Eason and Terry, it was time for me to move on with my journey. Eason wanted to accompany me to the train station and he would also return to Shandong Province the same day. We would be traveling in the same direction: he to the northeast back to a town in Shandong Province in a different train, and I to the northeast to Shanghai to Nanchang. As planned earlier, I would have to take a detour first to Shanghai, then to Nanchang. I found something new this leg of my train ride. Western toilets! At my campus this kind of toilet is for handicapped people. Especially for those who have problem squatting. I could not believe what I saw when I entered the toilet. I saw the first Western toilet in a train, between Hangzhou and Shanghai. That would contribute a lot to my happiness because in China squatting over a hole in the floor or ground is the normal way to defecate or release the waste from your body. Whereas I am used to the American way and that means sitting on your toilet bowl. I had to assume there are more Western tourists in this part of China and many had complained each year about the lack or absence of Western toilet amenities in major cities in China.
I grew up squatting in a dirt-poor farming village, but later living in America changed all that. For years I have not used or trained the muscles of my buttocks or upper legs to squat, like they do in China. There are people all over China who would squat anywhere if they cannot find something to sit on. Squatting by a curb, a roadside, a noodle shop to eat a quick meal, a train or bus station, while waiting in a long queue. They can have a normal conversation with their friends or family members while squatting. I had seen Chinese tourists doing this in many outdoor places in China while waiting for something or someone. It comes naturally to them, without thinking. And of course they do that when using their traditional Chinese toilets, a hole in the ground, a common feature even in modern houses or apartments in contemporary China.
I remember I shared a story with my niece in Australia after visiting Beijing in early 2008 about how blessed and lucky I was to find Western toilets in Beijing, in some tourist facilities and big restaurants. “Uncle,” she looked at me, “those so-called Western toilets are for handicapped people in China. They are not there for Western tourists, like you. They were meant for handicapped people and older people.” I was shocked to hear that, like stung by a bee. In my mind I thought the Western toilets were there for Western tourists. I do know one thing from many tourist reports in the mass media, that the biggest threat to tourism in China is the lack of Western amenities for tourists coming from the West. There was even a joke about falling
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through a big hole in the ground, especially if you visit some rural areas in China. That would be the bottomless pit.
Lack of toilet facilities topped the list of complaints. This is bad publicity for China. And the Chinese government is taking it seriously and continues to introduce the Western toilets to many areas visited by Western tourists, starting with Beijing.
On March 14, 2016, People’s Daily online edition carries this headline: “China to build 25,000 public toilets in 2016 to boost tourism”. According Li Jinzao, Director of China National Tourism Administration, lack of modern toilet facilities have become a major drawback to China’s tourism industry. In 2015, China launched a “toilet revolution” to construct and renovate over 22,000 public toilets. He hopes “the new toilets will cover inside and outside of the tourist attractions in both urban and rural areas.” He plans to solve the problems with public toilets in three years.
This is good news for Western tourists, especially. Imagine how obese Americans or anyone who is fat will have to struggle to get up from squatting. Not easy, by any stretch of your imagination. I am not an obese person, but I do not have the leg muscles to help me go down and go up if you have to use squatting to use a toilet. There are no metal bars on the walls to help you pull yourself up. While on the campus, most times I would wait and go back to my apartment to use my Western toilet if I had to relieve myself.
A student one time took me home to visit his grandparents who had raised him since he was a little boy. The grandparents were strong and healthy and they live somewhere up a mountain. The taxi driver drove so fast up a mountain road in the night I thought we would fall over the cliff and disappear into darkness with nobody knowing of our whereabouts. He must know the winding road well to be driving at such a high speed, while I was praying for my soul should we plunge into a deep ravine. An unforgettable dangerous ride up a steep mountain. Grandpa stayed up late to welcome us. The fresh mountain air must be the reason for his healthy body despite his smoking, I told the student. Grandma was staying with her relatives. The student told me his parents had built a new addition to the house. One reason? A Western toilet for grandpa and grandma to use. It seemed to me then, the old squatting toilet was too much for the grandparents and now with the new Western toilet, they could sit, and not squat on the toilet. In some homes, they have both toilets in the house. When you grow old, Western toilets is definitely a better choice for the old bones, especially for those suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. It takes a healthy person, to be able to squat and get up without some kind of aid.
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I wish there are more Western toilets in the speed trains. It took about three hours from Hangzhou to Shanghai. There were signs everywhere in English and Chinese at Shanghai station and I had no problem to proceed to the waiting area for my next train to Nanchang. At the Shanghai train station, suddenly a message appeared on my mobile phone to announce I could not use it because of short funds. I had run out of my credit. How could that be? I had just bought the new SIM-card only two weeks earlier in Xiamen with the help of Benny. I did panic for a minute or two because I needed the phone to contact Jady or for him to contact me when I arrived at Nanchang train station. The people I asked for assistance were too busy loitering around, like a child lost in a big shopping mall: aimlessly walking around and they could not stop to offer some help. I thought I had picked the right people based on the looks on their faces and their body language. I was wrong because no one was willing to spend a minute with me to help with my problem. I felt better when I spotted some student volunteers at the station, and I approached one particular female student for help. It was like hitting a jackpot.
When I told her my predicament and that I needed to use a phone to contact Benny in Xiamen, the one who had assisted me in buying the tickets for this trip, she did not hesitate to tell me she is from Quanzhou, a city not far from Xiamen. She was studying in Shanghai and she was one of the many university student volunteers at the train station because of the holiday rush for many to go home. She called Benny on her mobile phone and allowed me to instruct Benny to deposit some money in my phone account. She refused when I tried to offer her some cash for the use of her phone. In my whole life, I do not believe in taking advantage of friends or strangers when I approach them for some kind of assistance. Honestly, I had depended on Benny to do everything for me in China and I was at a loss about how to deposit money to continue using the phone. It was a Tuesday afternoon and Benny was at work when I called. In a few minutes he was able to call the phone company in Xiamen and my phone was back to normal. A friend in need is a friend indeed. I shall never forget that, throughout my life in America, without trusted and reliable and genuine friends I would not be who I am today. The students I know in China would always be there to offer assistance and come to my aid if I ever call them. This is China.
After a short two hour wait, the train was heading from Shanghai to Nanchang and arrived at around 8:30 PM. Jady was there to welcome me to Nanchang, my fourth visit to the city. This time he was driving his own Volkswagon car. It seemed VW cars dominated the city streets and were the popular choice of many Chinese. Eric was asleep when I arrived at the new apartment, located on the ninth floor of an eighteen story highrise apartment. Jady had bought this new apartment in northern part of the
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city to be near his CDC office (Center for Disease Control). What surprised me most about this new apartment is that he had a heater/air-conditioner combo in every room. I could use this or a portable one in the guest room. The night was cold and snow was predicted the next day or so.
This was my fourth visit to Nanchang, and I stayed January 26-31, 2016, and Eric was about three years old, attending a pre-kindergarten class nearby. At dinner one night, he sat there and refused to feed himself and his mom said to him, “Eric, you have learned to feed yourself at school. You should do it here, too, at home.” At first he refused, and then he had to do it because his mother did not want to feed him. Eric could be stubborn at times. But he has learned to eat all kinds of foods his parents prepared for him. Of course, everywhere he went he had to carry a few pieces of his favorite toy trains he played with everyday. In a very short time, he would sit close to me on the couch to watch his favorite TV shows: a British cartoon all about trains. Trains that could talk. The whole series is about trains. Soon his original shyness was gone and evaporated into thin air. I enjoyed watching it with him and he was glued to its every word and song and music while grasping tightly in his palms his favorite little train toys. So do I assume he might be interested in technology and mechanics when he grows up? That he might want to be an engineer of sorts? Or would he abandon everything and spend time studying the girls? Who knows?
“This room is for him when he grows up,” Jady showed me a spacious room, big enough for Eric to have his own space for studying and a computer. The three-bedroom apartment is very spacious, with two baths, a big living room with area for dinning, and a kitchen. It has a wonderful view of the surrounding areas from the ninth floor of this eighteen-floor highriser.
Though we cooked most of the meals at home, I did ask Jady to take me to eat in small restaurants in the vicinity of his apartment. In China, I personally prefer to taste the cooking of small restaurants which to me, is closer to home cooking than the big restaurants. Most of my friends and host families would take me to big restaurants. That is part of Chinese culture and tradition. This despite my loud announcement that I prefer to eat in small restaurants. This is China.