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  Beijing Scene

Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 7, November 26 - December 2

Toilet Talk
厕所洽谈--Cesuo Qiatan

You foreigners, like us Chinese, spend a lot of time in the xishoujian--洗手间 (bathroom), so it's important to be armed with the proper cesuo--厕所 (toilet) vocabulary while you're here in a country with 5000 years of squatting history behind them. Many a weida--伟大 (brilliant) theory has been formulated in the most modest of commodes. Some people argue that Rodin's Thinker (思考者--sikaozhe) is doing his contemplating from atop a matong--马桶 (toilet bowl). And rumor has it that China's sida faming--四大发明 (Four Great Inventions) were conceived in similar circumstances. Personally, I'm usually paying too much attention to the pain in my Achilles' tendons and trying not to tip over while dunzhe--蹲着 (squatting) to come up with the key to the universe.

Hotels and foreign housing have modern, Western-style bathrooms, as do many newly renovated Chinese homes, although Chinese bathrooms (like toilet seats) are small by Western standards. Foreign student dormitory bathrooms have improved a lot in recent years, and many even have sit-down toilets. If you've ever used a gonggong cesuo--公共厕所 (public toilet) in China then you know what it means to chiku--吃苦 (literally "eat bitter or in this case "smell...). I don't know which is worse, public bathrooms or miandi--面的 taxis! They're both chou--臭 (putrid), but at least in a public toilet you won't get sodomized by a metal spring. Besides, public toilets are easier to find than miandis. Just follow the stench until you feel like you're going to 檜t--呕吐 (vomit) and you're there! And, unlike a miandi, before you go into a public toilet you know how much you'll have to pay.

If you live in Chinese housing and you still haven't learned the word shuigong--水工 (plumber), you will. That's who you'll have to call when your drain is stopped up (loushuikou saizhule--漏水口塞住了) or when something goes wrong with your shuilongtou--水龙头 (faucet), shuifa--水阀 (valve) or shuiguan--水管 (pipes). If you're one of those fix-it-yourself types, you'd better find out where your local wujindian--五金店 (hardware store) is. Kitchens and bathrooms in Chinese housing are usually the biggest headache for foreigners. Besides old, corroded pipes, few have yugang--浴缸 (bathtubs), and the shuiya--水 water pressure) tends to be low. Most Chinese housing is equipped with a reshuiqi--热水器 (water heater) which, like youyugan--鱿鱼干 (dried octopus tentacles), can be bought in any department store and ensures that you can take a hot shower whenever your heart desires (the water heater, not the octopus tentacles). The major drawback of water heaters is that they usually only offer two temperatures: bingleng--冰冷 (freezing cold) and tang--烫 (scalding hot).

If you visit a Chinese family at home, there are a few things you should know before you use the bathroom. With water bills on the rise, most Chinese families only flush the toilet when absolutely necessary. Of course, "absolutely necessary means different things to different people. This custom may seem pretty maodun--矛盾 (contradictory), being that the average xizao--洗澡 (bathing) time in China is about an hour. If you're planning on taking a shower in your Chinese friend's apartment, don't expect there to be any big towels. There'll probably be an assortment of soggy handcloths, one for your head and each limb. And finally, remember that most toilet paper gets thrown into the wire garbage can, not in the toilet. This may seem less than hygienic, but is necessary to prevent clogging your host's old clogged pipes and flooding his apartment.

There are a host of everyday objects found in Chinese home bathrooms. These include xiangzao--香皂 (soap), hufasu--护发素 (conditioner), weisheng/juanzhi--卫生纸/卷纸 (toilet paper) and zazhi--杂志 (magazines). Like Australians, the Chinese don't use deodorant, but they still have a word for it: fanghanye--防汗液 (there's also a Chinese word for napkin--canjinzhi--餐巾纸 though you'll have a tough time finding them here!). Shampoo, or xifajing--洗发精, is also known by its trendy English transliteration xiangbo--香波. Small towels (the kind everyone steals from hotels) are called maojin--毛巾. Big towels (the kind you can only get in China by stealing them from hotels) are called yujin--浴巾.

The Chinese word for toothbrush, yashua----浪, is one of those "reversible words. Shuaya-刷-- means to brush one's teeth. Another reversible word is xihuan--喜欢 (to like) and huanxi-欢喜 (joyful or delighted). When I was a kid, we didn't have toothbrushes and fancy foreign yagao-- (toothpaste). We had to make do with chewing on steel wool and rinsing with tea leaves (until the Great Leap Forward when even Brillo pads were melted down in backyard furnaces) . Now store shelves are chock-a-block with Crest (jiajieshi--洁士), Close-Up (haoqing--皓清) and Colgate (gaolujie--高露洁) to choose from.

The most liuxing--流行 (popular) on-the-John activity has got to be xiyan--吸-- (smoking cigarettes). Other favorite ways to pass the time while on the John in China include keguazir--磕瓜子 (eating melon seeds), kanbaozhi-看报纸 (reading the newspaper) and zhimaoyi--织毛勇 (knitting sweaters) pretty much the same things you would do if you were at work! On the other side of that coin, favorite ways to pass the time while at work include going to the bathroom.

Chinese women and Western women have at least one thing in common: they both love to go to the bathroom in pairs. But the similarities pretty much stop there. When asking to be excused in China, don't forget that there are polite ways of putting things and not-so-polite ways of putting things. "Wo yao yong xishoujian--ÎÒÒª用洗手间 ("I want to use the washroom) sounds a lot nicer than "wo dei saniao--ÎÒ得撒尿 ("I have to take a leak). Another polite expression is "wo qu fangbian yixia--ÎÒ去方便踊下 ("I'm going to convenience myself). Of course, that could be misinterpreted in English! "Wo qu fu shuifei--ÎÒÈ¥¸¶Ë®·Ñ or "I'm going to pay the water bill is not recommended during contract negotiations. Take care and biewangle chongmatong--别忘了冲马桶! (Don't forget to flush!)


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