The Toilet

We talked previously about the toilet on the plane. Now before you think we've got some kind of toilet fetish, just remember 1) kids seem to have to go pee every 3.4 minutes and 2) toilets can be a real adventure in some places. Here are some suggestions.

Be sure to get some coins when changing money. In Europe, for example, many public restrooms charge a small fee. In some men's toilets the standing up places are often free, while you have to pay to sit down.

Uniformly, in many countries over many years the restroom attendants have never been friendly to us (think how you'd feel if your job was to sit in a public restroom all day) and may not be interesting in making change. Caught without coins, I never could decide if overpaying for a seat was better or worse than trying to hold out.

Parents, you gotta love this one: a web site that offers maps to every public toilet in the city of Vienna. The site is in German, but with a corresponding English-language guide book, tourist map or university degree in German, you can make good use of the information.

Sometimes fast food places, especially that big one that starts with “Mc” and ends with “onald's”, have the only clean, free restrooms in your time zone. There is now a McDonald's right off Tiananmum Square in Beijing, handy to Mao's Tomb. Why would any American go to McDonald's in Beijing surrounded by the most awesome Chinese food known to man or beast?

Answer that question one day after your first sensorround experience in a regular Chinese public toilet. After a few shots of mingling with the masses over an open cesspool pit, I would have given Ronald McDonald my Roth IRA's for a chance to use his toilet again. Thanks, Ronald.

Important Update: CNN reported in December 2000 that in preparation for a 2008 Olympic bid, Beijing will embark on a two year renovation plan for its 452 public toilets. All toilets will be rated with one to four stars based on criteria ranging from cleanliness (my choice) to decor.

Sorry, one more thing about toilets, this time in lots of parts of Asia, especially Japan, Korea and China. Many toilets there are squatters, a porcelain basin set level with the floor. One squats over the basin and does one's business.

If you are not experienced with such a thing, and/or lack strong thigh muscles, you may indeed slip a bit, end up with a foot in the business end of the basin, or have to comfort a child seized by the Constipation of Anxiety over this new thing.

For people who keep their wallets in their back pockets, or lots of loose stuff in baggy pockets, there is a real danger of losing something into the mouth of the beast. Children who fail to remove jackets before settling in risk dropping a sleeve into the poop.

In department stores and big hotels in Asia you can usually locate a “western style” toilet. In parts of Japan, especially the bigger cities, handicap awareness is growing (slowly), and a handicapped-sign posted restroom usually will have a sit down toilet. The worst places to find non-squat toilets in Asia are train and bus stations, schools, local amusement parks (i.e., not Disney), outdoor shopping arcades, older government buildings, police stations, smaller public parks and anyplace you are in when you don't have time to search around.

To sum up, if you or your children find the squatters uncomfortable or unusable, you might need to devote a bit more planning to when one goes to the toilet than you normally do.

Diaper Changing in the Toilet

Big potty strikes and a public toilet may be the best place to change the diaper and file an environmental impact study. The trick here is changing the diaper while standing (you and your child). This can take practice, so some pre-game warmups at home are in order.

Have your heir stand on the toilet seat. This will bring the action closer to eye level for you and avoid something extreme like having your kid lay on the yucky floor. Do take a peak inside the diaper before beginning the Change ‘cause if the diaper is full up with serious poop, gravity will conspire to dump the brown stuff on your shoes. You may need to abandon this tip and really find somewhere clean enough to make the Change prone.

If you're really good, you can dump the diaper contents into the toilet below and then put the used diaper in a trash bin. I might need that toilet next, so please, don't try and flush it.