(DGTTB is the name of a game that my friend Aaron made once. Unfortunately, it was renamed "Gotta Go!" before final production.)
(content note: contains graphic descriptions of gross bathrooms. this is not a sarcastic content note. I know at least one person, who is my mom, who will probably be happier not having read this.)
Today was a rough day for bathrooms.
A 10-hour bus journey from Shangri-la, Yunnan, China to Daocheng, Sichuan, China (which is only 2 hours away from Shangri-la, Sichuan, China, and that makes me want to punch someone) veered off the roads that are thick orange and the roads that are thin orange and the roads that are thick white onto the thin white (and sometimes even gray) roads. This meant that, along the way, we were treated to some of the most rural and grossest toilets I've had the pleasure to encounter.
Back up a bit: so far in China, public toilets have been fine-to-kinda-bad. They're often on the side of the road or somewhere around town, with a little "men" and "women" sign (you learn those right quick; the Men has a little window-pane with a thing below it.) They are usually pretty basic stalls - often just a few spots where you can squat and it leads into a trough. Often they smell bad. Sometimes they smell ok. Then, when you come out, you pay someone 1 yuan. (even if they were nowhere to be seen before, the Toilet Guardian will remarkably materialize.) 1 yuan is 15 US cents; it's fine. I guess this pays for upkeep of the toilet. Sometimes, especially in rural places, you don't pay someone 1 yuan.
Today we had a couple where we didn't pay anyone 1 yuan. There's not always a correlation between paying 1 yuan and a clean toilet, or not paying 1 yuan and a dirty toilet, but today there was. Exhibit 1: thick cloud of flies, trough full of poo, and even a small batch of bees in one corner. It is scary (even as a guy) peeing near bees. Exhibit 2: a small house with 4 rooms. Two were locked. One had a leaky toilet. One had nothing. Both the unlocked rooms, however, just had shit all over the floor. It looked like a murder scene, if people were full of shit instead of blood. Or like an attack from the Poop Monster from "Gotta Go!"
Anyway, we deal, we move on, we go outside and do our business behind the poop-murder-hut. Fine. Gets me wondering a few things:
1. why doesn't 1 yuan pay for cleaner toilets in general? The standard public toilet is worse than a kinda-bad gas station in the US. Should they start charging 2 yuan?
2. who employs the Toilet Guardians? Is it a private business? I can't imagine that'd be profitable, but I've seen stranger. Is it a government job? In that case, wouldn't it just make more sense to fund it with tax dollars? I can't imagine the 1-yuan-taker is collecting enough 1-yuans to pay their own salary even.
3. geez how can you deal with a poop-murder-hut on your property, I mean, man, I think I'd just burn the whole thing down if it got that bad
4. how are our toilets better in the US?
4a. I guess McDonald's has an incentive to make clean toilets; fine. It's weird that your clean toilet is subsidized by burgers, but you know, whatever.
4b. Highway rest stops etc are paid for by... partially tolls and partially federal taxes? (n.b. to all you drivers out there: your gas taxes and tolls do not fully fund our roads; keep that in mind next time you want to make some dumb argument about how cars have more right to the road than bikers)
4c. City public toilets (SF has a few but not enough) are funded by... city taxes?
I mean in each case there is someone paid to clean the toilet - but there is in China too.
Anyway, not to dump on China here; our US toilet system isn't great either. We could use more public toilets, but I'm not sure how to connect incentives to make that work.