More mod­ern toi­lets, fewer malls

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWOCENTS - By Alok Joshi

AChi­nese friend trav­el­ing to In­dia re­cently asked me if she needs to carry rolls of toi­let pa­per since they are not read­ily avail­able in shops. I told her that toi­let pa­per is not a prob­lem; the big­ger chal­lenge would be to find pub­lic toi­lets within easy reach.

Sim­i­larly, for­eign tourists to China are warned about fac­ing lan­guage and toi­let prob­lems.

China and In­dia, the two most pop­u­lated coun­tries in the world, de­spite their amaz­ing devel­op­ment, face the same prob­lem: an acute short­age of mod­ern toi­lets.

It is funny that more peo­ple have mo­bile phones in th­ese coun­tries than ac­cess to eco­log­i­cal toi­lets.

Ac­cord­ing to a new UN re­port, half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion doesn’t have ac­cess to toi­lets.

Both In­dia and China have em­barked on a toi­let revo­lu­tion, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. Both coun­tries are proud of many things, but toi­lets are not some­thing they can be proud of.

The prob­lem is sim­i­lar but has dif­fer­ent di­men­sions. In­ter­na­tional tourism web­sites make fun of squat toi­lets in China on one side and open defe­ca­tion in In­dia on the other.

I once worked for a com­pany in down­town Bei­jing that has squat toi­lets even to­day. Chi­nese toi­lets are widely con­sid­ered to be the pits. They are ac­tu­ally a row of pits sep­a­rated by noth­ing but low walls – no cu­bi­cles, no doors, no pri­vacy. Don’t look down and don’t make eye-con­tact are good rules for vis­it­ing trav­el­ers.

Early morn­ing train jour­neys in In­dia are not too much fun, as look­ing through the glass win­dows, you are bound to be greeted by rows of peo­ple do­ing their “busi­ness” in the open.

It is wrong to as­sume that th­ese prob­lems are be­cause China and In­dia are de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Bangladesh has half the GDP of In­dia, and only 4 per­cent of Bangladesh defe­cates in the open com­pared to 53 per­cent in In­dia.

It has some­thing to do with peo­ple’s men­tal­ity and pref­er­ence. In ru­ral In­dia, peo­ple feel it’s bet­ter to defe­cate in the open than in­side the house be­cause they need to pray and keep the place pure. In ru­ral China, I guess peo­ple find it con­ve­nient to use squat toi­lets.

In­dia has em­barked on a “No toi­let, no bride” ini­tia­tive. There are sto­ries of In­dian brides de­mand­ing a toi­let in the house they are go­ing to live in af­ter get­ting mar­ried. An In­dian court re­cently al­lowed a woman to seek a di­vorce be­cause her home did not have a toi­let, forc­ing her to seek relief out­side.

I watched a new Bol­ly­wood movie ti­tled Toi­let: A love story on the same is­sue. The girl leaves her hus­band’s home im­me­di­ately af­ter mar­riage and forces her hus­band to get a toi­let con­structed not only in her home but to start a cam­paign in the en­tire vil­lage.

Did you know we spend up to three years of our life­time on toi­lets? Like it or not, we need to learn from Ja­pan when it comes to toi­lets. They have built amaz­ing high-tech, ecofriendly toi­lets that take care of wa­ter tem­per­a­ture, spray strength and even mas­sage op­tions.

Toi­lets are a se­ri­ous busi­ness, and we need to focus more on build­ing more mod­ern toi­lets than shop­ping malls.

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