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Bathroom Bliss in Chongqing

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 10, 2007

A sign of changing times in modern China. Officials in Chongqing are touting the construction of a 4-story, 1000-stall public toilet.

“We are spreading toilet culture. People can listen to gentle music and watch TV,” said Lu Xiaoqing, an official with the Yangrenjie tourist area (“Foreigners Street”) where the big-box bathroom is located. “After they use the bathroom they will be very, very happy.”

Some of the plumbing is bizarre, including urinals shaped like gaping, toothy mouths. The one that looks like Sister Dorothy Joseph, or maybe it’s the Blessed Virgin, would stop me from peeing for a week.

It’s a Freudian’s perfect holiday side trip. You can see some photos at http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/07/06/largest.loo.ap/index.html#cnnSTCText

The video isn’t too impressive, except for the King Tut facade, http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/07/06/largest.loo.ap/index.html#cnnSTCVideo

But, speaking of cultural insensitivity, the whole thing reminds of of the undiplomatic verse written by U.S. General Joseph W. Stillwell on his visit to Chungking (as it was then spelled) during World War II.

Lyric to Spring

I welcomed the Spring in romantic Chungking,
I walked in her beautiful bowers.
In the light of the moon, in the sunshine at noon,
I savored the fragrance of flowers.

(Not to speak of the slush or the muck and the mush
That covers the streets and alleys.
Or the reek of the swill, as it seeps down the hill,–
Or the odor of pig in the valleys.)

The sunset and dawn, and the dew on the lawn,
And the blossoms in color so rare.
The jasmine in bloom, the magnolia’s perfume,
The magic of Spring’s in the air.

(The garbage is rich, as it rots in the ditch,
And the honey-carts scatter pollution,
The effluvium rank, from the crap in the tank,
Is the stink of its scummy solution.)

Aromatic Chungking, where I welcomed the Spring,
In a mixture of beauty and stenches,
Of flowers and birds, with a sprinkling of turds,
And of bow-legged Szechuan wenches.

Take me back to the Coast, to the place I love most,
Get me out of this odorous sewer.
I’m in _______to my neck, but I’m quitting, by heck!
And I’ll nevermore shovel manure.

Joseph W. Stilwell

Stilwell, commanding general of U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II, was known with reason as “Vinegar Joe.” Elsewhere, he described the 500-year-old city of Chungking as a “sloppy dump.”

I reprinted this bit of doggerel in an anthology I edited in my misspent youth, The Devil’s Book of Verse: Masters of the Poison Pen from Ancient Times to The Present Day (Dodd, Mead, 1983)

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2 Responses to “Bathroom Bliss in Chongqing”

  1. jim said

    Your looks at life are what I can only call “enchanting” and like your other fans, I want more. (Not to pressure you-lol).

  2. barbara saltzman said

    Thanks for letting those of us who discovered you in NYT you blog address. I really like your take on things. Having been to China, although not as long ago as Gen. Stilwell, I can testify to the truth of his poem. I had a very good laugh,

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