Tunxi (Huangshan City) was my first experience of small-town China. Whilst our stay in Tunxi was pleasant, I can’t say that we have any plans to return. It is a transit town, which survives on its proximity to Huangshan National Park and the UNESCO listed Huizhou villages. It’s grim, grey and well… small. For a few hours in the late afternoon / evening it’s tolerable, but any longer – and I imagine most big city types or non-Chinese would be itching to escape.
Seeing Tunxi made us incredibly grateful for living in a major Chinese city (with all their pollution, congestion and noise), and for not living in a small-Chinese town – which for us, would be a miserable existence. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that too much, and I can now fully understand why so many young rural Chinese are moving into the major cities.
My biggest concern in Huangshan was well, the toilets were not so good. There were no Western toilets, which came as a shock, for everywhere I’ve been in Asia I’ve always been able to scout out a Western toilet. Not in Huangshan. In our two and a half years in Asia, I have still never had to use a squat toilet for anything more than a Jimmy Riddle (Despite several scares), and I am very proud of this fact. It is my intention for this to remain the case for as long as possible, e.g. forever.
Now we all know China isn’t too keen on a lot of Western things, unless it can make money from them, but I passionately believe there is no disputing the superiority of Western style, Thomas Crapper inspired, toilets, over the traditional Chinese squatter. I can understand them not wanting to import democracy, Facebook and human rights, but toilets? Come on CCP, you need to make more of an effort to encourage their construction and increase their usage. Western toilets are not going to threaten the security of the Chinese nation, or undermine the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. I promise you. I challenge anybody to suggest otherwise. Quite the contrary actually, I strongly believe they would benefit the Chinese population, much the same way they have the South Korean and Japanese people.
We cut short our stay in Huangshan City to one night. Why? It was cold, gloomy and there wasn’t a lot to do. The UNESCO listed villages were expensive (£10 entry pp), full of tour groups and didn’t really capture the imagination. They were pretty, but it was miserable outside and crowded. We only visited Hongcun, supposedly the best one (along with Xidi). We had planned to visit some smaller villages the next day, but changed our minds for the aforementioned reasons.
Another key reason?
I was confident I’d be able to hold my bowel movements for the rest of the day, but couldn’t guarantee I’d be able to do so for the next two (given it had already been over a day since the last motion), and would therefore put myself at great risk of losing my “squat toilet virginity”. Now I know critics will say, “you are living and travelling in China so it is only a matter of time before you do” and tragically I have to concede they are probably right. But the truth is, I wasn’t, and I’m not, ready to lose it yet. I didn’t want to have my squat toilet virginity taken from me, here in Anhui, on this cold, gloomy February morning in a grim little Chinese village surrounded by dozens of DSLR camera-toting Chinese tour groups when I haven’t even eaten anything dodgy.
So if / when the time comes, I have always envisioned it to be a more romantic affair, somewhere on the Silk Road, perhaps in far off Xinjiang or Qinghai, having eaten a delicious greasy, under-cooked lamb kebab from a Uighur shepherd, on a glorious summer’s day at a remote (service / bus / train) station set against the backdrop of the mighty Pamir Mountains, the scorching Taklamakan desert, or the wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau. Not in tourist central Hongcun or Huangshan on a gloomy winters day because I’m staring constipation in the face.
So please Chinese government officials, in the unlikely event you are reading this, or ever read this – please try to encourage the use and construction of Western style toilets in densely populated, developed Eastern China so that I, and other intrepid westerners like me, may be able to realise our dream and not suffer the indignity and cruelty of losing our “ST-V Plates” at a supermarket in Beijing, a tourist village in Anhui or a restaurant in Nanjing.
Also, if the toilets had been better in Anhui, perhaps I wouldn’t have cut short our stay, and spent a little more money there!
Final edit – The irony of all this is, had we stayed in Huangshan an extra night I would have inevitably lost my “ST-V” Plates”, as the two days of holding it caught up with me when we arrived back to Nanjing, in quite spectacular fashion, as I sat here writing this. Thank goodness we went home when we did, and I continue to cling to my “ST-V Plates” for a little while longer.
And finally, here are some actual pictures from Hongcun…