Chinese public toilets are unloved institutions. Adeline Yen Mah recalls in her book, Watching the Tree: “We had been forewarned of the appalling conditions awaiting us and had rolled up the legs of our trousers in anticipation. Inside, there was an atrocious stink and no toilet paper. The lavatory had no seat and the rim was so filthy that many refused to sit down. Its chain was broken and flushing was impossible. The floor around the toilet was wet and stinky with slime.”
Yen Mah later visits a relative’s home, where she comments on how neat and clean the toilet is, and mentions the public toilet (near the Great Wall). The relative laughs back: “What do you expect? Those are public toilets. Why should anyone take care of them?”
Well, there’s a new toilet sheriff in town in Foshan. The southern Chinese city is keen to lure tourists and according to a senior official, a group of foreign visitors had their impression of Foshan irremediably sullied by a visit to a public convenience. The deputy mayor, Mai Jiehua has vowed to fix the lavatorial problem and unusually enough has asked the city’s online community to help. He wants to harness the power of the internet to improve hygiene levels, and has asked local netizens to ‘name and shame’ the city’s worst public toilets.
The Southern Metropolis News reports that one local salesman has responded with gusto, taking photos of 15 of the most heinous examples and posting the results on the online forum ttx.cn. Taking a somewhat scientific approach, he ranks them on four criteria: “Whether there was excrement and urine around, footprints on the floor or foul smells. I observed the level of cleanliness inside and asked people living nearby for their opinion.”
Mai will be hoping that other citizens will respond in kind and that the online campaign will help improve Foshan’s performance. It’s certainly an application of the internet that Tim Berners-Lee could hardly have thought of when he first came up with the idea of the world wide web.
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