It was a hot and humid day when my cousin, aunt, and I boarded “China Airlines” to leave from Hong Kong and arrive in Beijing. It was only a three hour flight from Hong Kong to Beijing. In that short amount of time, I was still looking forward to the free beverage and snack.
I was slurping up my orange juice when my cousin and aunt said to me:
“Make sure that you do not eat or drink so much here or when you get there, otherwise you will have to go to the toilet in Beijing.”
I stopped drinking and asked: “What’s wrong with the toilets in Beijing?”
My aunt and cousin stared at me, and then slowly glanced towards the airplane lavatory. That is when I noticed the line of people waiting for the lavatory was going down the tight aisle of the plane. Why were there so many people on line?
“The toilets are in the ground in the public areas and tourist attractions in Beijing. They are better than years ago when they were just a hole in the ground. Everyone now is trying to go to the bathroom here in the plane because they are cleaner and can sit on the toilet,” my cousin explained.
Rather than cringe in despair or fear this grounded toilet, I enthusiastically said: “Wow! Cool! I can’t wait to take pictures of the toilets in Beijing!”
My cousin and aunt did not say anything.
It can’t be that bad, I thought to myself. Guess again.
The first time I saw the toilet in the ground was Day 1 in Beijing at “The Summer Palace.”
Just before I pranced in the restroom to see my very first toilet in the ground, my aunt stopped me and gave me a handful of tissues and said: “Not sure if they have toilet paper. Take with you.”
I tried to squat and my left operated hip began to throb and ache. I tried other tactics that were somewhat like contorted yoga poses. My entire body began to hurt. Now, I was beginning to regret the bottle of water that I drank. But, as a kidney transplant recipient (and even for ALL people who have not even received a transplant) who had a history of dehydration, anemia, and low blood pressure, I was told by doctors to drink enough water to flush out the wastes for my kidneys to process into urine and then for me to go to the bathroom.
I heard my aunt outside calling me: “Mary, are you OK?”
I finally heard the sound of me urinating, but not without a trickle of urine going down my left leg.
I let out a breath and thought to myself, “How does anyone go to the bathroom here without their entire body feeling like it is going to break???”
Curiosity and excitement over the grounded toilet turned into exhaustion and a drastic change in my eating and drinking habits by the end of the second day in Beijing. I began to refrain what I ate and how much I drank out of concern that my pre-owned kidney beans would be overworked and that I would not have access to a toilet OR, if I did have access to a toilet, it would be one with a hole in the ground and my whole body would ache again. The toilet in the hotel was the only one that was sitting, so I quickly made certain to drink as much as I could while I was in the hotel and then go to the restroom. I never left the hotel we stayed at in Beijing without going to the restroom.
Each experience to a public bathroom in Beijing became a memorable challenge to my aching hip joint and to my beloved kidney beans that were doing their usual work of creating urine and prompting me to go to the bathroom. With one experience, I nearly urinated all over myself because my hip just could not take any more squatting. That night, my aunt helped me scrub my jeans. While she was scrubbing with the meager bar of soap that the hotel had for us, she said: “Now, you know that when you are in Mainland China that you bring tissues, an extra pair of jeans, moist toilettes, a mask, and maybe anti-hand sanitizer.”
With more than one experience, the toilet paper dispensers were in the public areas where the sinks were and you took whatever you could—this was considered a luxury, considering that almost all public bathrooms I went to had no toilet paper at all.
The most memorable experience was when a girl shamelessly left the door open and showed her squatting skills with squatting all the way down to the grounded toilet. I was so shocked at this that I told my aunt what I saw.
My aunt explained to me, “Mainland Chinese are toilet trained this way.”
Then my cousin said, “They don’t care. No shame. And, understand that they actually see these toilets as sanitary because they do not have to touch anything while the sitting toilet does require you to touch to a certain degree. Believe me, these toilets are luxury compared to 10 years ago.”
What began as a hunt for the grounded toilet out of fascination quickly turned into a hunt for a handicapped toilet, because the handicapped toilets at least had the toilet above ground with bars to grip on to, but without the actual toilet seat.
I asked my aunt: “How does anyone who is wheelchair-bound go to the bathroom on the handicapped toilet when they can’t even get from their wheelchair on to the toilet to grip the bars?” My aunt paused and said, “I’m not sure what China is like with disabled and wheelchair-bounded people.”
I shook my head. I never would have been able to survive in China. If I has been born in China, I probably would have been dead by now without any kidney transplants that had saved my life twice or I would have been house-bound and hidden from the pain that my joints had caused throughout my childhood that had actually required crutches and then a wheelchair when I was 10-years-old. I was suddenly humbled by my father who had left Hong Kong so many years ago for a ‘new normal’ and ‘new life’ for himself that has only trickled down to all I have been blessed with.
I had always been so eternally grateful for my second chance at life with my second kidney transplant and now a chance to walk around China with my new hip, but now I was even more grateful that my functioning pre-owned kidneys were still managing to do their job and that my new hipper was holding on in the most challenging of circumstances of the no-sitting toilet that I was simply and culturally not accustomed to.
More than that, I was incredibly thankful for my aunt and cousin who had prepared me as best as they could with the “equipment” (i.e. tissues) needed to live up to the toilet challenge, and for patiently explaining that something as simple as a toilet was actually one of the greatest examples o cultural differences.
In only 4 days in Beijing, I learned to never, ever take these bodily functions of my transplants kidneys and my body relatively free from pain because of my hip replacement for granted. It is a simple truth that we never, ever know what we have until it is gone. And, it is one thing to really know. It is another thing to really understand. I was just beginning to understand and have a greater appreciation for a simple sitting toilet and a family and father who made this trip and my life all the better and worthwhile.
Signing off for now. I’m pretty sure my pre-owned kidneys are working their magic with me having to go to the bathroom now—and my hip will only be happy that I will be able to sit on the toilet ;-)