The Seven Challenges of Taiwanese Bathrooms
One of the great challenges for me in Taiwan was adjusting to their bathrooms. Picture this, you just ate some new funky food like chicken feet to impress your Taiwanese friends. An hour later after leaving the night market you really, really need to use the bathroom. The situation becomes urgent as your American stomach can’t really handle some asian foods as well as others. So, you desperately seek a bathroom.
Challenge One: Finding a Public Bathroom
After learning “die die” (thank-you) and “nee-how” (hello), one of the first useful phrases to learn in Mandarin Chinese is “where is the toilet.” I was told to learn this: “qing3wen4 xi3shou3jian1 zai3 na3li3“. By the way, the numbers indicate which tone to use when speaking; Mandarin has four tones. You can always do the “pee pee” dance and say “toilet?” and hope for the best. Having learned this Mandarin phrase, many public buildings and private businesses have bathrooms marked with icons of a man and women (sometimes in blue and red). The setups are much like American public bathrooms with some important differences noted below.
Challenge Two: Toilet Paper (or lack thereof)
- Toilet paper usually goes in a bin rather than in the toilet
- Many public stalls don’t have toilet paper in them
- Often you have to buy toilet paper before entering the bathroom area
- Most of the time individual sheets are used rather than toilet paper rolls
After reading this list of difference, you might be intimidated to use a bathroom in Taiwan. I would encourage you to not be daunted and just give it a chance as it’s really not that bad–it’s just a different way of doing things.
Challenge Three: No Hand Towels
I think about half of the public bathrooms had paper towels in a dispenser. Some had air dryers for hands. Other had nothing at all and when I asked was told just to wipe my hands on my clothing. I have never seen hand towels in homes anywhere. I don’t believe they exist. When I asked they looked at me a bit strange and were repulsed by the idea of sharing a common towel. Bathrooms don’t have any towels in them. You use your own and take it to your room with you.
Challenge Four: Floor Toilets
Personally this is the biggest difficulty I have had in Taiwan. I was a bit shocked the first time I opened a public stall and really needed to go, and found a hole in the floor and no toilet paper. Looking back it is a bit funny, but at the time I was in a bit of a panic. After I noticed that stalls in public areas have icon graphics with seated toilets versus the floor toilets. Basically you have to do a standing squat over the hole and hope nothing falls out of your pockets. It’s quite an experience!
Challenge Five: Showers
Most private bathrooms are a small fully tiled room (floor, walls and ceiling). They have a toilet and a sink with a hose coming off the sink faucet to a shower nozzle. You take a shower by flipping a switch or lever to redirect the water to the shower head. Sometimes you have to hold the hand unit by hand and wash while other houses have the wall mount where you can hang the head and take a traditional style shower. The interesting part is that the water is going everywhere and soaking everything. It is a good idea to use the toilet first because its no fun sitting on a wet toilet seat. And using the bathroom after someone else has showered is interesting because the floor is not mopped and is still covered in water. Look for plastic slippers outside that you are supposed to wear while in the bathroom which I discovered are not great if you are wearing socks and your feet are four sizes larger than the micro-slippers you are trying to wear to keep your socks from getting soaked. Sometimes it is a real adventure trying to understand the way things are done here.
Challenge Six: Secret Water Switches
In several private houses I stayed in, my host would show me a switch or lever in the kitchen or another area of the house. The switch was to turn on the water heating unit (I never saw a place with a water heater tank). Water here is heated on demand. So if you have cold shower water it’s your own fault for not remembering to turn on the hot water prior to getting naked!
Challenge Seven: Bathroom Shoes
From what I can tell, there are three types of shoes used here. You have your outdoor shoes that you remove just after entering the house. You have your indoor slippers to wear around the house (none of the guest slippers would fit me so I was allowed to walk around in my socks). And, last of all you have shower slippers which are parked just outside the bathroom. It seems the shower slippers are shared by people of roughly the same size, while house slippers are typically individual. As mentioned above, I had a hard time finding them in the right size and they did me very little good when entering a bathroom with a soaked floor in socks and slippers several sizes too small.
Although there are challenges in the bathrooms in Taiwan, I choose to approach them as an adventure in another culture. After a few weeks of dealing with a different way of doing things, you begin to adapt and it doesn’t seem as strange or extreme.