Going to a public toilet is not a particularly pleasant experience anywhere in the world, but in China especially can be quite an event.
First of all, for most toilets you will need to squat. Yep, that's right, bend those knees and squat above a big hole. In a lot of shopping malls and offices you now also have "regular" toilets, but most often you'll find yourself hoovering above a hole. I am actually finding that the squatting is not bad at all. In fact, it can be fairly hygienic, as long as you are not wearing open shoes.
Then, what will likely happen is that you will either walk in on someone, or someone will walk in on you. Even if the locks are working, people just don't tend to use them much.
Also, sometimes you have to pee together. Or at least, you have to deal with the fact that you are squatting in an open space and someone else might join you. This actually doesn't happen much at all in Beijing--all the large buildings have nice individual bathrooms, but sometimes when we're out on a hike or at a gas station, we come across those bathrooms.
A few weeks ago, for example, we were visiting a temple in Chengde and there was only a shared toilet: one space, two holes. I really had to go, but the women in the shared toilet just kept chatting on her cell phone - squatting and chatting. So I finally gave up and joined her. I don't even think she noticed, but it was certainly aware of it :-)
Oh, and then finally, you usually can't throw your toilet paper into the toilet--the plumbing is just too bad and it will get stuck. Instead, you throw it in a little waste bin behind the toilet. Not a bad idea, but you can imagine what that waste bin looks like by the end of the day. "Gross" is usually an understatement.
Here are my 10 tips for going to a Chinese public toilet:
1. Never wear open shoes - there's just not much of a border between what is toilet and what is the bathroom floor.
2. Bring your own toilet paper or tissue.
3. Slowly open the door of a stall and peek if anyone is inside.
4. Avoid looking at the waste bin.
5. Secure your cell phone - make sure it does not fall out of your pocket when you squat!
6. Remember to throw your paper in the waste bin (but again, try not to look too much.)
7. Use your foot or elbow to flush, and be ready to jump and run to avoid the flood.
8. If there is soap, check if there is water before using the soap.
See, it is not that hard! Just be prepared and you'll do fine.
Here you can squat.
And here you can sit!
Typical entrance of a public toilet in a hutong area. Mind you that this one was actually pretty clean. This bathroom is likely also the only bathroom for people in this hutong. They won't have a private one at home.
You can look at this waste bin. This one is not so bad.