Between Christmas and New Years, my fiance and I took a trip to Taiwan (tickets were cheap and we love travelling) to visit friends and explore Taiwan. We both learned lots about Taiwanese culture from friends and strangers, and overall had a wonderful experience.
This is the first of many posts about what I learned in Taiwan.
THE SEVEN WEIRDEST THINGS ABOUT TAIWANESE TOILETS
1. Toilet paper does not get flushed down the toilet. According to one of my Taiwanese friends, because of low water pressure and aims to protect the environment, you are never supposed to flush your used toilet paper down the toilet.
Instead it goes in the large, usually grey, plastic garbage bin beside the toilet.
Which is all well and good, you know, if they had signs. They don’t. And when my friend told me this, I was mortified, because for the first two days, I had been flushing toilet paper down the toilet, just like the irresponsible foreigner that I am.
The more I thought about this Taiwanese way of the toilet (for those of you who don’t know, my fiancé is huge on Japanese toilets – his dream is to spread Japanese toilets to every home in America and improve sanitation in Third World counties), the more I realized how good it was. Because paper is never flushed, they can get away with no only doing the “Japanese style” of two types of flushes, a big and a small one (I call it the “Japanese style” because the first – and only – time I’ve seen this is in Japan), but they can also cut down on wasted water.
Bottom line: Taiwanese toilets are incredibly efficient.
2. People do not throw away their trash in the allotted toilet paper bin next to the toilet. This might not sound so impressive, but let me explain. Taiwan, like Japan, has a lack of public trash cans. This stems from the fact that Taiwan (and Japan) have a “Pay as you go” garbage system, where you buy special, expensive bags at the store, put your trash in them, and then leave them outside (or bring them to a nearby lot) to be disposed of, free of charge.
Well, not entirely free. You did pay for the bag, remember? That’s how the service is run. You are charged by the number of bags you fill, and you pay by buying each bag. There-in lies the problem with public trash cans in Japan and Taiwan – people then want to dump their trash in these public trash cans instead of bringing it home and paying for it.
And it causes me a never-ending stream of frustration every time I buy a cup of coffee in Japan and spend the rest of the day carrying the empty cup around because I can’t find a place to throw it away (and am morally opposed to littering. Foreigners in Japan already get a bad enough reputation).
However, surprisingly enough, the five days I stayed in Taiwan (and I don’t want to calculate how many times I went to the restroom) I never saw anyone dump their trash in the toilet paper garbage bin. I never saw anything but toilet paper in there.
And as a result, when I wanted to dump a bag containing Stinky Tofu (A Taiwanese specialty that every foreigner ought to try, but I have yet to find anyone, Taiwanese or not, who actually likes it) I didn’t dump it in the bathroom. I carried its’ Stinky self around all night, like a good little foreigner.
Be proud of me.
3. The train station bathrooms had an electronic sign that showed which toilets were occupied, so you could estimate your waiting time. I’m not joking.
The locks had small magnets and sensors (I think) that connected them to a mainframe. When you locked your stall, the corresponding light outside the bathroom turned red. When you unlocked it, the light turned green. Theoretically, you could sit inside your stall, throwing the lock back and forth, just to mess with people standing in line.
But that would just be mean.
The sign had four categories, red for occupied, green for available, yellow for broken, and the ominous blue for “Investigation report” which (as I learned) can be anything from a leaking valve to a horrible dump. The sign also showed how many “Western” and “Asian” styled toilets were available (see the explanation later in the post).
I really liked these signs.
My fiancé, on the other hand, loved them. His new dream is to bring these Taiwanese bathroom signs to Japan. I support his dream whole-heartily.
4. Most of the time, you find toilet “tissues” instead of toilet paper. Does that make sense? The place we were staying at had a mix between tissues (like the kind you use when you have a runny nose) and napkins (like the type served at cheap fast-food restaurants).
On the plus side, it was convenient, easy to approximate how many you needed, and could be accomplished with only one hand (if you were trying to read a magazine).
On the minus side… it was weird. Like really weird. We only use tissues in my apartment when I forget to buy toilet paper out grocery shopping. It took a little getting used to.
I would say about half of the public toilets in Taiwan use tissues instead of toilet paper.
5. The toilet paper/tissue dispenser is often outside the bathroom. And I don’t just mean outside the stall, I mean sometimes it was completely outside the restroom itself. Like you had to grab a handful before you even entered the bathroom.
Which, if you’re a tourist, you sometimes forget to do.
After the first time, I didn’t forget. It actually brought back fun memories of living in Ghana, checking the stall for toilet paper as soon as you enter, before you sit down. And I started carrying around a pack of tissue paper in my purse, just in case.
But I guess this is all enacted to save the environment?
I don’t know about you, but I have trouble gauging the amount of toilet paper I’m going to need. This is the only “Weird Thing about Taiwanese Toilets” that I wasn’t such a fan of.
6. They had both “Western” and “Asian” styled toilets. Per usual, I liked the Western toilets. I like being able to sit down.
Taiwan reminded me of Japan in a lot of ways (probably due to the fact it used to be a colony and still retains close proximity to the island), but also incorporated a greater number of Western traits than Japan.
Toilets weren’t one of them.
My friend swore to me that the “Asian” style toilets were gradually being phased out. In comparison to Japan, I guess there were less of them, percentage-wise, and were rarely found in public, wealthy, or heavily-populated areas.
For the five days we were there, I used the “Asian” styled toilets twice. Lucky me. And, of course, I took pictures of both.
7. They had adorable signs. Forget the classic ‘pink triangle + head’ for women and ‘upside-down blue triangle + head’ for men, Taiwanese bathroom signs were adorable. And always unique.
My favorite signs had to be:
A. At “Sogo,” a Japanese department store that went bankrupt in Japan, but is wildly popular in Taiwan. As is the way of the world. I loved these signs because the little blue man was wearing a tie. I love ties.
B. At a giant temple. I loved this one because not only was the little blue man wearing a tie, but he was also wearing a hat and had an umbrella. The pink woman looked like something out of a period drama. I had to wonder where they got the sign, and how old it was.
Bottom line (no pun intended): Taiwanese toilets were a lot like Japan in a lot of ways, except even more environmentally friendly (if that is possible).
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