Sound Off! – Public View Restrooms

Photos by MJ Klein

Don’t you just love the restrooms in Taiwan, with the saloon doors (if there are any doors at all), and the open windows? Welcome to the world of Taiwan’s Public View Restrooms!

This is the view from inside the Men’s restroom at the Hukou train station. At night the restroom is lit up with fluorescent lights, so you can see in as clearly as one sees out during the daytime.

But, this is far from the worst example of a restroom lacking in privacy. I’ll do my best to relate these experiences in a un-offensive way.[eminimall]

Once I went to a posh restaurant with a beautiful garden in the center area. The path to the restrooms, both male and female areas (in this case they were separated, more on that in a moment) split and went their separate ways and became 2 paths in this garden. “This is a nice way to hide the restrooms” I thought. But then I reached the end of the path and was greeted by a tiny corrugated shack surrounded by a short wall. The shack contained a squat toilet, but mounted on the wall was (you guessed it) a men’s urinal, right out in the open. Well, I stepped up to the urinal and proceeded to do what one does in front of a urinal when I happened to glance off to the side. There, not more than 3 meters away from where I was standing was the only water fountain in the entire place. Just as I was thinking how thankful I was that no one was using the water fountain, a mother and 2 small girls walked over and got a drink while I was pissing a few feet away. Maybe it’s a “foreigner thing” but that just seems wrong to me. The placement of the water fountain also appears to be pretty much optimized for viewing the urinal from the side, where one’s chances of seeing “something” would be the best. I was watching them drink while I was passing water. WTF were they thinking?

Many visitor’s first experience with Taiwanese Toilet Culture is a trip to the airport restroom, replete with cleaning women who will stand right next to you while you do your thing. I’ve had cleaning women stand outside the stall while I was inside there too, waiting to clean up as soon as I vacated the premises. About the only reasonable comment I can make is that having a cleaning woman standing outside one’s stall does make for an uncomfortable experience. At least those are professional cleaning people just going their jobs.

But, that’s nothing compared to having a female customer come into a mixed-gender restroom! The first time that ever happened to me was when I was at a restaurant in Chunghua. I was at the urinal when a woman barged in, rushed past me and into a stall behind me. I hadn’t noticed that the sign over the restroom had caricatures of both male and female heads. Yeah, we have restrooms like that in the US too, but men and women don’t use them at the same time. The women simply wouldn’t stand for it there. I’ve never heard a female in Taiwan complain about it though. Apparently some men do take liberties with women passing by them in the restroom. I just looked away when she went past me.

Perhaps one of the most embarassing restrooms I have ever seen is in Taoyuan City. There is a restaurant with a modern section in the front (booth tables and bench seats) and a traditional sit-down table section at the rear. The restroom is in the rear of the restaurant, right dead center of the long aisle that runs down the length of the place. A person standing on the street in front of this restaurant can see the door to the restaurant quite clearly as it’s just a straight shot back. But, the bad news is, there is a huge gap between the bottom edge of the door, and the floor. So, if one were positioned low enough, say, seated at a traditional table or standing out at the street where the viewing angle is lower, one could actually see the posterior of the person inside, while using the facility and with all the accompanying visuals you can conjure up for yourself. Disgusting, and worse, totally unnecessary!

Oh wait, I remember another one in Taoyuan City that is even worse that that one! I walked into a restaurant restroom and casually noted the eye-level mirrors that went along the entire wall. As I stood at the urinal I was momentarily puzzled by the fact that I wasn’t looking at my own reflection. A second later I realized that I was actually looking through clear glass, and into the restaurant from where I had just come. Just then, a woman seated at a table near to mine looked up and we made eye contact. The only way that I know how to express my feelings on this one is to just come out and say it. Holding my penis while making eye contact with a woman to whom I am not married just seems so wrong…..

These are some typical everyday situations:

  1. Many highway restrooms have no doors, with a clear shot inside as you drive up in your car to park.
  2. Gas stations and factories often have urinals placed on the rear walls, right in the open, with no modesty panels at all.
  3. Restrooms are positioned so that women must pass by an open men’s restroom in order to get to theirs.
  4. Some restrooms have 1/2 height walls or open windows so you can see rows of men lined up. You can’t see what they are doing but you can see their faces while they are doing it.
  5. Wash basins and mirrors are most often placed outside of the restroom, so there is absolutely no privacy whatsoever if you feel like freshening up or touching up your makeup, ladies.

I will leave you with this parting shot, taken in the Hukou train station, showing the view from inside at the urinals, out the window. Please note that this restroom isn’t that bad!

So, please tell us what you think!

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  1. MJ. I can relate to this here in Thailand as well. Many a place I have been and inside are the squat toilets and the urinals are on the outside in plain veiw for all.

    I remember a big carnival they have here and porta loo’s were set up. The lines were really big waiting to use them but for the guys there were urinals between each portaloo. So picture heaps of girls from small kids young teens and older women looking at the backs of men taking a piss a few feet away.

    I took this option as I didn’t want to wait that long to use a toilet with a door. It was uncomfortable but again lucky I am an Aussie and pretty easy going.

    As for women in mens areas. The place I first come into contact with this was in Japan. My first trip some friends took me to a traditional hot spring bath. Now the girls sadly got changed and went into a seperate spring bath and us boys went to another, Japanese girls are lovelllly.

    I walked into the change area and was confronted by many naked men and also female workers going about daily chores. My mates found their lockers and dropped their gear and headed off to the showers a few feet away to clean themselves before going into the hot spring.

    I could see my Japanese mates laughing as they new I had no idea this is how hot springs were here. I simply did what any Aussie would do and got naked had my shower and then jumped into the hot spring and let a massive fart go. not really that would have been incrediably offensive.

    So that was a little hard to start with but my next visits were no problem and I would always try to follow my Japanese girl friends into their hot spring but would be pushed away quick smart.

    Brings back very good memories of a lovely place (in the countryside) and also amazing people.

    Isn’t that funny a story about toilets did that?

    Jason Brunt’s last blog post..Thailand. Practice, practice, practice.

  2. Brunty, yes, i would have to say that Thailand also has the open public view toilet issues that we find here in Taiwan. i’ve seen people squatting on the side of the highway in Thailand, but not so much here. I did see one guy facing traffic one afternoon with his zipper down. he just let it all hang out and had a good piss right there on the breakdown lane. for me, it’s not so much an issue about someone seeing me as it is about me feeling disrespectful towards others.

    in Taiwan the hot springs are segregated. you won’t find nude co-ed hot spring bathing here.

  3. Keeping things international.

    Traveling on the Friendship Highway from Kathmandu to Lhasa requires a few overnight stops. Naturally, after everyone’s been in a jeep for hours, they need to use the facilities. And in most cases, the facilities were a tiled trench against the wall down one side, to act as a urinal. Not so bad. But on the other side was a tiled trench about a foot out from the wall that served for number twos. No privacy, no walls, no doors. Apparently the womens was the same-style set up.

    I can never forget waking up at 5.30am on a train pulling into Kolkata, India and looking out the window and seeing lines of Indian men squatting by the train tracks, no more than 5m or so from the train having their morning dump. I’m not sure where the women went, there were none in sight, but hundreds of men.

    Kids in Tibet often have a slit cut into the back of their pants and no underwear. I learned what it was for when I was buying something in the market and a mom, not 10m away, picked her kid up, held the kid out in front of her and spread the kids legs. Kid then proceeded to poop onto the ground (from a height of 1m or so) in the middle of the market.

    And finally (well, until I think of some more), in Goa, India I went into a toilet in a guesthouse that was raised onto stilts. The toilet was just a hole in the floor. The reason for the stilts was so the local pigs could get under the toilets and eat the waste.

    cfimages’s last blog post..Thai Buddha

  4. Well Craig, you’ve given us all reason to pause and appreciate Taiwan’s Public View restrooms after all! the Indian train track crappers are known the world over. that has been going on for a long time, as i read a book that mentioned them in the 1940s.

  5. Korea used to have mixed genders toilets as well. Never disturbed me then [I was younger in those days .. ahhh!!]

    As for open pissoirs: keep the smell to bearable, I guess!

  6. I am always astounded by the squat toilet to normal toilet ratio even in high end shopping malls. It is usually a 3 to 1 ratio with the squat toilets winning. Sometimes they have no Western toilets and I have to search a few bathrooms before finding one that is acceptable to me. As an adult (keeping in mind I grew up as a little kid in Taiwan) I just can’t do squat toilets anymore.

    Sandy’s last blog post..Glamorous Ximending

  7. Pierre » yeah, that is the only reason i can think of for the open-air styling. it doesn’t seem to help much in some cases though. thanks for your comment.

  8. Sandy » you just touched on something that i’ve thought about. the squat vs: sit-down toilet issue isn’t so much an Eastern vs: Western thing as it is a reflection on one’s capability. i just can’t see Grandpa using a squat toilet that easily, even though he grew up using them.

    btw, i’ve really enjoyed your recent articles. thanks for your comments.

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