Potty talk in China

Beijing hopes the smelly reputation of its public restrooms will be, well, flushed down the toilet soon.

City officials will use the 2004 World Toilet Summit, starting on November 17, to showcase efforts to transform the capital’s lavatories from foul to fragrant, from crude to cultured.

“Toilets represent the level of development of a country, a region,” Yu Debin, deputy director of Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Tourism, said on Friday at a news conference. “They also represent a region’s spiritual and material civilisation.”

The issue is especially pressing as Chinese leaders try to clean up their capital before the 2008 Olympics.

The three-day summit is expected to attract 150 academics, sanitation experts, toilet designers and environmentalists from 19 countries as far-flung as the United States, Finland, Germany, Japan and Nepal.

Organisers say topics will include the latest toilet technologies, management strategies and self-sustaining commodes.

Beijing officials will take delegates on tours of newly built public restrooms and hold a photo exhibition of ongoing efforts.

China’s public restrooms—often little more than open trenches—have long shocked and disgusted tourists with their stench and lack of soap, toilet paper and other basics.

Public urination by adults and children clad in “split-crotch pants” are still a common sight in this crowded city.

The Chinese capital has spent 238-million yuan ($29-million) over the past three years building or renovating 747 restrooms at tourist spots, according to Yu.

“The new toilets will have very practical designs and will meet the needs of the people,” said Liang Guangsheng, deputy chairperson of the Beijing Municipal Administration Commission.

“We aim to build clean, civilised, energy-saving, convenient and environmentally friendly toilets,” Liang said. “We also will consider the needs of the old, the young, the weak, the sick and the handicapped.”

The city has come up with a rating system of one to four stars for its public facilities.

City spokespersons contacted on Friday couldn’t give any details of what qualifies a toilet for the top rating, but state media has said that the criteria include granite rock floors, remote-sensor flushes, automatic hand-driers, a rest area and piped-in music.

The city government figures show that the capital now has 88 four-star toilets, as well as 161 that qualify for three stars, 312 for two and 110 for one.

The city government plans to spend another 80-million yuan ($10-million) a year on building or renovating 400 bathrooms, Liang said.

The World Toilet Summit, overseen by the Singapore-based World Toilet Organisation, is in its fourth year.
Previous hosts were Singapore, Seoul and Taipei.

The last day of the summit falls on November 19, World Toilet Day, when organisers say they hope to focus worldwide attention on promoting toilet etiquette.—Sapa-AP

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