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Adventures In Adoption, Or Ode To The Commode

It’s pretty common knowledge that we got our TA last week, so you can just imagine how chaotic things have gotten around here at Chez Donahue. Kevin has been amazing at assembling every single piece of paper we need to bring (and I know I’ve mentioned it before, but we’re singlehandedly responsible for the deforestation of America), and I’ve made, oh, about 1,000 lists of things we need to remember to pack (hello? I don’t want to get caught without an emergency packet of EZ Mac. I’m a fairly fearless eater, but I know my limits. Just ask my Mom about my quest for a cheeseburger after we’d been in Italy for a week).

Sure, we’ve had 4 1/2 years to research this stuff, but now that we’re leaving in just over a week (holy crap, can that be right?!?!?!?), I’ve kicked it into high gear. I swear I think I saw my router catch fire the other day. I have at LEAST 8 different packing lists bookmarked, I’ve been stalking FCC forums, and I may be solely responsible for eating up Rumor Queen’s bandwidth. There are a few things that show up on pretty much every list: Pepto, Cipro, hand sanitizer……All pretty standard, and nothing too unusual.

Armed with a list long enough to rival Santa’s Annual Chronicle of Naughty & Nice, Kev and I headed to the store on Sunday. Actually, we headed to TWO stores, and we still have at least one more trip to make, but I digress. I methodically ticked each item off the list: baby Aveeno, Delsym, Q-Tips….Still no big deal. Then we get to the Kleenex aisle. I tossed one 8-pack of mini Kleenex into the basket and reached for another. Kevin immediately said “I think you’re better off just getting one tiny pack. There’s no WAY you’ll need that many tissues”. So there I stood in the middle of the grocery store, surrounded by happy families, and I knew the time had come. I was going to have to venture into the Land Of The Overshare. Kevin needed to be brought in on the secret of the Chinese bathroom.

You see, while he was busy researching the tensile strength of different diapers, I was *obsessing* about all things potty-related. I’ve kind of covered this before, and I know it must seem like I have an abnormal fascination with what goes on in a bathroom, but the truth is that I just like to be prepared. It’s no secret that we’re pretty intrepid travelers (I’m fairly certain that Kevin’s Great Goat Encounter of 2009 earns us big points in the cultural awareness column), and a big reason for that is knowing what awaits you BEFORE you travel. We were ready for The Great Goat Encounter because we had a fairly decent grasp on Maasai culture. I’ve applied the same principles to researching our trip to China.

So. The Chinese bathroom. At this point, I have to warn you that this story is about to take a dark and twisty turn. You may very well want to stop reading now, because I’m going there. In detail.

The first time I was confronted by the….let’s say….minimalist approach to a bathroom, I was on a train from Zurich to Milan. I was incredibly jet-lagged, and I REALLY had to pee. I was all of 12 years old, and I congratulated myself on finding the bathroom on the train all by myself. I opened the door, and it only vaguely dawned on me that it was frigid in there. After I stood in the empty compartment for about 10 seconds, realization began to creep in. There was no toilet. There was a (rather tiny) hole in the floor. It led directly outside (hence the fact that icicles had begun to form on my eyelids. It was early spring in the Alps, for crying out loud). I bucked up and figured it out, but I sent up a silent prayer that I would never be confronted with that ever again.

Fast-forward 23 years later (at this point, I think it’s only fair to point out that the Chinese think that the Western notion of public toilets is absolutely disgusting. I’ll get into that a little more in a minute, so bear with me, especially because I totally get their point….to an extent). The one thing that kept creeping up in all of my research about packing was the need for a ridiculous number of travel packs of Kleenex. At first I attributed this to the fact that most of the babies have little colds, so that kind of made sense. And then. And then. I came across a (very) detailed article about the public restrooms in China. It would seem that outside of your hotel or restaurant, public toilets can be a bit of a challenge for the Westerner used to raised thrones, sinks, running water, soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. The last thing I wanted to worry about when we’re out and about with The Baby is how to use a Chinese toilet, affectionately called a “squatty potty”, so I did a bit of Googling. lists it as “Average” Difficulty; note that they don’t say it’s “Easy”. There’s even a WikiHow article on it, which was ultra-informative. It included pictures, etiquette tips (line up in front of a particular stall, not at the entrance to the ladies’ room, and it’s always nice to tip the lavatory staff), and practical advice (for instance, not every potty has a “splash-guard”, so learn how to roll your pants up, you almost always have to supply your own toilet paper, and never, EVER look in the wastebasket). Good to know, right? And then there were the myriad suggestions that you practice before you go so you won’t be intimidated. There are lengthy tutorials about how to “rehearse” on your own personal bowl (it involves a fair amount of balance). As far as what the Chinese think of Western bathroom habits, I think one blogger put it best: “How many butts have touched that seat before yours?” I can definitely see the point. In addition, it should be noted that Squatty Potties are far less common than they once were, especially in bigger cities, but I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down (yes, you can go ahead and groan).

So on Sunday, smack in the middle of families still decked out in their Sunday School finery, I had to explain all of this to Kevin. I tried SO hard to be discreet, but Kevin kept pressing me for details. Embarrassing, horrifying details involving proper foot placement and splash-back. I tried using hand gestures so nobody would hear me, but that only made matters worse. You try miming what goes on behind closed stall doors and see what kind of looks you get. I think he secretly enjoyed making me squirm.

And I *know* you’re dying to know, so yes, I have totally practiced. I know to come armed with hand sanitizer and pocket Kleenex, I’ve vowed to never look in the wastebasket, and I am reasonably confident in my balancing skills. I have perfected the art of the Squatty Potty. It’s not graceful, and God knows it’s not pretty, but I’m ready. I didn’t know squat about the ins and outs of Chinese toilets, but I can tackle it now. I am the Commander Of The Commode. Also? I totally threw an extra 8-pack of Kleenex into the cart (Kevin didn’t dare say a word). You can never be too prepared.

2 Responses to “Adventures In Adoption, Or Ode To The Commode”

  1. Corey Says:

    There are some times and places when it is just awesome to be a dude. Visiting a restroom in China has got to be near the top of that list.

    Safe travels; I really hope you and Kevin get everything you’ve worked so hard for.

  2. Merrin Donahue Says:

    Thank you, Corey. It’s been a VERY long road, but it’s been 100% worth it. Our son is the most precious little man in the world, and I can’t WAIT to go and get him.

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