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At long last, a potty app to locate one of city's 8,000 loos (2)

By Doug Young   (Shanghai Daily)

13:57, March 25, 2013

The new app uses GPS technology to locate the nearest of 8,000 public toilets now operating in Shanghai (Xinhua/ Photo)

One of my most vivid memories came during a trip to the northern city of Harbin in northeastern Heilongjiang Province in the winter of 1987, where I was dismayed to learn the toilet at a local eatery was an outdoor pit where the surrounding temperature was 20 degrees Celsius below zero. On another trip to Sichuan in 1988, my sisters named the toilet in our hotel "the aqueduct" because it consisted of a trough in the floor with several low walls meant to separate different stalls.

Those toilets of yesterday have largely disappeared in recent years, especially from big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, as part a broader campaign for better sanitation. Something like this newest toilet-finding app would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago, when cell phones had yet to come to China and even having a regular wired-line phone in one's home was considered a big luxury.

Room to improve

But despite the big progress, I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't mention at least some of the improvements still needed to bring Shanghai's toilets closer to global standards. For starters, many of the city's public toilets desperately need heat during the winter, as there's nothing worse than being exposed when the weather outside is freezing. The city's toilets should also contain toilet paper, as not everyone always carriers around their own supply.

And lastly, both public and private toilet operators should do a better job of policing their facilities to prohibit smoking. This particular problem is one of my own pet peeves. It's common to see people sneak into toilet stalls to smoke in buildings where smoking is prohibited.

I'm sorry, smokers, but enjoying a cigarette from behind the closed door of a toilet stall is still against the rules in a non-smoking building, even if no one can see you. Despite these remaining gripes, I still have to commend China for the steady improvements in its public toilets over the years, and hope the trend will continue. While it seems like a minor detail, the quality and accessibility of a city's toilets are one factor that leaves a big impression on many visitors and residents, and improvement in that area will undoubtedly help Shanghai in its drive to be seen as a major international city.

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