|The new app uses GPS technology to locate the nearest of 8,000 public toilets now operating in Shanghai|
China's economic miracle has captured global headlines for much of the last 30 years, but a much quieter revolution has also taken place in that time at the nation's toilets. As China's leading commercial center, Shanghai has been at the edge of this quieter revolution, which has just flushed past another milestone with the announcement of a new mobile app to help people locate the nearest public toilet.
The new app uses GPS technology to locate the nearest of 8,000 public toilets now operating in Shanghai for users who feel the call of nature while walking around or driving outside. Residents won't be able to try out the app until its official launch in May, and many foreigners may have to wait even longer since the initial version will only be in Chinese.
The new app is part of China's ongoing campaign to clean up its toilets, which have slowly been transformed over the past 30 years to relatively friendly places. That's a strong contrast from the past, when public toilets were generally places you tried to avoid altogether, or to use as quickly as possible and only in extreme emergencies while holding your nose.
The ongoing campaign to make toilets more friendly made global headlines last month, when the Ministry of Health released guidelines that many found amusing despite their good intentions. Those new standards said that no public rest rooms could have more than one fly per square meter if they were indoors, and no more than three per square meter if they were outdoors.
Perhaps some cities like Shanghai will be able to meet this standard, if they can find a way to really measure it; but I sincerely doubt that many smaller cities will be able to rise to this level, as many still operate public toilets that are little more than fly-infested holes in the ground.
As a longtime China resident, I can say with conviction that toilet-locating apps and fly-based standards were the furthest things from my mind when I lived in Beijing in the 1980s and during my frequent visits in the 1990s. Nearly any foreigner who has lived in China for extended periods has his own toilet stories to tell, and I'm certainly no exception.
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