A gweilo in 1980s China – Pt. 5

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Written by Tai Pan

If you haven’t had yet the chance to read through the previous four chapters, I suggest you do so by going to the section ‘Story of my Life’ and have a browse.


As I mentioned in the previous chapter, during my first ever business negotiation I was offered a cup of Chinese tea; so at the end of the transaction I took advantage of the fact that the head of the China National Textiles Import Export Corporation Shanghai Branch temporarily left the room, to go to the toilet (result of the tea).

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One of the officials kindly escorted me to the washroom showing me the door to the ‘guest toilet’. At that point I still had no idea of what I was going to experience behind that door, so I ingenuously opened it – it was also unlocked – and as soon I stepped inside I found myself facing the person in charge of the China National Textiles Import Export Corporation Shanghai Branch calmly sitting on the toilet doing ‘number two’ (if you know what I mean).

At first I was so confused and embarrassed that I didn’t really notice the smell, but a second later I my nose was full of that disgusting ‘aroma’ that was covering the whole room! As I was about to turn and leave, the man sitting on the toilet immediately looked at me and said: “Mister Romano, please go for it, please!”

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While I was standing astonished by what was going on, the little Chinese man flushed the toilet and stood up to let me do my things. The worst – or maybe funniest – part of all this is that his trousers were still down to his knees and so were his boxers! It’s definitely to say that Chinese sense of hospitality was – and I think, still is – amazing; but at that moment I just couldn’t really enjoy it, as I was too concentrated on the whole scene that what was happening in front of me.

Probably due to the high level of embarrassment, my face turned red, same colour as a tomato. The little man looked at me with disapproval and whispered to himself:  “Oh Gweilo…Gweilo…” and he moved to the sink leaving the toilet for me. I really had to pee, especially because I drunk several cups of tea, so I tried not to mind the man – who was still standing in the toilet observing every single move I would make – and I covered myself as much as I could.

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I try my best to make myself comfortable enough to manage to pee, but that was a fail! While I was standing there I realised that the there were still parts of the man’s previous ‘business’ – if you know what I mean – in the toilet. I waited for a couple of minutes, but in the end I gave up, so by always keeping a calm attitude, I graciously moved out of the toilet and then rushed out of the ‘guest washroom’!

While I was exiting that place, which was pure hell for me, I looked back with the corner of my eye and I noticed the man sitting back on the toilet to complete his ‘artwork’ whilst moving his head in disapproval.

Now, first of all I want to apologise for writing about this topic, which is not really gentle and pleasant to hear about; having done that, I need to make some statements: taking into consideration the fact that men’s toilets are quite open, as men usually pee standing next to one another, but think about my situation, a person doing number two in the same room as a stranger! Besides the man was totally calm and comfortable about it…

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Also, important to point out, how caring the man was with me, as he interrupted his ‘business’ to make me go first! Any other person in any other country would have surely shouted ‘BUSY!’ and shut the door as soon as I stepped in. I was – and still am – amazed by how caring Chinese people were with foreigners. Indeed, what I witnessed that day was bizarre, but at the same time, a sign of a huge sense of hospitality and respect.

However, I hope you don’t think that my first day in China ended like this…in the next chapter I will tell you all about my first ‘encounter’ with typical Chinese cuisine, during my first official lunch in the People’s Republic of China in spring of 1983.

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