Lack of sanitation in Suzhou

Warning, this post may be a little graphic for some.

Today I was in Suzhou, about 100km west of Shanghai. I diverted off the beaten track to walk around some laneways when I chanced upon not one but two local-style latrines. I must say up until today I’d been pretty impressed with the availability and cleanliness of public toilets during my time in China so far but seeing the reality of sanitation in less-touristic areas really puts things into perspective.

The first one I came across was a facility along an alley that ran east of the beautiful Pingjiang pedestrian area. I’d been getting lost in the pathways that wound between the densely-built houses when I noticed this room which easily could have been mistaken for a garage:

It turned out of course to be a public restroom, but very different to any I’d seen before. It was open & highly exposed with barely any privacy, no stalls and no basin: merely a tiled wall to urinate on and a hole in the ground for solid waste.

I admit it took me quite by surprise to stumble across a facility with such lack of sanitation, yet so close to an area frequented by tourists who had access to a plethora of modern, clean restrooms.

Later that day I was walking around the Nanmen Market, a highly localized and seemingly non-touristic area where fish, meat and other such produce could be procured. This gives you an idea of the type of area I’m talking about – the cleanliness isn’t quite at the level you’d expect to see at a western market:

I’d followed the signs to a public restroom a block or two north of the market which was clean and well-maintained, but on my return I noticed a short, dark, foul-smelling alleyway teeming with empty crates which workers were frequenting, within the same building as the market. Curiosity got the better of me so I followed it down to find the entrance to yet another local-style latrine. This time, two trenches on either end of the room were separated by concrete dividers. This is where market workers would go about their business, facing outwards while squatting.

Similarly to the restroom I’d seen earlier in the day, there was no basin. There was a hose, however, which at least suggested running water was available; presumably the waste would be manually flushed away at some stage throughout the day.

As eye-opening as these two restrooms were for me, one of them did seem to have access to running water and both offered a modicum (to say the very least) of privacy. I’m certain there are others out there in worse condition than this. Sanitation – or lack thereof – is definitely something I’d like to explore more through this lil photo project of mine in the future.

As fun and crazy as it is to find the artistic & elegant toilets there is a serious side to it too!



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