Smart Toilet Seats

According to the good folks at Tech in Asia, China’s State Council (somewhat akin to the cabinet in the US government) has called on Chinese tech firms to focus on making better air purifiers, better rice cookers, and better smart toilet seats.

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Smart toilet seats? Really?

Why, you may be wondering, is the Chinese government so concerned about Chinese companies producing high quality smart toilet seats? The author the piece suggests that it’s about nationalism:

Why smart toilet seat development is a national priority is a mystery.

I do have a theory, though: Japan. You may remember that earlier this year during China’s yearly legislative session, rice cookers rather unexpectedly became a point of discussion and a black mark on China’s tech industry: why were Japanese firms still producing better rice cookers than Chinese firms? Several high-profile tech CEOs got in on the action, and Xiaomi released its own rice cooker a month or so later.

Apparently, Japan dominates the smart toilet seat market in a similar way. On Taobao, for example, the top-selling smart toilet seats are mostly Japanese, and many are marketed with an emphasis on their Japanese or otherwise foreign origin. I can’t say whether it’s true as I’ve never personally tried any brand of smart toilet seat – I like my toilets dumb, thank you very much – but Chinese consumers apparently believe that Japan simply makes a better toilet seat than China. This has been an issue of contention for nationalists for over a year already, and it seems the State Council may be firing it up again.

Can’t continue to let the Japanese be ahead, now, can we?

Most of the time when traveling in China, I would have been deliriously happy with simply HAVING a toilet seat — any kind of toilet seat! Dirty? Cracked? Whatever — just give me something to sit on, thank you very much.

Oh, and in case you had no idea before this that smart toilet seats are a thing, check out this list of 9 futuristic toilet seats highlighted over at Gadget Review.

Image credit: Tech in Asia

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Sit More Lightly

I’m back in China for three weeks, traveling with a group of university students from Minnesota. They arrived yesterday, and now we are safely ensconced in what I would describe as a 2.5-star hotel; not quite nice enough to be a 3-star, yet not quite dumpy enough to be a 2 star. It calls itself a Days Inn, and uses the familiar logo, but I’m thinking that might just be a bit of brand piracy.

If you’ll excuse the imagery, last night when I sat on the toilet, it rocked a bit, which immediately brought back memories of the Great Rocking Toilet Incident of Changchun (circa mid-1990’s).

I was living in a university “Foreign Experts Guesthouse,” something that only exists in China. The cement holding my toilet to the floor was wearing out, causing it to, shall we say, rock back and forth when in use. I called the management office and asked them to send a plumber to fix it.

Ten minutes later there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find not one plumber, but a housekeeper and 4 plumbers, all puffing away on cigarettes. I’m guessing that they needed to calm their nerves before having to deal with a foreigner. Even though one was carrying a wrench and another was carrying a plunger, I couldn’t tell if they were really plumbers or some poor saps who were hauled in off the street.

They all filed into my tiny bathroom and huddled over the toilet smoking and talking loudly. Eventually they summoned the housekeeper to join the huddle, and after a few minutes and much sucking of teeth, they all stepped out into my entryway. The poor housekeeper was deputized to give me their assessment of the situation, as the ‘plumbers’ huddled around proudly puffing on their cigarettes

“They say,” she said, “that you need to sit more lightly.”

Once I recovered from the physical exertion of NOT falling on the floor laughing, I politely responded:  “No. THEY need to fix the toilet.”

Deflated, they sent for the man with the cement.

He eventually showed up, smoking of course, and cemented my toilet to the floor while the others watched (and smoked). By the time they were done, there was a blue haze of smoke in my apartment and cement all over the bathroom; but hey, the toilet didn’t rock anymore.

If you’re getting ready to move to China, it is my belief that taking a course in basic plumbing might be considered a good use of your time.

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There is a post-script to this story. A few years later, at a skit-night during an organizational conference in Thailand, I and a friend acted out this drama in the style of a Beijing opera, screeching and twirling plungers and all! Unfortunately I don’t have any photographic record of the performance.

Perhaps some of you reading this post were in attendance that night, and have a photo, or perhaps a video of the performance. If so, leave a comment or drop me an email.

In the meantime, I’m back in Beijing, sitting lightly!

Related Post: The Plumber and Me

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