This is a photo of the toilets perched atop a terrace at the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall, north of Beijing.
I remember the first time I saw them– back when they were first installed in the 1990’s.
I had taken some friends to the Wall and of course as we got off the gondola that ferried us up the side of the mountain, one of them announced that she had to use the toilet. I groaned, knowing full well that there were no toilets once we got off. Most likely we were going to have to ride back down to use the toilets that we had just passed on our way to the gondola!
So imagine my surprise when we got off and saw these. Glory Be! Port-a-potties had been installed on the top of the mountain, just before the entrance to the actual Wall.
That was the good news. The not-s0-good news was that standing between my friend and relief was a fearsome looking woman who was obviously in charge. I asked if the toilets were usable, and our conversation ensued thusly:
Me: Can we use the toilets?
She: Yes, but you will have to pay.
Me: How much will we have to pay?
She: 2 kuai (2 Chinese dollars).
Me: 2 kuai? Are you crazy? Public toilets never cost more than 2 mao (20 Chinese cents).
She: But I had to haul the water to clean the toilets up from the valley. I carried the buckets by myself. It was hard work. They don’t have to do that in the city. (She had a point.)
Me: Yes, but 2 kuai????
She : Ok, will your friend go #1 or #2? (this was an opening for a face-saving solution to the impasse)
She: Ok, then 1 kuai for #1, but 2 kuai for#2!
Now it’s true we often say that in China everything is negotiable, but I believe this was the first (and only, so far) time that I had to bargain to use the toilet.