Public toilets in China's capital are renowned for their… ambience. As the BBC's Beijing reporter Michael Bristow observes, “People often smell them before they see them.”
But now, officials in Beijing have issued a new edict intended to clean up the reputation of the city's public loos. Among other things, the new hygiene standards decree that each toilet shall be inhabited by no more than two flies.
The Global Times reports that the rules are getting a bemused reception:
Yesterday, there was only one fly seen at a public toilet inside a Chaoyang district supermarket. Xu Xiutang, the cleaning lady, chuckled as she was informed of the rules, and said no one had informed her. She had not been allotted any more fly swatters or sprays.
"That'll take a lot of work to narrow it down to two flies for many public toilets in the park or at some tourist sites. They are actually putting a number on this? Are they going to come down to the toilets and count?" said Xu.
In the New York Times, Didi Kirsten Tatlow writes that Beijing's micro-blogging sites lit up with more than half a million responses to the two-fly limit:
On Sina’s Weibo, or microblog, site, a person with the handle Wo bu shi luobo described this imaginary scene at a public toilet: “Management guy sees two flies flying in, hangs a very small sign on the door of the toilet: ‘Occupied.’” Alluding to the regulations’ stated goal of providing cleaner toilets as evidence of a “civilized” capital, Wang dao you xing wrote, wryly: “How do you judge how cultured a city is? Just count the flies in a public toilet.”
The new regulations also standardise cleaning procedures and attendant training, as well as limiting how many “discarded items” may be allowed to accumulate (two).
But Michael Bristow makes the point that it's not just tourists who may benefit from increased attention to sanitation: “Many people who live in the city's old neighbourhoods still do not have their own toilet – and have no choice but to use public conveniences. For them, these rules might make an unavoidable daily necessity a touch more palatable.”
Further reading: Check out Bristow's full report, and the video that comes with it.