Man on the Street: Public Washroom Attendant

By Matthew Bossons, June 21, 2018

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Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.

Public washrooms in China are by no means known for their ‘loiter-ability.’ Although we presume there are exceptions out there, they tend to smell bad (often a combo of human waste and burn-your-nostrils industrial cleaners) and the sight of a steaming pile of feces resting in an unflushed squatty-potty is not uncommon. 

For most, visiting a roadside public restroom is a trip that is only undertaken when ‘nature calls’ and there are no other options within the immediate area. For others, a day spent at a community toilet is just another day on the job.

Ms. Wang moved from Hunan to Guangzhou five years ago and has spent the past five months working as a sanitation worker at a dingy public washroom on Jianshe Wu Malu.

She arrives at work each morning at 8.30am and the situation inside the lavatories is grim. They’ve been unattended since 11pm the night before, when Wang finished the previous day’s 12-hour shift. (Wang enjoys a two-and-a-half-hour lunch and nap break).

In her absence, human waste and discarded sanitary pads have festered, unchallenged, all night long and the morning stench is horrendous.  

With mop and bucket in hand, she sets to work cleaning. First it’s the men’s toilets, which, she tells us, are always the dirtier of the two gender-segregated washrooms. After that she tackles the women’s side of the facility.

“As a public sector job, I get to enjoy public holidays. This allows time to visit my hometown in Hunan.”

If cleaning up the urine, crap, alcohol-scented vomit and blood of others bothers Wang, it certainly doesn’t show – nor does she complain about it. The soft-spoken Hunanren has only one complaint: the washroom’s water pressure is often subpar, something she attributes to the water consumption habits of the folks in the apartments above the public lavatory. 

She muses aloud that her job would likely be easier with higher water pressure. 

When asked if she works alone, Wang nods and tells us that her job is a solo one. Although she has regular visitors: men from a washroomless warehouse located nearby stop in often to use the facility, as well as boozers at a beer bottle shop across the road. There is also a rat, who emerges from the washroom’s piping in the evenings to scrounge for food. 

Wang tells us that the city sanitation department has provided her with poison to dispatch the rodent, but so far it has failed to work. 

“The poison is supposed to be nontoxic and not dangerous to humans, which is good,” says Wang. “The problem is it appears the poison is not dangerous to rats either.”    

Like the stench and grime, though, the rat doesn’t appear to bother or disgust Wang in the way one might assume. Maybe she has grown used to it, having previously worked on the sanitation team in an office building – a job she ranks lower than her current cleaning gig on Jianshe Wu Malu.

“As a public sector job, I get to enjoy public holidays,” says Wang. “This allows time to visit my hometown in Hunan.”


Monthly income: RMB4,000
Days per week: 6
Hours per day: 12

To read more Man on the Street click here.

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