With all the talk about the coronavirus, I wanted to share my experiences visiting China. A few years ago I traveled to Beijing and Shanghai as a tourist. While the country is amazing and has some unbelievable attractions, it is also obvious that they are still a developing nation.
Common Local Food Options
The first difference that I noticed was the choice of food options. Although they have McDonald’s and KFC they also have some local dishes that many in America would not put on the menu. I saw whole fish with the fins and scales served on a plate, mammals I won’t mention, and snakes. The latter is at the center of coronavirus issue as it’s suggested that a bat was eaten by a snake who then was eaten by a person.
Open-Air Wet Markets
While eating odd foods isn’t a bad thing, Andrew Zimmern has made a career of it, how the food is prepped in China is an issue. While in Shanghai I visited what they call a “wet market.” Several websites are claiming the coronavirus, and previously SARS started in wet markets. Think of a farmer’s market but the butchering of the animals happens behind the counter and the raw meat is hung in the open air. Not only are they butchering pigs, ducks and chickens there are also stands with live frogs, eels, snakes and turtles. It’s not very sanitary and there are no regulations on how they discard the entrails. One moment a man could be butchering a snake, the next he could be handling a raw piece of pork before selling it to the consumer. The market was open-air even during the summer months. Raw meat sat out in 85-degree temperatures. The worst part was the unsanitary conditions. The animal waste, including feces, wasn’t discarded away from the food. I’m honestly surprised more people don’t get sick.
Human Waste Disposal
Another issue in China is how they deal with human waste. Many of the big cities are westernized when it comes to plumbing but even in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, it is not rare to come across squat toilets. The squat toilet is just what it sounds like. In nice areas, they can be made of porcelain, like the attached picture, but in many spots, they are made of metal or wood. They are essentially a hole in the floor that you squat over to do your business. Again, the sanitation of these toilets is not great, especially if the previous user was careless with their aim. Another issue with Chinese restrooms is that in most you are not allowed to flush the toilet paper. In many areas, the plumbing isn’t capable of handling the waste paper. So what do people do with the waste paper? They place it in a garbage can or open bin. And again, the sanitation varies on whether or not the previous user cared to hit the bin with their waste paper. Even in restaurants and bars in the cities, I saw overflowing bins of used waste paper. That was in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The situation was worse in more rural areas.
All of these poor practices can contribute to the spread of illness. The overall attitude though is not one of cleanliness and sanitation. Washing your hands after butchering an animal or going to the restroom is not seen as necessary in many parts of the country. For China to stem the tide of illness, and prevent future issues, they really need to change public attitudes around hygiene. The coronavirus can be spread via infected secretions, fecal matter or by a cough or sneeze. China’s hygiene standards increase the odds of all those possibilities.
Images provided by the author