A Dragon in the Toilet

The Chinese want to dominate the toilet industry of the future, just as they hope to dominate electric cars and the batteries that will power them, high speed trains, computers, dental floss and everything else that can be sold. The Central Committee reasons that if they can build the kinds of toilets needed to satisfy the demands of its 1.4 billion people, they will be able to control the market for the rest of the world. They wish to hold, so to speak, a royal flush.

The Peoples Republic of China is a vast and motley nation of approximately 3.7 million square miles, of which less than 3% is covered by water, although nearly 5% is covered by soy sauce, mostly in small ponds. In contrast, the United States has an area of about 3.8 million square miles, of which about 7% is water, although that does not include the many large swimming pools found in Los Angeles. Much like the US, China’s landmass is geographically diverse: they have mountains and deserts and plains, but a big difference is that over there, there is hardly a portable toilet in sight.

Because much of the area outside urban regions is comprised of undeveloped terrain (duh), it is quite a challenge to populate those parts of China with toilets. A high proportion of the land belonging to the 22 provinces is similar to lands in many underdeveloped countries in Africa and other parts of Asia, in that they lack adequate supplies of water and the infrastructure required for a modern large-scale toilet system.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, always awash with cash, recently inaugurated a program to Reinvent the Toilet, and seeded the effort with $3 million. The program is taking the form of a contest, involving universities ranging from Cal Tech and Harvard to the Cleveland Institute of Bowling, where many believe that the school motto — “We’re Up Your Alley” — gives them a psychological advantage. Many regions throughout the world lack the complex and costly water infrastructure and well-paid plumbers necessary to enable the ubiquitous flushing toilets that we are so familiar with in the western world. And stop for a moment to consider that this water and plumbing infrastructure requires large quantities of water to make it work. Many lesser developed countries cannot boast of such quantities of clean water, since the dictators keep all the water for themselves for their 50,000 gallon bathtubs.

The Chinese government is watching the Reinvent the Toilet competition closely to get ideas for their own toilet manufacturing industry. Ka Ka Jhon, of the Peoples Ministry of White Rosebud Potties, has visited Stanford, MIT, and Piscataway to observe the best and the brightest as they re-imagine the toilet. The Gates Foundation hopes to help develop a low cost toilet that does not need to be connected to a sewer line, or even a water line or electricity. Fling Dhung, of the Ministry of Well-Intentioned Propaganda, has other ideas, and says that China will not take this situation sitting down.

Recent Chinese micro-blogging activity suggests that the new sewer system, to be the world’s largest, is to be designed and built by the same companies responsible for the high speed train network throughout China. Top level thinkers from Beijing University have constructed the world’s biggest flow chart, to assist analysis and to compare their vast railway line system to that of the pipes and valves of a water infrastructure. Insiders say that the country’s best medical minds are taking part, testifying that blood flowing through the vessels of a body is much like sewage flowing through a hydraulic waste system, only more red than brown.

Obsession with having the world’s biggest seems to be a uniquely Chinese phenomenon: they have the world’s biggest high speed rail system with about 5200 miles of track; the world’s biggest dam; they had the world’s biggest airport terminal building (recently eclipsed by Dubai); and the world’s biggest set of chopsticks, which is actually a very cool tourist stop along the Silk Road, although it can’t compare to the world’s biggest ball of string, which is right here in the good ‘ol USA. And now they want to build the world’s biggest toilet system. This weird fixation on size is an egotistical thing, machismo with a  Chinese flavor. At a business where I used to work, we used to refer to what we called the “small man syndrome.” Someone with this affliction thinks that he has to make up in one area for what he was short-changed in another. We theorized that the guy who pulled up to our door with the enormous pick-up truck — the driver was usually diminutive in stature — probably had a pretty small part of a man that makes use of a toilet. It is ironic that the largest society in the world sounds like it feels, in the locker room way, outnumbered.

This toilet system will depend upon the world’s biggest sewage and piping system, which of course will need huge amounts of water. The Chinese plan to capture the part of the Sulzberger Ice Shelf that recently broke away from the Antarctic, and tow it back to the mainland, where it will be melted by the world’s biggest hairdryer. The world’s biggest shovel will be used to dig up the vast tracts of land required to install the piping systems, and the world’s biggest apartment buildings will be constructed on top of the turf after the dirt has been replaced.

These enormous residential buildings will be needed to house the zillions of displaced Chinese citizens who will lose their homes and farms, since they didn’t have enough clout to find other options.

Rumors abound regarding large-scale testing of prototypes of this enormous toilet system, and the results have not been encouraging. Some of the new Serene Chrysanthemum toilets were found to be made of, instead of high grade porcelain, recycled cardboard tubes like those found in most rolls of toilet paper. That did not seem, to this reporter, a very good idea, and indeed it was found that shortly after installation the toilets lost their structural integrity, and became like soggy corn flakes.

As mentioned earlier, the project, which has “borrowed” as its logo the Nike swoosh, is being built and managed by the same group of firms responsible for the nation’s high speed railway that has been in the news lately. Early tests demonstrated the system’s ability to move large amounts of raw sewage at very high velocity through miles of pipe. But there have been less than desirable consequences, featuring toilets that are violently propelled up off the floor, and crash into walls and ceilings. Safety inspectors called to the disaster scenes describe the discovery of terrified citizens cowering in demolished bathrooms, covered in you know what.

Official state media has censored full and truthful accounts, permitting only brief stories hinting that the tests are going “swimmingly,” although some citizens experienced “minor inconveniences” because they flushed twice, when they should have flushed only once.

It sounds like they had better get their sh*t together.


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