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Reflecting information risk journey

Waterfree – Relax, it’s time to get serious

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An ex-classmate in London used to refer to toilet as the Thinking Room. In fact, it is often a place where one gets the ultimate solitude to reflect, especially when using the Thinking Room at home. Interestingly, it seems that many public toilets (I mean gent’s only) in China are creatively designed to make users think while they are taking the leak at the standing area (the urinal). They are, in some ways, Thinking Places of a different order.

I was at the Sofitel Hotel in Zhengzhou (郑州) in mid-December for an international conference in which one pretty much works and sleeps in the same building for the period of the event. In its Thinking Place, above the men’s standing area is a framed picture. One depicting a bird’s eyes view of the hotel lobby and the other the offers available in one of the hotel restaurant. They reminded me of such facilities in the hotel every time I visited. It seems that the hotel management are concerned that besides the meeting room, bedroom, and the men’s room, guests might just miss the beautiful lobby and restaurant during their stay there in the hotel.

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At the Beijing international airport, the sign "Waterfree" appeared just above the urinals. For those who only understand English, they would probably wonder what’s the significance of this phrase. Does it mean that "water is free" in this toilet, or is it advising people that they can water around freely, without the worry of any economic consequences?  The Chinese writing nevertheless states what it means — "flushing is not necessary for this urinal". Somehow, the floor is always wet.

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After the Zhengzhou event, I brought my a family for a vacation in KunMing and LiJiang returning just this evening, and visited numerous Thinking Places along the way. In the rural areas, they are certainly not places that you want to think about. But in the more developed areas in the Old City and Town Center in LiJiang, the variety of designs gained attentions and thoughts.

In one of these Thinking Places, it hung a picture that depicts four drawings. The top left corner shows a forest, with the word 森 (pronouns as "sen"), which means forest in Chinese. The next drawing on the right shows the word 林 (pronouns as "lin"), which means trees. At the bottom left, it shows that all the trees had been chopped off and the forest gone, and hence the word, “木" (pronouns as "mu"), meaning, wood, which is what remained. The final drawing on the bottom right is a wooden cross on a piece of dry ground, reminding people at the standing area the ultimate effect of deforestation. So, why is there such a picture in the Thinking Place? Perhaps aiming accurately would help to get the water to the trees and maintain the forests and the woods.

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To help one to aim properly, another Thinking Place in the Old City of LiJiang has a simple solution. It printed the graphic of a spider at the spot where users should aim at. This seems to work pretty well to bring focus and prevent spilling on the floor. 

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In yet another public Thinking Place, which does not have a "waterfree" system, it has the flush fixed above the standing area. The flush is however fixed so high up that I wondered whether it was a design feature to perhaps allow the user to use his  forehead to press on it to have a continuous flush while releasing at the same time. Seems like another ingenious design.

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After visiting a number of different Thinking Places in the Old City and new Town Center, I finally saw a sign posted in the KFC’s — "Electronic Urinal Flushing Control; No Touch Required". In other words, just do your business, and think as you wish. Simply retreat when done.

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What kind of Thinking Place would you prefer — one that makes you think about what it wants you to think (like in the Old City of LiJiang), or one that allows you to think what you want to think about (like in an American heritage, the KFC)? Interestingly, the designs in each of these places seems to be a reflection of the system at work. Or maybe I just have been thinking too much after drinking so much tea in the last two weeks.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Written by mengchow

December 24, 2007 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Travel

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