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Couple add personal touch to public toilet

By He Qi in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-24 09:55
Cheng Changlan and Zou Fujian at the public toilet they look after in Shanghai's Huangpu district. HE QI/CHINA DAILY

Cleaners create cozy environment by adding a fish tank and music

Zou Fujian and his wife, Cheng Changlan, both 34, have been cleaning public toilets in Shanghai's Huangpu district for more than five years and were recently recognized as one of its 10 "most admirable" families for their efforts.

The couple, from Xinghua, Jiangsu province, look after a public toilet, under the city's landmark Nanpu Bridge, that has impressed locals and tourists from the nearby long-distance bus station because of the personal touches they have added to make it more convenient.

They maintain the public restroom much like their own living room, decorating it with green plants, an aquarium, a bookshelf complete with newspapers, magazines, travel guides and a first-aid box, a music player featuring pop and classical music, and a ventilation system to dispel unpleasant smells.

"This washroom is like another home for us, as we spend most of our time here," said Cheng, who moved to the city to work as a public washroom cleaner in 2010 when Shanghai hosted the World Expo.

Cheng said she and her husband work six days a week, meaning they spend over 300 days a year at the restroom.

"So we make the place clean and cozy to create a comfortable workspace, and people will also try to keep it clean when they see how tidy the place is," she said.

It all started with a fish tank the couple recycled in 2015. They cleaned and restored the tank, filled it with water and fish, and placed it at the entrance of the toilet.

"It made a clear difference to the feel of the place," Cheng said. "So we thought, 'Why don't we recycle more to make the place even better?'"

A fish tank, green plants and a first-aid box are some of the things that make the public restroom different. HE QI/CHINA DAILY

The couple started to collect and decorate, and later purchased an air purifier by themselves.

Their employer, Xinwang Environment Sanitation Service, then decided to add air purifiers to all the 18 public toilets it runs and allocated funds to support their decorative ideas, Zou said.

"Most of the users are from the nearby neighborhood, but we also serve many travelers as the bathroom is close to a long-distance bus station," he said. "Therefore, we bought travel guides to help them."

They also spend their days off touring the city so they can better answer travelers' inquiries.

As they have discovered more about the needs of people using the restroom, the couple have extended the range of services provided. Cheng said elderly users can be prone to dizziness, so a medicine cabinet was necessary, and they also help them test their blood pressure.

"We believe that our duty is not limited to guaranteeing the cleanliness of the washroom, but also providing convenient services that make everyone who comes here feel comfortable," Cheng said.

Restroom user Yuan Chenyuan, 26, said: "I was surprised by the beautiful and odorless washroom, and surprised by the cleaners' age. It could stand as a sign of improving public services in recent years."

Shanghai, the city that introduced the country's first modern public toilet in 1864, has been dedicated to improving its public toilet standards as part of its effort to become a world-class tourism destination. According to official statistics, the city had around 11,300 public bathrooms in November 2016.

Zou, who has been working as a public toilet cleaner in Shanghai since he moved to the city in 2004 after graduating from high school, said the couple are happy with their jobs because they love the work.

"Most of the toilet cleaners in the city come from rural regions, with low educational backgrounds," he said. "But that's not a reason for you to look down upon the job. Once you love your job, you will do it well."

They earn around 10,000 yuan ($1,455) a month between them and save most of it to support their 11-year-old son, who lives with them in Shanghai.

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