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A keeper of cleanliness at Forbidden City

Updated: 2015-02-27 07:17
By Zhang Xuan (China Daily)

Gao Caiping, 49, cleans the "four-star" toilet at Beijing's Forbidden City. The toilet has three Western-style pedestals and 11 squat units that she says she needs to clean "without a break".

A "four-star" toilet is one that's at least 100 square meters and has separate units for men and women, and provides free toilet paper.

She has worked there since last summer. And it isn't an easy job because the Forbidden City receives a little less than 10,000 domestic and foreign tourists from 8:30 am to 3 pm daily. The pressure goes up on weekends and holidays, when more than that number visit the historical Chinese landmark.

There are 24 toilet cleaners there.

Gao, who studied until junior college, comes from a village in northern China's Hebei province.

Prior to taking her present job in June, she was in a similar role at a shopping mall in the touristy Wangfujing area. Her husband, who's a street cleaner, has lived in Beijing since 2003.

Gao leaves her home in suburban Beijing's Changping district for her workplace at 5:30 am daily, come rain or shine.

Her home is far from central Beijing, and owing to the rise in subway fares since December, she has opted to take a cheaper ride on a battery-operated rickshaw.

Upon her arrival at the Forbidden City, Gao changes into her uniform and waits for her reporting manager, along with co-workers.

They are then briefed on daily maintenance regulations: The commodes and squatting units must be cleaned one minute after a person has used it; each cleaner should spend at least 30 minutes on cleaning the stalls before the opening time of 8:30 am; and the cleaners need to make sure that there are toilet paper rolls for visitors and that liquid soap dispensers aren't empty and mirrors are polished.

In addition, each cleaner needs to fill out a maintenance form every two hours.

Here's a sample of her life at work:

At 9:30 am, a middle-aged woman is heard complaining to Gao that there's a crowd of female visitors ahead of her in the line so she will have to wait a long time for her turn. Finding a squatting unit empty, Gao immediately cleans it for the woman, while sweating profusely. Her clothes are usually soaked in sweat at the end of each day, unless it's in the middle of winter.

She is getting used to the fast-paced work.

"I lost almost 8 kg after one month (of joining there)," Gao tells China Daily.

Her husband has been telling her to find another job, but she isn't about to quit this one.

Gao, who completed a short-term training course in public-toilet cleaning some 10 months ago, says a key aspect of maintaining cleanliness at such sites is visitors' cooperation.

"Group travelers often jump line when using public toilets. Many visitors use toilet rolls indiscriminately and spit on the ground," she says.

Such habits make her work difficult.

After her eight-minute lunch break, Gao pastes a typed notice on every cubicle door: "For everyone's comfort, please keep the toilet clean."

Some visitors obviously ignore such notes.

"My responsibility is to provide a clean environment to visitors, but I hope that people can also improve their manners," she says.

After 3 pm, the number of tourists dwindles and Gao has a little time to relax.

At 4:30 pm, as Gao prepares to take off her uniform and change into regular clothing, a young woman comes into the toilet saying she is sick. After she has left, Gao picks up the mob and cleans up the woman's vomit.

 

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