Illustrations: Xia Qing/GTA Chinese friend traveling to India recently asked me if she needs to carry rolls of toilet paper since they are not readily available in shops.
I told her that toilet paper is not a problem; the bigger challenge would be to find public toilets within easy reach.
Similarly, foreign tourists to China are warned about facing language and toilet problems.
China and India, the two most populated countries in the world, despite their amazing development, face the same problem: an acute shortage of modern toilets.
It is funny that more people have mobile phones in these countries than access to ecological toilets.
According to a new UN report, half of the world's population doesn't have access to toilets.
Both India and China have embarked on a toilet revolution, especially in rural areas. Both countries are proud of many things, but toilets are not something they can be proud of.
The problem is similar but has different dimensions. International tourism websites make fun of squat toilets in China on one side and open defecation in India on the other.
I once worked for a company in downtown Beijing that has squat toilets even today. Chinese toilets are widely considered to be the pits. They are actually a row of pits separated by nothing but low walls - no cubicles, no doors, no privacy. Don't look down and don't make eye-contact are good rules for visiting travelers.
Early morning train journeys in India are not too much fun, as looking through the glass windows, you are bound to be greeted by rows of people doing their "business" in the open.
It is wrong to assume that these problems are because China and India are developing countries. Bangladesh has half the GDP of India, and only 4 percent of Bangladesh defecates in the open compared to 53 percent in India.
It has something to do with people's mentality and preference. In rural India, people feel it's better to defecate in the open than inside the house because they need to pray and keep the place pure. In rural China, I guess people find it convenient to use squat toilets.
India has embarked on a "No toilet, no bride" initiative. There are stories of Indian brides demanding a toilet in the house they are going to live in after getting married. An Indian court recently allowed a woman to seek a divorce because her home did not have a toilet, forcing her to seek relief outside.
I watched a new Bollywood movie titled Toilet: A love story on the same issue. The girl leaves her husband's home immediately after marriage and forces her husband to get a toilet constructed not only in her home but to start a campaign in the entire village.
Did you know we spend up to three years of our lifetime on toilets? Like it or not, we need to learn from Japan when it comes to toilets. They have built amazing high-tech, eco-friendly toilets that take care of water temperature, spray strength and even massage options.
Toilets are a serious business, and we need to focus more on building more modern toilets than shopping malls.
This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.