April 8 - Technology is bringing relief to smartphone users who need to answer the call of nature in Shanghai, a bustling city of 23 million. Despite being a tourist magnet, Shanghai is lacking in public toilet facilities, although a new app designed by a local company is now addressing the occasionally urgent problem. Elly Park reports.
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~**NONE* Eric Chen and his girlfriend are tourists in busy, bustling Shanghai. They've seen many of the sights, but haven't yet seen the one thing Eric needs - a public restroom. Fortunately for Eric, help is at hand. His cell phone is equipped with an app that directs needy visitors to the closest facility. This interactive toilet-finding app uses GPS technology to map out public restrooms. It displays their hours of operation and other crucial information such as whether or not they come with toilet paper. . That gives Eric a real sense of relief. (SOUNDBITE) ERIC CHEN, TOURIST, SAYING: "Just letting people know that there are public restrooms nearby you can find them quickly. At least there's an anticipation (for finding one), you know, and it's a sort of psychological relief for yourself." And that's understandable given China's less-than-stellar reputation for public toilet cleanliness and availability. Shanghai's toilets are often as basic as pits in the ground with many lacking flushing systems or doors for privacy. Many are cleaned only sporadically. China's Ministry of Health is aware of the problem and has issued new rules pertaining to public facilities. Among the protocols - no facility may host more than three flies per square meter. But for Yang Xingzhong of the Nanjing Aixiyou Internet Technology Firm, toilet availability is a bigger problem than flies so he developed the app as a modern approach to an age-old issue. (SOUNDBITE) YANG XINGZHONG, CEO OF NANJING AIXIYOU INTERNET TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "Modern smart phones have a location based service (finder). So we thought, we can link these together with restrooms and you can accumulate (their locations on an app) it's a very convenient method. So when you (need to use) the restroom, this is an application that will quickly find one." And it's not just tourists who'll benefit. China is home to more than a billion cellphone users…all of whom have the same occasional need for directions when nature calls.