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In Aspen it would be $3,500 a month

So you think you’ve been hit hard by the global recession, eh? Two years ago you lived in a 20,000-square-foot mansion, but the bank foreclosed on you, and now you’re sharing a trailer with a family of toothless rednecks? Well, boo-friggin’-hoo. Cry me a river, Alice. You have no idea how good you’ve got it.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for you, so, in an effort to cheer you up about the fact that your living situation has gone down the toilet, I’m going to point out to you how much worse things could be. It’ll be a little like one of my favorite childhood books: Dr. Seuss’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”

There was an article on the BBC News website this past Tuesday about 10 Chinese migrant workers who are living in a public bathroom in the city of Hangzhou, meaning that their living situations haven’t exactly gone down the toilet, but they are quite literally in the toilet.

Apparently the workers have been living in the lavatory for several months because they can’t afford to rent a room anywhere or pay normal living expenses in China’s suddenly resurgent economy. They’ve done their best to spruce up the place, though, decking it out with a bed, cooking facilities and a TV. It’s sort of like that old saying: “When life gives you urine, make urine-ade.”

So upbeat about their situation are the workers, in fact, that one woman, Wang Yuhua, who lives in the men’s bathroom said, “The bad thing is there are mice everywhere.” Really? The bad thing about living in a toilet is that there are mice everywhere? I imagine I could probably think of a few other things that I would categorize as bad, but then, I’m not a Chinese migrant worker.

Wang’s friend Ai, who lives in the women’s bathroom, expressed a similar sentiment to the Zhejiang Morning Express. “We have got used to the strong smell of urine. The worst thing is that people keep stealing my stoves and cooking pots.”

If Ai is wondering why her cooking pots keep getting stolen, it’s probably because people who come in to use the commodes have to make do with her pots. A picture that ran with the story showed Wang’s kitchen table, which was propped up on one end by a toilet, making it impossible to use said appliance for its intended purpose.

If that is the case, and people are indeed using Wang’s pots as makeshift bedpans, I would think she’d be happy to have them stolen lest they impart an odd flavor to the next meal cooked in them.

It’s weird to think of a similar scenario playing out somewhere in the U.S., isn’t it? First of all, the powers that be would have run the workers out of the bathrooms within hours of their arrival, and secondly, if Wang and Ai set up camp in a toilet in, say, Newark, having their pots and stoves stolen would be the least of their concerns.

In Hangzhou, however, the locals are reportedly sympathetic to the migrant workers’ plight and have gone out of their way to avoid using the facilities. Of course, there is the occasional person who isn’t aware of what’s going on inside the bathroom and wanders in unexpectedly.

“When I ran inside to use the toilet,” said a man identified, appropriately enough, as Mr. Du, “I was stunned to see several people sitting around, chatting or doing things.”

But here’s the most amazing thing about the story — and the reason why you should count your blessings, at least until a tornado wipes out your trailer park: According to one of the migrant workers, her friends are envious of her because she gets to live in a toilet rent-free. You think your life sucks? Imagine wishing you could live in a bathroom.

There is one silver lining to the situation Wang and Ai and their cohorts find themselves in, and for that I will refer back to “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” One of the examples Dr. Seuss cites as a person “muchly much-much more unlucky than you” is a kid who lives in a giant castle in Ga-Zair with his bedroom up here and his bathroom up there.

If you live in a latrine, whatever other problems you may have, making it to the toilet in time is something you’ll never have to worry about.

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Todd Hartley

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02 2010

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