Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Potty Blues

I hesitated but then I figured it is not all that bad to talk about the throne, err..., I mean the loo.

Each time I visit a public lavatory, I would secretly pray that I would be greeted with decent and working facilities. When I say 'decent', I mean the absence of visible trash or 'remains' and 'working' simply means a flush that flushes.

Is that too much to ask for? Perhaps.

The average condition of public lavatories in shopping malls and office buildings are acceptable. When you come to those at hawker centers and some eating outlets, you wish you have not just eaten.

If I were to ask aloud: "Who is responsible for the mess?", the usual opposing voices can be heard.

Toilet users have been blaming building owners for the lack of upkeep. On the other hand, building owners would complain about irresponsible use of public facilities. The parties would go on giving graphic descriptions on the unacceptable state of the facilities and user behaviors. For your sake, no details will be discussed as it can get quite puke-inducing. Just use your imagination.

Perhaps this problem faced by many has prompted the set up of the WTO in 2001.

No, I am not referring to the 'World Trade Organisation'. In case you are not aware, Singapore has its very own WTO or 'World Toilet Organisation'. It is a non-profit organization committed to improve toilet and sanitary conditions worldwide.

The WTO has organized several World Toilet Summits and World Toilet Expo and Forum in several cities around the world. I am convinced that the WTO is committed to spread the right message. The question is: why are our public lavatories still in a rather horrendous state?

The Singapore government is fully aware of the issue. The National Environment Agency (NEA) started the 'Singapore's OK' campaign in 2003 when the nation was deeply troubled by the SARS outbreak

Under this campaign, public toilets that meet minimum requirements set by the NEA will be able to display the 'Singapore's OK' label. Presumably, building owners would be proud to show such public display of commitment and support.

Ironically, it is not uncommon to find public lavatories with the 'Singapore's OK' label which are far from being OK.


When it comes to lavatories, Japan is a step ahead of the rest of the world. They obviously take the matter really seriously as can be seen in the general standards maintained in their lavatories. Cleanliness is assumed and features rarely seen outside Asia are to be expected.

The modern toilets in Japan come with a dazzling array of features such as:

- heated seats which are particularly comforting during winter;
- automatic lid equipped with proximity sensor which opens and closes based on the location of the user;
- music player to relax the user;
- ozone deodorant system that can quickly eliminate smells; and
- medical sensor to measure blood sugar, pulse, blood pressure and body fat.

I like this best: Some toilets are equipped with a sensor which attempt to guess the gender of the user. It will then decide if the lid is to be lifted or not. Well, pretty smart and intrusive too.

Looks like Singapore has quite a bit to learn from Japan. Much more can be done to ensure that our white plastic thrones are less off-putting.

In 2005, the WTO started the world's first World Toilet College (WTC) providing training in, among other things, toilet maintenance. So far, the WTC has conducted some relevant courses but judging from the state of our public lavatories, I think there are many potential students lurking out there.

I hope we can soon come to a state where toilet visits are so pleasant that we can all hum the tune of 'loo loo skip to the loo'.

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