From ‘Visit marred by dirty loo in People’s Park’, 3 April 2011, Your Letters, Sunday Times
(Brenda Scofield): My frequent visits to Singapore are a pleasure knowing in so many ways, especially knowing that toilets here have excellent facilities. So imagine my surprise when , in People’s Park Complex last week, I was charged to use a toilet and charged again for toilet paper!
…The facilities were quite dreadful, dirty and smelly. Obviously, no one was taking care of the place. Later that evening, I was in Ion Orchard and was delighted to find facilities like those in a five-star hotel. What on earth happened at People’s Park Complex?
…My advice? Drink little if you are heading to People’s Park, then hotfoot it out of there to somewhere reflecting Singapore’s well deserved reputation for spotless facilities.
The complainant forgot to mention that Ion toilets are also free of charge. Herein lies the contradiction; you pay more for a dirty toilet than a serviceable, five-star one. Which could mean a few things, that the People’s Park sanitary management stinks as much as their loos, that patrons of Ion Orchard are more socially responsible than those at People’s Park, or Ion’s cleaners are highly motivated, better paid individuals with an overwhelming sense of duty and pride in their work. Or it could just be that Ion’s toilets are newer than People’s Park, which could have been in existence ever since the first disappearances of bullock carts from the streets of Chinatown, which makes such comparisons unfair since nasty, broken down toilets are a necessary side effect of People’s Park preserving its Old World charm. Perhaps what we’re really paying for, based on a common, oxymoronic observance that paid toilets are older and grimier than free ones, is the upkeep of facilities which tenants can’t afford to overhaul.
One also needs to question the effectiveness of charging for toilet use, whether the very act of having to pay an infinitesimal sum of 10 cents gives the user a sense of entitlement to use the facilities in any way they please, since they’re putting money in the pockets of people whose jobs are to clean up after them. As for advocates of exorbitant toilet fee charging, the only reason why that would keep toilets clean is because nobody would pay to use it, and users would only bring their filthy potty habits elsewhere. It’s the typical ‘maid mentality ‘at work when people no longer value personal responsibility over one’s surroundings and begin layering the seats with excessive toilet paper until it attains the right bounce of a plush cushion, blasting their sticky snot all over the sides of basins without washing them down, or choking urinals with used Band-aids and pubic twine such that the next person using it would be afraid of flushing it and thus leave his stink behind, assuming the flush works that is. Which brought me to the question of why, and when, we decided to make people fork out money just to answer the call of nature.
It probably started from a typhoid outbreak, a disease unheard of these days, and a complaint letter from a ‘Concerned citizen’ below (So much cleaner after outbreak of typhoid, 25 Feb 1971, ST).
And here below was the response from the Department of Public Cleansing (Untitled, 22 March 1971, ST). It would be interesting to know if ‘Concerned Citizen’ is still alive 40 years after giving his ‘five cents worth’, an example of a complaint having significant impact on the state of public toilets everywhere. The charge may have risen by only 5 cents within that time span in most places, but our sense of communal hygiene, in spite of our reputation as tech-savvy, highly educated people, is still as appalling as ever.