Nov 21, 2005

Toilet Cultural Revolution

Why this guy so funny wan...


Today is World Toilet Day and I’m all flushed with an idea about how, finally, we can clean up those world-class stinkers known as our public loos.

If you ask me, we’ve just gotta host the World Cup. Or the Olympics. It’s the best way-lah. I mean, we’ve already talked ourselves blue about how Something Must Be Done about our tandas awam. What’s next?

Today, the Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew will officially launch a one-day nationwide simultaneous commode cleaning exercise, with all the presidents and officers in the country’s 145 local councils taking part.

Good luck to this massive gotong-royong. Really. Because we’ve seen too many kempens like this come and go. After all, the Ministry launched the Clean Toilet Campaign back in 1997 and Datuk Lau will be the third Deputy Minister to oversee it. And just last month, despite a magnificent RM99mil bill to renovate Parliament, the flushes and doors in its marvellous toilets still can’t work. Which brings me back to the World Cup.

We can complain all we want, but there’s nothing like a big international event to pre-embarrass ourselves into sprucing up our act – for we must maintain our “national face” in the eyes of the Great Mat Salleh.

It took Korea both the World Cup and the Olympics to establish a sparkling “toilet revolution”. China is notorious for its horrible dunnies but Beijing managed to smarten things up before it hosted the World Toilet Summit in 2004. Last June, Thailand launched a similar campaign because it’s going to host the World Toilet Expo and Forum in November 2006.

Yes, believe it or not, there are such global meetings, all promoted by the other WTO, the World Toilet Organization – based in Singapore. Those kiasu folks even have a World Toilet College for “sanitation technologies” and what-nots! Oh well, then again, they have to drink recycled flush-down water . . .

OK, maybe we’ll leave the Pan-Global Pang Sai Symposium and the Berak Breakthrough Technologies to them. However, what Korea, Beijing, Thailand – and Singapore – are telling us is: when doing our big business is corporatised and glamourised into Big Business (and Much Money), somehow there will be enough economic willpower and political firepower to clean up our privies too.

That’s why we gotta host the World Cup or the World Something.

AWAS! For there will be real Accountability at last. Imagine . . . when all City or Municipal Council chiefs are made personally responsible for toilets – at the risk of losing their jobs. A miracle would blossom: taxpayers’ money and workers would be pulled back from all the nonsense which the public doesn’t really want (fake waterfalls and plastic palm trees; hauling much-loved mee goreng and DVD stalls up black trucks) into one thing we all want – maintaining and enforcing john hygiene.

And wonder of wonders, all the years of bureaucratic helplessness, blaming those bl**** Malaysian toilet users will also be gone. How? Officials certainly won’t take the fall for public faults. So of course, they’re gonna make pretty damn sure that Ali, Ah Chong and Arumugam are made accountable for their sphincter and sprinkle actions.

What will it take? Maybe they’ll decide to start national service early: all students must clean their own school toilets. It’s a basic act of inculcating civic duty endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi himself.

As for the adults, a couple of spot checks, hefty fines for wanton and reckless male aim, plus some offenders doing clean-up duty on TV reality shows. Jamban Fear Factor! Akademi Tandasia! Simple saja kan saudara? Singapore boleh, why we cannot?

Oh, it’s no point having such laws because we can never enforce them, corruption will creep in etc, etc, I hear sceptics say. Maybe. But picture this scenario:

The Polis Tandas is at the door. After informing someone about a toilet offence, he declares, with pregnant meaning: “Sekarang macam mana . . . nak saman ke apa . . . ? RM100 . . . hoh . . . mahal tu . . .” (Now how? Summons or . . . ? RM100 . . . hoh . . . that’s expensive . . .)

Imagine the complete traffic offence verbal dance, the whole mating ritual, transferred from the car window to the john entrance . . . all the entreaties . . . “Tolong-lah Bang/Tuan/Tok” . . .

And of course, the classic response: Nak tolong macam mana?

Basically, I’m betting that the hassle (and expense) of having to “settle” the matter would still be a sufficient deterrent.

Ah . . . what a fantastic Toilet Cultural Revolution. Piss and tranquillity in harmony at last . . . But there’s one small problem with the whole scenario above. Unless that other miracle – Accountable Sports Officials – happens first, we won’t be hosting the World Cup anytime soon. Or the Olympics. Will we?

Of course, there is another method of getting city and municipal council officials to be more service-oriented and responsible (er . . . accountable) to us, the long-stink-suffering water closet-using public. It’s known as local council elections. Not going to happen soon either right?

Perhaps we are too content to remain as Mediocre Malaysians to ask for too much. We are asked not to try to flush the system, just the johns. But I don’t know, do backed-up jambans reflect a jammed-up system? Can clean commodes be a symbolic first step in sanitising society at large?

Ah well, Happy World Toilet Day. W

o Teh Tarik is an offbeat column that appears when something khau is brewing in the writer’s head. You can add suggestions, comments, milk and sugar to taste at

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