26 December 2006

Unintelligent toilets

Public rest rooms in Singapore are equipped with all sorts of sensors and gadgets, yet in some other aspects, they are poorly designed. Full essay.


Philip said...

The problem of catering only to the majority doesn't restrict itself to the toilets. Another example of ridiculous planning is the SBS buses. Have you seen the seats how they are designed for 5 feet tall people? Someone like me who is 6ft (183cms) tall finds it incredibly uncomfortable to sit in the normal seats and end up standing most of the time.

Cos while designing the bus seats they only thought of the majority and conveniently ignored the minority.

atilla the Han said...


I absolutely look forward to your blogs each time because of your sensitive and very perceptive comments. This 'toilet' blog is a good example, and I completely agree with your remarks, having observed the very same thing myself.

During my NS days, there was this very thought-provoking lament (words to the effect) which one of my colleages often quoted: 'We, the unwilling and uninitiated, are led by the unable, to do the... ( I rest have faded from my memory). Basically, it's a common complaint by NSmen about their perception of the calibre of military leadership then.

I share your opinion about the rigidity of the mindset and the unwillingness to use initiative to give an opinion and provide feedback etc.

To me this is a reflection of several things:

. a reluctance on the part of the leadership in Singapore at all levels to empower their subordinates for the reason that they don't trust the latter's competence/ability or even their loyalty, perhaps from 'bad' experiences and acute awareness of the sort of average citizens that our educational system produces.

. a political leadership that is an exemplary example of a control freak personified. The sort of leadership that says over again and again to its citizens through its overt public policies and actions: 'Head's I win, tail's you lose.'

. this lack of trust in turn begats a complementary lack of initiatives from workers, returning the 'favour' perhaps a 100 folds over - 'Why bother when it is not appreciated or when you only get pain in return for your trouble, esp. when things don't turn up well?'

. the general sop of Singaporeans not to 'tell' govt depts what to do for fear of costs to themselves or afraid that it may incur not the appreciation but the wrath of the officials concerned for daring to 'gainsay' or expose/show their mistakes/incompetence. The common Hokkien expression of, 'mai(1) kay (2) kiang(3)- equivalent to the English expression, 'Not to be a smart alec'.)

On a problem-solving note: My church have inches high portable stands made from angle iron and wire meshing to provided the essential 'uplift' for youngsters using the toilets. Perhaps, places like shopping centres can do the same using stainless steel for a bit more 'class'. It would be far cheaper than the cost of removing existing urinal and basins and refitting them.

Anonymous said...

One of my pet peeves is automatic sensor taps. It's fine if you want to prevent wastage or misuse, but some of these taps run for just 2 seconds upon activated, and you have to wait like another 2 seconds to activate them. Imagine if you want to gurgle your mouth, you have to run it like 3-5 times before your mouth is filled. Haha.

Anonymous said...

I was recently working for a local company, which determined that they had a problem with marketing not collaborating with production.

Guess what, instead of determining why people of the two departments do not talk with one another, they decided to invest in expense software technology to, put it in the managers' word, "improve" collaboration. Now if people did not want to talk to one another, how can technology help?

I may be stereotyping, but the example I raised earlier, seemed to suggests that in Singapore there is a bind believe in technology. Worst, still a tendency not being able to distinguish hype from reality.

I tried to understand where the source of this believe originated. My hypothesis is that the attitude possibly stemmed from the education system, particularly in Engineering.

At the University level, I was astonised that the emphasis was to "teach" Engineering students to worked to set formula. I would have expected that was the case at pre-University level. At this level, I would have expected to students to learn to formulate assumptions about the solution they are bringing to a problem. And if necessary, to questions their assumptions. For example, when I was studying abroad, I note that in my engineering exam, I was often marked down if I had not stated clearly my assumption. That seemed to not to be the case, I noted, when I was assigned as teaching assistant with a local University.

Later when I was assigned to a Reseach Institute, that was no different. Again this could be a stereotype, but my straw poll of differences between local and western researchers showed a gulf in, to be put it unkindly, the thinking faculty.

Even compared to the expatriate (not locally trained) Indians and Chinese, this was somewhat lacking with the local ones. However, the Indian and Chinese researchers are not as assertive as their western counterparts. But when I engaged in private debate the Chinese and India researchers are prepared to exercise their critical thoughts.

On a broader level, I notice that our armed forces are also quite obessed with technology. Whilst I am not saying that all technologies deployed are useless, but I wonder if the mindless obsessive mentality as articulated by your article has pervaded into something as serious as the armed forces?

Anonymous said...

Alex, oh no a toilet article! I think Singaporeans have a mysterious "tolet fetishism".

We have toilet conventions, toilets featured in the primetime news, toilets on the Newspaper fron tpage, toilet contests, and now we have a serious BLOG ARTICLE about toilets, I can't believe it...

I tend to give a .. on toilets and find Singapore ones very good, compared to our neighbouring countries - ours are clean and got toilet papers, theirs dont.

But yes, I tend to agree on your point of a larger issue of throwing money and technical overkill..

Looking forward to seing you as a toilet reporter making some snapshots!

Anonymous said...

Just a note on one of yr footnotes. In view of your article, the name Handicapped toilets may not be wrong after all. The problem is that they are on the wrong doors. They should be on all the toilets u mentioned as those do suffer some disabilities.

Anonymous said...

"The flush, of course, sends up a contaminated mist that you're absolutely sure coats your entire bottom, and even rises high enough for you to breathe in."

You killed me with this line.

Anonymous said...

A very good article, YB.

I can't resist adding my pet peeve - the push tap. I'm sure you have come across these push taps, the moment you stop pushing, the water stops flowing. That's not the way it's supposed to work, of course, but it seems to me that every such tap eventually defaults to this standard. I'm sure a mechanically-minded person could explain why, but the why's not important.

What's important is that we human beings don't have a third hand, so it's really impossible to wash hands with one hand pushing the tap. So we take 10 minutes instead of 10 seconds at the wash basin. Instead of saving water, we actually use more. Much, much more. And we Singaporeans are deprived of many, many minutes compared with human beings in the rest of the world, when we spend 10 minutes at the wash basin, 5 or 6 times a day.

Robert L