PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent comments about the dirty and smelly state of public toilets in Malaysia was something I could relate to.
He attributed the poor conditions at public toilets around the country to the lack of civic responsibility among Malaysians.
Dr Mahathir said the dirty and smelly toilets were a reflection of the public’s attitude, including a lack of civic consciousness.
He contrasted this against clean public toilets in some other countries, adding that users do not dirty them because they feel they have a responsibility for keeping them clean.
The state of public toilets in Malaysia can be hit or miss in terms of cleanliness.
If you are lucky, it is dry, stench-free and equipped with toilet paper and soap.
If you’re unlucky, it is wet, smells horrendous and lacks the amenities needed.
Worse still, there could be bits of waste left behind by the previous occupant who did not bother to flush properly.
I had the misfortune of coming across one such horrible toilet located in a public field during an assignment.
After covering the event, I needed to use the toilet. My options were portable restrooms or a public toilet located at one corner of the field.
I opted for the latter, since I didn’t like the idea of cramming myself into a confined space.
Unfortunately, the public toilet turned out to be a bad choice.
The toilet seat and flush cover were missing, the floor was wet as if someone had showered there, and my photographer had to stand outside the door as the latch was broken.
Travelling overseas can also serve as an eye-opening experience to citizens’ attitude towards public cleanliness and civic consciousness.
Some of the worst toilet experiences I had were in China.
In some of the more rural areas, the toilets do not have doors and the waste was channelled through a single, common pipe rather than individual sewerage channels.
Even in some urban areas where the toilets had doors, some Chinese citizens felt the locks were an option, not a necessity.
Thankfully, not all places are like that. I came across some of the cleanest public toilets while in Japan.
I was impressed that even toilets located at highway rest stops and petrol stations were clean and dry.
Several restrooms even had the fancy buttons that offered bidet and seat warmer functions.
There was no overpowering stench that would have made customers at the nearby convenience stores uncomfortable.
Civic consciousness can be defined as “awareness of one’s rights and duties” or “a form of social consciousness co-existing with the concept of citizen”.
Lack of civic consciousness is not only about cleanliness of public toilets, but extends to other situations such as how we dispose of rubbish, behave while taking public transport as well as our dining habits at restaurants.
If we can throw things in a bin at home, why do some motorists flick rubbish out of their cars or pedestrians fling waste by the roadside?
If we are physically fit and able, why not give up a seat on the train to someone who needs it, rather than choosing to be oblivious or placing bags on the seat next to us?
If we are able to observe the self-service concept when placing and picking up our fast food order, why not extend that to cleaning up after the meal?
It would help if we could all be kinder to our fellow human beings and make our environment a little more liveable.
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