The Legendary Toilets of Singapore and the Flushing Law


Over the years the city of Singapore has been
described by many as one of the cleanest on Earth with roads and toilets being “clean
enough to eat off”, which is perhaps to be expected from a city where it’s illegal to
fail to flush a public toilet… So how did this city come to have such immaculate
toilets? This can all be traced back to the work of
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first, and arguably most popular, prime minister. Lee rose to power in 1959 and continued to
serve as Singapore’s leader for 31 years until he decided to step down in 1990. When Singapore became an independent nation
in 1965, Lee is noted as being instrumental to the small city-state being able to so quickly
transform itself from being a “poor port from the bottom rungs of the third world” to being
one of the most profitable and prosperous economies on the planet. Lee accomplished this through a series of
reforms aimed at making the country an overall nicer place to live including:
• Enacting legislation to make prosecuting corrupt officials easier as well as “relentlessly
pursuing” corruption wherever he encountered it. • Paying civil servants decent wages to
ensure the jobs would be tempting to Singapore’s best and brightest and giving them bonuses
based on how well Singapore’s economy does on a yearly basis. • Inviting foreign corporations to set up
shop in his country to create reliable employment for his citizens and foster international
relations. • Establishing the Housing and Development
Board to help house residents without homes in newly built apartments. Further, unlike most nation’s public housing,
Singapore’s is quite nice, places people actually want to live. • Drafting legislation to plant trees and
clean up the city’s waterways and rivers which were notably filthy. Lee was so serious about making Singapore
cleaner, he famously promised that if his dream wasn’t a reality by 1986 and he was
still in charge, that he’d personally hunt down whomever was responsible for the failure
and shoot them. • Creating the Water Planning Unit, which
was tasked with helping the country become less dependent on water from Malaysia, which
was threatening to cut off their water supply after Singapore gained independence. This initiative, like so many others he enacted,
was a resounding success, with Time magazine later calling Singapore “the global paragon
of water conservation.” In fact, their system is so efficient that
they even can, and do, process non-potable waste-water into high-purity drinking water. • Finally, he imposed stiff taxes on car
ownership and enacted the Clean Air Act as well as creating the Anti-Pollution Unit,
to help keep Singapore’s air pollution levels at an acceptable, healthy level. By far Lee’s most infamous policies though
were his incredibly strict rules in regards to public cleanliness, most if not all of
which, carry hefty fines if you’re caught breaking them. For example, not flushing a public toilet
is considered a crime in Singapore and if you’re caught flouting it, you will be given
an on the spot fine of about 150 dollars, more if you’re a repeat offender. Likewise, littering carries an equally heavy
fine of about 300 dollars or more, depending on the size of the item. Smaller items like candy wrappers usually
incur a lesser fine, whilst things like soda cans can net you a trip to court and even
a caning if you’re caught. Lee’s biggest bugbear, however, was chewing
gum; he hated it with such a passion that since the 1990s, gum has been outright banned
in the country. This was later (partially) repealed in 2004
and gum is now okay to be brought into the country in small quantities and dentists are
allowed to prescribe it for certain medical conditions. While this may seem a tad extreme, Lee’s
annoyance with gum chewing wasn’t without precedent. You see, prior to the ban in 1992, the government
was spending upwards of 150,000 dollars a year to clean it up and vandals were using
it to disrupt the sensors on the country’s newly built subway trains, stopping their
doors from shutting and in the process causing huge delays. After the ban, cases of such gum littering
plummeted and the associated costs of cleaning it up dropped to negligible levels. If you’re wondering how exactly Singapore
enforces these dozens of laws, it’s mostly accomplished using hundreds of undercover
police officers who have the power to issue on the spot fines to anyone seen flouting
them. Officers are known to check toilets after
they’ve been used and even install security cameras if they receive multiple complaints
on a particular toilet, to catch offenders in the act. Perhaps our favourite Singapore cleanliness
fact is that many of Singapore’s elevators have “Urine Detection Devices” which will
lock the doors of an elevator and summon the police to your location to arrest you if it
detects that you’re relieving yourself in one. All of this may seem excessive, but the results
speak for themselves; today, Singapore is largely considered one of the world’s leading
economies and the city itself is one of the most industrious, safe, clean, nicest to live
and richest on Earth. In fact, despite some oft’ lamented certain
human rights issues, such as restriction on freedom of speech, lack of right to privacy,
and the like, Singapore frequently tops lists of the “world’s most livable cities”, and
is also generally considered the world’s best city for businesses. Not bad for a place that was up until about
50 years ago or so described as a “swampy land mass”. Bonus Facts:
• There’s a charity in Singapore called the Restroom Association Singapore (RAS). Set up in 1998 by a man called Jack Sim, who
later went on to found the World Toilet Organization (WTO), RAS has backed numerous campaigns to
educated the public about the benefits of toilet cleanliness and even offers awards
to exceptionally clean restrooms in the public and private sectors. Their stated mission is to, among other things,
“investigate and find out the root cause of dirty toilets. We must identify the needs of various users
including tourists and foreign workers so as to promote better designed toilets that
cater to these needs. We must constantly source for the best practices
in cleanliness, design and maintenance of public toilets and review our local standards. Together with the government and other strategic
partners, we must continue to raise awareness among the community on public health issues
and educate the users on good toilet etiquette.” Sim was reportedly inspired to start the RAS
when he heard Lee’s successor, Goh Chok Tong say “we should measure our graciousness
according to the cleanliness of our public toilets”. Today, Singapore’s toilet facilities are the
envy of the modern world and Sim has used his clout in the world of toilets to help
bring safe, clean toilet facilities to millions in the third world through the WTO. Sims has since earned the rather awesome honor
of being called “a Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. Not bad for a guy who just wants everyone
to have a clean toilet to pee and poop in. • Ever wonder why toilets are sometimes
called “the crapper”? Probably not as you likely assume you already
know the answer. But stick with us, this is actually kind of
interesting. It all started with U.S. soldiers stationed
in England during WWI. The toilets in England at the time were predominately
made by the company “Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd”, with the company’s name appearing on the toilets. The founder of the company, Thomas Crapper
(born around 1836 and died 1910), was a famous plumber. At least, as famous as plumbers can be- he
was the official plumber of a few of the royal family of the day and owned one of the larger
plumbing companies in England at the time. Among his accomplishments, he holds eight
patents in the plumbing field, including inventing such things as the “ballcock”, which is the
float-triggered flushing mechanism in your toilet. In any event, the soldiers took to calling
toilets “The Crapper” because of Thomas Crapper & Co., and brought that slang term back with
them to the United States. • You might at this point be wondering if
the word “crap” derives from “Crapper”. It turns out, no. While the ultimate origins of the word “crap”
are not entirely known, it is known that it was commonly used in England to refer to rubbish
or chaff, but fell out of use in the 16th century, long before Thomas Crapper and his
company came along. The term “crap” was still used somewhat in
America though, coming over pre-16th century from England, and it is thought that one of
the reasons American soldiers seemed to universally take to calling the toilet “The Crapper” is
that they found it funny with “crap” meaning something to the effect of “refuse” and that
most of the cisterns and toilets in England were stamped with “T. Crapper & Co Ltd”. It was ironical to them, though the joke was
lost on the English who had long stopped using the term “crap” at that point. Moving on to why the toilet is sometimes called
the “John”, the term is thought to derive from Sir John Harrington or, at the least,
to have been popularized due to Harrington. (There are a few references of the toilet
being called “Cousin John”, as well as many references to it being called “Jake” and other
such generic names before Harrington was born; but it is generally agreed that why we now
call it “John” is because of Harrington and not from the old “Cousin John”). In any event, Sir John Harrington lived in
the late 16th and early 17th centuries and was one of the 102 god-children of Queen Elizabeth
I- in his case, known as the “Saucy Godson” for his proclivity to write somewhat risqué
poetry and other things, which often got him banished only to be allowed to return again
sometime later. Along with writing several notable works,
Harrington also devised Britain’s first flushing toilet, which he called the “Ajax”. This derived from the term “Jakes”, which,
as noted, was a slang term for what we now call a toilet. Shortly thereafter, Harrington wrote one of
his more famous and popular works titled “A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis
of Ajax”. This, on the surface, was about his new invention,
but more to the point was a political allegory on the “stercus” (excrement) that was poisoning
the state. The book itself got him banished from the
court for a time due to its allusions to the Earl of Leicester. However, the actual flushing toilet device
itself was real and was installed in his home and later one was made for the queen around
1596. The device worked by pulling a cord that would
allow water to rush in from the “water closet”, which would flush away the waste. Although Harrington wasn’t by any means the
first to invent a flushing toilet (there are references to flushing toilets going all the
way back to around 2600 BC), his invention was an innovation in Britain at the time and
it was commonly thought that he was the inventor of the flushing toilet because of it, which
is why it is thought the flushing toilet today is often also called a “John”. • The term “toilet” itself comes from the
French “toilette”, which meant “dressing room”. This “toilette” in turn derived from the French
“toile”, meaning “cloth”; specifically, referring to the cloth draped over someone’s shoulders
while their hair was being groomed. During the 17th century, the toilet was simply
the process of getting dressed, fixing your hair, and applying make-up and the like, more
or less grooming one’s self. This gradually began to refer to the items
around where someone was groomed, such as the table, powder bottles, and other items. Around the 1800s in America, this term began
being used to refer to both the room itself where people got dressed and ready for the
day, as well as the device now most commonly known as the toilet. Author: Karl Smallwood.

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