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Skip to the Loo


Loo Loo Skip to the Loo

by Kenneth Lyen

Warning: Beware of toilet humor below.

In 2001, Singapore was the proud host of the first World Toilet Summit. This squeaky clean city state fines people who do not flush public loos, and if anyone were so jejune as to void their bladder in a government housing board lift, their act would be captured on close-circuit television, and they will be fined.

But all is not fine in Singapore. Unwilling to sit on its derriere, this city has undergone a restroom renaissance. Creative ideas have been implemented to make toilets a truly enjoyable experience. One shopping center has painted murals inside the toilets of each floor, creating the world of ancient Egypt, the American wild west, a tropical rainforest, and ancient Rome, complete with gladiators. A more conducive environment should help (water) closet paruretics (persons who fear using public toilets).

Beijing is the host for the fourth World Toilet Summit on 19 November 2004, which coincidentally is World Toilet Day. A lot of water must have flowed under the bridge since Singapore. The world’s scatological community is congregating there to push for greater sanitation. This is in China’s interest as it will be hosting the Olympic Games in 2008, and obviously does not want to be chided for having less fragrant loos. To add a bit of imagination, Beijing has built, a beetle-shaped loo in a park. Sadly it is not a dung beetle.

Designs on toilets have not enjoyed any major breakthroughs since Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 urinal displayed in a New York art exhibition. The high tech revolution seems to have bypassed toilets. Minor advances are automatic flushing, dry flushing for airplane toilets, paper relining of toilet seats. The splash-free toilet is still a distant dream. Also a non-stink restroom.

The Singapore government has proclaimed that quality public toilets are the hallmark of a gracious society. And I would add, more business is successfully conducted there than in the boardroom. President Calvin Coolidge hit the nail on the right spot when he said, "The business of America is business."

Oh shit (pardon my French)! I nearly forgot. When Nigeria started to build its sewer system several decades ago, the British were consulted. The latter calculated the requirements based on standard British fecal load. What they did not realize is that because of the refined diet devoid of fiber, the calculations grossly underestimated the situation. In contrast, Nigerians ate a much healthier diet with a lot more fiber and passed a shitload more of, er, shit. As a result, the Nigerian sewer system built was woefully inadequate and was blocked within a few weeks.

The moral of the story is: don’t pooh-pooh the importance of diet and excrement.

At this stage, you may be itching to ask what is the etymology of the word "loo"? Nobody really knows. One of the favorite theories is that it is taken from the word Waterloo, which is displayed on the iron cisterns in many British outhouses during the early 20th century. The British politely refer to the toilet as a "water closet", hence "water loo", and later, just "loo".

And finally, how should we celebrate World Toilet Day? Maybe we can all spend more quality time sitting on our thrones, and in a contemplative mood, we might enjoy a flush of new ideas. Or am I talking crap?

18 November 2004