The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hygiene and public toilets in Singapore.

The other day, I was returning home, with my family, from an outing. My two eldest sons just happened to want to go to the toilet. Luckily (or perhaps not so luckily) there was one nearby.

I noted the "20 cents" entry fee sign at the entrance to the toilets. Seated there was a quiet man, who was almost not there, so little presence did he have. The coins beside him, on the desk, had more presence.

"Ainan," I began to my eldest son, "Because they are charging 20 cents entry, the toilets will be very dirty.", I predicted.

He didn't understand why I predicted so, but listened, without comment.

I dropped the coins in front of the man, who picked them up, in silence. It seemed that he only saw the coins, and not us.

Ainan and Fintan went into the toilets...and I peeked around the corner to see how they were. Sure enough, the entire toilet area was wet, smelly and dirty...just as predicted.

I made sure they washed their hands when they left.

Now, my question is: why, in Singapore, are the toilets invariably clean and in good condition, when they are free (like in Shopping Centres), but invariably dirty and smelly, when they are not free?

It is bizarre. Whenever I have been asked to pay for admission to a toilet, in Singapore, the toilets are always dirty and uncared for. It is most odd, that the more it costs, the less you get.

I would welcome an explanation from anyone who knows why this is so. It doesn't seem to make any sense. However, it does indicate that whatever money is generated by charging for the toilets is not actually used for maintaining them. Clearly, the owners see them as profit centres of some kind...rather than see their public responsibility to make them civilized places to use.

Is this a problem in other countries? Are free toilets great and paid toilets awful, where you come from? Comments please.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:23 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess your genius do not include maths :-p

Just kidding.

It takes a lot of 20 cents to cover the pay of a cleaner. Usually it does not. so small joints like coffee shops actually lose money to have one.

"Free" toilets at shopping malls are cleaner because the malls' budget can easily cover whole teams of cleaners.

Public responsibility .. if u can afford it.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The paid toilets that I have observed have been in high traffic areas. Many people use them. This particular one was at a bus terminal. Another I can think of was at a cheapskate shopping centre, in town. Both locations are very busy.

Let us look at the situation, in terms of likely numbers. At the bus station, I think that one person per minute entering the toilets is achievable...but I rather think that that level is not necessary to pay for a cleaner.

One person per minute, equates to 20 cents times 60, or 12 dollars an hour. That is 216 dollars a day, for an eighteen hour bus driving day. That gives rise to 6,480 dollars for a thirty day month.

Now cleaners in Singapore are very lowly paid. I have seen newspaper accounts of cleaners receiving 400 dollars a month, for a full time job. That works out at 2.50 dollars per hour. Let us be generous in our assessment of the situation. Let us assume that our cleaner costs 5 dollars per hour.

How much cleaning time per day does the toilet need? Let us say two sessions of half an hour each. This means one hour of cleaning or 5 dollars per day, per toilet.

It is easy to see that only 25 customers per day are necessary to pay for such a cleaner - or one customer every 43 minutes.

The monthly cost for a cleaner would only be about 150 dollars per month, per toilet. We could pay for 43 such cleaners, if the traffic were one customer every minute.

It is obvious from these figures that toilets in high traffic areas should be able to pay for cleaners if they charge. The fact that toilets that charge, in Singapore, are generally the filthiest toilets in Singapore, indicates that something else is being done with the money, other than funding the maintenance of the toilets. Either the money is not being spent on the toilets - or it is being stolen by the attendants who generally sit outside collecting the money (who incidentally eat into the money by being paid...)

So, the mystery remains: with so much potential revenue in busy areas, why are the toilets in an offensively unpleasant state?

10:17 PM  
Anonymous David said...

This is a tough one. It sounds like a good question for Freakonomics author Steven Levitt:

He enjoys dealing with the counterintuitive.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am not so sure it is so "tough". In Singapore, if money can be made, it will matter what it is at the expense of. It is, if you like, a local philosophy or world view: exploit whenever you can.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous David said...

If it is so cheap to keep a paid toilet clean, there must be some barrier to competition. Otherwise, a competing firm could open a line of "clean" toilets at essentially the same price.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My experience with the public restrooms in the US is they're very clean in high traffic areas such as shopping malls, airports, rest stops and not so clean in low traffic areas such as public parks. But you rarely find them filthy. Public restrooms inside a business are often clean. Paid restrooms are unheard of and I've never seen one in my life. One bad experience using a paid public restroom at a busy train station in Gothenburg, Sweden got me scared for life. I was shocked after paying the equivalent of 50 cents to see that it was smelly and dirty. Perhaps it's a common paradox that paid restrooms are usually not as clean as one would expect. And Singapore proves no exception. Since that time, I've never entered a paid public restroom again anywhere.

This is the case where the monetary incentive doesn't deliver the good (cleanliness). I've been wondering about that problem just like with blood donation. You thought by turning blood into a commodity (paying generously to donors), you'll never run out of blood supply. But the best system in the world is all voluntary whether it's in a developed countries (where people don't need money and usually have more community-oriented spirits) or in developing countries (where many poor people would love to sell blood for extra cash). Sometimes when money is involved, it may create all kinds of unintended consequences, including adverse selection problem. Just wondering!

11:21 AM  

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