No shit


Walking back from our last pre-childbirth breakfast at Ronin, we passed this sign in the alleyway. It’s an interesting mixture of the formal (urinate) and the profane (shit) as well as a mixture of English, Chinese and low-quality clip art images of dogs. It’s also quite polite; I’m always glad when a sign says "please".

Who, exactly, is the supposed audience for this communication?

They may be bilingual (hence both Chinese and English on the sign). I’m not good enough at distinguishing Traditional from Simplified Chinese, so I can’t say if that’s aimed more at Hong Kongers and Taiwanese visiting Singapore (I didn’t think either of these groups had a reputation for shitting and urinating everywhere) or locals, members of the People’s Republic of China or anyone else reading Simplified Chinese.

Come to think of it, I’ve not seen many people indiscriminately urinating or shitting in Singapore. Apart from the one time I came back from an early morning run and there was an old man in Chinatown, insouciantly peeing into an open drain next to the lift lobby of my building. (You’d be a fool to pee inside the lifts themselves, because of the rumoured urine detector that will lock you in and call the police.) Now, that could be taken as an indication that this sign is working, or that it’s unnecessary on Hong Kong Street (I’ve never seen anyone exporting bodily wastes there) but they should stick a sign up in Chinatown just in case. Or I should get a laminated copy of it and present it to the next person I see doing this when I come back from a run.

But the sign was on the wall of a newly constructed building. Maybe the landlord is worried people might treat his new property as an enormous open air toilet. Which is fair; I wouldn’t want people traipsing in and crapping all over my new stuff.

"Please be civilization" is a bit more plaintive, as well as suggesting the author of the sign may not have paid attention to any of the "Speak English Good" campaigns here. Which makes me feel some sympathy for the hypothetical author of this, beleaguered by having to clear up the constant messes of others.

Then again, the $200 fine seems a bit suspicious. Nothing on the sign indicates any authority for collecting this money. Is the sign the work of a vigilante defecation-prevention operative? What will they do with the $200? What’s the business model here? Surely even with rising labour costs it wouldn’t take that much to clean up. And would the kind of person who takes a dump wherever they feel like it be much perturbed by a fine like that?

Or would they just take their business down the street a little and do it in Hong Lim Park?

(Probably not. I imagine it’s unwise to take an al fresco dump in clear view of a police station. Not that I’ve been in that situation in Singapore, of course.)

Mind you, only a few blocks south of the sign there is a nice, clean public toilet, off the concourse of the underground station. Disconcertingly it’s been cleaned by being hosed down, which sort of implies a certain scatalogical inaccuracy among users, if it’s necessary to hose the floors and walls rather than just clean the receptacles themselves. (The toilets at Telok Ayer station have free toilet paper, unlike the toilets in the Chinatown hawker complex, where you pay 10 cents – I have not the time nor the understanding to discuss the implications of these varying economics.)

Finally, the dogs. Are we deliberately targeting a segment of people who read either English or Chinese, are given to taking a dump anywhere they damn feel like it, but are a bit worried about not being civilized, and don’t like dogs? That seems highly specific to me, coming from a marketing background, and I’m considering adding a note to the bottom of the sign suggesting the author of it consider a wider media campaign (maybe some ads on YouTube and Facebook to hit the valuable Millennial demographic, perhaps cobranding a game show on local TV for Saturday nights, or a free giveaway in Clarke Quay every morning). Maybe a more upbeat message, instead of just concentrating on the cost side of things – let’s think about long term value, everybody! Basically what I’m trying to say is, if you’re concerned about preventing shit and urine in your neighbourhood, and you have a decent marketing budget, give me a call – I’m here to help.

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