One of the first things I learned when I got to Singapore was about how the country prides itself on being the cleanest city in the world.
After living here for two years, I must set the record straight.
No, it's not.
It may not have trash littering its sidewalks (at least where the tourists can see), but it'd be a big stretch to call it the cleanest ever.
I've lived in an area of this country that's not frequented by tourists and spent the last two years working elbow to elbow with its local citizens. And you know what? I actually feel less clean when I'm here as opposed to being in the States.
Now I'm not saying that there's a huge pile of garbage hiding behind the jungles or that there's a secret trash stash under Orchard Road.
My issue with the place is the germs.
Growing up in America, I was never the germophobic type, but I had a respect for keeping things clean and sanitary. Our parents and teachers instill it in us from an early age. Wash your hands! Use a Kleenex! Cover your mouth! Don't drink after other people! Clean that with Clorox! We've heard every piece of advice on keeping germs at bay. We've even read countless articles about just how many germs there are in EVERYTHING. There's a fun one here, in case you're curious.
At times I'll admit, we go overboard. For the most part though, we're just trying to stay healthy.
So it was beyond shocking to me that some of the local customs in Singapore are downright germy to the nth degree.
To give examples and illustrations, I've made a list of four specific instances.
1) Public hand towels
This picture was taken in my office building's bathroom. The towel on top of the broken hand dryer is the community hand towel. It rests less than four feet from the nearest toilet. (Which if you've ever read the research, a toilet sprays a teeny, tiny blast of water droplets up to eight feet all around it when flushed.) Despite that, how about the fact that 10 to 20 people are washing their hands and using the same towels for sometimes two weeks at a time? I've even seen some of these people not even bother to use soap.
That's just gross.
Oh and on a side note, the rag on top of the broken soap container is the one our cleaning lady uses to clean the whole bathroom. I'll talk more about that whole issue in a minute.
2) Everybody puttin' their mitts on the raw chicken
This is how a lot of people get their chicken at my local Cold Storage. They take the tongs (hopefully) and select the pieces they want and place them in a plastic bag.
There are two things that I see wrong with this and I'm sure my sister, who's an RN, could name about 50 more. For one, do they sanitize the tongs after each use? I'm going to guess no. Each person that picks those tongs up is also picking up all kinds of harmful germs, like salmonella, and then transferring it to the grocery cart and then to their children in the cart and then to everyone else in the store. What if you forget to wash your hands when you stop by the food court on the way out? You'll be sick as a dog, my friend, and so will everyone else that touches everything else you touched with your salmonella flavored fingers.
And two, speaking of children, what if your toddler wanders over there? They could play in a sea of raw bacteria for quite some time before you finish picking out your ribeye at the butcher station. All it takes is ten seconds of distraction and your kid is covered in chicken carcass juice.
This is just an all around a bad idea.
3) Open utensil grabbing at hawkers
When you visit a hawker stall, these are the trays where you grab your eating utensils. Notice that the Asian utensils are facing all different ways and directions. This requires someone to fondle several pieces in order to get their own set free from the pile. The result is that the person who got their stuff before you has just transferred whatever goobers that were on their hands onto the chopsticks that you're gonna put in your mouth.
And that person may or may not have just picked their nose on the bus.
Sound yummy? Didn't think so.
On that same topic, I also get grossed out when dining as a group at these kind of establishments. It seems that when we order large dishes to share, they almost never come with a serving spoon.
Then people have to do this:
They have to take the chopsticks that they've already put their saliva all over into the community trough. (For the record, the woman in the picture hadn't used her chopsticks yet and they are still clean. She's considerate like that.) I have been in several other situations where people I don't know have plowed their used utensils into shared items.
Nothing makes me lose my appetite faster. I don't know you and I don't know where you've been. Please keep your spit to yourself.
Ok. I've saved the final bombshell until the very end. I did so because it may cause you to dry heave or never visit a public bathroom in Singapore ever again. I apologize ahead of time for feeding you an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Here it goes...
4) Abysmal, horrific cleaning practices of public bathrooms
My dear, sweet friend Sheryl shared this gem of a story with me a couple of days ago and it has haunted my dreams ever since.
She was at Paragon Shopping Centre a couple days ago, which just so happens to be where many of our expat doctors have offices, and she stopped into the bathroom.
While she was in there, she observed one of the cleaning staff cleaning the bathroom. (Not that she was monitoring them, she just happened to see this while waiting.)
First, the staff member used the toilet brush to clean inside of the toilet bowl and without hesitation, moved the brush up and around the seat. Yep. She used the brush, the one full of dirty toilet water, to scrub the part that people sit on.
But here's the kicker! Then, she took a rag, dipped it into the toilet water, wiped down the seat again, rang out the rag and moved on to the sinks.
SHE CLEANED THE FRIGGIN' SINKS WITH THE TOILET WATER RAG.
It's bad enough that she cleaned the seat with toilet water, but then she cleaned the sinks?! I just can't even wrap my head around it.
My stomach can't even get past it.
Thank the Lord above that my rear hasn't touched a toilet other than my own since I got here. I also thank the Big Guy for strong thighs. And hand sanitizer. Lots and lots of hand sanitizer.
Really though, this post isn't to bash Singapore. There are many many people here that are clean and sanitary in their daily practices. What I'm merely trying to find out is why we clash so much on the germ issue as a whole.
Like my husband also pointed out: In Singapore, restaurants are given a cleanliness rating of A, B, or C: A being the best and C being the worst. So basically, it allows them to have a certain level of filth.
C = a lot of filth.
B = just a little filth.
A = clean.
Back home, we have a system too. It's called sanitary or closed.
Granted, I know that the US has its problems in the food industry (and I am getting ready to read Sinclair's The Jungle), but these shops are what the general public can actually see for themselves. Wouldn't you want to keep your shop sparkling clean so people can at least think they're having a safe meal? Why doesn't everyone strive for an A?
(I'm getting off my soap box now. I tend to get a lil' wound up when I'm grossed out.)
Again, I'm really not trying to bash anyone. I'm merely trying to figure out why the vast difference in culture.
Is it that we Americans are just that germophobic?
2016 WY/MT Trip
8 months ago