Sunday 23 November 2014

Have the runs? World Toilet Day not so urgent for Singaporeans

Excuse my language, but it’s for a good cause.

I just got possibly the greatest running event T-shirt ever.

Why? Because it has these words on the back:
“I am running because I give a shit.”
The shirt is the official participant tee for The Urgent Run held at East Coast Park two Sundays ago.

Why is it called The Urgent Run?

Because it’s organised by the World Toilet Organisation. Get it?

One of the many quirks of Singaporeans is that when we want to excuse ourselves to go to the toilet, we like to tell people: “I’m very urgent.”

To a non-Singaporean, this must be a puzzling Singlish phrase, although it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out that “urgent” indicates an “emergency”, as in “I have an emergency. If I don’t go to the toilet immediately, I’m going to relieve myself here right in front of you and nobody wants that.”

As you can see, it’s quicker just to say: “I’m very urgent.”

We Singaporeans are nothing if not efficient in the use of the language. So what if we’re a little ungrammatical?

Other Urgent Runs were also held around the world to mark World Toilet Day on Wednesday. I wonder if anyone in Zanzibar or Manila appreciates the subtle Singaporean humour in calling the event The Urgent Run.

Then again, “urgent” can also mean the urgent need to provide better sanitation for 2.5 billion people who lack access to the basic amenities that Singaporeans take for granted.

Having written about World Toilet Day in this column a year ago, I’m disappointed it hasn’t caught on like selfie sticks and Kim Kardashian’s naked buttocks.

None of the local papers covered World Toilet Day last week, despite Nov 19 being recognised as World Toilet Day by the United Nations (UN) thanks to a resolution tabled by Singapore last year – our first UN resolution!

You know which Singaporean quasi-journalist has written the most about World Toilet Day?

That’s right – I am.

I have become the de facto World Toilet Day correspondent.

This column is likely the first time you’ve read about The Urgent Run even though the event in Singapore took place two weeks ago. No newspaper reported it even though Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say was there to flag off the run.

I got to shake his hand and take a picture with him. He looked young for a 60-year-old.

He even wore the “I am running because I give a shit” shirt – although I’m not sure if he actually ran that morning. In his defence, even if he didn’t run, it doesn’t mean he didn’t give a shit. It’s just a shirt.

The Urgent Run was advertised as 5km, but according to the running app on my phone, the route was only about 4km long.

I guess The Urgent Run was so urgent that it was shortened so that you can get to the toilet sooner.

There were plenty of porta-potties at the finish line in case you get the runs during the run.

And since we were at East Coast Park, there was also the ocean.

By the way, the rock band Foreigner just called. They want their song title back.

The Hello Kitty Run the week before was also advertised as 5km but turned to be only about 4km.

But unlike the Hello Kitty Run, which had 17,000 participants, The Urgent Run had fewer than 400.

That means 42 times more runners cared about the cat with no mouth than about people with no toilets.

Possibly because those people are so far away, and Hello Kitty is, well, on my bedsheet.

Ironically, in Singapore recently, there has been a spate of reports of people defecating in public or letting their kids do so. That’s what World Toilet Day is supposed to prevent!

If only more Singaporeans had supported World Toilet Day...

Perhaps next year.

Meanwhile, I like this idea of running for a cause – but maybe one that hits even closer to home.

Last week, the Public Transport Council announced that it has started its annual fare review exercise, signalling an imminent fare hike, which nobody wants except transport companies and their stockholders.

Also last week, a video showing a four-man relay team running from Little India MRT station to the Farrer Park station to catch a train went viral.

That gave me an idea.

To promote awareness of how much we don’t want another fare hike, we can have a run with relay teams racing against the trains along every MRT line – North South, East West, North East, Circle and Downtown.

That’s only about 162km.

I think we can skip the LRT for the run.

We can call it The Unfare Run.

So instead of running for access to better sanitation in faraway lands, we would be running for access to affordable public transport in our own country.

I already have an idea for possibly the second greatest running event T-shirt ever. On the back, it would say:
“I am running because I can’t afford public transport.”
I didn’t want to use any bad word like on The Urgent Run shirt. So on the front, The Unfare Run shirt would simply say:
Tuck Yew!”
Would you run if I give a shirt?

- Published in The New Paper, 23 November 2014


Urgent Run recap: Lim Swee Say The Giant Toilet Bowl Shooter

If you love Singapore, celebrate World Toilet Day