A Beautiful World Starts at a Toilet

Text and Photos By Rika Febriyani.

Have you ever imagined a public place without toilets? Though you stand on the Eiffel Tower, in front of the Taj Mahal, swimming in Lake Toba, climbing the Borobudur Temple, sunbathing at the beach of Hawaii, or any other beautiful place, you will never enjoy how beautiful these places really are before taking revenge when nature calls. So, it is not amazing if a guide book of any international city indicates where to find public toilet. It is public facilities such as public phones, bus stops, supermarkets, houses of worship, and many others.

Toilets are important to support human life. As we all know, our human body is not free from impurities. Starting in the morning, when you wake up, the first thing we do is to go to the toilet. After relieving ourselves, washing our faces, we will feel fresher than when we just woke up. It is easier to solve problems inside our homes if we feel relieved. While this is certainly a blessing, however, it is by many regarded as an impurity. Toilets must be available within walking distance.

The availability of toilets around human activities is important to save one’s grace. Based on our common moral and natural instincts, unless you are abnormal, we will feel embarrassed if anyone can see our private parts. Public space, which is by definition crowded, is different from nature. For example, people crossing high mountains can be counted on a single hand, and it is normal to take relieve in a river or underbrush. However, in a crowded place, it is not considered as right to find and use the nearest bush to relieve for one will expose oneself to others. It is our common human convention to seek a private place to relieve.

Waiting line at one of public toilet

Public toilets are significant elements of any city past and present. Many people came to Baghdad (750 – 1258) across deserts and seas to study and to conduct research. Ibn Khaldun, who is believed to have been the very first sociologist, wrote the book The Muqaddimah, in which it is mentioned that there were more than 65.000 public bathrooms in Baghdad. Presently, toilets still are a necessity. The Unofficial Guide to London(2006) shows reachable public toilets; the book even suggests that we should not hesitate to use a toilet in a restaurant, hotel, or other commercial places without being a customer. Likewise, in Beijing, mass media reported in 2007 that the Chinese Civilization Programs aims at changing the ‘The Dirty China’ image. China’s government is building as many as possible public toilets as part of the implemented programs. Public facilities in general and toilets in particular are essential if urbanization is to be a civilized process. And what about Jakarta?

Instead reachable, public toilets in Jakarta are hidden. Moreover, most of public toilets are dirty, with a foul smell and little space. And still, we need to pay to use these toilets. As nature calls, it is impossible to avoid these toilets, but there are some alternatives. One alternative is to use a toilet in a shopping mall. An increasing number of shopping malls around Jakarta have proper public utilities. Another alternative can be found in office buildings, especially around Kuningan, Sudirman and Thamrin. However, some places, such as restaurants, hotels and coffee shops, only allow customers to use the facilities.

While we can use a toilet in a shopping mall or an office building, this does not solve the problem in Jakarta. Jakarta has yet to prove it can become a friendly place to stay. This is important, because world dynamics invite people from around the globe to travel and this influences life in the city. A city that is unwilling to improve the quality of its public space is threatened to lose out to other places, such as nearby Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Charge of Public Toilet at Blok M area. Average 1000 rupiahs to urinate or defecate. 2000 rupiahs for bath.

The availability of public toilets is urgent in cities of the past and present. Therefore, the city is responsible to offer as many as possible public facilities to make urban life civilized. A clean place within reach to relieve keeps everyone content with the city. This is the general lesson from experiences we have to learn from. Toilets in public place are a necessity in any dynamic city. Jakarta can certainly be qualified as a very dynamic city, but at present it does not yet live up to the needs of the Jakartans and visitors to this city.

A city should support the quality of life; so many different human activities can be expressed. And if we are content, we will keep on living in the city or keep on visiting the city. We can feel at ease and confident to continue all our activities, like work and leisure. As long as the issue of taking relieve has not yet been solved, it is no reason to feel better. The government of Jakarta needs to serve its people and visitors better.***

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