Fri, 04 Jul 2003

Public toilets turn scary

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

What does Ary fear the most? Anything that slithers and public lavatories, and here in Jakarta the two sometimes go together.

Snakes and the likes he can avoid while working as a city reporter, but he cannot avoid using public lavatories, which literally can be a breathtaking experience.

Many people believe the condition of a bathroom in a house indicates the type of person the owner is. If this is true for public bathrooms, what do our filthy toilets say about us as a city?

Take the restrooms in the Senen bus terminal, for example. The stall doors cannot be shut properly, which actually isn't terrible because it lets in some fresh air. And the wet floor makes it difficult for people using the squat toilet.

Pieces of tissue, cigarette butts and plastic bags are scattered around the floor as there are no garbage cans. And for all this luxury and comfort one must pay Rp 500 (about 6 US cents), double if you want to bathe in the restroom.

Nur, a food vendor at the bus terminal, told The Jakarta Post on Monday that she had no choice but use the public toilet, despite the appalling conditions.

"But I'm a regular so I don't have to pay that much each time I go to the toilet," she said.

She added that most bus drivers and some male passengers preferred to urinate at the far side of the bus terminal or behind the parked buses. Revolting maybe, but cheaper that way, she said.

The restrooms are better in the Gambir train station, where janitors clean the toilets regularly. Toilet paper is provided by the money box where people pay a small fee to use the bathroom.

As with other public toilets, the men's restrooms are much dirtier than the women's.

Irawan Adi, a commuter, said he always waited until he got home to go to the bathroom because "I cannot stand the smell in the toilets here".

Even those public restrooms that don't quite get the same amount of foot traffic as at bus and train stations are off- putting, such as the toilets at prosecutor's offices, district courts and City Hall.

But at these places, one thing stands out: the restrooms for officials get more attention than the public toilets shared by employees and visitors.

At the Central Jakarta District Court, the senior court clerks and the judges have their own key to the restrooms on the second floor, which are always kept locked.

The court's spokesman, Andi Samsan Nganro, said he was not aware of the filthy public restrooms on the first and third floors of the court building.

"It is a good criticism. I will submit this matter to the maintenance unit," he told the Post.

And something definitely needs to be done, before Ary or someone else sees something crawl out of a public toilet.