Pooing in the pool: a reflection of the uncivilised among us in Hong Kong

Yonden Lhatoo says given our wealth and level of education, Hongkongers have no excuse for any anti-social acts, including befouling our public pools

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 July, 2015, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

You may not want to read this if you’re sitting down to a meal. On Sunday, the Mui Wo public swimming pool had to be closed temporarily for cleaning “following the discovery of a small amount of faeces in the pool”, according to the government.

The next day, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park swimming pool in Central and Western District also required some serious disinfection “following the discovery of a small amount of faeces in the training pool and a small amount of vomitus in the main pool”.

It's happened six times so far this year. Last year there were 19 such repugnant incidents prompting the closure of 10 public pools.

In this column two weeks ago, I questioned whether we were mollycoddled by the Hong Kong government, which has to instruct us on such mundane and obvious matters as wearing warm clothes in winter and washing our hands before we eat. I also queried the need for this official warning issued every summer: “Swimmers are advised to use the toilet before swimming and they should never urinate or defecate in the pools. They should leave the water immediately and use the toilet if they have to vomit.”

The unsavoury answer? Many of our fellow citizens need refresher courses in basic hygiene, civic sense and civilised behaviour. In Asia’s world city.

Ruffled feathers or not, Hongkongers were engaged in such neanderthal behaviour long before we opened the floodgates to mainland visitors and started calling them “uncivilised”.

I really have to ask what’s wrong with people from such an advanced society if they have to be told not to defecate in a public pool and they go ahead and do it anyway.

You can’t use the wealth gap or lack of education or the usual guilt-tripping explanation – “everyone is not as fortunate as you” – to justify what is indefensibly anti-social behaviour. I’ve spent plenty of time in remote, dirt-poor villages where children and adults alike may have never been to school, but they don’t foul up the communal swimming hole with their bodily discharges. This is Hong Kong we’re talking about, not some backwater basket case of a third-world slum. Certain standards are expected of people here, whether you like it or not.

This is how Singapore’s late founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, put it when explaining how he led the city state out of the third world: “When you move people from a shanty where they have a hole in the ground for a toilet, to a high-rise with a toilet and a flush, it takes some time to get them not to bring their chickens and ducks with them.”

Well, we’ve had enough time and education to leave our poultry and droppings where they should be deposited. It’s been nearly two decades since Hong Kong’s handover to China. It’s been well over a decade since China sent its first man into space. It’s been a century since Einstein’s formulation of the relativity theory. Seriously, what’s our excuse?

I pose the same question to those selfish hordes of MTR commuters who, day in and day out, refuse to let passengers get off first every time a train pulls into the station. They know perfectly well they’re being misanthropic jerks when they shove past disembarking passengers, ignoring constant announcements that seem to be designed for infants or imbeciles. “Please stand behind the yellow line”, “please let passengers alight first”, ad nauseam.

 I’ll have to refer to the late Lee and his nation-building wisdom again to sum it up: “The technology is there, you can buy it, you can do it yourself, but if your people do not cooperate and fit into the First World structure, it will not succeed. It depends on the amount of discipline they are prepared to observe.”

Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do to discipline people here. This is not Singapore – we live in a free society, even if it comes with individuals who may not deserve the privilege.

You must have heard about Ocean Park’s plans to build a new water park by 2017. It sounds like amazing fun, with an indoor surfing simulator and wave pools, among other attractions that will be open to the public, summer or winter.

I’ll be staying away for obvious reasons.