The Sweet Smell of Success

Those of a sensitive nature should turn away now.

The one thing I’d always found challenging in Malaysia was the state of the public toilets. They used to be dank, damp, stinky and just plain traumatic. You’d only go if you were really desparate and would otherwise hold on for dear life until you got home. And if you did have to go, you’d try not to touch anything, look at anything and you’d hold your breath until stars flashed in your eyes.

This last trip I made back to Malaysia, I was completely captivated by the public loos. It began at KL International Airport (”The Best Airport in the World” according to the banners that greet you as you get off the plane - and I’m inclined to agree). The ladies room there were clean, sleek, bright and shiny with auto-flush toilets, lots of loo roll, soap and paper towels. Then in the malls where I was speaking at a number of book events, the toilets were lovely and sweet-smelling, with bright, clean surfaces and shiny tiles. And practically everywhere I went after that, the public toilets just exuded luxury and glamour.

Someone told me that these delights didn’t just happen on their own and that the Minister of Tourism issued an edict to the nation to get their toilets in order for Visit Malaysia Year. Can that be true? Or is it just an urban myth? At any rate, in my view, if anything tells you that Malaysia is a nation that’s achieved world-class success, it’s the state of its public toilets.

I was so horrified and appalled when I arrived back in the UK. The ladies toilets at Heathrow were the first to greet me and they were tatty, dirty, badly stocked and unkempt. Everywhere I go now in London, I find myself comparing the toilets to the joys of the Malaysian loos.

Pic: thanks to

6 Responses to “The Sweet Smell of Success”

  1. Kenny Mah Says:

    I agree that Malaysian public toilets have improved tremendously over the years. Of course, you will still find some places where they are less than hygienic, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. Possibly due to the hardworking Health Inspection officers?

    I remember when I was living in Munich, some of the WCs at the train stations were abominable, so it’s not just the Third World, really. So I do get what you mean, and how you felt. One would expect things to be loads better in the West. Not necessarily. ;)

  2. Pey Says:

    Kenny is up early! And i am up late! I remember my mum always sent me in first to canvas the toilets, and to give her a star rating. She was always more squeamish than I was.

  3. yeeton Says:

    KENNY, been to Munchen too, the state of public toilets there was appalling particularly those at central railway station - perhaps a valid excuse - but it was at a time of the Olympic Games when much of the city was like a vast sprawling construction site with seemingly more people - great hordes of them - wanting to use the toilets than there was provision for! London 2012 take note.
    The state of public toilets anywhere in Malaysia in my youth is, at best, a bad memory.

  4. Kenny Mah Says:

    Yes, Yeeton, the Hauptbahnhof Munchen can definitely improve the state of their WCs’ hygiene. Malaysian public toilets? It really depends where you go, I suppose.

  5. yeeton Says:

    “Malaysian public toilets? It really depends where you go, I suppose.”

    KENNY, in alluding to the awful state of Malaysian public toilets including those in KL, I’d made it clear it was at the time of my youth, a very long time ago.

  6. Kenny Mah Says:

    No worries, yeeton, I noticed that when I first read your comment. What I meant in mine was simply even now, there are plenty of atrociously maintained public toilets around, but if you know where to go, you’d find the nicer ones Yang-May wrote about. ;)

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