Will we ever pee in peace?

Toilet at Block 9 Toa Payoh Industrial Park.

SINGAPORE - As usual, we've suffered days of soul-searching over what it means to be Singaporean and what the future holds for our sunny island.

I'll tell you exactly what it is to be Singaporean. It's standing in a public toilet and being ogled by a pervert.

All right, she might not have been a pervert. But when a stranger is sneaking up on your shoulder while you're taking a pee, what's the difference?

It's hardly a character-building exercise. It's not something to brag about on a resume under pastimes and hobbies: "I like to spend time in public toilets hovering behind random strangers."

No one can get away with such unsociable behaviour, with the possible exception of George Michael - and that's only because he's sold millions of records and remains universally popular.

So unless you've sold millions of records, please stop staring at me when I'm at the urinal.

In fact, even if you've sold millions of records, I still don't want you staring at me.

The last thing I'd want to see is One Direction standing over my shoulder. I'd immediately be peeing in every direction.

But it's still happening in Singapore.

After all these years of socioeconomic development and decades of cultural growth - not to mention my own books on the subject - men still can't pee in peace.

Earlier this week, I was having a relaxing pee in an Ang Mo Kio public toilet - to protect those involved, I won't be any more specific than that - minding my own business and humming a few bars of Stand Up For Singapore, when I heard that sloshing sound.

It was the inimitable sound of an advancing mop; the impending arrival of an unwelcome stranger; a cleaner about to stand just a metre away.

The quickest of sneak peeks revealed a woman - a woman! - heading in my general direction, getting closer as the mop arched in ever increasing circles, zoning in on my shoes (it's bad enough she's got to get within a mop's length of my dangly bits, but she's also got to soak my shoes in warm, grey water.)

Call me sexist, but I was appalled by the cleaner's gender.

How could a woman happily mop a toilet floor knowing that a tall, male stranger is holding his most prized possession?

And then I thought, in this day and age, does it really make a difference? The point isn't the gender of the cleaner - male or female - the point is the exposed male organ. No one is entitled to see mine in a public toilet (not even me when the belly's a bit bloated after a curry).

Consider the same scenario with a gender reversal.

Imagine a woman sitting in a public toilet as a male cleaner merrily pushes his mop beneath the cubicle door whilst whistling the tune of I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts. He'd soon be out of a job.

It's 2013. We're not supposed to do this stuff in a first-world country any more. I'm not suggesting the woman should be reprimanded in any way, far from it.

But I am suggesting that maybe our society should be more nuanced in such delicate matters. We are sophisticated; worldly; sensible. We shouldn't be wiping floors around a strange man's wedding tackle.

What if my daydreaming had moved on to the next dimension and I ceased to be aware of my immediate surroundings?

Men often drift away at a urinal. It's where they get their best thinking done (and why they frequently miss the urinal).

In such instances, men can turn and zip up, in that order, with a slight pause between the two. It's only a second - a fleeting glimpse - but more than enough time to put the cleaner off chicken sausages for a week.

Frankly, I should've scolded the auntie. I respect my elders, but there's a limit. Every man has his threshold. I was within my rights to ask her to leave.

I was probably within my rights to pee in her bucket. But my sad, pathetic, polite, conservative "Britishness" took over. I could have said and done just about anything.

Instead, I spotted the cleaner over my shoulder and said: "Hey, Auntie... How?"

That's not a conversation opener with a 65-yearold woman when you're wilfully exposed.

That's not a conversation opener with anyone when your private parts are in play (try that line on a guy standing beside you at a urinal and see how far you get).

But the auntie simply smiled and continued mopping the floor.

And that's what it truly means to be a Singaporean. We still live in a country where people we don't know lurk over our shoulder when we're peeing.

If that's not uniquely Singaporean, then I'm a chicken sausage.

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