Before proceeding any further, I must admit I am obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene. I am so obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness that I always carry a small bottle of antiseptic hand gel to cleanse my hands after handling or touching filthy items, especially the currency notes. That attracted much criticism from my friends as being too paranoid. I had my reasons for being thus. If I did not wash or clean my hands after handling such things and absent-mindedly touched or rubbed my eyes, I got eye allergies that are very irritating. The use of hand gel has become a second nature to me. There may also be multitude of germs on every object I had to unavoidably touch and also in the atmosphere, invisible to the naked eyes. So it is safe to be overly conscious about cleanliness. The motto is “Prevention is better than cure.”
Having said that, I would like to discuss the presence of the germs — bacteria, virus, fungus and protozoa on everything we touched. In one documentary video clip, which I had viewed sometime ago, showed a scene where a swapping from the computer keys was placed under a microscope. To my horror, there were uncountable number of crawling germs of different shapes and sizes. The narrator explained the various types of germs that were seen and cautioned what they can cause. Also, the scrapings from the carpets, sofa settees and other utilities were seen to be infested with germs when placed under the microscope. Thus it is quite evident that everything we touch, though they may seem to be clean, are not clean but swarming with germs that are infectious. The video clip went further to explain that even the atmosphere around us are not free from dangerous germs and substances that are bad for the health.
As the above mentioned situations are unavoidable, the best way to safeguard ourselves is to observe our personal cleanliness or hygiene. Hygiene, if maintained properly would benefit our wellness and health. Thus, I believed that hygiene is the basis for a healthy life, so I am adamant in observing my personal hygiene, especially in my old age. What would be the meaning of living a long life if I am not healthy? To be healthy, one does not have to always depend on the medicines or treatments only. If one lead a healthy life they would not be necessary, unless, if unfortunately one fell victim to some diseases caused by the inherent genes or exposure to pollutions. Leading a healthy life includes observance of hygiene and life style — eating habits, exercising, abstaining from excessive indulgence in drinking, smoking and other activities that are detrimental to the health. The personal hygiene, only, could be observed by each individual, while the public hygiene would be beyond one’s control. The only way is to abstain from consuming unhygienic foods, and avoid unhygienic places. If unavoidable, take precaution, like me, by keeping a bottle of antiseptic hand gel handy.
However, if the authorities take interest in the public hygiene and take drastic actions to maintain a healthy environment, the public would enjoy healthy lives without having to go to such extents. Here, I would like to highlight the two most important places where the cleanliness and hygiene is of paramount importance.. The first place is the toilet and the second is the kitchen. The spread of diseases originate mostly from such places than others. The cleanliness and hygiene of the private toilets and the kitchens are the responsibilities of those who owns them. As for the public toilets and kitchens of the restaurants and food stalls, they had to be strictly regulated by laws or rules and regulations. In developed countries and in some developing countries in the region, they are paying great attention to upkeep the hygiene standards of toilets, restaurants and food vendors.
“Leading a healthy life includes observance of hygiene and life style — eating habits, exercising, abstaining from excessive indulgence in drinking, smoking and other activities that are detrimental to the health. The personal hygiene, only, could be observed by each individual, while the public hygiene would be beyond one’s control.”
In Thailand, public toilets everywhere are always clean and hygienic. The reason is because the authorities take interest to upkeep the cleanliness and the hygiene of those places. For instance, at the gas stations all over the country, toilets are clean and hygienic at any time you use them. The concerned authorities regularly inspect them. Those that met their standards were accredited with brass plaques that described them as clean and hygienic. Those who received such brass plaques proudly displayed them on the toilet walls. At such toilets, one would notice there are no undesirable odors or wet and soggy floors even in the rainy seasons and never short of liquid soap dispensers and toilet tissues. The cleaners are never far away from the toilets. They can often be seen going about their cleaning. The toilets at the shopping malls and other public places, such as airports, railway stations, bus terminals, and cinemas too are maintained the same way. As for the cleanliness of the food, there are signs, which read “Clean foods. Good tastes” displayed at some restaurants and street food stalls. The signs are awarded by the concerned authorities to those who met their standards. I learned that these signs are not valid forever. There are regular inspections to renew their validity. The food preparers and vendors are required to wear aprons, head covers and wear disposable gloves. So persons who are cautious of what and where they should eat could easily choose. Even then, food poisoning is rife, especially among foreign visitors. It must be due to the fact that they are not accustomed to spicy foods or they did not check where or what they eat. Anyway, I must say that the overall cleanliness and the hygienes of most eateries are quite plausible, whether they received the “Clean foods. Good tastes” citation or not. From some documentary videos, I noticed that roadside food stalls in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam are very clean and tidy. The vendors are properly dressed, with aprons, head covers and disposable gloves indicating that they too are aware of the importance of hygiene.
Another example of the observance of cleanliness and hygiene can be seen in Australia. I have never been there but learned from the documentary videos. In Australia there are health inspectors who oversee the observance of cleanliness and hygiene by the public. They made routine checks on the restaurants and also on the private homes occasionally if there were complaints. In one episode an inspector made a routine check on a restaurant run by a person of Asian origin. He found the meats, chickens, fishes and groceries in plastic trays placed on the floor in the kitchen. He instructed the proprietor to stow the meats, chicken and fishes in the freezers immediately after they were brought in, as they can decompose if left outside for long. He also said the groceries should be placed on racks and not on the floor, as that is not hygienic. He also give a warning that if he find the same thing next time, the licence to operate the restaurant would be revoked. After a week the inspector returned to check and found that everything was properly stowed as he had instructed. He congratulated the proprietor for the good work and told him to maintain that standard.
In another episode, a house where two middle-aged spinsters lived was flooded with sewage from a busted sewage pipe, while they were away on vacation. The neighbours reported to the concerned authorities. A health inspector was immediately dispatched to the scene. He supervised the repair of the sewage pipe but was unable to do anything about the sewage that had entered into the house. He left a notice stuck on the front door of the house for the owners to report to the authorities immediately on their return. When the house owners reported, by phone on their return, the inspector arrived at that home immediately and gave instructions as to how to clean the house. After a few days the inspector went back to check and found that the house still smelled of sewage. He made a thorough check and found the floor carpeting, although it looked clean, was causing the foul smell. The inspector insisted they should replace the carpet. At first the ladies were reluctant as they had spent much time and money for hiring the cleaners. However, the inspector was adamant and told them they either do it or face charges.
Another example of maintaining hygiene by enforcement was the one I had seen myself, in the United States of America in 1967. In those days, there were warning signs posted inside every public restrooms
(toilets), to wash the hands before leaving the room and those found disobeying would be liable to fines of fifty dollars. That was quite a large sum, because one king-sized hamburger or a gallon of petrol cost only twenty five cents in those days. No wonder the rest rooms were always clean.
I am citing these examples at length to make my point that cleanliness and public hygiene is important. They should be drastically enforced as in the case of Australia and the US. Awareness campaigns are necessary, but without proper enforcement a high standard of cleanliness and public hygiene could not be achieved. To strengthen my views, I would like to mention briefly how Singapore came to be recognized as a very clean place. Those who had been to Singapore in the early nineteen sixties, before her independence, would tell you how filthy that place was. However, after their independence, thanks to their great leader and founding father, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore became a very clean city, not only by Asian standards, but by international standards. So how did they do it? Of course by enforcing it strictly with penalties of heavy fines. By judging the above mentioned examples, it is quite evident that the “carrot and stick” policy could bring desired results.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize, once again, the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, which are the basis of a healthy life. Every individual should be aware of the importance of personal hygiene and had the responsibility to observe it. As for the maintenance of public hygiene, the concerned departments should educate the public and enforce them to abide by the rules and regulations regarding littering, urinating and spitting recklessly. A dirty city tarnish a country’s image, whereas a clean city enhance it. It is a civic duty, which every good citizen must fulfill.