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Feb 19, 2012

Memories of Smell - Sewerage

The "night soil" collector at the kampong in the 1960s.

This is the first of a series of "Memories of Smell" on "blog to express" to show the ways done in the past in Singapore for collection of sewerage in the kampongs in the 1960s.

Watching these photo credit by courtesy of National Archives of Singapore to share here the real things minus the smell...

I beg your pardon if it gives you the shivers and shout "yucky...oh my God"!!!

Thank goodness all these stuff...the brave men (I think they were all men who dared to do this job), sewerage collectors who manually disposed of our "night soil" daily from the homes and bring them to the sewerage treatment works in Ulu Pandan, Kim Chuan Road and Henderson Road (now the Tiong Bahru Park) have all disappeared.

The "night soil" workers on the truck in the 1970s.

Also gone were the trucks of "32-doors containers".

Alternatively, an outgoing tides acts like a modern sanitation, but an incoming one spreads disease-bearing filth and sewage into the kampong grounds. No proper drainage or sanitary systems.

Long, long ago in the 1950s, the metal containers were loaded onto carts without mechanisation.

Whatever goes in must go out, and somebody has to do the "dirty" work as his job...take a look at how the process goes:

The truck with containers of 32-doors (16-doors on each side) with standard design.

Modern sanitation system nowadays are odourless method, concealed system to dispose human waste...with a flush in the toilet.

Strange...people may refer to egestion of bodily wastes as "dirty" and call it "shit". Shit is an English word that is usually considered vulgar and profane in Modern English. There are many words of euphemism in the English language...or to call "a spade a spade"?

It is a part of digestion system of all living things (eg. birds, animals, insects, etc) other than human beings.

Zoologists will generally call "shit" as feces of mammals. Other words are: "Poop", "Dookie". "Scheisse". "Poo Poo". "Brownies".

Responsible dogs and cat owners bring along a plastic bag to dispose the "poo poo" when their pets for a walk outside the home.

iremember from memories of an incident in the office one day:

My former colleague (no name calling please) was attending to a member of the public to serve him. However, the customer was not satisfied and angrily shouted "SHIT", unconsciously to nobody in particular, appearing frustrated.

The Customer Service Officer was also annoyed and went away from the service counter after the customer left the office, to share with her colleagues to think aloud her pent-up feelings:

"Funny comes nowadays "shit" also come out from the mouth..." face became "green" when I heard the conversation from another part of the office. If she had passed that "unwanted remark" in front of the customer, she would be inviting for a complaint for rudeness!

I cautioned my colleague to be careful before speaking. Not to forget the importance of polite service. The customers are always right!

That's a true story. Its my personal working experience and memories to share.



Blogger Jacob Sea-Sky said...

From birth to my Pre-U 2 year (1965), I was staying in Kim Keat Lane. I remember the 'night-soil carriers' as they were then known as, and throughout all those years we had no flushing toilets.

As a small kid I used to watch them at work, and didn't even mind the odour. But as I got older and began to differentiate smells, my grandma taught me to show my respect for these workers and never to squeeze my nose and never say anything negative in their presence - just get back into the house if I hear the 36-door lorry.

These are things the young generations in today's Singapore never get to experience.

Jim Kwok

February 19, 2012 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thank you for sharing the experience, Jim. Not a pleasant one though.

But that was the environment and condition in Singapore 5 decades ago without modern sanitation and drainage infrastructure in development and planning of health and and hygienic co-ordinated efforts over the years.

I agree with you. The "night soil" workers are to be thankful for the manual sanitation system to keep Singapore clean in the past.

February 19, 2012 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger Yee Weng Hong said...

When I was young, I stayed in Duxton Road. Each floor was partitioned into cubicles for 6 - 8 families to live in. All the families share 1 toilet. To use the toilet we squat on 2 wooden planks. The waste was collected by 1 metal pail as shown in the photos. I remembered the night soil carrier walked around bare footed. He had to carried 2 loads of night soil balanced on a pole over his shoulders when climbing down a dark, narrow stairs from the 3rd storey. I was always afraid that he might trip and spill the night soil.

February 19, 2012 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Yes, Weng Hong. Accident does happen. So its an occupational hazard for the "night soil" carriers who had to rush from place to place on their duty job.

When I visited my second auntie who rented a room at a barber shop at Chin Swee Road once when I was young, I had seen a "night soil" carrier collecting the two heavy metal boxes, one on each hand, from the toilet at the back of the shop to the 32-door container. The tenants had to clean the place if water spilt on the floor. Can we imagine the daily common scenario at the shop?

February 19, 2012 at 9:21 PM  
Blogger --andy-- said...

gloss, but my full respect. Some people has to do the dirty (but necessary) job. Thanks for sharing this fear-factor story.

February 19, 2012 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger PChew said...

Nightsoil was first brought to a pumping station such as Becoolen Street Sewage Pumping Station, Paya Lebar Sewage Pumping Station and a few others. From the there the sewage went to the treatment plants at Kim Chuan Road, Ulu Pandan and Henderson.

Majority of the nightsoil workers belonged to the 'çheow wang' dialect people.

February 19, 2012 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger FL said...

Thanks for sharing with us an "unpleasant" memories but an essential service then ! That's what my generation experienced through it. Yee Weng Hong's account is the same as what when I grew up as a small child in those pre-war houses in the 1950s and then the early 1960s in kampong houses. I was told that the night-soil workers went on strike before, and how the the buckets were not collected or replaced ! Just imagine that. My family used the bucket system until we shifted to Bukit Ho Swee flat in 1963 with modern flushing system.

February 20, 2012 at 12:10 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

"Unpleasant memories" indeed, FL. Our generation had gone through together the difficult and tumultuous times with perseverance. It is a chapter of Singapore history on blog topic about sewerage. The primitive "bucket system", the way done in the past, was not an achievement for Singapore to be proud of.

The development of the current modern sanitation system is the benefit for everyone in Singapore.

February 20, 2012 at 6:56 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks Philip. Your additional info could not be found at Wikipedia or anywhere else about the sewerage works in Singapore in the 1960s.

February 20, 2012 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Andy..memories of smell of individual perspectives of our same place. different times. different experiences. Thanks for sharing.

February 20, 2012 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger Luqman Michel said...

Yes, I too have seen and lived among night soil carriers when I was a kid.But, like you blog says these should only be memories. But, this is not the case in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, even as of now. Every time it rains manholes overflow and the stench is unbearable.Read more in my blog at:

March 30, 2016 at 10:31 AM  

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