Singapore Will Never Be A First World Nation. Until We Build More Water Coolers.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!

Singapore is facing an unprecedented crisis today. This existential threat is not inequality, fake news, or China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy in South-East Asia. Those problems, however important, can afford to wait. At least until we’ve addressed a more pressing concern: Singapore’s lack of water coolers.

Is this a water cooler? Image credit: Wikipedia
For the past two years, the Health Promotion Board has been waging a very public war against diabetes. We are bombarded day and night with messages about the manifold dangers of glucose. Television commercials have been produced at great expense, while popular brands like Nestle have been coerced into using less sugar in their products.

Even traditional foods are not spared. Eating white rice is practically the new smoking, and those who drink kopi or teh are frequently urged to take their caffeine without sugar.

As government ads inform us, black is the new black.

I have nothing against this anti-sugar purge, but I do have a suggestion for improvement. Instead of just nagging us or forcibly exorcising sugar from our lives, why not make plain water more widely available? Why not fight sugary beverages by building more water coolers? After all, Singapore did not become a clean city by fining litterbugs into bankruptcy or caning them into submission; we also incentivised good behaviour by placing a dustbin at every corner.

What’s true for littering is true for drinking. Every stick needs a carrot and the anti-diabetes campaign desperately needs more water coolers.

Plain water is not just healthier than Coke Zero or kopi o kosong, it’s what we really want as well. Singapore weather is unbearably hot. We sweat more and drink more than our counterparts in less-hot nations. Consequently, it is not refreshment we seek, but hydration we need. Unfortunately, we don’t often get it, because we rely too heavily on food courts, convenience stores, and other private businesses to provide.

Humour me. Imagine a normal day. You are walking from A to B to meet a friend. Burnt to a crisp by the apocalyptic noonday sun, you stagger into an MRT station and check your phone, only to find a message from your friend that reads: ‘sry 20 more min’. After asking God to strike him dead, you crawl into a nearby 7-Eleven for some emergency re-hydration.

But what kind of hydration? Mineral water would be a sensible choice. However, you are loathe to spend $1.20 on mineral water when a few cents more can buy you an ice-cold Pepsi or a creamy Milo. In any case, haven’t you suffered enough today? Don’t you need electrolytes after such an arduous journey? Is that a new milk tea from Taiwan?

Before long, you find yourself sipping a soft drink, against your own better judgment.

This entire situation can be easily avoided if there was a water cooler at the MRT station. There would be no need to visit the 7-Eleven and no temptation to buy your Vitasoy/Coke/Pokka. Diabetes, like your idiot friend who is actually still at home taking a shit, will never materialise.

Is this a water cooler? Image Credit: Wikipedia
The advantages don’t end here.

Exercise is the other pillar of good health, and water coolers are just as beneficial to your workout as they are to your diet. Like many prematurely middle-aged Singaporeans, I jog on the streets to avoid getting fat. I don’t own any fancy kit—like vest packs—but I do try to go for at least 3km on the weekends. However, I wager that I could go faster and further if any of the parks around my house contained a water-cooler where I may refuel. More often than not, I stop not because of sheer exhaustion, but from a parched oesophagus.

Multiply people like me by 100,000 and you can see the potential impact. One cheap and cheerful water cooler could help countless people to run that extra 800m or do 10 more burpees.

Likewise, the environment would thank us too. According to The Guardian, a million bottles are used and discarded every minute. However, less than half of those bottles are actually recycled. The vast majority end up in landfills, oceans, or the rectums of migratory sea turtles, where they will reside for the next thousand years. This is not to mention millions of tons of fossil fuels used to produce and distribute said bottles—a process which releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

I am not a vegan tree hugger and I often enjoy turtle soup. However, even heartless bastards like myself don’t believe in environmental torture for the fun of it. Water coolers cannot reverse climate change or pollution, but they can certainly help.

Where is my water cooler? Image credit: Nikkei Asian Review
In short, water coolers are good for you, good for the earth and good for Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s budget. Hence, their absence in Singapore is not just an inconvenience, but a national travesty. How can we call ourselves a Smart Nation when we don’t do the smart thing and build more water coolers?

In Orchard Road, you can walk from Ion to 313 without finding a single water cooler.

In the new 36km trail from Chinese Gardens to Coney Island, my colleague Grace reports a total of zero water coolers.

In Jewel Changi, you will find the world’s largest indoor waterfall (The Rain Vortex), which pours forth like God’s own bidet, but no still water coolers. If you want to refill a bottle, you have to walk back to the terminals.

At Rower’s Bay in Seletar where I often jog, there are many new facilities. There are toilets, vending machines which dispense drinks, snacks and bicycle parts, as well as a Shimano bicycle repair station with six to seven tools, but somehow no water cooler. I can disassemble my bicycle or host a picnic, but to get a drink of water, I must hunch over a sink and cup my hands.

I can go on for another 90 pages but to summarise: How can dis B allow????

Some public institutions like NParks and National Library Board deserve kudos for installing water coolers on their premises, but they are a minority. Despite Minister Gan Kim Yong’s public promise to build more water coolers, they remain conspicuously absent from shopping centres, bus interchanges, MRT stations, major pedestrian through-fares, and even tourism hotspots. Most of the time, we are more likely to stumble across a Starbucks or a Cheers outlet than to encounter a water cooler in the wild.

I understand that some private property developers might not want to build public drinking fountains because it would hurt their profit margins. To them, I would suggest they go fuck spider. If we can compel McDonald’s to serve Red Rice porridge for breakfast, we can surely force the 900-hundred or so Temasek-owned, government-linked companies to spend 0.0000001% of their total revenue on installing water coolers for the public good.

Is this a water cooler? Image credit: BBC
Detractors will argue that water coolers are not needed because the thirsty can always drink from public bathroom taps. God forbid that you should bring a water bottle and refill it, they say, rolling their eyes at me.

They are technically correct but totally impractical. Sometimes, people forget to bring their bottles and they don’t want to hunch over a dirty sink littered with food morsels. Other times, there is so little space between the faucet and sink that refilling your bottle is an impossibility. You try tilting your bottle sideways, but it’s a slow, pathetic dribble.

There are also, of course, people who refuse to drink tap water at all. If they insist on boiling their water at home, how can you compel them to drink sink water from a dirty toilet where a man is noisily execrating last night’s McSpicy in liquid form? Even though the tap water is perfectly clean, the mental block is too much to overcome. Such scruples, while illogical, are widespread and must be tackled.

My point is, those heretics are wrong. Water coolers are not just good to have, but a necessity in hot, diabetes-ridden Singapore. I urge the government to build many more of them. They should be installed in shopping centres, public parks, piers, hawker centres, and any street which sees major pedestrian use. They should also be present in industrial estates, along cycling trails, and large bus stops.

There should be water coolers as far as the eye can see, so that every Singaporean, no matter where they are, can avail themselves of cold water and have no excuse to buy a Coke.

A water cooler at long last. Too bad the woman doesn't know how to use it. Image Credit: Thames Water
Sadly, no one really cares about water coolers. Not least the government, who mostly listen to themselves and Nas Daily. Thankfully, I have a cunning plan. There is nothing our ministers fear more than public embarrassment and that’s what we are going to do.

Taking a leaf from ‘Singaporeans Supporting the Government Because Of Covered Walkways’, I have created a Facebook page: ‘Singaporeans Supporting The Opposition Because of Not Enough Water Coolers’.

Join my page and post pictures of places in dire need of water coolers. Together, we can build a better Singapore—one where everyone is hydrated and no one needs insulin.


Thirsty for company? Write to us at

Loading next article...