The red pail spans all socioeconomic class. Regardless of race, language or religion, you would surely have used the red pail at some point in your life.

From the high SES elite living in private housing to the average Joe in HDB flats, the red pail is always there.

Your toilet can look like that of a 5 star resort when friends and guest visit but the moment they are gone, the red pail you frantically stash away will magically appear.

You cannot do without it. Period.

It’s in your yard, your bathroom, your storeroom, in the boot of your expensive continental car, your garage. I’ve seen it in my friend’s expensive penthouses and good glass bungalows. A friend even had his parents ship him 2 overseas.

Because i’m weird, one of the first thing i look for when using my friend’s toilet, is to look for the red pail. When my eyes sees it tucked away in the corner, i get a sense of satisfaction. If i don’t, i suffer a minor panic attack and i snoop around his house discreetly until i see it.

I need to see the red pail.

It tells me ‘ ok , your friend is normal , he is not an alien ‘

Everyone should at least have a red pail.

My fascination with red pails started when i was a little boy.

At my parents place, there are no lack of red pails. In fact, they have so many of them, there’s about a dozen stacked up nicely in the storeroom. Why would a single family require so many red pail and where do they come from ?

My parents don’t buy red pails, they get them as part of the lunar 7th month celebration. I’m sure you’ve seen people lug home a large pail of groceries during the ghost month and that is where the red pails comes from.

The red pail is not only what i use for my showers when i was young.

It was also my toy.

My drum.

My helmet

My toy basket

My magical monster sucking urn where if i point the open end at you, you get sucked in before i seal the top with a yellow talisman.

The pail is my boat when i could still fit.

The things i could do with that pail is limitless.

A dustbin when i was shredding stuff from primary school long after i graduated.

A bookdrop for the lazy me who can’t be bothered to get out of bed.

A larder for holding snacks.

A ice bucket for beer.

I grew up surrounded by red pails. i had one double up as laundry basket in my room back at my parents place, and i have one that holds my helmet and SBO.

It became so entrenched in my life that i don’t really think much about it.

Until i have my own place that is.

i first moved into my flat with my wife. As newlyweds, we make it a point to curate every item we bring into the house like all anal first time home owner.

Wrong colour scheme ? No.

Wrong theme ? No

Not pleasing on the eyes ? No.

I went as far as to set up a checkpoint / customs table at the entrance whenever my wife comes back home with suspicious bags of shopping.

Despite my best effort at trying to keep the items in my new place of a certain colour, the elusive red pail appeared one day in my toilet barely 1 month in.

I got a shock when i saw it for the first time. That jarring colour is a stark contrast against my tiled master bathroom with large mirrors, and solid black sanitary fittings.

It gave me a heart attack and i screamed.

My wife came running to see me going into spasm as i jabbed my finger at the red pail while throwing her the dirty look while expecting her to read what i was trying to communicate to her.

Wife : what’s wrong with the pail…. ? i need it to soak your clothes….the colour runs….

Shaking her head at my over reaction, she walked away, leaving me alone in the toilet as i stared at the pail.

I hated that pail in my toilet. The colour doesn’t fit.

Before i could wrap my mind around having something that doesn’t fit my colour scheme in my new toilet, i was suddenly filled with a sense of shame.

Yes i was ashamed of myself for detesting that red pail. It may not be the same one i grew up with ( That one is still at my parents’ place ) , but the practical purpose which it serves, cannot be easily replaced.

Initially I thought i could learn to live with the red pail, only to realise quickly that i cannot live without it.

I had a fancy laundry basket made of fabric in the bathroom, but try putting something wet in it and you will realised it’s just a nice piece of vase. Hokkien saying goes, ‘ Ho Kua, Bo ho Jiak ‘ , literal translation meant the item looks good, but not practical.

Then i got another laundry basket woven with cane and lined with a removable cloth by craftsmen from a lost tribe in amazon. It was replaced when some sharp edges ruined my wife’s clothes.

Replaced by the red pail.

I used to mop the floor with fancy wet wipes stuck to the bottom of another fancy wiper. Then one day i spilled half a bottle of dark soya sauce on the floor and i realised those wipes don’t really help. I don’t even have a proper mop at home and in the end, a red pail filled with water and a old tshirt was what i used to clean up the mess.

I had plants along the corridor and no watering can. A red pail filled with water was what i used to water the plans and wash the corridor at the same time.

When my relatives came from Malaysia with a boot full of durians, they called me down to the carpark, asking me to bring along a bag to take some durians back home.

I simply cannot think of any bags at home that can transport durian from the carpark up to my home. My eyes did briefly wander to my wife’s collection of bags but then i still very much value my life.

Again, i brought the red pail.

When the kids come along and the first time i had to throw a piece of pajamas stained with shit into the red pail, i said a silent prayer, thankful that i was no longer using a cane or fabric laundry basket.

Can you imagine cleaning shit stains out from woven cane or fabric ?

From shit, vomit, curdled milk or liquid and stains of unknown nature, that red pail takes it all.

When my neighbor gave me a few crabs he bought, i had no place to put them and off they go into the pail.

They lived there for a day until my in laws cooked them.

It’s hard to imagine that such a mundane item can play such a huge part in everyday life.

I dropped a few friends a text message, asking them randomly where did they get their red pails ?

All their replies are the same.

It just sort of appeared in the bathroom. We all suspect it’s our parents. It’s their way of unloading junk from years of hoarding, or perhaps it’s the unspoken family heirloom.

Amidst the ‘LOL’ and ‘Hahaha’ inside the group chat, i realised that as ugly and out of place the red pail may be, it’s the one thing out of the entire house, that is useful and practical in ways you don’t realise until the point you need it.

Some would say we cannot live without our phone in this day and age, i think it would be more accurate to say we cannot live without the red pail.

At least not for me.

Many years ago when i collected the keys to my flat, it was presented to me in a nice black folder. I thought it was a really nice gesture and i like the way it was arranged.

Given a choice today, i would have preferred it if they had thrown the bunch of keys into a red pail instead. A red pail is so much more practical than a fancy folder.

Imagine new home owners walking out of HDB hub each with a red pail in hand, man, that would be a sight to behold.

Instead of giving out national day goodie bags in bags and knapsacks, the organisers should just give them out in red pails.

Forget the recyclable bags, the 20 cent charge for plastic bags and what not, NTUC should start stockpiling red pails by their payment counter.

You see how versatile that red pail is ?

And Ikea…. well….. ….Ok.

Ikea can have it in blue.

*This article was written on my laptop balanced on my red pail*


James S