I step into the MRT train with beads of perspiration crystallizing on my forehead, to be greeted with gentle cold wind from the air-conditioner, that makes me shudder because of the temperature difference between the scorching hot sun outside and the chilly indoors. An old lady steps into the train with me, and after a few moments of hesitation, an uncle stands up and gives his seat to the old lady without saying a single word but just pointing to the seat. The old lady mouths a word of thanks but the uncle just walks away and stands somewhere else. Kindness and consideration for others, mixed with a slightly rude ignorance, or perhaps humility of not accepting any words of thanks- This is Singapore.
As I close my eyes to catch a nap on the train, a loud cheesy ringtone is blasted throughout the entire carriage and the entire train of passengers is treated to an orchestra concert of chinese opera music, albeit in midi form. A few seconds later, the concert switches into Bollywood music, then classical music. Once the music stops, words from the English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages flood into your ears as people start chattering in the trains. Sometimes, you might be served with extra slices of Japanese, Korean, French, German or some unknown language, if you are lucky. What country is this?!- This is Singapore.
As I listen to my relatives talk, I am sometimes impressed by how well they mix all the languages and dialects they know. There are many countries in the world where there are many people of different mother tongues, but where else in the world can you hear one person stringing up sentences with words from more than 3 languages and dialect? English, Chinese, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, whatever…- This is Singapore.
No matter where I go- MacDonalds, Starbucks, restaurants, cafeterias… there will be students or teenagers doing homework, assessment practice books, projects on laptops. I am always fascinated about how hardworking Singapore students are, and their ability to study anywhere as long as there is a table. Well, what can I say? I used to be one of them. This is Singapore.
Whenever I start a conversation about where to go, my relatives/ friends/ taxi drivers are always capable of instantly coming up with a list of permutations and combinations of the highways and roads to take, which buses to take and where to transfer buses, the probability of a traffic jam or traffic accident occurring along a certain road, and perhaps the number of traffic lights along the way.
And when I ask someone where I can buy something, I will be machine-gunned in the face a verbal list of departmental stores that sell these items, the names of the shops, which floors they are on, and which shops are beside them. In other words, Singaporeans seem to have a super memory about the geography of the country and the buildings, and have the entire map of Singapore at their fingertips. I regret not having mastered this Singaporean ability to memorize every single shop and road in the country (just like how we memorize every single word in our vocabulary lists in schools), perhaps because I don’t drive nor shop that much. Well, someday, I might be back to learn all this all over again.
In the midst of all the hoo-ha about the Japan disaster, whenever I tell someone I will be going back to Tokyo, I will be treated with a free repeated telecast of the Chinese, Japanese, English news (well all of them generally report on the same big issue nowadays) about how dangerous it is. Yes I know the dangers and risks. The air is contaminated, the water is contaminated, radiation is spreading. Water, gasoline and water are running out. I appreciate everyone’s concerns. I myself want to save myself. I know very well life is definitely not going to be easy, but please do not forget I have all my precious friends and my life there whom I cannot abandon.
But don’t worry, I’m sure I will be back one day, someday in the near future, because this is Singapore, the place where I grew up.