Sunrise | Singapore
Photographer: Tan Tan
Everyone is still half-asleep at 630 in the morning. It's slightly chilly on the train. I can't remember the last time I've been up this early... I'm sure it must've been when I was 15 and still in secondary school. But then again, it's not like I had much of a choice back then.
I can feel the air-conditioning unit blowing straight at me. It's strange how I never noticed that before. I suppose I always took it for granted that the air indoors would always be cooling. Living in Singapore, it's easy to forget that it's 30 degrees outside and the weather is consistently hot and humid. Foreign things become commonplace on these shores, and we've normalised plenty of eccentricities (kiasu-ness, for example) as a first world nation in the middle of Southeast Asia.
The signs, posters and advertisements plastered on the walls of the MRT are always written in 4 different languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Just looking at them makes my head hurt. I don't understand anything but English. Trying to decode Bahasa Melayu and/or decipher the meaning of Chinese characters that I may (or may not) have learnt before drives me bonkers, so I just avoid it altogether.
Quite a number of people are wearing masks similar to those worn during the SARS outbreak in 2003. That was 17 years ago now... How crazy! Well, I'm not surprised as everyone's visibly worried about the coronavirus threat because of Singapore's rather close ties to China and Japan. It doesn't really bother me, although I find it extremely ridiculous that some people are wearing surgical gloves in public and using giant umbrellas to shield themselves - literally - from everyone else.
I'm obviously not going to wear a mask unless I'm sick. I had to wear masks once when the haze got really bad in Singapore thanks to Indonesia's unrelenting deforestation. I hated it. My face felt extremely stuffy and I think the masks made my headaches worse. I just chose to stay home most days, kind of like what I'm doing now... Although I am a lot busier now as compared to before.
I'm genuinely not a fan of the plastic MRT seats. Boarding the train in the wee hours of the morning feels akin to walking down long hospital corridors in the middle of the night. You barely hear a thing, there's hardly anyone, and the sanitised air feels immensely sterile, stale, cold and close to lifeless.
Everything seems to move slower in the morning. Whenever the train stops, it feels like forever before the doors close and we head off again towards the next stop. I'm currently 3 stops away from Raffles Place, and I have to change trains to get to Marina South Pier before sunrise. I'm pretty to catch the golden hour! It'll be my first time watching the sunrise in Singapore — And I grew up here.
One of my acting teachers, Daniel Jenkins, once took us on a field trip to Bugis to people-watch for an hour. I can tell you honestly that it was probably one of the most boring things I ever had to do. I didn't find people here interesting in the least compared to all the strange, quirky and questionable characters I'd seen wandering the streets of London, Paris, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
Being this nonchalant in London or even New York can be quite unsafe; you've always got to be awake and alert, just in case. Life is a lot more unpredictable in most big cities. There will always be questionable characters roaming around in public, so you've got to be wary, especially if you're a girl and you're alone. Shutting off and zoning out is out of the question, but here in Singapore it's pretty unnecessary to be living life 'on the edge.' It's safe enough that we don't need to have our guards up all the time, which is definitely a relief from the already-present daily stress of living and working.
I assume that's where this intrinsic sense of complacency comes from. Here, we're safe and secure. Life might become boring, but at least it's stable and predictable. (Apart from the expat benefits) it explains why many foreigners choose to move here with their families and eventually settle down. It's a lot easier to relax into life when you don’t have to worry or think too much about the future.
I do feel that this mentality is hindering our progress as a nation, both socially and culturally — People conform too easily to the norms here, and we tend to give in and give up our power and autonomy thinking that someone higher in power than us always knows what's best for us. Most people aren't being brought up to question, debate and think critically. Maybe deep inside everyone's hoping and imagining a different and more exciting life, but for the most part, people are satisfied and contented. So they end up settling and cocooning themselves in steady and familiar routines.
My grandma (my mom's mom) always says: "Don't take risks." But I say, take it. Take it because it gets you somewhere new. Take it because it forces you out of your comfort zone, and that's where all your growth is found. How can you expect to fully realise your potential as a human being if you don't challenge yourself? If you're always afraid of failing? Failure is just a stepping stone towards success.
Sunrise | Singapore
Photographer: Tan Tan
This new train is white and bright. It still feels somewhat sterile, but without all the gaudy stickers plastered on its walls, I feel much calmer. The colours (or lack thereof) make it feel more spacious on the inside, and that makes me feel a lot less claustrophobic. At least I'm not being pounded into submission by never-ending rows of advertisements printed in flashy pink, and "Do Not" signs.
Colour coordination is terrible on MRTs and if I could I'd hire either a Scandinavian or Japanese designer to revamp the aesthetics of our public transport. Everything needs to be simplified, and it needs to feel more welcoming. Minimal design and maximum comfort should be the main focus.
This train is basically empty. I'm amazed. I love it when there's hardly anyone around because that rarely happens in Singapore. I finally have the space to just sit, think, reflect, breathe and just be.