I am an avid commuter. Granted, I have the privilege of being ferried to school by my mother, but navigating the way back through the seething lands and undulating ridges of our scorched island is up to me. My path cuts across the urban jungles of the East, punches through middle earth, and into the concrete wilderness of the Northern Frontiers, and finally dumps me unceremoniously in a rumpled heap at the edge of the universe. Where I live. Therefore, I am an avid commuter.
The vessel through which my travels take place is, like many others, a train. A train – a sleek beauty of an invention, a speeding bullet of red, black, white and grey – the only thing capable of maneuvering the dangerous underground tunnels that connect distances. While I am shot from station to station from the barrel of the SMRT gun, there is a much more interesting experience going on rather than the one of mere commute. Indeed, wherever we go there is much to see and learn about. While my journey through urban jungles and middle earths does not vary from day to day – the blackness of the tunnels remains black, the trees outside do not sway to different winds (for as we all know, there is only one type of wind in Singapore, and that is hot wind), what does change – and perhaps most interestingly so – is the people. Thus, I find myself to be rather stuck in the habit of observing.
Now, you might be wondering why this is parked under the entertainment column. It’s not difficult to imagine why, really, because humans are humans’ best source of entertainment.
For example, take The Hunks. Hunks are very easy to spot. Imagine: The train doors hiss open. Out pour an exodus of bodies, blinding your sight temporarily. You shrink into your corner, eyes darting wildly. There is a moment of pause, where the entire carriage exhales with the sudden abundance of space. And then the bodies start streaming back in. And skimming the sea of black hair tops, you see a golden fin. It moves swiftly, deftly, stealing a corner just like yours. It settles there, bobbing gently up and down.
Upon closer examination, strands of dark brown reveal themselves. This brown-streaked gold fin – magnificent, really, amongst the black – surges upward for a second, as the fish below adjusts itself into a better position, revealing a chiseled face and a broad chest. The crowd parts momentarily, revealing a pair of jeans that cost more than my house. This particular type of fish, known as the Hunk, can be found in deep and shallow waters, in essence, anywhere. They populate all rivers from the Downtown River to the Northeast River, and come in many variations. Some Hunks are obviously, more desirable than others, just like how wild salmon probably makes a better dish than farmed salmon. (Then again, it depends on the cook.) However, another similarity between the salmon and the Hunk is how top grades are not only inaccessible, but unaffordable, and far beyond your freshwater dreams. This is a major complaint of fishermen everywhere.
But Hunks are not the end of it. On some days where the privacy of the corners next to the doors are taken, one is forced to shuffle to the middle of the cabin, where one is offered a prime spot in viewing the spectacle of the Sleepers. The Sleepers are far more common than The Hunks, and come in a much wider variety. Sleepers are identifiable no matter how they look like by a few observable characteristics. The first, and the most obvious, is a gaping mouth. Within this massive contraption lies gleaming teeth, as well as a saliva pump (hidden beneath a sleep-deadened tongue) that is furiously straining away with panting vitality. Thus, oodles of drool may (or may not) be leaking out from this massive, physics-defying contraption, depending on the duration of the Sleeper’s bout of sleeping. Sleepers are susceptible to train jolts, and oblivious to scenery.
The second observable characteristic is a Slack Neck. Now, for the general variety of fish, necks are usually straight and strong. However, Sleepers do not have control over their necks. Oftentimes, other fish are at the mercy of their lolling necks, which are unfortunately accompanied by swinging ropes of slimy drool, as though Spider-fish had been swinging around inside their mouths. Despite all their oblivious danger, though, they are quite adorable. (Commuters might be alarmed to hear that SMRT is looking to replace them soon.)
Sometimes, a rare and kaleidoscopic creature wanders into the train as it is pushed on by the current. Long-lashed, blinking eyes, soft-spoken, edged with a keen alertness – yes, it is an Owl. Now, this brand of animal generally takes no notice of Hunks and Sleepers, despite what you may suspect as a predatory nature. Owls are, contrary to popular belief, clueless and absorbed, but give off an air of wisdom. They often come in with ruffled feathers, but unlike many other fish, do not engage in preening or grooming. Inside, clutched in their claws are precious treasures. These treasures, picked up from places called Bookstores, are their endless sources of enjoyment. It is always a pleasure to see them turn the pages, and read on. No, Owls are perhaps not the funniest to laugh at, but who knows? Perhaps great things go on behind their shuttered lenses as the shadows and light play patterns on us all.
So, there is my journey as a commuter. The scorching sun may have driven the creatures of the land into the coolness of the shade, but the vessels that traverse the underground are as populated as ever. It is in humans – or are we fishes? – where we find our stories. It is in humans, where, with a little power of sight, we find reflections of society. Hunks and sleepers, brains and lepers. We are all there, packed into one tiny carriage, shuttled along.
Indeed – there is much to see and learn about.
Puah Rui Xian, 15A11
[Photo by Ryan Ch’ng, 16S47]
This is an entry received as part of our 2016 writing contest. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Victorian Press.