A Stranger in my Own Land


It was just a simple decision … a personal ‘C’mon, don’t be a wuz!’ moment. You see, I own a car and drive everywhere while in Singapore and have been since I got my driver’s licence all those years ago. The exceptions being if I am enjoying the odd big night-out – then I’d hop in cab like a smart person.

I happen to have a rare not-so-packed Saturday afternoon yesterday so instead of driving to where I needed to be in Orchard Road (which is Singapore’s busiest shopping street – think Oxford Street in London, Harajuku in Tokyo or Central in Hongkong), which will be jam-packed and a B**** to park, I thought I’d do the smart thing and park on the outskirts of the city and take the MRT (local underground) instead.

Boy, I did not expect it to be such an emotional experience for me.

The last time I took the MRT in my hometown was…let’s see…I can’t remember really. So let’s call it ten years ago. At first, it felt kinda nice when I walked into the City Hall station (one of the busiest)…like I am a tourist on holiday :)) It brought a sense of deja vu – like I am in London again (miss it big time!). In fact I know the London underground system better than this one in Singapore! Strange, right?  I do not own one of those stored value cards and so had to buy a ticket. I had to consult the train map and a real human being standing next to that big map to make sure I did not hop onto the wrong train. What a story I would be able to tell then, huh? Can’t even get onto the correct train in my own country!


Anyway, I got onto the right train going my way but along the way…a new wave swept in as my senses took in everything. The lights, noises, sights, stares, odours and fragrances. Familiar yet very strange at the same time.

Once on the train (I did remember to hold onto a handle, thank you!), I was able to engage in my usual pastime of making a mental count of how many people at a glance are glued to their digital devices. I have said on several occasions to whoever was listening that if aliens landed on earth today and observed human behaviours, they would certainly want to know why most are staring at screens instead of looking up, around or talking to one another BUT I digress! While doing that in my head (about 80% were digitally-glued, in case u wanna know),  I also noticed several young female fashionistas (accent on hair and eye lashings!), male urbanistas (headphones appear to be an important male fashion accessory) and the conservatives (“Don’t see me, I wanna be invisible”), the half-asleeps and the I’m-too-cool-to-be-here types. Hmm…which type am I?  In my casuals, flats, sunglasses on head, carrying a big bag (which I used as a weight for resistance training, btw, why waste the journey, right?)…

Look, it’s not like I have not observed people before this but somehow, being in the same carriage on the train yawing back and forth and screeching, makes it feel like a cinematic experience, only very very real and makes me feel very very weird and out of place.

Then off I hopped when I arrived at Orchard where the real bustling and jostling began. Boy, was it hot too (Singapore’s experiencing our longest drought since 1869, but again, I digress!). In front of me was a portly older uncle walking pretty briskly and I noticed his white T-shirt had more than a few holes at the back…an Indian gentleman next to him had slippers on that looked like they were three sizes too small. Hmm.

I swung around the corner to meander into the direction I was supposed to go and what I saw hit me in a most visceral way. There, sitting in her wheelchair was a frail old lady (about 80+?) with a bag on her lap and her hands outstretched with tissue paper packets…hoping for someone to buy them. The crowd ahead and behind me was moving fast and not wanting to slow everyone down, I feverishly reached into my bag for some dollar notes so I could buy some from her. As I reached her, my heart felt very heavy and all it took was to look her in the eyes to see her loneliness and fragility. All I could say was “Thank you, auntie” and as I walked away, my tears started rolling. That could be MY mother if her children didn’t look after her…I am sure no one in their 80’s expect to be selling tissue packs in Orchard Road to eke out a living. Someone like that tissue auntie needed to be looked after, cared for and loved as I am sure she had worked her whole life before yesterday.

I was pretty perturbed by the feelings and tears that welled up … but more so by my desire to suppress my emotions immediately then so they wouldn’t hurt me so much as I rushed to get to my destination, just like everyone else around me yesterday.

Who would have thought a simple decision to ‘park and ride’ turned out to be one of ‘see and feel’. I am still feeling… having seen a part of Singapore I had somehow been blind to, all because I am always behind the wheels in the comfort of my car.

What will this open my heart to do next?

Hope you had a good weekend where your soul was touched in some way too.


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