I am on my favourite bus ride. The one with the fondest memories from the four years of taking it to school and then the three months, four years later, taking it to work. On average, it is 45 minutes long – not too long or short, just nice; brings me straight from home into the heart of town. The Bus ‘106’ is double-decker three-fifths of the time, which assures me something closer to a bird’s eye view of the changing scenes more often than not. With my eyes closed, I can draw out picture memories of the sceneries we pass by – I could do cloudy or cloudless, downpour or sunshine. I know the stops in between, with memories at each one of them; I know where the favourite busker performs on Saturday afternoons and the fork in the road where traffic slows on weekday mornings. Every traffic light, each pedestrian crossing and how one is synced with the next. The bumps on the road, even.
For me, this is connectedness. If the environment (as in the place, its people, the visible architecture and the invisible energy of it all) were a score for a musical piece, connectedness sounds like a beautiful melody with bass to soprano aligned in harmony, in every sense of the word. The pace of our footsteps and the speed of the vehicles acting as the metronome, we transition from day to night with seamless continuity just like the turning pages of the music score. Tempo established, our crescendos and decrescendos come naturally across each day. The miracle of the eventual masterpiece, then, like an ongoing rehearsal that sees every one of us a member of the orchestra.
Connectedness is the practical reason for the public transport system and the essence of familiarity we enjoy while navigating through it – being able to draw the SMRT Systems map in the air with your finger and point at the vague positions of each train station on the different coloured lines. It is the reason for our ability to estimate travel times to uncanny precision and to stand at the ‘right’ cabin doors that would lead to the escalator at the next station. ‘Mind the platform gap’ brings visual images of the black, wide slit we once hopped across as children and today, it is the reason we hold our phones a little tighter when entering through the train doors. Connectedness is why I’ve told the story about the ‘secret station’ between Caldecott to Botanic Gardens a couple of hundred times to explain why the distance and duration between them is especially long. The station labels also skip a number. Each narration, with a timing so accurate that the punchline, “that’s why, in between these two stations, there is always an SMRT staff – dressed in red and black, holding a black Rover Bag across his shoulder, who would walk from one end of the train to another” is followed by a live demonstration. Our hairs stand on end and I get the last laugh, it is a story I like to tell.
This essence of familiarity plays out in more ways than one. It is due to connectedness that we know some extent of conversational dialect and a Mother Tongue besides our own; we wave at neighbours in the corridors of our heartlands and bumping into people we know at void decks come with little surprise. Each one of us would have a family member who knows a friend or a friend who knows a friend; “do you know XXX?” is a valid conversation starter with a 50% chance for agreement. What a small Singapore in which we coexist, allowing for an incredible sense of connectedness to wrap around us like a blanket of comfort and familiarity. It is in celebration of this connectedness I wish to remember as vividly as possible upon my departure, that I write this piece and that confidently, I can say: Dear Singaporean stranger, I am almost certain that you and I are connected in ways we have yet to discover.
PS The countdown is at 11 days – 11 days before I am Sydney bound and student again.