I am writing this letter not because I am disgruntled with the public transport service standard, but because I feel especially xenophobic on public transport, specifically the train service.
Before I delve into it, I just want to let you know I am not the typical Singaporean netizen who likes to air his complaints online. I live in extreme harmony with foreigners. My alma mater has an abnormally high percentage of foreign talent, particularly from China, and quite a few of them are my close friends. My neighbours include a family from China who shifted in this year, and another where the parents are Singapore Permanent Residents from Malaysia, having stayed here since some 10 years ago. I talk to my neighbours. I know the grandfather of the Chinese family was once a high-ranking diplomat who still keeps in touch with global news. I am, till of recent, possibly one of the least xenophobic Singaporeans you can ever find, one of the silent majority.
After an extremely high number of trips over many weekends, I cannot help but feel xenophobic. It is a crushing feeling, to know that I am one of the few Singaporeans on a train service that our government is forking out so much money to improve. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for improving the public transport network. There’s just something very wrong when you are outnumbered 20:1 in a cabin. You don’t get a seat because they are all occupied by the old, the pregnant, the parents with their young children, with the remaining, if any, already taken by the rare local who looks relatively young and not a parent. In any case, most likely, a foreigner would have taken the seat already.
It is not just the feeling of being physically alone in my country that is so disturbing. When I get on the train there is rarely an opening allowed for passengers to alight. Listening to everything but the English language being spoken on the train amplifies the xenophobia. Being stared at by foreigners like you don’t belong in the train doesn’t help too. Above all, the Singaporeans, which I take the train with, are rarely gracious. I am no angel. But at the very minimum I do wait for passengers to alight and I give my seat up to those who need it more than me. I move into the carriage to make space on the train too. All, sadly, absent on the public transportation services nowadays.
I take 3 lines to get from my girlfriend’s place in Kovan, to Bukit Batok. It is a journey filled with increasing discomfort, as I clock up more rides on the public transport.
Just in case you are feeling particularly disconnected, or are unable to remember the train lines needed, the three are the North-East line, the East-West line, and the North-South line. My family does own a car, but I made a choice to not drive what I did not pay out of my own pocket. With the COE prices constantly rising, it is unlikely I would be able to afford a car anywhere in the near future too, which means the train will continue to be the main mode of transport.
Instead of asking you to help me better the transport system, to slow the flow of foreign workers, population growth or even economic growth, I want to approach it from a fresh perspective. How should I be feeling instead? How best can I realign my perspectives to deal with evolving demographics? I still feel fortunate to be able to ride on a relatively reliable public transport system, but my xenophobia (mostly when taking public transport) will not abate. I am fresh to new ideas and I hope you could provide some.
The writer, Lee Jie Yang (Mr.), was also a former Chinese High student, and used to pen a blog, The Sidelined Student, back when he was a little more carefree.