23 March 2012


Do you ever just look at someone and wonder what they were thinking? I often have that thought and there is nowhere more relevant than on any Singapore bus. Singapore is often praised for its public transportation methods and they should be. Buses are frequent, especially in areas where there are no trains. The city is in the process of bringing new buses into the system, a desperately needed upgrade. They also adapt bus routes and time tables to fit the needs of frequent travelers.

The Mass Rapid Transit subway system is quite convenient, though a bit crowded in the mornings and after the close of business as there are not as many seats available. People tend to stand in front of the doorways and not into the belly of the train, which makes a somewhat crowded train seem unbearable.

Train stations are so clean and so nice; all of the indoor stations are air conditioned and well lit. Stairways, escalators and lifts are all around. Bus terminals are also clean and very convenient – most have food and shopping centers in the immediate vicinity. Most buses, all trains and all bus and train stations are handicap accessible.

Travelers are advised not to bring food or beverages onto any bus or train; food and beverages are not allowed in train stations either.

Since Paul and I live in an area where there are no convenient MRT stations, we use the bus as our primary transportation mode. We have a stop right outside of our building and we are far enough east that we are almost guaranteed a seat when travelling in either direction.

We have observed a number of behavior patterns among bus riders, some of which I will now detail.

I do not understand how it is possible, but a surprising number of individuals manage to sleep on the bus. How and why, I have no idea. Singaporean drivers are not aware that they are able to maintain a constant speed while driving with their foot on the gas pedal, so many will press and release the pedal over and over and over, jerking the vehicle and everyone in it. Those with upset stomachs will not be able to enjoy the ride.

Some bus drivers have lead feet and enjoy speeding up for short patches of no traffic and then come to a literally screeching halt at either a red light or quickly approaching bus stop. Many people boarding buses are thrown either forward or back as the drivers speed away from a bus stop before anyone can take a seat or manage a stance suitable for surviving such a thrust.

With the bus jerking, the screeching brakes and the sound of the engine loudly exhaling at each stopping point, I have no idea how anyone can even have a head propped in a stable manner that would allow a person to sleep. Each time a person approaches his or her specific stop, a bell of some sort rings indicating the driver should stop at the next location. Then there are the occasional announcements from a random recorded voice providing information about security or thanking us for riding the designated company’s bus. Who sleeps through that? I have no idea but it is not uncommon to hear someone snoring.

More importantly, aren’t these sleeping people concerned that they will sleep through their desired location and end up on some foreign part of the island far, far away from their intended destination? I can’t do it.

Singapore’s buses are set up either in a two-person bench format, one along each side of the bus, or a two-by-two seat formation with a small aisle in between two sets of seats.

I cannot believe the rush to not only get onto the bus, about which I have written a few times before, but the rush to also find a seat. I imagine people would use swords to fight for seats if they could, any many of the aunties do – with their soft, sad eyes and their old, wrinkly faces, begging like a puppy for someone to give them a seat.

Then, those people who fought so desperately to rest their legs and take a breath end up getting off the bus at the next stop. Really?! You know you will be on the bus for two minutes and you fight someone else out of a seat? What were you thinking? Was that 1.5-minute sit really worth it? You got up 30 seconds before your bus stop to ensure you alight as soon as the bus doors are opened. Honestly.

Then there are the people who sit in the aisle seats, leaving the window seat open.

These people annoy me oh so much. Now, if a person were to be getting off in the next stop or two, I could see the convenience of sitting in the aisle seat, knowing that you do not want to climb over someone in the next couple minutes. Fine.

But the rest of you – what are you thinking? Why do you sit on the outside and not move over? If someone else approaches, will you move over to the window? Likely not. That is what really annoys me.

If a person boards a bus, carrying bags or something, no one in the aisle-only seats moves to the window. When that person with the bags approaches the person sitting in the aisle seat, nine times out of 10, the person in the aisle seat will not move to the window. The person in the aisle seat will not get up and allow the person with the bags to enter the window seat with ease, either.

No, no. The person in the aisle seat will just turn their legs into the aisle, forcing the person with the bags to raise the bags over the heads of those seated around and squeeze their bodies and their belongings into a small space, trying to not hit the person in the aisle seat. What are you thinking aisle seat person? Why would you not move over or at least stand up and give the other person some room?

The same happens on the way out, by the way. The person with the bags has to climb over the person in the aisle seat again to alight. Stupid aisle seat person. Did you not learn your lesson the first time?

Then there are the musical chairs riders. They are funny. They will board the bus, rush to the back to find a seat, and then when another seat opens up, apparently a better seat of higher value, they will rush to that seat as soon as the prior seat occupier steps out of the way. I’m sorry, was your original seat not good enough? Do you get a better view on the left side of the bus than you had on the right side of the bus?

Some people will move more than one time. Older Singaporean women are my favorite to watch because they will sit in up to four seats in a single trip. Why, I often wonder. Why do you move so much?

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