Crowds at the immigration, people packing themselves in the bus terminal, all clamouring to leave the country. Queues extending in messy loops, stretching up the staircase through the customs declaration area.
That was how insane JB was in the late afternoon of Vesak Day.
Imagine a film on a zombie outbreak. Or one where a bio-weapon was released in a country. Everybody wants to get out, and they don’t care how they do it. Bodies get squashed against each other in the most uncomfortable way possible and you are shoved forwards, backwards, sideways. You can’t see ahead of the crowd and have no idea where you are headed.
You just move with them.
The immigration hall was impossible. Jam packed with people, the only thing you could do was to join the queue nearest to the entrance. Getting to the counters further away meant pushing and shoving your way through, and I didn’t really want to do that while I still retained some sense of public consideration. Ten minutes later, I realised my queue was blocking the entrance and decided that causing 50 people momentary inconvenience as I shoved my way through was the lesser of the two evils.
That was as far as logic goes, because after that, instinct took over.
The shapeless mass of people at the back of the hall meant that I had to somehow figure out who was a part of the queue I had joined. Survival instinct kicked in and I got firm with the ruthless queue-cutters who tried again and again to worm their way in front of me.
Clearing immigration, my relief morphed into some form of grumpy amusement when I heard a security staff telling an unhappy woman that the queue stretching through the customs declaration area was for the bus.
Look, more queues!
So I queued. And queued. And queued.
Until I reached the staircase leading down to the bus terminal, where I got a view of the causeway. I spied three people making their way on foot along the side of the road, looking like refugees making a stealthy escape.
It was as if someone handed me a canister of oxygen and told me to breathe again. 1.5 hours of claustrophobic queueing, wasted when I decided to step out of the line. The people behind me filled my space without any hesitation.
I crossed the causeway to get to the pedestrian path (a narrow path on the road marked out with a white line) with a stranger.
“Are you walking back to Singapore?” he asked.
“Yeah I am.”
He got really enthusiastic.
“Let’s do it!” he said, pumping his fist in the air.
I thought we’d be the rare few who chose to walk. After all, Singaporeans hate walking. And I say that quite confidently since I love walking and am too used to the incredulous expressions I get when I declare my interest.
How wrong I was.
One minute of walking and we discovered we had joined a moving line across the causeway.
You hear stories of people who walk across borders, getting arrested on the other side. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened when the bunch of us reached Singapore.
Dirty grey walls and dimly lit surroundings. Hardly a welcome home for Singaporeans who walked a distance just to see their homeland again. No fans, air-conditioning, or water coolers, but there were direction signs pointing us to the arrival hall. Singapore’s arrival hall: A place I usually hate to be in, at that point exactly where I wanted to be.
I created a bucket list then and there with “crossing a border on foot” as the sole item. It got crossed off immediately. (Can’t say the day wasn’t productive.)
On a sidenote, it’d be nice if they could mark out the boundary between Singapore and Malaysia on the causeway. It’d make good Instagram.