The Eternal Queue

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.

Air travel and self-discovery

I have a bad habit of thinking the worst before I go on an aeroplane. A series of ‘what ifs’ that get from bad to worse, and I don’t think I even need to explain what I’m thinking.

A couple of days ago, I went on a trip to Kuala Lumpur. My impromptu decision to go for the trip meant that I was on a different flight from my travelling companions, basically seven of my immediate and extended family members. Coming from a small family, that is everyone.

So my usual ‘what if’ scenarios got multiplied two times. ‘What if…..’ became ‘what if my flight…’ and ‘what if their flight…’. Starting questions that led to highly complex scenarios that had me pondering for days before departure.

The trip went without a hitch, which I suppose would be statistically the most probable outcome. After all, air travel isn’t actually dangerous. It’s just that airline accidents tend to gain more media coverage and end up skewing our perception of its dangers.

The media. Love it and hate it.

I read a news report yesterday, of flight TR2464 having to turn back en route on its trip to Kuala Lumpur on 20 May because of “inclement weather and a technical problem with the aircraft’s radar”.

Right on cue, my eyes went wide. TR2464? The flight my family took just a few days before? I read and re-read the article. Goosebumps on my skin. A technical problem with the aircraft’s radar? It was a faulty aircraft? Just one day after we returned! Was their return flight, TR2465, the same aircraft?

I began sending that article to my fellow travellers.

And waited for a response.

And waited.

My phone buzzed.

“Yeah, I saw this too. Lol.”

Silence.

A few hours later, another message.

“Wow!”

That was it.

I think I’m a worrywart.

Of defeat and Improv

I was quite determined not to have snippets of my life on this blog, but heck it. The only way I’ll keep it updated is to admit defeat. In any case, voyeuristic peeks into people’s lives are so much more exciting than stories and poems, right?

I finally tried Improv, and I’m still not sure why. I suppose we’ve all got this masochistic part of us that goes, “Pick me, pick me! I want to be publicly humiliated!”

Three participants, one instructor. Glass doors. Lots of people sitting outside, able to see what we were doing during that one hour crash course. And naturally, people did look.

Improv is probably one of the wackiest activities I have tried, and I absolutely loved it. It’s one of those things that encourages you to be silly instead of having to adult. And as we all know, to adult is probably the most difficult task society imposes upon us. Unless you’re naturally all responsible and wise.

I was in my natural state. Such a warm, mushy feeling, to be surrounded by so much love and acceptance, but disastrous in some ways. Because, as usual, someone asked me for my age.

So imagine. Under normal circumstances, people have difficulty believing I’m 26, even when I’m trying to adult. There, it was like trying to convince people that I actually was a man.

“No way!” someone involuntarily exclaimed. The other two wisely kept silent. Or perhaps they were just dumbfounded. “I just look 15,” I clarified. From their expressions, it seemed that even 15 was an overestimation. Rather ironic since the course was meant for those 18 and above.

I suppose my despair at that must have been evident, since the organisers gave me an SG50 seniors’ care package at the end of the session. It came with a pedometer that has a tendency to shut off on its own. But at least it gets these old bones moving. Plus a 2×2 Rubik’s cube to help my mind stay sharp. I really should get around to using it, but I just can’t remember where I left it.

Stranger (YYYY – YYYY)

You, stranger.
Your life defined in just two years,

You wailed with a vengeance in the one you came
Your face etched with stories in the one you went.

You were a child, playing hop-scotch in primary school
You were thirteen, nervous at the sight of your first crush

You were an adult, wondering where your career would take you
You were eighty, sprightly and refusing to be labelled as an elderly.

You might have been a man, enlisting into National Service
You might have been a woman, made to marry to live

You might have been gay, you might have been straight
You might have been thin, you might have been fat.

You, stranger.
You have your time, a time for you to live.

You could make a difference, make it count
You could tell your stories the way you want.

After all, it takes just two years to define your life,
But your lifetime to define those two years.