I was looking around the surprisingly sparse crowd in the train on a weekday morning central line when my eyes rested on an elderly gentleman in khaki coat, a pair of denim jeans and shoes that matched his coat. I was then reminded of what i first learned when arriving at my current company—that your shoes should always match the colour of your belt. At least when you are in your business wear.
He stood there holding onto the handle dangling from above, eyes switching between staring at the screen above the door and scanning the rest of the commuters. He would then return to the screen which provided more entertainment with general information, quizzes and more commercials than anyone would choose to watch. But at the very least, it seemed to make the cut as a time killer. No matter how uninteresting it is, it cannot match the standard the rest of the people in the train have set, many of whom were staring at their mobile phones tapping away. Me included.
He turned to face the back where i was standing and i noticed his lips had a downward arch, which didn’t do too much to hurt his gentlemanly image. A moment later, the train pulled over at my station. I looked at my watch. The number 31 was displayed at the bottom right of my analog watch. It’s Halloween today.
In the blink of an eye, I’ve been in japan 2.5 years now. While this is fairly shallow an experience, obvious from the fact that people go gasping expecting me to have already been here for much longer, I’ve met my share of new people during this time, among whom were some fans of my motherland. It became so much like an equation that each time people hear I’m from Singapore, the switch in their head goes, “Merlion.” These are the people who know nothing much else about Singapore.
Then there are those who talk about the ship-like structure with an infinity pool rested atop three buildings. These are the ones who happen to see the softbank commercial featuring SMAP. Perhaps they know a little about us. The ones who have some interest in the country would go beyond that and share their experiences being there or their desire to visit someday. The ones who stop at, “Oh, I’ve been to Singapore when i was a child” are the kind people who try to strike up a conversation but have nothing much else to contribute.
The Merlion group usually goes on to say that you cannot chew gums in singapore or you cannot litter. The Marina Bay Sands group would say they wanna put up there at least for a night. The ones who have been there as children almost never voice an interest to visit again. Regardless, everyone would arrive at how clean Singapore is. I would then go, “It really isn’t that different from Japan.”
Apart from the regular nice Japanese people who give praises whether out of kindness or based on what is commonly known here, I’ve also met people who honestly like singapore and have visited us many times. For some reason, I always comment that Singapore is managed too much like a corporate instead of a country.
Most of them simply go, “Hayyyyyy,” the utterance to signal input of new information. But there is one gentleman (who appears to be in the late-forties) from whom I feel true love of Singapore. The man from whom I can feel passion in his words, the only person who struck me when he highlighted how beautiful, but less clean we have become. He told me how he fell in love with Singapore when he first visited over 10 to 15 years ago. And when he returned again recently, something was lost. No doubt it has become a more beautiful city but doesn’t seem as clean anymore. Somehow.
These couple of years also saw a few of my friends leave Singapore and some go around declaring their dislike of the country. If I happen to be around during this “declaration,” a third person would usually ask why I do not like Singapore. That question always irks me because I have never said that I don’t like Singapore. And me having left to work and live overseas is not a valid premise for that conclusion either.
Scale it down a few notches and you would realise leaving Singapore really isn’t that much different from moving out of your parents’ place to live by yourself whether it’s due to marriage or not. Living alone does not necessarily mean you don’t love them anymore.
941 days as of October 31. If this number helps you win lottery, you might want to consider giving me a treat when I’m back.