Friday, October 14, 2011

On and off the train in Singapore

This evening I took the MRT up to Orchard Road, intent on teasing shop assistants by pretending to being a paying customer. Instead, I was going to try on every pair of running shoes I could find, then go home. In these days of Occupy Wall Street, it's the closest I get to Sticking It To The Man.

I work near Raffles Place, so I got on the northbound train, which was semi-full by London standards, and vaguely full for Hong Kong in a rush hour. As we went north, the train suddenly began to fill, and after two stops everyone was packed tight inside. Despite the driver making announcements for everyone to move down inside, everyone stayed crowded at the doors.

At the third stop, with the train stuffed full, some people wanted to disembark. As the door area was so packed, you'd think the people closest to the door would step off, let the others out, then get back on. But oh no.

No, no, no. Like ostriches, everyone tried to remain as still as possible, while the people trying to leave had to push and shove and cram themselves through any gap they could find. This wasn't the orderly, well-designed society I'd been told about. This was a lump of people, each refusing to make life an iota easier for anyone else, and seemingly not realising they were making it more uncomfortable for themselves too.

So the fourth stop came, and I needed to get off, but because I'd moved into the carriage to get out of the way of previous waves of passengers, there were now about twenty people between me and the door. Out on the platform, people dutifully waited, leaving space for those on the train to get out and reshuffle the deck. Of course, none of them shifted.

This failure to compromise is just a failure. But I've learned something from three and a half years in Hong Kong:

People in Asia are scared of horses.

Or at least, if you adopt a braying accent, half an octave and ten decibels higher than would be polite, then they panic, thinking a horse has got on the train, and obediently move out the way. That, or my imperialistic forefathers (gawd bless 'em) did at least inculcate a sensible fear of an English toff in every other country, which forces people to step back, subconsciously afraid that the nitwitted Posonby-Smyth is about to run somebody through with his sword.

Hey, it doesn't sound pretty, but if you're stuck at the Red Sea and you need to get to the other side in a hurry, somebody has to be Moses.


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