The bus pulled up at the hot, dusty stop. It was clear almost immediately that it was full, yet people kept trying to pile in.
“Move in, please,” the bus driver hollered. People shuffled a centimetre, an inch along, but there wasn’t much more they could do.
“I’m going to shut the door!” But the doors wouldn’t shut, springing open again as it hit against shoulders and arms. Finally, a primary school girl hopped out of the bus, resigned. The doors snapped shut and the bus pulled away.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence in Singapore. But as I stood slowly melting in the hot – but somehow not as hot as I remember it – pre-noon sun it felt as if I had never seen so many people in one tiny space before. The number of people on the bus felt, to me, like the entire population of the Isle of Skye, and I missed that empty, rolling Highland landscape.
The rest of my trip wasn’t much better. Clementi Mall was crammed with people and I took the wrong train (I’d managed to forget which line Redhill was on; clue, it’s not the red line). The train pulled into the Jurong East interchange just as an empty train in the middle platform pulled away in what felt like a big “screw you” to commuters. When I finally got on to the right train I missed my stop and ended up in Outram Park.
After about 17 months away, I’ve lost the rhythm of everyday life in Singapore. I can still talk endlessly about the ins and outs of politics and human rights in Singapore, but I’ve grown detached from the mundane things. I don’t walk at the same pace, or remember the little tricks I used to employ to find an emptier carriage or a quicker journey.
I felt out of step as I crossed the train platform, no longer the born-and-bred city girl. I’d spent so much time in the UK missing home and looking forward to being back on ‘my turf’, only to come home and face one anxious thought: “Is this really still my turf?”
As I said in my last post, my family still feels the same. That’s why it’s taken me this long to feel the distance: I’d spent the first few days solely in their company, more or less oblivious to the rest of the country. But in that first solo trip out to an interview, I discovered that while my family had remained the same, the country had changed and changed again. It might not feel that way to those who have been here this past year, but I feel it, from the obvious to the subtle.
I’m looking forward to meeting my friends again, surrounding myself with their company. Like my family, I know I can count on them to remind me of why I missed Singapore when I was away, and why I choose to live and work here like I do.