I bring the kids to their swimming lesson at the public swimming pool every Saturday morning. With our swimming stuff packed into a huge backpack (3 sets of change, toiletries and goggles take up a substantial amount of space), we set off to wait for the buses that will take us to the bus stop nearest the swimming pool.
Though the bus ride is very short, the buses we take are often very crowded because they also bring commuters to the busy neighbourhood centre with the bus interchange, MRT station and shopping malls. The buses fill up very quickly and we often have to stand for the whole journey. The bus ride home from the busy neighbourhood centre takes a couple of bus stops more, and we seldom get a seat either.
One thing I have realised standing throughout the bus rides is that young kids and the elderly are safest when seated. The handles secured from the ceiling of the buses, as well as the vertical poles for holding on to while standing, are designed for much bigger kids and adults with stronger upper arm strength. The passengers without seats have to stand sideways. This means that whenever the bus stops or moves off, a strong, solid grip on the handles or poles is required. Correct placement of the feet is also very important so that the body can counter balance the movement of the bus. And the movement of the buses, in my opinion, is getting very violent nowadays. When the bus moves off, there is a sudden jerking movement that will cause the unprepared standing passenger to sway like the dandelion in the wind, though less graceful. When the bus brakes, arms holding on to handles or poles stretch like they are going to break, and legs skip a step or two to regain balance.
Knowing the perils of standing on the bus, I usually nag the kids to grip on tightly to the poles with both hands, and recently I have started teaching them to place their feet properly so they can sway but not fall, like bamboo in strong winds. But the most dangerous part of the journey is transiting from our (usually) safe standing area on the bus to the door when it is time for us to get off the bus. I would have 1 hand holding on to the pole while the other would grip onto the upper arm of 1 kid so that he/she can let go of their safety pole to grab on to the pole by the door. Then I would repeat to help the other kid make the transition. Usually Matthew is able to manage on his own, whereas small Megan would need some help. All this while the bus would be moving and the kids have to say “Excuse Me” to the armpits of other passengers as we squeeze towards the door. Their voices seldom drift up past the same armpits they ‘talk’ to though.
I also notice that men are normally kinder and more considerate, especially to young Megan. If they notice that Megan is standing unsteadily on her feet and trying to make the transition to another pole, they will have a concerned look on their faces, and will reach out to help Megan, afraid that she will fall down. Who says Singapore is a cold country? These kind (should I emphasise male?) souls definitely prove the survey wrong.
As we are usually the only ones to get off at that bus stop, I (again) have to nag at the kids to hurry up and get off the bus. There were a couple of times when the kids have gotten off and the doors started to close on me and the bus simultaneously jerked to move off because I took too long! Now, Matthew would jump off the bus while I lift Megan and we step off the bus as quickly as we can.
That is just one-half of our journey.
On the way home, the bus is again almost always full. Many people get off the stop before ours, so it is our turn to be in the way of others. Perhaps it is due to the same fear of having doors closed in our faces, many people rush to position themselves in front of the door before the bus stops completely at the bus stop.
But what many people fail to take into consideration is that it is not we (standing passengers) do not want to make way for the alighting passengers, but it is extremely difficult to shift while the bus is still moving. We may end up losing our balance and falling down. I will always shift to make way whenever I can, if I am alone.
But my first priority is to make sure my kids are safe, and it often means standing near and slightly behind the both of them so that I am ready to catch them should they fall. So there is no way I can shift while the bus is moving. Carrying a bulky, heavy backpack laden with sodden swim wear doesn’t help in a crowded bus either.
On one occasion, this elderly lady seated in front of me started getting up (with much difficulty) a distance from the bus stop she wanted to get off at, together with about half the passengers on the bus. But it was almost impossible for her bulk to get past mine when the bus was moving. With her on one side, and the kids on the other, I couldn’t shift for her at that moment as it would mean swinging my heavy backpack towards the heads of my kids, who were already swaying on their feet in the fast moving bus. So I made the decision to stand firmly on my feet until the bus stopped so I could then make way for the alighting passengers, including this lady.
But this lady wouldn’t give up. Without a word, she kept pushing against me so she looked like she was swaying on her feet, while I stood still. Ultimately, she won the sympathy of one passenger seated in front of the kids. This kind lady was so afraid the pushing lady would fall down and lifted one arm in an attempt to catch the pushing lady should she fall. When the bus finally came to a stop, I immediately shifted so that she could get past me. And she did.
The kind lady then told the pushing lady to be careful, with which the pushing lady replied loudly in Mandarin, “I’m okay. It’s like that one, people DON’T move, I PUSH lor.”
At that moment, I felt so maligned. Indignant anger welled up inside me, and I had to swallow my response. What’s the point trying to explain to someone who was set in her own perception and opinion? But I got pretty affected after that, and had to talk myself through the situation every time I replayed the incident in my mind.
While the incident became less vivid as time passed, I am not completely over it yet. It serves as a constant reminder to myself to open my eyes wide to observe more, and put myself in others’ shoes more often. If I had to choose again, I would still choose to stand still. But I would probably tell the auntie to wait till the bus stops so I can shift. Or would I be wasting my breath? Probably so…