Coming from Melbourne and living in the inner city, I’ve never really used the train system. I lived in the free tram zone and got around easily on trams whenever I commuted, or drove whenever it was a little farther off.
Life in Singapore is a bit different. For a start, a vehicle is ridiculously expensive, and perhaps somewhat impractical for an expat. But more to the point, unless you’re regularly ferrying children around town to extra curriculars or have a job that requires you to get around quickly, having a vehicle in this city is somewhat of a liability, especially given that they have such a super-efficient mass transit system.
Singapore’s MRT has six primary lines – an east-west line, a north-south line, a circle line, a north-east line, a downtown-line and an east-coast line. Trains here are as frequent as two or three minutes apart. They are generally automatically driven (they do not have train drivers) and are all underground in the inner city area (although they do surface in the outer suburbs). Platforms at the stations all have safety barriers (sometimes referred to as suicide stoppers in certain parts of the world).
The stations and the trains are impeccably clean. They do not permit eating and drinking on the train or on the railway premises. This includes water from your own water bottle. (I have witnessed a young man being ushered not to drink from his water bottle by a co-passenger – a conversation that ended without any drama). There is surprisingly little seating within the carriages, which allows for plenty of room for commuters to stand.
As the trains pull up into a station, an announcement can be heard over the PA system that sounds something like “Happy happy!” to the untrained ear. It threw me for a loop for the first few days until I realised that what they’re really saying is “Berhati hati di ruang platform” – Malay for “Please mind the gap between the platform”.
Singapore’s authorities do a lot to repeat a lot of messages that have a social impact on society. This set of posters is something that I have seen at a few MRT stations which I found very touching. They touch upon single fathers and children being raised by single parents. I feel that it is fair to say that single fathers rarely get much consideration when they take on the role of primary caregiver as well as being the breadwinner. This is the first campaign of this nature that I have personally seen anywhere in the world and got me thinking about how societies are adapting to the changing face of family structures.
Some of the messages inside the carriages are quite empathetic. This series of messages inside a train compartment on the north-south line brought a smile to my face, and gave me a sense that humanity still exists in the world. The messages touch upon being mindful, and not taking out frustrations on innocent strangers, colleagues or loved ones. Once again, I am yet to see similar messages like that anywhere else in the world. (The young man in the foreground was not aware that he was in this image. He appeared to have finished work on Friday and was either making his way home, or heading off to catch up with friends. He was busy looking at his phone when I took this shot).
The MRT does lead to some fun places. The Chinatown MRT leads to Pagoda Street and the Tintin shop. Tintin was a big part of my childhood and has remained a part of my adulthood too! The store has a changed a bit since my visit in 2013.