Getting to Ayala from Yague Street was easy with our cab deftly sidestepping the mini traffic snarls building along the way and arriving at Glorietta sans whiplash injury. Our mission was simple: board the MRT to head for home. Riding the MRT, I thought, was easy-peasy, having mastered the art of boarding and alighting in Singapore. Ticket card in hand, I’d just tap it on the scanner and go through the turnstile without any hassle. I’d climb down the stairs to the platform and wait for the train, which had a three-minute interval per carriage, to arrive. The platform could be packed, at times, with commuters but you were never overwhelmed with the sense of dread of taking public transportation or suddenly enveloped with claustrophobia. The modus operandi would be to wait for the next carriage that was half-full if the previous ones were packed to the rafters. There was no pushing; if was nothing like the much- told story of the train conductors in China (or is it in Japan?) ramming people into the train.
I was gobsmacked at what I experienced at the train station. “How did actress Anne Curtis think that taking a train was not one hell of a ride?” I asked myself. Which train did she ride that made it possible for her to easily pose and upload pictures? It could only be a fluke of the universe, which I was hoping would happen again. Buying the ticket was the only headache-free step in the journey to home because it was downhill from there. The queue to get inside the station was snaking to the station exit but that wasn’t the galling. The queue-jumpers who aggressively positioned themselves to get ahead of you were. You take the high ground because these sneaky lowlifes, callow and callous as they come, are simply not worth locking horns with. That there were carriages reserved for women together with senior citizens (males included) was a balm to my ruffled demeanour after having endured the long, slow walk to the entrance. I was wrong. I’d forgotten to factor in the day (Friday) and time (rush hour) so it was another round of a long, cheek by jowl wait and, I was to discover, ride.
The ladies were positioned in tight rows before the yellow line to the entrance to the carriage like the ready-to-combat soldiers of Alexander the Great. With each arrival of the packed carriage, there was a collective push from the sides from the sweating mass to get inside before the doors shut close.
“Malimit na tayo,” said a woman behind me in a relieved tone.
“Oo nga,” answered her friend.
“Pwede bang sabihin sa boss ko na mag-le-leave ako kasi bugbog na ang katawan sa kasasakay ng MRT?” she told her friend. Then both laughed out loud.
I wasn’t in a laughing mood but their attitude, I found, was preternaturally inspirational. I was feeling harassed, so hemmed in with all the people waiting to go but there they were – women who weren’t the least bit frazzled with the whole situation. At one point, the other woman protectively put her arm out as if to shield me from a fall and, in a pleasant tone, said, “Baka mahulog ka, ale.” Once inside the train after the pushing and the shoving, it was another round of jostling as women boarded and alighted from the train. Like the wait, it was a stifling cheek by jowl ride; the AC couldn’t cool the heaving mass of women hanging on the straps, holding on the poles or leaning on a passenger. Forget about ventilation of the carriage.
The train ride left me, at the very least, tired. It also made me contemplative. I was naïve in thinking that a simple train ride, once I was out of the bubble of perfect Singapore, would be the same, give and take a few dissimilarities. Now isn’t that the problem of getting out of the protective sheath of the Garden City and its ilk of First World countries? You are faced with a clash of realities, of First World against Third World, and the agonizing dilemma of re-adjusting your frame of mind. The MRT, ideally, should make public commuting as breezy as a stroll on the beach, alleviating the impact of the daily toil on the general public working to the bone to keep self and family together. It is, within my limited world of experience (read: callowness, if not, utter foolhardiness), hellish going through it every single day. How long will perseverance last? But that’s really another naïve question. It’s like asking how long before one decides to take a permanent leave of absence from the world.