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On the Road with Rupert
- in Singapore
Return of the Rupert

2140 hrs

I'm caught in a tailback that's stretched all the way from Komtar, Johor Bahru, to the Causeway into Singapore. After all, it's a Friday night and that's as good a reason as any other to pop over for a night out in Singapore. Of course, I'm technically supposed to be on a working trip but I guess there can't be anything wrong with mixing pleasure with business. Unfortunately I'm a man of rigid principles and one of them forbears the incorporation of less than professional conduct into an activity that is supposed to be thoroughly… professional. I wonder why though, after all these years of gnarled traffic, that there hasn't been any significant impetus to expand the roads here.

I am told by my editor who is sitting prettily next to me in her denim jacket, clasping her hands close to her chest and crying out for some attention, that "THE BORDER IS APPROACHING". Sounds rather ominous, almost as if she were announcing the end of the world. Perhaps it is the end of her world in some way but I'm in no position to say why. As I type out these words on an EXTREMELY COOL NOTEBOOK, which has been generously provided by the management for our use on this trip, my editor constantly peers over my shoulder and I'm getting that slightly miffed feeling I always get whenever someone tries to read over my shoulder.

I am given a running commentary of the vehicle makeup on the outside of this traveling refrigerator. The bus driver obviously does not understand the uses of a thermostat. But he also doesn't understand the meaning of the word speedometer either. We were told that the bus would take about six hours to reach Singapore but our 'enthusiastic' driver has gotten us to the Causeway almost 2 hours ahead of time. It was more the swerving and general manic driving of a young punk at the wheel than the speed that bothered me. However, this must be a rare feature of this particular coach service, as their safety record has been pretty alright thus far… as far as I am aware. This particular line is run by an arm of a diversified Malaysian conglomerate with two different types of coaches.

Anyway, back to the vehicles. Most are of Singaporean origin. Probably making their way back after a night of comparatively cheap food and shopping in Johor Bahru. I suppose it's good in a way. As a Malaysian, one hopes for the inflow of foreign capital in this sluggish economic climate. But this regular soiree in Johor Bahru has resulted in an unusually high cost of living in comparison to the rest of Malaysia. Starting salaries in Johor Bahru are similar to those in Kuala Lumpur and housing is also rather pricey.

2230 hrs

Singapore… once again. I would be more enthusiastic about my return IF I've not been stranded at the Checkpoint by that illegitimate male offspring of a female canine. You must pardon my language since I am not exactly thrilled by the fact that I've been left here with a huge backpack to lug around. The weather is muggy and I tend to perspire quite a lot. So I'd rather not speak about it at length except say that heads will roll once I get back to Malaysia and write a letter of complaint, speak to the newspapers, and basically make them regret that they ever made a mockery of the phrase 'contract of carriage'.

Nonetheless I am suitably impressed by the new Checkpoint installation. It has a clean and spacious feel about it that reminds me of an airport terminal. Walking is kept to a minimum, and distance is something to be minimized as the process of immigration and customs clearance (the source of my being stranded here) requires passengers to alight from the bus and proceed through the system on foot.

Anyway, I'm going to heave all this junk onto my back, walk over to a bus stop that's about 50 meters away, and hop onto the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) 170 that plies the route from Larkin in Johor Bahru, to Queen Street in Singapore. I'll drop off at the first MRT station that I come across though.

2310 hrs

The Kranji MRT station is one of the newer ones along the extension that whips around the northern tip of the island. When I left Singapore years ago, the northern line terminated at Yishun. Now I'm on a train that's heading towards Jurong East station without having to transfer at City Hall or Raffles Place Interchange. Changing times.

The train doesn't hold the same fascination for me as it did when I first boarded one in 1989. It's still as clean as ever in this surgical theater of a country. There are signs of humanity though as children toss an inflated plastic ball at each other. Their squeaky laughter lies in stark contrast with the somber disposition of everyone else. Other than that, the train stretches at least 100 meters into the distance and the commuters continue to stare into nothingness.

Riding this train is like an excursion into my past. Clementi station. I look out and remember meals of chicken rice at one of the coffee shops, shared with the woman I loved. A bittersweet memory. And now the train whizzes past one of the local polytechnic institutions on its way to Buona Vista, where my alma mater is within 10 minutes walk. So much time lost to the past. I look out into this station and imagine the uniforms of my fellow students, strident in white and blue and marching across the doors and windows of this travail through time.

But in essence nothing has really changed except myself and my perceptions of this country I once called home. The people are still the same. The boy with the plastic ball is still with me and the multitude of ringing tones still make their jarring intrusions into my journey. There goes a little Mozart and there's the theme from Indiana Jones, and a little voice in my head says, "Welcome home".

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