Scenes on buses after all the trains in Singapore decided to break down today:

OL: “Move in to the back PLZ!”

Uncle: “No space already la! Move where!”

Unhelpful Greek chorus: “Ya lor, ya lor”

In my bus, a Chinese man, the sort who is balding slightly, in his fifties, wearing a clean-pressed but clearly old shirt, appointed himself second-in-command. He directed people out of the way of the back door sensor so that it would close and exhorted people to move in, employing English or precise Mandarin depending on whether he was dealing with a nonchalant teenager or an aunty, and punctuated the moment before the bus moved off with an “ohKAY!” and a thumbs up to the bus driver.

At the back, of course, was also a muttering, exasperated, maternally efficient makcik. “He will let you tap your card in the front first, then you can come in from the back,” she informed a horde of people clamouring to get on, then turned to me and rolled her eyes.

The driver was an Indian man who was very, very insistent that every single person who could fit on the bus should board so they could get home. He spent the first 30 minutes I was on board shouting politely, then ended up telling the passengers at the back “you all help me, OK?” and turned his attention to making his turns very gingerly and carefully as we white-knuckle clutched at poles and overhead handles.

At my stop, abashed uncles said “不好意思” (‘pardon me’) as I squeezed past. I stopped to wave goodbye at the driver as the bus paused at the red light. The driver saluted me, then rolled down his window to shout farewell at a pair of women crossing the road, who laughed and waved.

So, you know, this is the Singapore I know. Lots of griping online, of course. A self-aware, self-mocking hashtag, of course. But in real life, a pragmatic kindness.

Editors Note: Photo courtesy of Keval Singh

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