Monday, August 23, 2010

A Foreigner on the MRT

After watching some Youth Olympic basketball, I decided to go on an adventure. Instead of taking the totally convenient and comfortable Youth Games-provided transportation, I traveled back to my dorm room via Singapore’s subway system, the MRT. The Youth Olympic Village is located on the campus of Nanyang Technological University, on the city’s far west side. I was on Singapore’s version of the Millennium Mile, Orchard Road, in the heart of the city.

I found out that the trip would span one subway transfer and one bus exchange. Singapore has a reputation for being extremely safe and having law-abiding citizens. I probably wouldn’t have tried this in Rio de Janeiro. Here are some scattershot observations from my adventure:

-The MRT is very clean and spacious, compared to the other subway systems I’ve experienced (London, NYC, Chicago, DC).
-The MRT has five lines, or routes. The maps are easy to read.
-It was around 8:45pm Monday and their were a lot of business men in my train.
-I was probably the only non-local, a sharp contrast to touristy Orchard Road.
-A more diverse crowd enters at the Outram Park stop. Subways seem to attract two crowds: 1) the working class and 2) the young & fashionable.
-All stops had either a British or Asian ring to it. Queenstown or Tion Bahru were separated by one stop. Further down was the Spanish-sounding Buona Vista. Where am I?
-Everyone in Singapore has a smart phone. iPads can be bought in corner stores. I’m 13 hours ahead of Central Standard Time, but it feels more like I’m 13 months in the future.
-The only other Caucasian around me is carrying a man purse and wearing women’s shoes. He must be European.
-A local is wearing an Allen Iverson backpack. That’s a strange sight in any country.
-Things forbidden on the MRT- 1) No smoking: $1000 fine. 2) No Flammable Liquid/Gas: $5000. 3) No Eating or Drinking: $500. It occurs to me that I’ve been drinking water the past 20 minutes.
-The subway heads above ground midway through the trip. I’m surrounded by high rise apartment complexes. Singapore is a very urban city.
-I get off the MRT and head for the bus exchange, which turns out to be in the middle of a huge mall.
-The mall is packed at 9:45pm. Singaporeans love to shop.
-Now on the bus. I don’t really know where I’m supposed to get off, or “alight,” as they say in Singapore.
-I’m heading down Pioneer Road, a major thoroughfare. There’s a decent-sized soccer stadium on my left. It’s home to the Goomback United Football Club.
-Singapore flags are on every building. The young city-state just celebrated 45 years since it’s independence.
-There are warning signs all over this bus. Mind your step. Mind your head. Please move to the rear. No assault on bus captain (no joke).

I made it. I now understand the commute made by the countless purple-shirt-wearing volunteers that work in the Youth Olympic Village. I feel like a true Singaporean. I’ve lived here for two weeks now and tonight, it feels like home. Estimate time of trip: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Cost: free with Olympic transport card.

Click HERE to see a video I helped create. Click HERE to see some photos of the Young Reporters, including myself.