Encounter of the temporal kind: HAikus from an mrt Cabin

I'm finally getting down to my third post thanks to a promise to the talented Ivan Yak who designed this site.

I previously did an internship with the talented Dawn Ngand one of the things I was tasked to do was to sit on the train. From one end to the other on the green line as well as the red line. So for a few days, I'd take the cabin in the middle and travel from Joo Koon to Pasir Ris, and back. Jurong East to Marina Bay, and back. My task was to observe. To listen to the chatter around me and notice the behaviour of people on the train.

And from these journeys I picked out ten group of people I found particularly interesting and here are ten haikus inspired by them. Attached to each haiku are the notes I took of them on the train.



Loudly, at the end

Of this rainbow, cracked knuckles

Echo engraved hearts

Indian Lady with heft, carries herself with confidence. Colourful ‘rainbow’ shirt with brightly painted nails. She has tattoos on both forearm, one bears a name with heartshapes around it while the other are lines of text. She’s the loudest person in the train for a long period, must have spoken for at least 30 minutes. She is very expressive and her face smiles a lot as she talks almost as if she’s looking at her partner. She also fidgets a lot, often touching her rings and cracking her knuckles as she talks (she’s on the headset so she has freedom of movement) The more emotional she seems the louder she gets. Once she gets off the phone she becomes almost invisible, blending in with everyone else. She sashays as she left the train.


Project Railway star

Mirror, mirror on the train

Best view of them all

Office lady in her 20s in a large puffy top almost like she’s wrapped in a giant tissue. Sticking out of her hand bag’s side pocket are a large wooden comb and a pen. Unlike most passengers she’s not looking at her phone or listening to music.  Once the train moves underground she moves to the centre and looks intently at her reflection in the glass. She turns 45 degrees to her side to look at her side profile, then crosses her leg as she stands, almost model like. She looks at her reflection and smiles to herself. When someone enters and obstructs her view she turns to face the glass on the other side. She adjusts her fringe for three stops but there doesn’t seem to be any major changes. Perhaps she’ll use the comb once she’s in a less crowded place. Leaves at Raffles.


Two guys shackled by

Single worded exchanges

Escape into screens


Two guys in civilian attire but with army sports shoes and haircut. Conversation was brief with little exchange of words. For example, A says ‘more fun’ and B replies ‘probably’. They spend more time looking at their phones instead.


Enters together

Old couple on separate seats

Leaves from different doors

Old malay couple in their 70s. The husband has a walking stick and immediately takes the reserved seat. The wife walks to the other side of the cabin and occupies a seat. There are two other empty seats around her and she puts her hand bag on one of the seats. She makes no effort to beckon her husband to seat with her despite the seats around her. In contrast, many younger couples will take the chance to be together. Upon reaching their stations, they leave by separate doors, whichever exit is closer.


Wearing namelessness

Proudly, on your shiny badge

How are you, Chae Hua

An girl in her 20s has two shiny gold tags on her bag. One says NAMELESS MON but the other gives her name away (maybe) with the words CHAE HUA. Both tags has the words ‘Let’s go follow Jesus ‘15’ under the titles suggesting she was part of a Christian camp. Maybe she was a facilitator and all facilitator had name tags and she requested for NAMELESS MON to be made along with her own name as that’s perhaps her favourite nickname. Maybe she thinks it is clever to have nameless inscribed on a nametag.


Clenched fist, stressed vowels

Pass dian hua gei Father now

Clench, stress and repeat

Lady in her 30s in a pink sleeveless top and heels. She speaks mainly in mandarin. She makes a call and says ‘Wei’ but is cut off. She tries calling again for several minutes after to no avail. Someone finally picks up, maybe on another number. The conversation begins cordially enough, ‘Pass dian hua gei Father yi sia.’

However the person on the other end seems to refuse her request and she switches to English. ‘Why did you hang up on me?’ she asks three times over, repeating each time with more emphasis and a slower cadence. Her fist clenches as she speaks. As the conversation progresses, the angrier the she got the more she repeated her sentences. ‘Ni wei shen me yao zhe yang zuo’ was repeated five times over. In the end she demands for her father to be put on the phone and insists it’s not funny. She also keeps asking if she offended the receiver in anyway and why he/she is doing this. She leaves the train still trying to speak to her father.


Old man with pizza

Sandals, shorts, t-shirt and gu-

Cci, gucci ya ya

A man in his 50s in sandals with a gucci handbag and domino’s pizza in a takeaway box. I thought at first that he was helping his wife carry her bag but after a while, it seems like he is alone. The gucci handbag looks like the type my mother carry so I assumed it belonged to a lady. Still, it seems to be an odd choice for him. He doesn’t seem to concerned about appearance, wearing a casual t-shirt, shorts and sandals therefore the gucci bag looked incongruous.



For dear and for life

Hanging on metallic trunks

Urban koala love

A couple in their late 20s/ early 30s in office wear, probably meeting up after work. The lady applies her lipstick as she talks to the guy. She leans on the pole behind her for stability so that sudden movements by the train won’t end with a red streak across her face. The guy holds onto the handle forming an L which the lady then hugs onto almost koala-like. They seem to be very comfortable with one another.


A public farewell

Only the migrant received

Your innocent warmth

A boy, still in his Kindergarten uniform seats at the reserved seat with his mother beside him. The boy sits like an ‘Ah Pei’ in a coffee shop, one leg folded with his feet on the seat and the other leg tucked. At some point, brings both feet to face each other and flaps his leg to make his demand to his mother heard. He is generally the loudest passenger on the train, making up sound effects and speaking to himself. He also plays peek-a-boo with himself, burying his face in his palms and then opening them up to entertain himself.


His hand is also capable of taking on many forms. It becomes a plane and he accompanies it with zooming noises. He takes the airplane on a few turns eventually landing on the seat and then he brings it up again for another flight. He continues this for about ten minutes before his hand morphs into a jumping spider. It systematically ascends the pole by the reserved seat, hopping from the bottom to a reasonable height. It takes about four to five jumps for the spider to reach the top of the pole (at this point the boy is kneeling on his chair) and the spider comes into contact with the lady leaning on the pole. She moves away, continuing her conversation. His mother feels embarrassed and tries to stop him but there is no stopping the spider and she soon gives up.

As the boy leaves the train, he waves and says bye. Only an Indian migrant worker responds, waving back.


The reserved seat through

fatigued haze and foreign lens

Is a seat, a bed

An Indian migrant worker shifts from the middle cabin to the reserved seat when the cabin clears quite a fair bit at Sembawang. Quite an unusual behaviour considering how most people avoid the reserved seat. Perhaps as a migrant he is unaware of the social pressures related to the reserved seat and only sees a seat that allows him to sleep better. He quickly falls asleep at the reserved seat.