Friday, April 09, 2010

A sentimental case for keeping "cross-country" bus services

Two days ago, on 7th April 2010, 赵琬仪 wrote an article in "ZbNow" (《早报现在》) entitled 《当巴士路线变短》("When bus routes are shortened"), in which she perhaps provided a sentimental case for preserving "cross-country" bus services in Singapore.

However, in light of the fact that the first half of her article was mainly a personal recollection of her growing-up experiences with long bus rides, I will only be translating (an amateur translation at that) the second and arguably more substantive half of her article here in this post.

《当巴士路线变短》; "When bus routes are shortened"


Recently, as preparation work for a report on the LTA's review and restructuring of bus routes islandwide, I looked at reports related to the improving of bus services over the past two years. Attempting to encourage commuters to transfer from bus to bus or bus to MRT and thereby arriving at their destinations faster, the LTA is planning to shorten long bus routes to make bus services more reliable. By 2015, in an improvement over the current 71%, 80% of public transport commuters will be able to complete their journeys within an hour.

From the perspective of the authorities and that of commuters who are rushing for time, the above would reflect Singapore's urbanisation process.

While using my left brain to digest the principles of the LTA's decision, my right brain was, at the same time, thinking about how public transport can inspire creativity or those little but interesting moments of life. In the 1980s, there were popular music from Hong Kong that described how couples met on the public transit and fell in love; in the 1990s, there were also rock and roll groups that used public transit as the backdrop of their ballads. Meanwhile, local director Royston Tan has attempted to develop a movie around the longest bus route as a theme.

During university, when I was studying ancient Chinese literature, the lecturer remarked that long journeys or sojourns were the wells of inspiration for ancient poets; it was as though the longer the journeys, the greater the inspiration.

Before low-cost carriers made their appearance locally, daily bus rides can be considered as a long or a short journey.

On the surface, the shortening of bus routes would indicate a quickening of the pace of city life, an increase in the efficiency of movement. But digging deeper, it is the disappearing of the sentimental enjoyment of being able to slowly take one's own time travelling through life.

Nobody is using words or pictures to capture this living heritage which is about to be buried in the silent corridors of history.

For the historical monuments or common spaces, we are willing to raise the banner of conservation because they are tangible and have nurtured the lives of several generations. We thus treaure them.

When bus commuters reacted against the shortening of bus routes, they were reacting based on rationality, motivated by a desire to preserve convenience in their lives.

In an environment of politically-correct discourse, I would argue that we ought to preserve these long bus routes because if they can remain unchanged for a century, they will become a living witness of history. Yet, how many would stand on the side of sentimentality and nostalgia? I would use my next long bus ride to ponder on this.

Perhaps my insistence is not due to my disappointment that something will soon disappear but a nostalgia for a way of life which I was part of.

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