Unlike a former classmate who can afford to jet across the world -- First Class -- at the drop of a hat, my visits to Singapore are few and far between.
The upside is I notice the changes. I guess this is a bit like what the anthropologist would call "making the familiar strange".
My husband and I have noticed how people are much better at letting passengers off the trains, for example. We dutifully stand where the marks are, wait till most have disembarked before pushing our way in.
An old Singaporean woman who had become a British citizen went back to visit Singapore some years back. She insisted on her return that "there are no old people in Singapore".
She was staying at an Orchard Road hotel and she said she could not see one person with a walking stick or in a wheelchair. Conclusion: there were no old people in Singapore.
Well, I have had so many people offer up their seats to me on the trains (both in Singapore and Bangkok) that I figure I must look REALLY OLD.
I put it down to my carefully cultivated grey hair. It has never touched hair dye.
It used to be when I see people with grey hair coming up the bus or train I would offer them my seat. These days I have to be careful that people who appear to be older than me (wrinkles, gait, manner of dress, eg) but with hair a uniform jet black (or brown) colour may not actually be old.
Going by hair colour, my friend was right, there are no old people in Singapore.
Do I offer these people who seem old, but who have less grey hair than I do, my seat? What do I do if someone offers me a priority seat?
So I just want to record my thanks to the many foreign workers (they seemed foreign in complexion and manner of dress), young students and National Service men (in uniform) who have offered me their seats on the trains.
My principle is that I will always accept their offer. If I declined their offer they might become less willing to offer the next person their seat, and this next person might really need that seat. The exception is when I only have just one stop to go. In which case I would explain this to the kind person.
As for Indian workers in Singapore I noticed, too, when trudging through Little India one hot afternoon, that not once did I hear someone (foreign or otherwise) in Little India say, "Excuse me, excuse me" (or the Singapore equivalent which sounds something like "kills me") in trying to get past us on the five foot ways. It seemed like everyone fell in behind us (ambling tourists) and waited patiently till we got to a point where they could -- quietly -- pass us.
And it was also reassuring to see how people in wheelchairs (usually propelled by a diminutive foreign-looking person) can travel in buses and trains, and fellow travellers did not grudge them that space and time.
It did give me hope that Singapore (comprising locals and guest workers) is becoming a much more gracious place to live.