I’m learning how to commute. At 41 years old you may think it’s a little late to learn this. Maybe I should say I’m relearning. And while the commute can be a bit of a grind, I’ve found one little pleasure in it.
Let me explain: I lived in Hong Kong for the better part of the last decade. Specifically, in the Wan Chai district, where most of the places I went to for work and leisure were literally right next to me. It’s a fairly common experience in Hong Kong, at least for expats. Hong Kong taught me if it was more than 10 minutes away, and it wasn’t going to change my life, I wasn’t going to go. Things were so close in Hong Kong that even taking the train or the ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui, the world-famous shopping and entertainment district, seemed like a huge undertaking.
Now I’m living in Singapore. Which comes in at 719.9sq km compared to Hong Kong’s 2,754sq km, so Singapore is actually about two times smaller than Hong Kong – but I’m finding my commutes to be much longer. Now I’m commuting about an hour and 20 minutes to get to work by bus, or about 20 minutes by taxi if I’m feeling rich. Yeah, so I’m mostly taking the bus.
And that one hour and 20 minutes? That’s unheard of for me.
I’ve never spent as much time in public transit as I’ve spent in these past few months since I moved to Singapore.
Now, I didn’t always live in Hong Kong. I come from Toronto, Canada, where public transport is there in name only. It isn’t really something that people use. In Toronto, much like in Kuala Lumpur, life is designed with a car in mind. When I commuted in Toronto, I’d spend hours in my parents’ car, imprisoned in gridlocked traffic, staring at the sky or the dull-eyed stares of others commuters in their cars next to me.
Commuting in Toronto put me off cars and commuting all together.
Thankfully, in Singapore I don’t have to drive (I’m eagerly waiting the advent of the driverless car) but I’m on a bus most days. Sitting in the back. Reading through scripts, listening to music, and just generally trying to make my hour and 20 minutes go by as fast as I can.
In Singapore, public transport is pretty good. A bus or MRT can get you pretty close to anywhere you need to go. Pretty close. Usually there’s about a 10- to 15-minute walk somewhere in there that, in Singapore’s climate, can really get you pretty sweaty and disgusting before you arrive at your final destination.
That’s what drove me to discover my one little pleasure.
I’d only ever used a share bike once before in Melbourne, Australia, when me and the sound guy for a travel show I was working on decided to ride into the city to have some beers, and then discovered we couldn’t unlock our share bikes for the trip back. Share bike problems.
In Singapore, I saw the bikes sitting just off the sidewalk, next to trees, or concrete balustrades. I decided share biking was the way to go so I signed up for an account. The share bike turns that 10- to 15-minute sweaty, sun-burning walk into a three- to five-minute breezy ride. By the time I start sweating badly, I’ve usually arrived wherever I need to be and can engulf myself in air conditioning and stop the sweating.
The share bike part of my commute has easily become one of my favourite points of the day.
Maybe it’s a throwback to a childhood spent exploring suburban Ontario on a bike, or maybe it’s just that biking is way better than walking, but those moments when I’m on a share bike, sun beaming down, wind in my hair, those times are perfect.
And I’m well aware that the share bikes aren’t great bikes. With no gears, usually a few broken parts, and often times making a noise like it’s on its last legs, share bikes aren’t the best bikes in the world. You wouldn’t go on the Tour de France with one of these bikes, but they’re perfect for a quick jaunt and making an otherwise dull commute a little brighter.
Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at email@example.com and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co.