Navel Gazer

Published: Saturday December 27, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday December 27, 2014 MYT 7:36:14 AM

Riding the bus has certain advantages over driving yourself around town

Riding the bus brings our columnist across places that she wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, and causes her to bump into some very interesting people.

ALEX.” I brace myself for an outburst, knowing Dev has been holding back for some time now.

“Is this how long you normally wait for the bus?”

“There is usually at least one bus an hour,” I say, in as soothing a voice as possible. “After 8pm, there are fewer because it’s off-peak.”

“I see.” As he digests this information, his eyes critically pan the vicinity of the bus stop. We are surrounded by the usual crowd of working people who look equally anxious and tired. At least we’re not hungry, since we had eaten dinner in KL Sentral before he insisted on walking me to the Brickfields YMCA bus stop.

Seeing his concerned expression fills me anew with guilt. “Why don’t you go home first?” I implore for the second time.

“No, no, I don’t mind keeping you company. I’m just wondering if you have to do this every day and whether it’s safe …” Then: “Alex, why you don’t drive?”


That question again. I ponder whether I should flesh out an idea that’s been germinating in my mind, if only to have a ready answer the next time somebody asks me why I prefer to take the bus to driving in KL. Nodding in the direction of the empty bus lane, I say, “Dev, since U73 is nowhere in sight, let me tell you three reasons I take the bus.”

“Sure,” he smiles obligingly.

“Reason No.1,” I begin in a mock business-like tone. “It’s more efficient. My job requires me to meet new people in new places practically every day. I’m hopeless with directions. If I have to drive, the stress would drive me crazy! With the bus, I can sit back and let somebody else worry about it. I plan my journey ahead of time and arrive early. Most of the time, I end up waiting for people who drive!”

“Don’t you have to deal with crowded buses and traffic jams?”

“True,” I concur. “Before and after office hours, the bus is a sardine can. BUT since I’m a freelancer, I schedule my meetings at 10-11am or 2-3pm. During those times, traffic is a breeze. I sometimes have the whole bus to myself. Where else can you get a private chauffeur for RM2.50?”

Dev laughs. “That’s a good reason.”

“Reason No.2. Have you heard of Sin Kee, which serves the best Hainanese chicken chop in town? Or Happy Meal Café, which makes the most sublime durian butter cake in the world?”

He shakes his head again. “I’m not a foodie-lah.”

“Sin Kee is just opposite Aloft. Happy Meal is in Petaling Street. The point is, even my foodie friends wonder how on earth I stumble upon these hidden gems. The answer is simple – I take the bus. A bus uses a longer, more circuitous route so it takes you past all the places that a motorist on a highway never would.”

“Which means more fodder for your stories.”

“Bingo! But that’s not the best reason.”

At his raised eyebrow, I point to the bench we’re sitting on. “See this very spot? One day, I was waiting here, along with a young mother and her son. She was obviously too tired to pay full attention to the kid, who started playing on his own. He was about to put some earth into his mouth, but luckily, another guy, who had been sitting quietly all this while, stopped him in the nick of time.

“Coincidentally, the guy and I ended up on the same bus. He told me he attended an OKU (orang kurang upaya, or disabled) training centre nearby.

“He showed me an exercise book that the teacher had given them for writing exercises.

“‘Saya berazam untuk menjadi manusia berguna. (I aspire to be a useful person),’ was written on a page. When I turned to the other pages, every one of them had similar motivational sentences!”

“Wow!” says Dev, looking as incredulous as I had felt that day. “The teacher who thought this up is brilliant. It’s wonderful that you’re able to witness this.”

“This bus stop alone has been an amazing source of stories,” I say. “Some time back, I noticed a girl here who is always super-quick to guide the blind to their buses. Finally, one day I sat next to her and managed to satisfy my curiosity. Turns out she is a librarian at the Blind Society. I’m really glad we became friends.

“One rainy day, I got completely drenched because I didn’t bring an umbrella and was worried how I’d get back. Fortunately, by the time we got back to OUG, the rain had lightened to a drizzle. She said to me: ‘God knew you didn’t bring an umbrella out and so He made the rain stop for you. You are very blessed.’”

“What a positive presence!”

“Wait, wait, I have not finished. Get this. Yesterday, when she got on, a group of children at the front of the bus started greeting her, ‘Hi, auntie! Good evening, auntie!’ Everybody knows her. She’s practically a celebrity.”

“Obviously you would never have known about this if you didn’t take the bus,” says Dev thoughtfully.

“Exactly.” I smile back.

“And you’d never know this if we didn’t have to wait longer than usual today,” I can’t resist adding, eliciting a laugh from Dev.

We fall into an easy silence. Surrounded by my fellow commuters, I reflect on how the bus has become my proxy into other human lives. We come from different places and lead dissimilar lives, yet underneath all our external trappings, we’re just regular folk trying to keep body and soul together, bonded by a single goal. Unlikely as it may sound, that bus, much more than a form of transport for moving me from Point A to B, has become a source of comfort when the wait is uncertain and the spirit is tired.

Turning to me, Dev breaks the silence. “Alex, have you ever considered writing about …”

Alas, I never get to hear the rest of that sentence, for I’m distracted by a familiar vehicle that has swung round the corner. I have mere seconds to glance over my shoulders and yell out, “Sorry, got to go!” before breaking into a run.

Dev, if you’re reading this, sorry I ran off to catch my bus without properly thanking you. What was it you wanted to tell me again?

Alexandra Wong ( was inspired to chronicle her observations after witnessing an act of kindness on a RapidKL U73 bus. Risking penalisation by a ticket inspector, the bus driver – whom Alex once mistook for a Grinch – allowed a senior citizen passenger to get on for free when he did not have change, instead of forcing him to get off, which would have resulted in another hour’s wait.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Navel Gazer, Alexandra Wong, bus, ride, crowded, traffic jam, hidden, gems, interesting, people

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