When was the last time you had fun riding a train? Well, you might struggle to remember if you instinctively associate local rail transit with long lines, malfunctioning cars, and groping commuters. And if you constantly endure such abominations, you might even say that you were never happy being on board the MRT and LRT. A sweeping answer, yes, but also natural and understandable, when you’ve suffered too much.
But remembering shouldn’t always be that painful. If you look beyond the unglamorous parts of the transit adventure, you would discover things that might surprise, amuse, delight, and even solace you. Most of the times, the fun memories lie dormant deep within, only waiting for a trigger from your end. And sometimes, you set out to create them yourself. Incidentally, I’m a fan of the latter.
I started collecting transit-related memories when I’ve realized that mindlessly scrolling down social media sites while waiting for a train dulls the senses. Since I don’t want to grow dumber, I decided to constantly distract myself by looking at people and patterns. But if the visual stimulants do not cut it, I would turn to my phone and compose notes.
I wrote my first take on being a 20-something adult with no direction in life while waiting for a train. It was inspired by the straightforward characteristic of my chosen mode of transport. I noted:
Exploring myself in my 20s is like Zoro trying to reach his destination without a guide. Getting lost seems to be perpetual, then somehow I end up in the place at the most crucial moments, reaching the place through anything but my own directional ability. Hopeless, but always saved. Lost, but always found when it’s most needed.
Random thoughts like that would keep buzzing inside my head while I stand at the platform alone. With no one to talk to, I would try to silence the whirring (and save my sanity) by plucking some chords in my brain to compose a musical piece of words and phrases. My attempts at shutting up the cacophony in my mind never succeeded, but it helped calm the chaos a bit.
By doing that, I found solace amid the boring stand-by mode. Even when I’m running late, pouring all my frustrations on a notepad helped. There and then, I’ve formed the habit of writing every day. I gained control of my mind. It saved my life.
Waiting is a world of possibilities all on its own, but finally entering the train is a grander story. Every ride is a wonderful opportunity to look at an ever-changing scenery. During the not-so-busy days, and if the car is not full, I would discreetly look around, avoiding eye contact with anyone, and stare at people. A CEU student with pretty bronze hair reading her hand-outs there, a sharply-dressed old man scheming the morning newspaper here, a middle-aged office worker browsing Instagram. Alongside people-watching, I would also absorb the mood of the place. Sometimes the aura is heavy with grogginess, anxiety, and indifference. On lighter days (except Mondays), anticipation, excitement, gaiety, and child-like wonder waft through the air.
But most days, the overall mood is bland. It’s as if looking at a painting composed of only neutral colors. That lukewarm feeling made me thought that all these people must be treating trains only as a means to their real destination, a part of their history taken for granted and forgotten, a spot in their existence not worth revisiting.
And that seemed for me a sad thing. So I try to spend my time on the train in ways I deem worthwhile. I would watch people and memorize their features. I would form stories about them. When I’m not in the mood, I would look out the window and let the waves of scenes drown me. I would gaze at the color of the sky, study how shadows look at different parts of the day, etch in my brain the array of rooftop designs. Through these mental activities, I would entertain myself. I would create memories.
Probably the most satisfying thing ever is the alighting part. Being finally able to escape the misery that is a full train car is undoubtedly the highlight of my transit adventures. After swimming my way through weeds of hair and flesh and human scent, shouting “excuse me po, may lalabaaaas!”, the ocean of people would be divided and out I go! Imagine the breeze after the suffocation! The freedom after the imprisonment! Goodness. Those Hallelujah moments remain unparalleled up to this day.
I gloat at the self-centered assumption that I was the only one giving a f*ck about riding trains. But I didn’t stay proud for long. A deeper look at myself led me to meet reality face-to-face. That entity slapped me with the fact that all my fellow passengers have their individual worlds. They have their own vivid versions of their lives of which I’m not privy of. And for all I know, someone in that crowd must be also working hard to transform this banal habit of transportation into something worth contemplating about. I would smile at the thought that there’s a soul out there who would think the same, and maybe even sees this world in more profound ways.
I suddenly realized that the joy of riding trains do not only present itself when I’m at the current moment. Even after the ride is long over, the memories I’ve created will pop up once in a while. Then, I would relive them inside my head. And what a bliss it was to be able to remember! Regardless if the memory is somber or light, the act of remembering soothes me to no end.
Somehow, when I think about it now, being happy is a collective thought. You can be glad even at the mere reminiscing of riding trains. Provided that you’ve watched and appreciated enough.
Also, you respect people more. Realizing that a lot of them had to endure the pains of riding the MRT daily to earn a living, you kind of look up to the resilience of your race. You feel proud.
Then you feel like revolting. Just what is the government doing? Can’t they do anything to fix this ancient problem permanently? You ask for solutions. You voice out your grievances. Then you’d realize that no matter how many screams and cries you post online, you would never be heard. And there are others like you. You complainants then form a solidarity of sorts. Misery loves company, they say. And even in that gloom, you see a spark of happiness.
I stopped riding trains regularly when I left my previous work in 2016. But when I get on board once in a while, the euphoria resurrects itself. Much like how an old, familiar joy sprung from within me when I finally decided to write for this blog again. And writing about trains, at that! I refused to create for so long due to fears, insecurities, and mislabeled priorities. But when I finally decided to compose something I feel I could post, I felt that need to go on just so to sustain the nostalgic, ecstatic feeling.
It took me a while, but I felt like I am finally heading to my real destination.