Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Last Commuter

The Last Commuter

I'm very fond of taking public transportation and would try to do so whenever circumstances permit. During all my years in Singapore and Jakarta, I relied solely on taxis, trains, buses and bajajs to get around and never once did I feel hampered. I actually felt that it was a blessing to be free from having to drive.

Last Wednesday morning, instead of driving downtown to KL for my weekly project meeting, I found an excuse to take the KTM Kommuter train. Now, taking trains and buses during rush hour in KL is certainly not a comfortable experience: there's often hardly any standing room one has to be constantly on the alert for pickpockets.

But I don't mind these minor inconveniences because I enjoy being anonymous in the crowd, observing the behaviour of people, especially the working classes. This something that you don't often get to do, especially if you are a middleclass yuppie, living in your Matrix-perfect world of office cubicles, Starbucks, bistros and BMWs. Which is also why I often enjoy travelling alone: you get to observe so much because you are not distracted by the need to indulge in idle talk.

It's usually difficult to get a seat on the KTM Kommuter during rush hour. That day, I stood all my way to KL Sentral from Subang Jaya. That's not a problem for it's only a half-hour ride. At KL Sentral, I had to switch to the Putra LRT to take me to KLCC. The station was crowded but I was pleasantly surprised that people actually queued up, while waiting for the LRT to arrive. I didn't know Malaysians do that--I don't even remember Singaporeans doing the same at their MRT stations.

In Singapore, you see people perpetually plugged into their Walkmans (or iPods nowadays). Malaysians don't seem to have that habit. I'm fond of plugging into an audiobook myself whenever I commute. I've 'read' so many books that way during my years in Singapore.

But these days, I'm not so preoccupied with the need to feed my brain. I am happy just reading and observing the endless stream of thoughts that pop out from my mind. I realized that the most interesting book is the book which you carry in your own head.

My entire trip from Subang Jaya to KLCC took me about an hour--which is about the same time it takes to drive there on a typical working day. I had an hour to spare before my meeting, and so I treated myself to a breakfast of teh tarik and roti kosong at the Pelita Nasi Kandar restaurant--my KL substitute for the kopi tubruk and Indomie breakfast that used to have in Jakarta.

On my trip home, I took the LRT, Kommuter and finally a Bas Mini back to my house. This brought back good memories of my student days when I used to take the Bas Mini from PJ to Chow Kit. Looks like the mini bus has not lost any of its old quirks (belakang, belakang, masuk lagi!, masuk lagi!). Some things don't change but that's the charm of KL.

There was also an unexpected downpour in between which got me held up at the Kommuter station for more than half-an-hour. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant change from my usual driving routine. I intend to do this more often. I used to treat my overseas business trips as opportunities for adventure and discovery. Now that I don't travel out of the country as often, I'll have to find ways to make my commute to the city a mini-adventure.

When I came back to KL two years ago(!), I wanted to rediscover KL as if I was a foreigner. I had a series of projects planned (similar to what I did in Jakarta and Bandung) but so far work commitments have prevented me from doing anything of this sort. I don't know how long I'll have to work like this.

Why am I working so hard ? What do I want to achieve?

Simple: so that one day, I can afford to live without a car and have the luxury of taking public transportation.

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