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Training days

As we were wrapping up our recent maiden revenge travel trip to the first world city-dream-state of Singapore, we asked two teenagers what they would miss most about being there.

Their answer, despite the fact that we were there for the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix, the biggest event our family had been to in more than three years, was that they were going to miss public transportation.

It was almost funny how the amazingly safe and efficient train and bus system of the Lion City outshone one of the grandest grand prix in the Formula One World Championship calendar for my kids, a massive spectacle that was attended by approximately 304,000 fans from all over the world over the span of three days, this country’s president and his party included.

It’s not to say that they weren’t impressed by the Singapore GP, but I guess they already expected that, considering the cost and how hyped they were for what is probably the only F1 race their parents will take them to. However, because we used public transportation extensively throughout our stay there, its safety and efficiency must’ve made a profound impression on them.

As we consider ourselves budget travelers, and my wife’s only sister lives and works in Singapore, we didn’t stay in a hotel but at an HDB at the suburbs. And although we had a local to show us the ropes, our host also had work so we figured out the train and bus system basically on our own. The closest MRT station to our accommodations was the Tanah Merah station, which is more or less a 500m or 10-min (Filipino pace) walk from the HDB. Our most used destination was City Hall Station, which is a distance of about 12 kilometers, costing us around SGD1.60 one way, which when converted to pesos is around PHP65.

If you only look at the cost, that is actually more expensive than commuting approximately the same distance in the Philippines. Silay to North Terminal plus another 1 jeepney ride into the Bacolod destination would cost only around P40ish, but the convenience, safety and efficiency of the two public transportation systems are literally worlds apart.

For one, most of the walk from the home to the destination is mostly covered, so neither the sun nor rain makes a big difference. Secondly, that walk is also mostly safe because aside from a very low crime rate despite not having police in camouflage and assault weapons wandering about, both the drivers and pedestrians are very disciplined because jaywalking is not allowed and pedestrians are given priority over cars. It was common to see young schoolchildren in their simple uniforms make the trip with us along the covered sidewalks and the train. This is a basic urban management requirement that we here in the Philippines have still been unable to grasp, despite our decades-long idolization of Singapore.

Then there is the train system, which, to be totally honest, is completely out of our league in terms of our present ability to plan and execute anything efficient. We may have a long shot at having Singapore-like sidewalks and roads sometime in the far future if we are fortunate, but getting ourselves something similar to their train (and bus) system looks like to be possible only much further in the future, especially considering the dominance of mediocrity in this country.

Their train system is such that by the second day, our 17-year-old son who spent the past two years and change stuck in home, was able to figure it out and have enough confidence to literally beg us to let him and his 14-year-old sister go home alone at 10pm after they got bored waiting for us having a hawker dinner with friends at the Newton Food Centre (of Crazy Rich Asians fame). We might’ve agreed to let them have that adventure if it wasn’t our 2nd day in a foreign country and if getting back to the Tanah Merah home station didn’t require a transfer to a different train line. In hindsight, a part of us regret being such protective parents.

During our stay in Singapore, we took a taxi/grab only three times. We basically took the train every day and despite the walk, the heat, humidity and the rain, we never missed having a car or yearned for one. Sure, there were times when your back was already sweaty from the walk to the train station, but seeing everyone else taking the same walk took away much of the sting.  Their system is so modern and efficient that anyone who has an internet connection, knows how to use map apps, and possesses enough common sense to read a system map and read signs would be fine.

It’s no wonder that our heavily car dependent kids said they will miss public transportation system most from this trip that served as an eye-opener for two Pinoy teenagers who should be on the verge of independence.*

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