Friday, December 31, 2010

Railway memories

Still Malaysian soil at time of writing

Right smack in the heart of Singapore is a small piece of Malaysian land that is the KTM railway station. Even the train tracks are technically on Malaysian soil and it snakes right across the little island nation. Thankfully for Singaporeans, this minor irritation will cease soon, as from July 2011 this historic building at Tanjong Pagar will no longer function as a railway station. Instead, the KTM train will depart Singapore from the Woodlands checkpoint, at the northernmost tip of Singapore. 

This building marks the beginning point of the famed Orient-Express rail route. It also has an interesting interior that was highlighted in an art project by Malaysian artist Simryn Gill at the Singapore Biennial 2006, where she published a booklet discussing the large murals inside the building.

The murals portray the various ethnic groups in Malaya

For me, this building and its familiar route to Kuala Lumpur has sentimental value. As a Malaysian who studied in Singapore for a few years, I would return home for the holidays via the overnight train. As I recall, it cost $40 for a bunk and the journey, from whistle to welcome, lasted from 10pm to 7am. 

I'd sit up in the small bunk with my CD player, the curtains shielding me from the bright corridor lights. Baby cockroaches crawling around the bed sometimes interrupted my enjoyment of the view outside the window: the Malaysian heartland at night.

I especially remember the dark fields and my delight at seeing stars above them; they reminded me of The Little Prince. The train stopped once in a while to pick up the lone passenger who had been waiting for it in the wee hours. Outside my curtain, the shuffling of feet and faint toilet flushes; train doors opening and closing.

There was little hope of getting much sleep on those rides. As the world outside my window grew lighter with the dawn, the train made its way to another historic railway station in Kuala Lumpur. It felt good to eat an A & W breakfast at the station, and to hear Malay being spoken, and to be home again.

(1) Other musings on Malaysiana: Creation Myths, Malay ghost stories, Growing up in 80s Malaysia!

(2) Other people's documentation of the Tanjong Pagar railway station: The Long and Winding Road, Railway Diaries, Why We Should Have The Green Corridor 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Once A Great Love

Once A Great Love 
by Yehuda Amichai

Once a great love cut my life in two.
The first part goes on twisting
at some other place like a snake cut in two.

The passing years have calmed me
and brought healing to my heart and rest to my eyes.

And I'm like someone standing in the Judean desert, looking at a sign:
"Sea Level"
He cannot see the sea, but he knows.

Thus I remember your face everywhere
at your "Face Level."