The time: 8pm, at the School of the Arts.
I was at the MRT station at about 7:05pm. It was crowded. The train was packed. I squeezed my way in. We got to Commonwealth, and the doors slid open with their loud beeping. A muffled PA announced a delay.
“Damn,” I thought. “I don’t want to be stuck in a train going at a crawl. Maybe there’s another route.”
I popped out of the train and headed back to Buona Vista. I got on the Circle Line. It was only as the train was pulling out of the station that I remembered the Circle Line is not a real circle. It was taking me from Buona Vista to Dhoby Ghaut the long way ’round. It would take about 45 minutes.
It was 7:35pm.
That was how I ended up standing by at the taxi stand next to Farrer Park MRT desperately trying to catch a cab. It was drizzling and humid and sticky. I didn’t have any cash because my debit card had been cancelled by DBS (they suspected that it had been compromised).
It was 7:45pm.
My taxi drove straight into a jam. There was even a jam on the flyover – a structure designed with the sole purpose of facilitating traffic flow. We hit every red light. When we finally arrived, the taxi’s credit card machine lagged. Then I hit another red light at the pedestrian crossing.
By the time I arrived at SOTA and found the drama theatre, the doors were closed and I wasn’t allowed in until the latecomer’s cue. I was close to tears, panting from the sprint I’d made from the lights to the school. My shirt clung to my back, the sleeves wrapped uncomfortably around my arms in the muggy night.
It was everything I hate about Singapore – the aggravating public transport (no amount of telling me how other countries have it worse make me feel less pissed off when I get trapped), the relentless humidity, the disappearing taxis (just when you really need them), the worsening traffic, the ridiculous lights that never changed, and the pressure dial being turned up, up, up.
I was boiling over by the time I got to my seat in the second row. I had sent my mother a series of WhatsApp messages containing about 500% more vulgarities than I would normally have used (in front of her). I tried to push all the nervous, jittery anger away and turned my attention to the players on the stage instead.
I forgot what I was so angry about.
For the rest of the evening much-loved “characters” (actually based on real interviews with people) lined up one after another. The drawling senior citizen, the articulate candidate, the almost-white grassroots leader, the nervous civil servant, the makcik in her tudung, the blogger and the political virgins.
Some of the interviewees presented in the play were people I actually know, played back to me by the excellent cast. Others I didn’t know, but recognised anyway – they were the people I see on trains, in buses, sitting at the next table in restaurants, cafes and food courts. They were unmistakably Singaporean from the words they used to the sentiments they expressed.
And as the audience laughed and reacted in recognition of the familiarity of these characters, it felt like the whole theatre was a family. We celebrated what made us Singaporean, from the silliest expressions to the emotional declarations we made during the General Election 2011.
It was everything I love about Singapore – the people and our foibles, the way we can go from nervous and afraid to brave and strong, the Singlish expressions and the way “lah” pops up in everyone’s speech, from lawyers to taxi drivers, the spirit we all felt during the hustings, no matter which side we were on.
At the end of the night, Neo Swee Lin (who had been part of the cast) mentioned that she hadn’t felt sure that the play would resonate in this second staging, going on a year after the GE.
It wasn’t something she needed to worry about. It certainly resonated with the audience. It resonated with me.
I wish this play could be staged every year, so we can watch it and remember: this is who we are. This is why we’re (still) here. This is what we love (and hate but secretly still love) about each other. This is what we felt. And it’s important we don’t forget, but keep growing.