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In transit, as in life, the journey matters. When we spend time on transport every day, the way we travel shapes our memories and, in turn, our identity. In this 3-part series, we explore how different modes of transport have shaped our relationships in more ways than we might possibly admit.  

Top image credit: Alvin

At 12:05 on a Sunday afternoon, I board the East-West Line, bound for Joo Koon. It’s the start of a one and a half hour ride to the other side of Singapore.

You see, Matthew and I are in a long distance relationship.

No, we don’t live in different parts of the world nor in different time zones but we do stay on opposite ends of Singapore. He, on one end of the North South Line and I, on the other end of the East West Line. In Singapore, this can make or break a relationship.

Back when we were still getting to know each other, I remember my heart sinking when he told me, via Facebook Messenger, where he stayed.

I pulled up the map of Singapore’s train system and counted the train stops between us.

23.

“If you end up dating him, you must be crazy, or else, really like him,” remarked a friend.

Until I met Matthew, I had never expected to find love on the other side of Singapore. I was convinced that “the travelling will wear you out” or that “he might use distance as an excuse not to meet!”

These were just some of the warnings friends threw my way.

As it turns out, they were all wrong.

“Waste a lot of time leh” is the most common response I get from friends whenever I tell them of the 90-minute commute we make to get to each other’s homes.

It’s long, I won’t deny that. In 90 minutes, I can complete an episode of Black Mirror, cook a mean pasta and write half this article. It’s tedious too. While time flies when you’re having fun, it most certainly crawls when you’re travelling, especially between Clementi and Jurong East.

But strange as it sounds, there are perks to spending an inordinately large amount of time on our trains.

Most of the time, our trains run like clockwork: with precision, predictability and general uneventfulness (although recent breakdowns have thrown a spanner into the works). On the train, I’m spared from the fickleness of road and traffic conditions.

Sitting (or standing, depending on my luck) in a train cabin, whilst outside, the rest of Singapore flashes by, can be quite a mundane yet therapeutic experience.

And thanks to the untalkative nature of most Singaporeans, I can spend my 90-minute train rides in peaceful solitude, plugged in to my music or reading a book.

This is why you’ll hardly find me waiting for a bus or sitting in a cab. Trains are more than just a system of doors, carriages, plastic seats and movements between me and the one I love. They’re also a reprieve from the frenetic lifestyle I lead.

If something good is waiting for you on the other side, by all means, wait.

My frequent and lengthy train rides have also cultivated a trait I once sorely lacked: Patience.

Where I would sigh and fidget incessantly barely 20 minutes into a journey, I now find myself without an internal complaint for at least 40 minutes. Matthew’s noticed the change too. When I suggest we join the 30-minute queue at Koh’s Grill and Sushi Bar, he remarks, “Wow, I’m impressed. Last time you never wanted to wait.”

I still don’t like waiting, but through my relationship, I’ve learned by now that if something good is waiting for you on the other side, by all means, wait.

Before I met Matthew, I was fortunate enough to only have dated people who lived nearby. As I soon found out, distance is a great indicator of character and commitment.

Despite living 90 minutes away, Matthew always arrives on time. Sometimes, he’s even early. On the other hand, I’m sure we all know someone who lives 10 minutes away and yet is somehow perpetually late.

I see his thoughtfulness whenever we agree to meet in ‘the middle’, and he ends up suggesting we meet at a stop closer to where I live.

I see his selflessness and effort, when we’re out late and he offers to ride the train with me to my stop, despite having to work the next day. Sure, previous boyfriends have done this too. But the knowledge that he lives a good 23 stops away makes it, somehow, more meaningful.

To be fair, I don’t ever think I’ll be able to get over the literal distance between Matthew and I. Until this day, I still cross my fingers and pray that one of us will move closer to the other. But as Matthew has shown me, it’s as much about the end point as it is about the journey.

At 1:37 PM, I alight from the train and text Matthew to let him know that I’m here.

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