Train rides on the N-S Line to Woodlands on Sunday mornings often bring me insights.
Today I sat diagonally across from two (Mainland Chinese?) women. From their conversation, I figured that they were both married with children. One of them held a blue notebook tightly in her hands. When the other asked her what she’d been busy with recently, she enthusiastically replied that she had been studying the state flag (国旗) and coat of arms (国徽). Flipping open the worn notebook, she showed the first woman a few crumpled pages of scribbles. Was she studying for a citizenship test?
I got a better view of them when the young man standing diagonally in front of me sat down. Dressed in a foodcourt attendant uniform, he’d seemed nonchalant. Ears stuffed with earphones, wires hanging down his chest, head drooped over and fingers gripping a tiny screen. “Probably playing a game”, I thought to myself. When he plonked himself down on the seat beside me, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at what he was doing.
I was surprised.
He was fiddling with an electronic dictionary, attentively translating Mandarin phrases and sentences into English. One after another, he would highlight the phrase, translate it then click an icon to hear the English pronunciation even as his eyes traced the letters. Was he a language student? Where was he from?
Seeing them made me think about the competition people often talk about, and their resentment/fear of foreigners. About the comments that many foreigners come here prepared to work, learn and grow very hard – more so than many locals. Seeing them also reminded me that sometimes, foreigners are more appreciative of this country than many locals. It is a messy issue.
With what eyes do we see what we do have? With what eyes do we see what we lack?
Picture from Sally Persaud