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The narcissism of minor difference

This journal is part of a series on living and working in Singapore.

I walk to get the morning peak hour train to work, feeling confident in knowing what to do having established a routine. I board at Sengkang, a town far out in the north-eastern suburbs where Westerners are hardly seen. As I wait for the train, another white guy sidles up, also dressed for work. We give each other an irritated glance that says ‘Stop cramping my style dude, I’m the only calmly cosmopolitan white guy in this neighbourhood.’ I wonder where he’s staying. Probably in one of those condominiums, detached from everything. Not in a HDB flat boarding with a local like me. Standing, I glance across the crowded carriage and meet his gaze briefly before his eyes dart away, probably wondering the same thing. I look away and let go of the handrail, concentrating on balancing my body with the movement of the carriage, like I’ve done this so many times before. I look over. He’s reading the Straits Times. I yawn and start reading the Straits Times ON MY IPAD. Ha.

As the ride keeps going and the carriage fills up to bursting point, our eyes meet a few times more as we think loud thoughts at each other. Which stop are you going to get off at? In the financial highrise heartland or somewhere more authentic? It’s getting tense — there’s only a few more stops to go. Then the doors open and an old sunburnt English couple get on wearing ill-fitting sarongs and brandishing a map. I glance at my nemesis and suddenly all is forgiven as he returns my smug, self-satisfied smile. Amateurs. ◾

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