Monday August 27, 2012
Observations from a train ride
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE
By BRENDA BENEDICT
Riding the train can be rather entertaining. Our writer lists some typical characters you might encounter on the Underground.
MY short train journey to and from work is often never short of flurry and column fodder, thanks to the various people who ride the Underground with me daily.
While it takes all types, they can generally be categorised as follows:
The Loud Speakers: They’ve probably signed up for some flat- rate package that allows them to jabber incessantly without fear of a mounting mobile phone bill. They “entertain” us with stories of love lives gone awry, bosses from hell, children who have no clue how to turn on the oven to bake a frozen pizza, and schoolmates who shop at H&M instead of Hollister. For a people who are apparently pretty private, Germans seem oblivious to their sometimes very public phone conversations. I once had a young man seated beside me, giving his mate a blow-by-blow account of a recent date he’d been on. However, he expressed his doubts about seeing the girl again “because her eyes freak me out, man! She’s got weird eyes, you know like that actress…what’s her name…Uma Thurman?” It took a lot for me not to guffaw because the speaker himself was no Hugh Jackman.
The Soliloquists: This is the other extreme of the talkers. Given today’s hands-free technology, we hardly bat an eyelid whenever we spot people talking and gesticulating wildly to themselves. However, upon closer inspection, you may notice the absence of conspicuous wires and earpieces sometimes. You’ll be amazed at the number of people who talk to themselves here. I admit I do that within my four walls but not outside. Others think nothing of openly discussing the day’s activities or cursing someone or thing that has wronged them. As long as they do not have a wild look in their eyes, they are generally pretty harmless.
The Self-Beautifiers: They probably do not own alarm clocks and therefore conduct half their morning toilette on the train. They usually burst into the train and plonk themselves onto a seat without checking if they might have hit other passengers with their many bags and packages. Once safely ensconced somewhere, the beautification pro-cess begins: application of eye shadow, mascara, lip balm and hand cream. Much eyeball rolling by the people in the neighbouring seats often accompanies this process.
The Loud Music League: They can be identified from afar by their trademark white earphone wires. I’d always thought that the idea of earphones was to privately enjoy the music of your choice. Apparently the trend is to subject the rest of us to the annoying thumping base of songs that should never have been recorded in the first place. This despite posters pasted on train walls requesting music listeners to keep the decibels down as a courtesy to fellow passengers.
The Feisty Grannies: This has to be my favourite category of commuter because they often keep badly behaved passengers in check. One anecdote that I love sharing is of a granny (who closely resembled Tweety Bird’s owner) who took a couple of teens to task. She had appeared frail when she boarded the train. She spotted a free seat but two grandstanding teenagers were coolly resting their feet on it. Quick as lightning, she whipped out her foldable umbrella from her handbag and rapped them smartly on their legs. The teens, who had hitherto not bothered to remove their feet for other passengers, sheepishly made room for her. They then tried to make polite conversation with her, only to have her chide them for asking unnecessary questions and being a general nuisance.
The BO Brigade: Born and raised close to the Equator, it’s almost second nature to me to envelope myself in a cloud of perfume, more so whenever the mercury rises. Hence, one of my pet peeves – or rather, what literally sickens me – is body odour. While most people can get away with it for most of the winter, in summer that sickly sweet smell of sweat wafting around a packed train can become unbearable. What’s worse is that some trains are not air-conditioned and if someone insists on the window being shut because of the German preoccupation with “catching a draft”, then you’re probably going to have to fan your face furiously in the hope of keeping the funk at bay. Otherwise, you catch yourself wondering if this is what our infamous Rafflesia flower smells like.
Yet, these sights, sounds and smells provide distraction from what could otherwise be a cheerless commute. Given that mine lasts all of 15 minutes daily, I have no complaints.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She believes the best moniker for her would be ‘The Observer.’