Tired of being cooped up in our apartment in Penang, my siblings and I decided to take a bus to Tesco at Jalan Tengku Kudin. With a Starbucks nearby, we would be able to use the Internet that we have lived without for days. Being a Saturday, the only bus in our area, the U206, came once per hour. After waiting for 45 minutes, we were relieved to see a Rapid Penang bus bending round the corner.
It was a small bus and only half-occupied. Behind us were a mother and her young son. Beside us, a middle-aged Indian couple. And, in front of our seats were three elderly women. Rapidly conversing in Hokkien, these chirpy grandmas or ‘Ah-mas’ were bustling with energy. With fresh vegetables popping out of their woven rattan shopping bags, they looked like they had just returned from the morning market.
While I slowly lulled to the dreary bus ride, an incessant buzzing jolted me. The grandmas were enthusiastic in pressing the ‘STOP’ button. It took me a while to understand what was going on. That reason finally dawned on me when one of the grandmas said in Malay, “Bang, bang, lagi jalan. Ah, stop di rumah kedua itu.” Translated to English, this means, “Brother, brother, drive further. Ah, stop at that second house.”
As I looked at my siblings, we all started smiling and nodding at each other. I don’t know how the bus driver and the three elderly women entered into such an agreement in the first place, but it seems that the young Malay bus driver was willing to stop the bus at whatever place they want, as long as it’s along the bus path.
It was amusing to watch him drive and stop at the beck-and-call of these elderly folks. The bus driver was tolerant and accommodating. The chatty grandmas were understanding of his situation, as well, tipping him RM3-5 for the inconvenience they gave him. As a spectator of the scenario, I can only silently see the cuteness of the scene. My sister was able to put words to the situation more fluently than I can, “I guess, personal touches like this is important in Penang.”
According to an article by Khor Hung Teik in Penangcares.net, Penang should aim to be a friendly spot for older people and people with disabilities as the United Nations predicted that in 2025, 14.4% of the population in the Asia-Pacific will be over 60 years old. Some of the ways he recommended as used in places like Bangkok and Singapore, are more signages, more rest places, more physical structures such as ramps, gentle slopes and handrails, as well as friendlier entry and departure services.
Well, in my opinion, a personal and friendly public transport might be what the elderly and PWD just need. Sure, there should be some moderation as not everyone can be chauffeured that way every time. I can imagine the chaos to the bus schedule if that were to happen.
But, I can’t help wondering. This small act of kindness by this one bus driver helped those grandmas get back home safely and made the rest of us smile. Now, in this environment to boost up the economy with more productive machines, and more efficient systems, will we lose such personal touches that brighten up people’s lives?