Culture / Ethics/Rights

The singing man on the bus

Taking the bus to work on Saturday. With the Christmas holidays looming and deadlines approaching ever nearer, it is gradually becoming a desperate need to finish work.

Five seats ahead of me sits a middle-aged, tanned man in a blue T-shirt. He is wearing a pair of black earphones, staring ahead on the road through the large paneled windows, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings that include five passengers. One of them is me.

He has a rough, low tone, and screechy voice. How do I know that? Well, for the past 20 minutes, he has been singing aloud. Well, I don’t know whether he is singing, or moaning, or praying. He is no Michael Bublé.

I don’t even know what language he is singing in. It is that undecipherable.

None of us dare to confront him or care enough to ask him to keep quiet. In fact, in public areas, if someone acts inappropriately, acts against the societal norms, seldom that strangers will tell you about it. They would probably give you the odd stare, some more daring ones might give you obvious facial expressions or actions. But, not tell you about it.

You see, in conservative societies like in Singapore, there are unwritten rules that people are supposed to watch their own behaviour in public. Some might think it is constricting, but I think it is considerate to watch yourself. There are no punishments for going against the rules -and these rules change depending on the location’s culture-, but the motivation of following the rules is based on the principle, “Don’t do onto others what you don’t want done onto you.” In other words, we should not be acting in ways that incite annoyance, anger, fear or other negative feelings in other people around us if we do not want the same thing to be done to us. That is tolerance, and that is key for a peaceful society.

If this means wearing deodorant if you have body odour, wearing good quality headphones that block off the reverberations or beats from the blaring music that is supposed to be only heard by the person wearing the headphones, not eating or drinking smelly food in poorly ventilated areas, and most importantly, not farting in poorly ventilated areas, by all accounts, do it.

These are considerate acts. These are small acts of kindness. These are civic-conscious acts that are especially important in the increasingly crowded cities.

Let me emphasise that I am a proponent for individuality. No one wants to be a mere statistic. But, proper public conduct related to hygiene and pollution (most particularly to those related to sound and smell) makes the world a little better to live in.

After all, we can close our eyes if we don’t like what we see. But, we cannot close our nose and ears if we don’t like what we smell or hear.

So, please act considerately. And, not like the singing man on the bus. Listen to his performance here.

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2 thoughts on “The singing man on the bus

  1. Manners and “being considerate” are relative, as I continue to learn in my travels. I wish my own tolerance for differences in mannerisms would get better over time. Sadly, I’ve gotten less tolerant as I get older. On the way from LAX to SIN a couple of days ago, I sat next to a very well-dressed and groomed young Singaporean man. He smelled wonderful, stood up to help me with my bag when I came, and generally was very polite and quiet throughout the trip.

    His problem?? He was a prolific nose-picker. He seemed to do it when he was nervous or when he was relaxed, or just as a hobby. So he picked his nose at take-off and landing, and then in between when his action movies got intense. Then there was a period of two hours straight where he picked his nose nonstop, rolled his boogers into balls and then absentmindedly tossed them around his seat. I was so paranoid that they might land on me that I couldn’t sleep, and then I couldn’t drink out of one of my glasses because he was polite enough to hold it while I went to the bathroom.

    Nosepicking isn’t loud or really inconsiderate, but it still is pretty gross…

    His other problem?? He chewed his food like most people snored. At every meal, his chewing was SO loud that I either woke up or had to turn the sound up on my movie because I couldn’t hear. Most Chinese or even Singaporeans don’t think much of it because chewing loudly and slurping are perfectly acceptable mannerisms. But in the West, its extremely uncouth, and to me it was inconsiderate just because it was so loud. At one point, he was smacking his lips so loud even with ice cream…something that required NO chewing. I didn’t get it…

    In general, I think we should have an international book of manners that everyone gets trained in and hopefully when we are in public, we can pull those out and use them…

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