THE DAY AFTER the news filled with Hilary Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis, I found the Al-Salaam restaurant closed. I looked up and down my local stretch of Changi Road, wondering where else I could get some breakfast roti, and quickly gathered this wasn’t a normal Singapore weekday. A large crowd – Malays, Indians, Arabs, others – was leaving the local mosque. A hawker centre was dense with patrons eating noodles with conspicuous unhurriedness. Families strolled along a canal leading down to the beach.
By some intangible but unmistakeable change in the air, I sensed that today in Singapore was a public holiday. I briefly contemplated my ignorance and its implications: look at me, passing through foreign countries, engaging superficially, talking a cosmopolitan talk yet (evidently) utterly removed from everyday fundamentals of life. Still, I was simultaneously struck by how much Changi Road’s collective vibe this morning – happy, languid – seeped into me, a mere visitor, by some process of neighbourhood osmosis, changing my mood. People lifted spoonfuls of coral-orange laksa to their mouths while reading newspapers. A very old man, the top buttons of his shirt undone, sat on a bench near the canal: a kingfisher flashed in front of him. Men in blue robes and white taqiyah caps and women in multi-coloured hijabs talked with wide, white smiles on the mosque’s grassy lawn. I now felt a sudden urge to not hurry off to the subway and instead get some laksa, stroll the canal, chat on the grass. The threads that link us all these days are increasingly thin, but I’ve been noticing, here, the way my emotions, my attitudes, even my actions are subtly connected to those of people living around me in this neighbourhood; small but meaningful encounters, often wordless, typically unspectacular, prompt me to incorporate, to assimilate, to adjust, to comprehend, building up a tentative but tangible civility between myself and disparate others who live here.
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