20 September 2010

The Lessons of Public Transport

Back in the days before capitalism has become a legitimate economic philosophy, many valued a person for who he was rather than what he had. Capitalism, however, reconfigures the evaluation process and lends the idea of success to physical possession rather than its spiritual equivalent. Owning a Mercedes is therefore an indication of the quality of life. How easy one's ethical integrity might be determined by one's physical properties.

It is a tragedy, perhaps, to watch the downfall of public transport and falsely raise private cars to a status of superiority. If public transport is often regarded as inferior to a Porsche, it is perhaps because it is likely to inspire monotony, having to stay fixated on a same routine every single day. Riding on a bus also suggests that the notion of who we are is critically dependent on others, that our existence is of no value unless the passengers who sit next to us or behind us accord us with signs of respect. Moreover, having neighbours sitting next to us also hampers us to move our joints and limbs freely, thus bringing physical discomfort, that our decisions to articulate our bodies are actually determined by the external rather than the internal.

Driving alone, on the contrary, avoids rehearsing the same driving routine. It offers opportunities to escape from the everyday rituals, especially the traffic, and conspires to rejuvenate us with a sense of novelty. Driving also seems to restore the value of solitude. Rather than going along with the value that a densely populated city might tend to suggest, driving celebrates the virtue of being alone and acknowledges the prided status of individual, making allowance for meditation, and liberating us from the flock, for the herd mentality may unfairly consign us to disgrace and others to respectability.

However, to condemn taking public transport is to fail to place it in a proper context as to what it may offer in life. If public transport has to be given its due place in our monotonous lives, it is because it might prompt us to think far more easily than clinging ourselves to our computer desks in office or in our rooms. Though we tend to pass by the same sceneries in a bus, we are likely to be assisted by the flow of the landscape, which is susceptible to change, inspiring us with a sense of novelty rather than monotony. We are also forced to investigate human behaviours which we often easily ignore- the lady who is dying to get on a bus, the man who is rushing to the metro railway station, and the man who is exchanging business ideas on his mobile phone. The sense of novelty, therefore, lies in the diversity of human behaviours and the flexible exterior decor and the advertisements of shops, which help anchor new reflections to life.

Of all modes of transport, buses are perhaps the best aid to thought. They lack the monotony that planes and metro railway are likely to inspire, the unbearable quickness that a taxi might ferry us to the destination, and the slowness that a tram is insistent to offer. If riding on a bus nurtures our ability to think, it's not just because we are confronted with a scene of novelty, but it's also because we are reluctant to think properly when thinking is what we are supposed to do, just like we are forced to write a publishable essay on demand. Riding on a bus allows us to abstract all the headphones snares and the talking that surround us, through taking in the passing scenery, offers us a sense of silent immobility to observe the seemingly silent mobility of the external world. It retains a peace of mind in us which is essential to contemplation.

If we are inclined to forget the benefits of taking public transport, it might be because driving our own cars subjugates us with the illusion to recover a sense of freedom. Instead of leaving room for us for introspective reflections, driving tends to divert our attention to the roads, for the fear of car accidents or our absent-mindedness for the traffic lights, forcing us to focus on our self-preservation instinct rather than bringing us back into contact with ideas and emotions that are of importance to us. It can only foster a form of rather unwelcome solitude, namely, loneliness, which only wears us out with an excessive longing for love.

Hence our travelling to work correlates with our desire to travel. What is beneficial about travel is that it allows us to get away from the habitual and the tedium, and encourages us, through the unpredictable changes around us, to unearth the visions about ourselves that previously lay buried in our hearts. If public transport is able to inspire us through the moving sceneries, can we not conclude that our travelling to work or school follows a similar trajectory? If we travel because we need not only a break from our domestic setting, but also from ourselves, doesn't riding on a bus similarly allow us to reflect on our lives from a height we are unlikely to reach unless before and after work?

Public transport can also be a remedy for loneliness. It recovers a sense of community, that though we may be lonely, we are consoled by the fact that we are not alone in loneliness, that many are similarly lost in thoughts and emotions. It brings us back a tight city feel, as opposed to a soulless feel, reminding us of the fact that a city should be dynamic and needlessly be condemned to silence. Humans are still at heart social animals whose existence is critically dependent on the external world.

Travel is not necessarily a luxury. Though we may not be able to afford a trip to Europe or Japan, we can certainly afford a few dollars to start our journey on a bus to appease our yearnings for change.


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