10 years

stop this train, i want to get off and go home again
i can’t take the speed it’s moving in
i know i can’t
but honestly, won’t someone stop this train

when i was 17, i packed my bags and got onto the ktm senandung malam train to singapore. my parents had booked sleeping berths for the 3 of us but i remember lying in the top bunk, heart racing, sleepless from thinking about the things i’d forsaken by accepting the scholarship that would change my life. 10 hours later, i received the first of many singapore immigration stamps in my passport…and my new life began.

when i was 21, i found myself staring at the beige ceiling of the sleeping berth on a north-bound train. i was on the way home from a weekend away in the little red dot. just a year ago, i was stressed-out, unhappy with the system i chose to be part of. however, once i graduated from college, singapore became my escape from the next challenge in my life – medical school. it’s funny how my perception of the “sunny island” changed once it stopped representing NAPFA scores and distinctions and curfews. suddenly it meant freedom, a place to immerse myself in art, culture, and to find pleasure in my own company.

when i was 25, i munched on rhubarb custard candy on the platform of doncaster station, en route to edinburgh. my heart was still pounding from the close call i had at lincolnshire, arriving at the station literally seconds before the train pulled in. it was still 5 days before the homesickness kicked in, early days yet, and i felt like the luckiest person in the world. the united kingdom was my playground, a worthy reward for a newly-minted doctor. i was in transit, both in my journey to scotland and in my life. it was a fabulous place to be.

just 4 days ago, i took the train home from ipoh. i fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the carriage, to the sounds of a 20-year-old movie playing on the screen. it was just another trip, one of many that i’ve done over the past year. when i got home, i had dinner with my mother, sister, niece…it was just another trip home. i was just glad to be home.

when i think about my life in recent years, i think about the times i’ve travelled on the train. somewhere in the middle of those stories above is the one time i took the 6am ktm from seremban to kl. it was unplanned – i was supposed to hitch a ride from a friend – and i was half cranky half excited about making that journey.

i changed seats halfway through because i wanted to watch the sunrise. i surprised myself by tearing up as the sun bathed the oil palm plantations on the way north. they were tears of exhaustion from the strain of medical school, tears of relief from knowing i’d be home in a few hours, tears of gratitude for simply being alive.

of all the train rides i’ve been on since that first day in december 2002, that has got to be the most meaningful one. it summarises the last 10 years most accurately. the constant moving, the pressure of the profession i have chosen, the comfort of knowing i have a home, the shock of sadness i always have when i think about how fast time is going. all those emotions emerged with the gradual rising of the sun. it was an odd conflict that made me feel more human than anything else has ever made me feel.

i’ll be taking the train for many more years to come and each trip will add something different to my life. i hope it never stops.

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