Thursday, July 22, 2004

Riding the train

The crush of warm bodies during rush hour is unnerving. The sweat. The odour. Strangers swaying, lurching, and touching self-consciously. People look away, embarrassed that they should be so close. No, you're not supposed to be chummy on the train.

The other day, a man was talking into his mobile phone in a language that was positively Thai, all nasal and flat. Then at the KLCC stop four middle-eastern types got on board and carried on a loud conversation. There was a guttural and fractured cadence to their voices and I told myself, 'Arabic' (of course it could well be Iraqi, Iranian, even Kurdish, but the auto-response system in my brain said 'Arabic'). Wednesday morning, it was four white backpackers who caught my attention, speaking what? Swedish? Some European tongue, sharp and accented with a lilt, but certainly not French or German. But what do I know?

I'm just glad to find a seat so I can read, which I discover is a cinch if you board the train at Taman Melati or Kelana Jaya, two stations bracketing the PUTRA line. I don't see many people reading however. In the last four days riding the train, I saw one or two lucky enough to find a seat read their newspapers. One young girl holding on to the overhead strap had her eyes glued to a Chinese book, its pages folded back. But you've got to hand it to this guy who sat next to me. He was reading some text about Islam vs the West, the Decline of Islam in India, etc. To my surprise, he fished out a dog-eared and well-thumbed pocket dictionary from his trousers. Now, is that a reader, or what?

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