There is a certain weight of expectation that hangs over the festive season, as though anything less than merry-making over glasses of wine and countless rounds of boardgames carries an unspoken shame. But these are only the celebrations you see on Instagram.
In reality, many people celebrate Christmas doing completely normal activities. Like lose their mind from the sheer boredom of a seven-hour bus ride (that was supposed to be four!) from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.
While being on a plane still evokes a childlike joy in the best of us, a bus ride can feel incredibly pedestrian. Whether you’re headed from KL to SG or Jurong to Bedok, a bus is a bus.
Moreover, taking a bus ride from KL to SG on Christmas Day is nothing more than pure torment. Not only is it VERY long with zero sights, travelling alone on a day where you’re expected to be with loved ones has the tendency to sap one’s mental and emotional energy.
But who’s to say a family gathering worth sharing on Instagram Stories is better than a solo bus ride across the causeway? If you’re ever stuck with the latter and feeling a bad case of FOMO, make the most of your situation. Nothing like general holiday cheer to add a little perspective.
But if all else fails, remember: the worst lessons make for the best stories.
Walk towards the rear as you locate your seat. It’s number 19—what seems like 5 KM away from the front of the bus.
If you’ve ever attempted to walk in a bus or plane, even when it’s stationary, you will develop an almost perverse admiration for air stewardesses and their ability to glide down the aisle gracefully without accidentally poking anyone in the eye.
You, on the other hand, will stumble over at least 10 legs, elbows, and stray slippers on the way to your seat.
Wrack your brains to figure out why being on public transport seems to obliterate anyone’s centre of gravity and knowledge of public behaviour. Realise you don’t have an answer since you can’t seem to walk straight either. Trip over someone’s errant toddler, and watch their parents shoot you a death glare while your duffle bag bumps into someone else’s head.
Begin to apologise profusely, then give up when you realise you’re going to do it again at least twice. Your seat is three rows away.
After 10 years, arrive at seat number 19. Try to avoid the suspicious stain under the seat in front, as you field thoughts of where it must have come from: the leftover grime from street food taken onto the bus, the dirt from a music festival, the filth from a public toilet. Place your bag on your lap.
Recline the back of your seat without bothering to check whether you’ve intruded the personal space of the person in the seat behind. Pull out your earphones and plug into the latest drama or podcast you downloaded. At least for the next hour, you hope to be entertained by Archie’s latest antics on Riverdale, and not the selfie habits of the middle-aged couple in seat number 17 and 18.
Remind yourself that you’ll only be on this bus for the next four hours till you arrive at Golden Mile Tower, like your bus ticket said.
Watch the couple take three selfies.
Whether you’re taking an 18-hour flight or a four-hour bus ride, your singular irrational travel habit is believing you won’t see a morsel of food again for the next 5,000 years, and hence must fill up like a starving child at a buffet before you begin your journey.
In between dozing off, allow yourself to be jolted awake by the sudden jarring pop music playing over the speakers at the back of the bus. Welcome the refreshing change from the Christmas carols in supermarkets and department stores that have bled your ears. You don’t understand the language, but it sure isn’t Mariah Carey telling you what she wants for Christmas—and that’s all the respite you need.
Unfortunately, the selfie-taking couple looks less than pleased.
Observe an elderly man move from his single seat to a double seat. Watch another couple whip out their phones. The husband proceeds to play a mobile game, while the wife watches a drama. After awhile, she reclines her seat and takes a nap. He gently places his jacket over her.
Get tired of staring at the same tacky blue fabric used for the bus seats for the last two hours or so. Stare out the window at the highway instead. Feel a creeping sense of deep malaise.
Close your eyes.
Before you can decide, the bus moves off.
Watch the selfie-taking couple take more selfies. The man uses the front-facing camera to fix his hair.
Admire their determination to get several photos of themselves on what’s shaping up to be the most boring journey of your life, but realise that it might be a different case for them. Perhaps the bus ride from KL to Singapore is the most significant trip they’ve taken, or it’s their first time travelling to Singapore together.
Allow your projections of their life to be disrupted by the bus moving off. The bus terminal’s lounge has emptied out considerably within the last 20 minutes. Save for a few groups of Malay and Chinese families hanging around in the terminal with children and luggage in tow, it appears few people desire to be on the road on Christmas.
For many people, the festive season necessitates a slowing down of life, and rekindling relationships that might have been sidelined for the hustle during the year. In particular, December 25 tends to inspire images of warm and cosy family gatherings at home, complete with a sumptuous feast on the table. But not everyone gets to celebrate a picture-perfect Christmas.
Understand that is okay. Not everyone’s special occasion will have equal fanfare. Think about your own quiet Christmas night ahead that will be spent catching up on work and reading, and realise that is the perfect Christmas for you this year.
Catch sight of a cleaner sweeping the corner of the bus terminal. Remember that for many others, Christmas is just another Wednesday on the job. Bus drivers still ply the roads from KL to Singapore, mama shop owners still supply snacks for the peckish traveller, and customs officers still diligently stamp every passport.
From the bus terminal to the customs, allow life at the borders to remind you that the world doesn’t stop for anyone.
All of a sudden, develop stomach space for ratchet roadside grub. Figure you’ll spend all your remaining … RM6 on food here.
Point to the cheeseburger on a menu, but realise they’ve run out of stock. Say you’ll settle for the “special”—that’s RM5. That’s also unavailable.
Fine. Go with the “regular” beef burger: RM4.
Walk around the parking lot wondering how to spend your remaining RM2. Dig into your wallet to find a few more coins to give you just enough for a cup of corn. Get the life-changing one with milk.
Stretch your legs for a few more seconds, get some sun, and fight the building claustrophobia of returning to the bus for another god knows how many hours. In limbo, your sense of time is warped.
On the bus, gag a little as you watch a man remove his shoes and prop his bare feet on the back of the seat in front. His wife looks on nonchalantly—and doesn’t do anything even when he begins to shake his leg. Control your urge to boot them both off the bus for a lack of social graces, sense of hygiene, and rhythm. The entire row is shaking now.
Behind the couple, another passenger seems just as unbothered. His stunning indifference to the social pariahs allows him to pull out a marble pound cake from his pouch and devour it within visible range of Man With Exposed Feet.
Begin to wonder if this journey will ever end. The answer is evidently not.
Jump off the bus as though you’ve been released from lifetime imprisonment.
Laugh at the sad Christmas decorations peeling off the glass door beside the Thai disco. Steep in the pure chaotic energy that it radiates—and realise it pales in comparison to the tedious bus ride you’ve just endured.
Look at the line of people waiting to take the same never-ending journey to KL in the evening. Realise that you could get married, have a child, get the keys to your BTO flat, and watch your grandchildren grow up all before they arrive in KL.
With the six hours that you have left of the day, finally begin your Christmas by spending an hour getting home on the MRT.