Saturday, February 23, 2008

Need you need me

There has been a rash of complaints recently that young, able-bodied commuters on buses and trains are not voluntarily giving up their seats to the very young, the very old and the very pregnant commuters among us. Commuters are routinely berated for pretending not to see so that they do not feel obliged to do the necessary. While I admit that this is a real problem and more able-bodied commuters should give up their seats to others who are more in need of one, there is always another side to the story.

Some may be genuinely asleep. Many years ago, I was sitting on one end of the subway train bench and had fallen asleep. When I woke up, I was embarrassed to see a very pregnant woman standing right in front of me, holding onto the handbar next to where I was seated for support. I immediately shot up to offer my seat, not stopping to think why somebody else had not offered his/her seat to her. She smiled at me in appreciation of my gesture, but refused the seat because she was getting off at the next stop.

Nowadays, many 'needy' people think they have a right to the seats, and in some cases, refuse the offered seat with nary a smile or show of appreciation. Yesterday, I was riding in a subway train headed northeast towards Sengkang. I was seated with my very heavy PC Notebook. From across where I sat was a seated middle-aged man who had a big bag on his lap. That bag looked heavy. In came a women at a stop and stood in front of him. The train was standing room only then. I noticed the man begin to rise to offer the woman his seat. The woman did look pregnant. But the woman declined the gesture. I don't know if she had shown any appreciation for the gesture. I don't know why she refused. I thought, maybe she would be getting off the train soon, so, like in my case many years ago, there wasn't a need to take a seat.

I was wrong. When the seat next to the man became available just a stop later, she took that seat! (See picture. The kind man with his considerable bag is in a blue shirt next to her) When I disembarked from the train at Sengkang, she was still seated. She was obviously bound for Punggol. I felt disturbed over the whole incident. Here is a man ready and willing to offer his seat in spite of his huge and probably heavy bag. I would have thought the woman should have gracefully and gratefully accepted since she seemed to be really in need of a seat. If I were that man, I would not be so ready to offer my seat to another who has 'greater need of a seat' the next time. I'd probably want to pretend I didn't see anything to save myself the embarrassment of doing the unappreciated.

Blame me if you want, but often, we do need the seats ourselves.

p.s. Sometimes its quite difficult to make out if a women is pregnant or just, ermm, fat. If you offered a fat woman a seat, if might be seen as an insult and will be met with a swift rejection of the kind jesture. Sometimes, these fat women just accept the seat pronto and you then discover that they are not really pregnant. You look like a dumb fool who cannot tell the difference between a pregnant woman and one who is just 'bulky'. Sigh...being an able-bodied train or bus commuter has its psychological stresses and strains.

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