There is a space in between the start of my day, and the start of the work day. In this space, I wake up to the city around me as it too stirs to life. I paused to ponder and wonder at it.
Hushed. The call of the koel birds have not yet begun, and one can barely make out the polite rumble of vehicles. Considering the number of people living in close proximity with me, it seemed unnatural that I could not hear any conversations or crying children.
A cool breeze was blowing and I walked over to widen the window and let some of it into the apartment. It was still dark outside, leaving the vibrant greens of the tree canopy in the neighbouring precinct reduced to an indeterminate bushy carpet with some blocks protruding out of it.
Looking out, I saw that the sky was a scene of perfectly blended shades of black and deep blue. The lack of stars in the scene above the horizon contrasted with the glowing veins crawling across the ground below me. A constellation of light spots pepper the ground: red, amber, green, white, and the distinctive shade of orange-yellow. I wonder if people call it “street-light orange”.
The arteries of the city were still unclogged and the few drivers on the road were enjoying the smooth and easy drive. That could change very quickly in the coming hours, beginning with the appearance of service vehicles that will be preparing the city for the day ahead. But for now, the late sleepers and early risers get to enjoy the abundance of time and space in their city.
I consider the idea that some people enjoy a city that never sleeps. But I much prefer it when it does, and when it still is.
The water shimmered from the rays of sunshine that was emerging from behind the high rise apartment blocks. Although still, there is both a warmth and a coolness in the air, making it one of the best times to step out for one’s morning exercise. With kids and their parents too busy chasing the morning commute to school, the running path was occupied by middle-aged individuals, couples, and seniors who could afford to fit a jog in their morning schedule. It felt like every fifth person that I came across the route was wearing a singlet which proudly announced that he or she has been a “Finisher” in a marathon.
I was struggling to catch my breath; partly because I have not gone for a run in a long while, and partly from seeing the scene in front of me. The lush trees that lined the canal offered a buffer to the industrial buildings that lay right behind it. It was a perfectly crafted illusion of nature in such close proximity to the warehouses, machinery, and facilities behind the strip of green. An expressway cuts across the horizon with queues of delivery trucks and passenger vehicles on it, but all of it seemed distant from the ground where my neighbours and I were jogging at. The air was fresh, the urban sounds were faint, and the family of otters greeted us on the banks of the canal. It still amazes me how this city have adapted and reimagined its drainage system into a continuous strip of constructed nature across the island.
The void-deck was living up to its name. The blue, perforated metal chairs were empty. Four of them, fixed in position around a metal table that has also been bolted to the ground. Chained-up bicycles, mostly rusty and in various states of dismantlement, line the wall. A few bicycles from the bankrupted bike-sharing companies remain strewn behind the pillars, remnants of a time where this city thought these services were a good idea. But other than that mess, the floor and walls of the area was clean. In fact, sterile.
There was a hint of human life at the other block. A group of seniors were gathered around the stone furniture with walking sticks leaning against the chair, plastic bags filled with their morning shopping on the table, conversations in dialect going strong. I do not understand what they are talking about but I imagine that this must be their morning huddle before they retreat for their TV dramas, naps, and individual schedules for the rest of the day.
A few meters away at the other segment of the void-deck was a signage that read “Study Corner”. A few sets of benches and tables similar in design to the other perforated metal furniture were provided for in that area. Wifi and power sockets were not provided, but it was quiet and rather breezy. Unsurprisingly, no one was studying there for school was in session, but an elderly man was sleeping there.
This was his spot. The place where I would find him in every morning, but not in the evening. Lying across the bench that was too short for him, the man would prop his leg on the dividers of the area. He had a haversack at his pillow, and another tote-bag overflowing with things lay on the floor beside him. A styrofoam box, possibly of his recent breakfast, would often be left on the table. He slept with his arms across his body, hugging himself to sleep.
I’ve always wondered about his story. Is he taking a snooze after a late-night shift before heading home in a while? Is he homeless? Why did he choose that bench, in that block? What does he dream of? Is this city doing enough for him?
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The text above is an excerpt of my contribution to SPACES, an editorial project by Sali Sasaki.
‘SPACES’ gathers visual narratives, interviews and stories about the ways in which spaces are created, experienced and lived in both urban and rural areas. It reveals the complex dimensions of physical and symbolic spaces through a range of related topics including cultural expression, identity, movement, landscapes and natural resources. A particular emphasis is made on the flexible adaptation of local cultures in the global era, as well as the creativity of “non-creative” environments.