local rhythm

Every place has its rhythm.

The rhythm of a place is expressed in the pace and density of foot traffic. It’s expressed by the number of people who stand on escalators compared to the number who walk. It’s expressed in the amount of eye contact. It’s expressed through the presence or absence of a musical score – in buses, taxis, shops, alleys and pubs. It’s expressed in the negotiations between pedestrians and drivers – and between drivers and drivers. It’s expressed by the number of people who hurry to work compared to the number who hurry home.

It takes a while to understand the rhythm of a place, and even longer to feel it. You spend the first few weeks in a new city constantly stepping in and out of the way of other people. You walk into the street after failing to look to your right (or left) first, and you’re thankful for the honking car or the friendly tug on your collar from the person behind you. You step onto a bus and fumble around for your change, wondering why you didn’t have it ready like you always do at home. You hold doors for people who aren’t entering or exiting. You stand in the wrong queue and don’t find out until you’re at the front.

And then one day you realise you’re moving with the flow. Even after a couple of days, you find you’re better at navigating and negotiating a place.

I’ve been in Singapore long enough now to notice the newly-arrived. I still spend a certain amount of my time in people’s way, skipping and dodging, and recovering from near collisions, but I’m a little more graceful then I was a few months ago.

My inability to move to the local rhythm has resurfaced more intensely each time I’ve journeyed out from here – to Thailand, Vietnam, Shanghai. Especially Shanghai.

It’s a great experience to observe onesself fumbling around and then slowly starting to get it. Each time, I feel a little like Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk.

I just had my first real weekend in ages. I hardly worked at all and mainly enjoyed wandering somewhat aimlessly around the city for two whole days. I enjoyed feeling the rhythm of Singapore again.