Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Random Thoughts - Markers

Do you remember the time when you were still a small child, and your perspective of the world at large was still relatively unrefined? Do you remember the time when everything in your world appeared to be either longer or larger than they really were, or at least when compared to your current perspective now? Well, I recently recalled some events from my past in relation to the above questions while reading an article. These recollections led me to come to the same conclusions as the author of the article. And subject to my usual long windedness stuff, I am pleased to share my sudden revelation with you.

While I was still in primary school, my parents used to take my brother and myself to the 2 cinemas along Balestiar Road, being the President and the Hoover I think, to watch movies. To me at least, those car trips to the cinemas were really much too long for anyone my age at that time to take. At that point in time, I was living in a 5 room flat along Bendemeer Road, and the time needed to cover the distance between Bendemeer Road and Balestiar Road could not have been more than 15 minutes. But to me, they were like forever.

As such, I instinctively devised some things to do along the way to the cinemas. My favorite pastime would have to be the counting of road signs, buildings and traffic lights, which we passed along the way. Sometimes, I would even count the dashes of the lane dividers. I would not recommend this exercise to anyone rational as this exercise was a highly stressful and tiring activity, and its success really depends critically on the speed at which the car is moving. Heavy traffic is certainly helpful in this aspect but in general it really just prolongs the pain of getting to the destination. I would certainly not be proud to report to you that there are a total of four hundred and fifty three dashes between the cross junctions of Bendemeer Road / Geylang Bahru and Balestiar Road / Moulmeim Road and I am not saying that there actually are, but please do feel free to verify the number for yourselves if your interested in this sort of activities.

Today, in retrospect, I realised that I only did what I did then because those activities actually helped me pass time more quickly in a very relative sense. I have instinctively forced myself to notice and to keep track of the road signs, buildings, traffic lights and the dashes of the lane dividers. In the process, I have created what the author called a series of “markers” to measure the time and distance taken to move from place to place. As a result, I would then know, at any given point, what places we have just passed and what places we would be coming to next before reaching the destination. These markers really served to provide the mind with an alternate means of measuring time and space and allow the mind to gauge the percentage of completion of the task at hand. And, this markers, through occupying the mind, give time the appearance of passing more quickly than they really are, relatively speaking of course.

Interestingly, I was discussing some conceptual issues involving the MRT along the north east line with a friend the other day where I suddenly realised that I do not refer to the MRT stops by their designated names but rather their designated numbers. For example, I do not refer to the MRT stop at Toa Payoh as Toa Payoh but as N6. I was at first bewildered at my apparently strange behaviour since I have always prided myself as a word person rather than a number person. On deeper analysis, perhaps instinctively, I have used the designated numbers as a means to measure the progress of my journey via the MRT for the same reasons why I counted the road signs, buildings, traffic lights and the dashes of the lane dividers in my younger days. If you will, please imagine yourself riding the MRT through an underground tunnel between 2 stops. I suspect that the ride would appear to take longer than it really did simply because there are no markers along the underground tunnel for the mind to take reference from. But imagine riding the MRT for the same distance on the surface where we can see the world where there are markers along the way. The impression created may be quite different from the previous.

I particular liked the statement that was made by the author in relation to his commentary on markers. I concur with his comments in its entirety. He said: ”Funny how when you are young you instinctively know and understand such things; then you forget them and only years later do you relearn, through curiosity and inquiry and chance, what was once instinctual. What a shame that this is the way of life”.

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