It’s a simple interaction. A small gesture. A little kindness that is a welcome respite in all the gloom and doom, worries and fears that have been hitting us recently.

On Tuesday (Apr 7), Kelvin Ang posted on Facebook that he was headed home on the Downtown Line that afternoon when he saw a boy in a Pathlight School uniform board the train. The young boy spotted a man in what looked like an SMRT bus captain’s uniform and struck up a conversation with him.

What made 30-year-old Kelvin notice the interaction was the enthusiasm of the boy, who excitedly pelted the SMRT staff member with a barrage of questions on buses.

Wrote Kelvin in his post: “He was asking the man all sorts of questions, like ‘Do you drive a bus?’, ‘Is this bus good?’, ‘I noticed they upgraded the bus, do you drive the newest bus?’.”

It was clear that the boy is a bus enthusiast, and could talk in detail about bus diesel engines and their emission standards. “…he knows much more about buses than me. He could mumble about technical specifications like Euro 5, Euro 6, and he knows what they mean! I did not know that these are Euro Emission Standards, which refers to how much pollution the vehicle causes,” added Kelvin in his post.

The most heartwarming part of the interaction was that the boy’s enthusiasm was matched by the patience of the SMRT staff member.

Wrote Kelvin: “Another amazing thing I noticed is that the SMRT Staff is actively engaging the boy! While the boy’s repeated questions may seem a little annoying, the man patiently replied every single question from the boy, and he even kept the conversation going, showing the boy pictures and asking the boy questions.”

Kelvin told the Pride that the SMRT staff member, who was a commuter, didn’t have to entertain the boy but chose to engage him anyway and that made the incident so much more special.

How often have we boarded the train after a long day at work, put on a pair of earphones and just zone out on the trip home? We barely make eye contact with fellow commuters and we are usually more interested in browsing our feeds, playing mobile games or simply catching 40 winks.

Especially now, when we are encouraged to observe safe distancing, this kind man took the trouble to talk to the boy for about 15 minutes (before the new rules kicked in, of course!) until the boy reached his stop and got off the train.

SMRT bus captain is Malaysian working here

The Pride contacted SMRT and confirmed that the bus captain in the incident is Shandran Shederen Raman, a Malaysian who is working in Singapore during this period.

In an exclusive interview, he told the Pride that he had been on his way to work for the afternoon shift on Tuesday when he met the boy.

Shandran said: “The boy recognized that I am a Bus Captain from my uniform. He started asking me questions, many of which are relevant to my duty. It was a very nice conversation, I was very impressed that he knows so much.”

Shandran added that through the conversation, he realised that the boy really had a passion for buses and had very thoughtful questions on bus routes, bus models and even the engine types and inner mechanics of the buses.

His kindness to the boy is made even more meaningful by the fact that Shandran hasn’t gone home to see his family since Malaysia closed its borders in mid-March.

He said: “I was a bit worried when the shutdown was announced, but I decided that I should sacrifice my family time and to give my support to Singapore by staying on to work. I do miss my family but I think it is important for me to be here playing my part. It is for the best. SMRT has provided us with accommodation for this period, at a very comfortable hotel, and I am very grateful for that.”

Lessons in kindness

Kelvin wrote in his post that the incident taught him two things.

“Clearly there is a place in our society for people with special needs. These individuals are talented! They can learn quickly, and they can even grasp technical concepts. This boy is passionate about buses, and if his interest is natured, he can be a real talent in this industry. Autism Resource Centre Singapore / Pathlight School is doing a great job at helping these children reach their full potential.”

He added that the incident left him believing in kindness to strangers again. “He treated the boy kindly, and he made the boy feel comfortable. He did not belittle the boy, and instead, spoke to the boy with patience and respect. Thank you Sir for being kind and gracious. You are an amazing man!”

Gone viral

And Kelvin isn’t alone in his praise. Since it was put up, Kelvin’s post has had 11,000 shares and almost a thousand comments.

Many commended bus captain Shandran’s patience.

Said Facebook user Suranjan Banerjee: “Very nice of the gentleman from SMRT. Sometimes many people find it difficult to handle or support special-needs children or adults even if that is for a few minutes. We need more such people around these kids and adults.

Another user Doris Lee said: “This SMRT staff is a kind soul and God will bless you abundantly for treating this autistic boy with respect n never belittle him! Thank you very much for showing kindness towards children with special needs.”

Students at Pathlight are placed in smaller classes and have specially trained teachers to guide them in the curriculum. (Credit: Pathlight School)

Others weighed in on how special-needs children have great potential too.

Said Facebook user Prasad Rnv: “These students are not to be sidelined… They are students with different abilities and will shine in those fields of their interest if our education system is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Added another user Khairiyah Lockman: “I am a special-needs teacher. My students are indeed talented and intelligent in their own special ways, it amazes me every single day! Never look down on these kids. They may have some quirks and behaviours that are not normal but they are really SPECIAL.”

Pathlight School is the first autism-focused school
Pathlight School is the first autism-focused school in Singapore that offers Singapore’s mainstream academic curriculum together with life readiness skills (Credit: Pathlight School)

Pathlight is a special-needs school in Singapore that caters to students aged 7 to 18 on the autism spectrum. It pairs mainstream academic curriculum with life readiness skills in smaller class formats and specially trained teachers.

Its principal Ms Linda Kho told the Pride: “Our students have strong interests in certain areas, and many of them are fascinated with transportation – not just buses, but trains too. We are heartened by the kindness and patience shown by the SMRT staff. He is an inspiring example of the gentler, kinder, and more inclusive society that we all hope for.

She added: “Mr Kelvin Ang’s heartwarming post and the positive reception to it is also an affirmation that our society is indeed becoming more inclusive and accepting of different strengths and abilities.”

Netizens also gave Kelvin a shout-out for sharing the incident. Said Yves Wee: “After I’ve read your post, I learn another thing from it. We have never lacked beautiful people in the world, what we lack is people who can and will appreciate beautiful things. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.”

Kelvin told The Pride: “I did not expect this result. I’m just sharing this warm moment. May love spread more massively than Covid-19. May hope triumph over fear!”

“We have to recognise that everybody is different, and we have to be tolerant of one another, and accept everyone for who they are. Kindness should not only be shown to people who are like you. Instead, be kind to one another, including people who are different from you.”

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Top Image: Kelvin Ang