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Imagine this, you’re headed into town on the MRT when a woman walks into your semi-empty carriage.
A family of tourists shifts their luggage around to make room for her to sit but she refuses.
Instead, she proceeds to berate the tourists for “taking up space”, threatening to “file a report” against them.
What would you do?
Sit and ignore the altercation, hoping that the woman would calm down? Record the interaction and out the woman’s aggressive behaviour on social media?
Or stand up and do something about it?
That was what a 24-year-old commuter decided to do.
Speaking to The Pride, the young woman, who wanted to be known only as Y, said that she was on the Downtown line towards town at around noon on Monday (Mar 27) when the incident happened.
She explained that the carriage was not crowded, with spare seats available. She noticed the tourist family – a couple and their son, who looked about 9 or 10 – with their luggage when she boarded.
A few stops before Ubi (Y wasn’t paying attention at the time), a woman boarded and almost immediately started picking on them.
“She was already hostile the moment she boarded, claiming that they were blocking the seat and the entrance.”
She added that before she started recording, the father’s luggage was obstructing the seat, but he moved it to make space when he noticed more passengers boarding. He apologised and moved the luggage again after the woman started scolding him.
Recounted Y: “When the dad said, ‘here, there’s space for you to sit’, she looked at the vacant seat (which was next to him) then sat on the seat opposite him.”
Y explained that the dad was sitting on her side of the carriage while the mum and son took up another seat on the opposite side.
The woman (in an orange top) sat next to the mum and son, glaring at the dad.
This was when Y decided to start filming the interaction. In an audio clip that Y sent The Pride, the woman can be heard saying in a very dismissive tone, “we’re done” and “we’re done with this conversation”.
But apparently not so, because she continued to rant at the family until they got off the train.
She raised her voice, calling them “outrageous” and scolding them again for “blocking the entrance”.
In a video clip provided by Y, the woman can be seen gesticulating at the family, breathless from shouting, while the little boy sat next to her, too afraid to move.
Y told The Pride: “I should’ve done something about it earlier, I was scared but it was nothing compared to how that kid probably feels.”
Y said that she was confused over why the woman was acting so aggressively towards the family, especially when there were other seats available.
“She was scolding him (the dad) for not making space, even after he did so! I’m not sure what kept her going.”
The irony was that the woman had placed her umbrella on the empty seat next to her. She later moved it when another passenger sat next to her.
By coincidence, both the family and Y alighted at Jalan Besar station. While they were preparing to leave the train, Y spoke up.
She told the woman: “Look, your umbrella was on the other seat and the other passenger didn’t have to shout at you to get you to make space. Why did you have to shout at them? Have some compassion.”
Spoke with family
After they alighted, Y stopped the family and apologised that they had to experience such a nasty welcome.
She found out that the family had just touched down in Singapore that day and were already stressed from travelling.
“Up to this point,” recounted Y, “they had never expressed any anger or replied rudely (to the woman) or even raised their voices.”
“The dad was explaining to me that he did move the bag and he was worried that she will report them to the police; (he was worried) that they did something wrong.”
“When I parted way with them, the kid was asking his parents why the woman was shouting at them and asked if they were racist (she was also accusing the family of being racist). It breaks my heart.”
Y exchanged numbers with them in case they needed her help for anything.
The Pride reached out to the family, but they have not yet responded.
The same day the incident happened, Y posted about her experience on Reddit, sharing how she felt about the incident.
Many Redditors focused on the racial aspect – the tourists were from India and the woman was Chinese.
Some of them recounted their experiences with racism and empathised with the family.
Said Y: “Looking at some of the comments, it’s clear that minorities empathise and have definitely experienced discrimination against them. This isn’t something new.”
Others were more concerned about the effect on the boy. One poster said: “The child would likely be bewildered and traumatised. It is an incident that will stay with him forever. Really unnecessary. As a Singaporean I feel embarrassed and sad.”
Several praised Y for her actions. One said: “Thank you for going the extra mile to stop and talk to them, despite your own schedule. They will remember your actions and how it made them feel for years to come!”
But that wasn’t why she did it. Y said that she just didn’t want the incident to be swept under the carpet, nor for it to turn into an online witch hunt.
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She said: “Perhaps it’s in our culture to want to avoid the trouble or conflict. But what would the alternative be? Let this slide? Let it happen again? Cyberbully her (the woman)?”
“The more people talk about this, the better. But it should be a fruitful discussion, and not just hating on a person who, for all we know, might be going through some issues of her own. Even if somebody did wrong, they should be given the chance to come back from it.”