Trains – by Tabitha

6 Dec

One of the things I miss here in Hanoi, where we get around by bicycle, is public transport. Nathan and I often reminisce about our daily commute over the Harbour Bridge, which not only served as luxurious non-negotiable reading time, but has since come to encapsulate for us our long-gone Sydney lives. Most people in Vietnam would never have experienced something so mindlessly comfortable and efficient as that train ride.

What’s more, we know those trains so well. We know which carriage to get on at Newtown if you want to be closest to the best exit for the North Sydney train when you change at Central. We know that Central is the best place to change because you just have to switch platform sides. We know which seats are the best for maximum comfort, personal space and view. We know exactly how to stand to maintain balance when the train jolts to a stop.

It makes you feel like you’re really part of the city, like you belong there. It’s the kind of familiarity which is easy to get nostalgic about. I still think often about riding the Metro in Paris, the springy resistance of the old-fashioned manual door handles, and those pull-down seats that snap up at your bottom when you stand (which courtesy dictates you have to do when a certain number of people around you are without a seat).

When I went back to Sydney after a year in Hanoi, I couldn’t believe how much walking was involved in catching the train – long walks to stations, long walks through underground tunnels – and how much planning and checking timetables and how much waiting. The trains ran late so often, and there was track-work, and half the trains seemed too air-conditioned and the other half too stuffy. Rowdy youths made it hard for me to concentrate on my book.

It seems a selective memory for the comforts of home is a universal part of the migrant experience.

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4 Responses to “Trains – by Tabitha”

  1. Beth December 7, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    It’s all so true. Nod, nod, nod. I get such satisfaction from knowing all the parts of the platforms too. The distances are long! Tempe station is hilarious. At the end of the platform you can see Wolli Creek but can’t get to it by foot because it’s across a bridge with no pathway. Sydney transport FAIL!

    I could go on all day about trains. Public transport is my cultural heritage having grown up without owning a car. Here is another book project of mine that this topic reminds me of: http://www.blurb.com/my/book/detail/931990

    I’ll email you all a song my dad did for Leo’s birthday which has a sample of a train on it which will possibly make you cry if you’re feeling nostalgic…

  2. Jonathan December 9, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    It’s funny because i had almost the opposite reaction to yours when i first went back to Montreal. I forgot how easy it was to take the train, and how quick it was to catch a train.

    Also, the most interesting i noticed is how close you are to someone. Even though traffic in Hanoi is dense, you’re meant to look ahead of you (never behind, or to the side right?). In the metro i can just stare at someone who is reading. Or stare at the cute guy across the metro car.

    It didn’t sound so creepy when i thought about it right now.

    • Tabitha December 9, 2011 at 5:35 am #

      Unfortunately I think this says a lot about the different standards of public transport in Sydney and Montreal!

      And it’s true about the closeness. And the fact that you don’t really SEE people when you’re in Hanoi traffic. Although on your electric bicycle I’m pretty sure everyone saw YOU.

  3. Justyna December 10, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    I hate Sydney trains Tabitha and I never miss them. Yes I hate inter-city trains in Poland, but I love my Krakow public transport system (voted no. 9th in the world for its efficiency, cost and accessibility). I am so happy that I am finally experiencing commuter options I always dreamed of. I can get to ANYWHERE in town via bus or tram. ANYWHERE. It costs a pittance. And the longest I ever have to wait is nano-second for the next transport option to arrive. I really can live in this place without a car, even if I live on the outskirts of town or in a shithole.

    On the downside, it can often stink. Especially in summer. Deodorant is not used by everyone.

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