Long Faces

Though he looked Chinese and spoke somewhat like a Singaporean, he wasn’t from around here. He had been, in fact, living in Australia most his life.

“You know,” he told me, “I realised that the people here on the MRT all look so glum. I mean, that’s their problem? What I don’t understand, is why the people here all have such long faces. They should learn to lighten up.”

I felt quite insulted. Though he wasn’t talking about me per se, he was giving me the impression that he felt Singaporeans (and by inference, me) lesser people because they didn’t smile on trains.

But who smiles on trains?

I shrugged my shoulders and changed the subject. Though I intuitively disagreed with him, I wasn’t quite sure why. I wanted to say that not everybody in Singapore was like that, but I did agree that most Singaporeans did look rather uptight on trains. But why?

I knew that there was a reason why, but I just didn’t know what that reason was. Until now. At least, it’s a theory, and it’s a theory that I think makes plenty of sense.

I found this theory after reading an article entitled Why So Angry, by Kevin Hoffman (Men’s Health, May 2007).

Below is an excerpt of the parts that made me realise that I may have found an answer to the long faces of Singaporeans on trains.

(The author is talking about IED or intermittent explosive disorder, a sudden inexplicable rage that occurs in certain people, particularly men.)

Kessler is now studying IED rates around the world to find out whether significant differences exist that would suggest environmental causes. “Anger may be one of those crosses that comes with success in the material world,” he says.

Statistics seem to support his theory. U.S. population density has almost quadrupled over the last 100 years. Today we squeeze 80 people into each square mile, on average. (In New York City, 23,700 people now live in each square mile.) The closer people live, the more likely they are to rub one another the wrong way, according to researches at Cornell. They demonstrated that higher population density increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our blood — it’s cortisol that readies us mentally to fight or flee.

Singapore’s population density stands as one of the highest in the world. At over 6,000 people per square kilometre on average, with plenty more concentrated in the city centre and on public transport, is it any wonder that we are a sulky bunch?

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