As a young boy, I was fascinated by the world around me, which, at five, consisted of my neighbourhood. One longstanding interest was that of trains — in fact, I still have my collection of Thomas the Tank Engine toy trains and tracks. I would be hard at work all day piecing together different track circuits, only to reluctantly take them apart at the end of the day because Mom wanted to clean the house. Still, I always enjoyed myself, and because Thomas is a Japanese creation, he was one of my first windows into the fabled Japanese train system, but that is for another story.
This fascination extended to my local train service, and Dad would often indulge me by taking me to the last station of each line to look at where the tracks ended. 20 years ago, those stations were just three to four stops away from where I lived, so it was easy to hop on a train there and spend some time doing nothing else but stare at the train tracks that abruptly ended up ahead. I remember feeling a tinge of wistful sadness as I fixated my gaze on the very edge of the track, where steel rails, stones, and bundles of wire were fenced off. Part of why I loved looking at train tracks, especially from inside a train, was because they seemed to never end, carrying trains further and further into parts of the country I had never been to, so to actually see tracks end forced me to come to terms with my journey’s end. From a five-year-old’s perspective, it was quite literally the end of my world.
Over the years, the train network gradually expanded to the far-reaching ends of the country, and the same train that could only take me to another nearby neighbourhood is now able to ferry me to town and back. It was almost inconceivable to imagine then how extensive our train system could become. I revisited the scenario 20 years later, as I stood at the edge of the West Line’s new last station, six stops further than before. It was so far west that I could see the bridge that connects Singapore to Malaysia. Instinctively, I looked ahead and caught sight of the all-too-familiar stump of a track. This time, there was no sadness; no mourning over the end of a journey. Instead, I was hopeful — I saw the dead end as unfinished business, with every chance that it will someday stretch on beyond the horizon.