Singaporeans and their mobiles: What are they doing on the train?

Divya Woo, 18, a student, using her phone on the train on the North East Line near Harbourfront station. You've seen them looking intently at their smartphones and tablets, but what is it that is keeping them glued to their gadgets? We find out
Divya Woo, 18, a student, using her phone on the train on the North East Line near Harbourfront station. You've seen them looking intently at their smartphones and tablets, but what is it that is keeping them glued to their gadgets? We find out by asking commuters on the MRT. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

You've seen them looking intently at their smartphones and tablets, but what is it that is keeping them glued to their gadgets? We find out by asking commuters on the MRT.

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 3pmWhere: Sengkang LRT Line, near Rumbia stationWho: Mr Kenneth Ong (second from right, black shirt), 26, property agent “I’m checking my messages on WhatsApp, talking to my colleagues and preparing for meetings.“My phone is definitely as important as life and death. I have to be in constant contact with clients and be able to take calls at any time. Although I use my phone mostly for work, I also use it to surf the Web or read updates posted by my friends on Facebook.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 3.30pmWhere: Sengkang LRT stationWho: Afifah Syahirah Azhar (second from right) and Lieu Shi Qi (second from right), both 14, students of North Vista Secondary SchoolShi Qi: “We are on our way home from school. I want my friend Afifah to listen to this recording. It was made at school, but sorry, I can’t tell you exactly what it is. The phone is very, very important to us. I use it once I step on the train and stop only when I get off.”Afifah: “Using the phone on the train helps us cope with boredom. The only drawback is that others can sometimes see what you are looking at. I will go on social media such as Twitter and Instagram. I don’t really post very much. I’d much rather read what my other friends are doing.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 3.55pmWhere: North East MRT Line, towards HarbourFront, near Dhoby Ghaut stationWho: Mr Farhan Said (middle), 27, marine engineer“I check my smartphone a lot whenever I’m on the train. Instagram and Facebook are constantly being updated, so I want to keep up with new posts from my friends.“Although I browse through my feeds, I don’t post updates. I just like to see what people are doing.“I’d be very, very bored without my phone because I wouldn’t be able to see what my friends are up to. I’m just scrolling through the social networks to kill time.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 4.10pmWhere: North East MRT Line, towards HarbourFront, near HarbourFront stationWho: Ms Divya Woo, 18, student“I’m replying to a message from my boyfriend. I was on the phone with him before I got on the train, but now that I’m inside, calls are off-limit.“Unless it’s an urgent call, I won’t answer it. There’s too much noise and too many people around.“Since I get motion sickness, I try to avoid using the phone. If I’m bored, I just look around the train or at people’s shoes. It’s about simply being in the moment without having to pay attention to my phone.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 4.40pmWhere: North East MRT Line, towards HarbourFront, at Punggol stationWho: Ms Victoria Yang, 21, polytechnic graduate“I’m chatting with my friends on WeChat. I check only when I get messages. If there aren’t any, I’d rather not look at my phone. I might bump into people if I keep staring at it. Looking at the screen too long hurts my eyes too.“I listen to music a lot. I have about 4,000 songs in my phone. One Direction’s one of the many artists I listen to and right now, I’m playing their song Live While We’re Young. When I travel, headphones are a necessity. I can’t survive more than a day without them.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 5pmWhere: North East MRT Line, towards HarbourFront, near Serangoon stationWho: Mr Hamayet Mohammad (middle), 22, construction worker “My friends and I are on our way back to our dormitory in Tuas. On the train, I usually look through my Facebook feed on my phone to see what my friends back home in Bangladesh are doing. If I want to hear their voices, I have to pay to call them. But I can chat with them for free on Facebook.“I’ve been in Singapore for 11/2 years. When I’m homesick, I will watch a Hindi film on my phone. It comforts me and reminds me of home.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 5.12pmWhere: North East MRT Line, towards Punggol, near Kovan stationWho: Mr Sani Seradeen (left), 37, laboratory technician “I’m on my way home. I work in Outram and live in Sengkang. To pass the time on the train, I play the game Candy Crush. In this game, I have to line up at least three candies of the same colour. It might seem like a kid’s game but I am addicted to it. “Every time I clear a level, it gives me a sense of achievement. But when I’m stuck, it is very frustrating. Playing the game is also a way for me to de-stress. I work all day and deserve to relax on the way home.“I also watch movies or listen to music on my phone. What else is there to do on these long rides home?”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 8.34pmWhere: Bishan MRT stationWho: Ms Pauline Tan, 40, customer service executive“I’m chatting with a group of six female friends over WhatsApp. I met them through a social networking website,, about seven years ago.“The site closed down last year, but we still chat over WhatsApp, sharing gossip, funny photos, recipes, talk about our holidays and upload links to news articles. Most of them are married with kids so they are constantly asking what are good places to take their families to. We meet for dinner once a month.“In the past, I was quite hesitant about befriending people I met online. So I’m glad I met such a nice bunch on the Internet. Our chats keep me entertained and save me from boredom on the train. When I’m chatting with them, time passes very quickly.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 8.41pmWhere: North South MRT Line towards Jurong East, near Yio Chu Kang stationWho: Mr Omar Alhadad, 35, civil servant“I’m playing a role-playing game called Hello Hero, where I have to build an army of heroes to fight an evil entity threatening to destroy a galaxy.“I also like Clash Of Clans, a game where I have to build a village of fighters and train them to fight against other clans.“I love that the games are free and I can usually play them with just one hand. But the bad thing is that games drain the phone’s battery life. Whenever my phone battery level is at only 20 per cent, I will stop playing games because I need to conserve the remaining battery life to tide me over until I can charge my phone.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 9.14pmWhere: North South MRT Line, towards Jurong East, near Marsiling stationWho: Mr Sutheswaran Tulisiraman, 28, technical superintendent “I’m just playing games and listening to music, man. I’m listening to this song called International Love by Pitbull, a Cuban-American rapper. It has such a catchy melody and I have to stop myself from grooving along to the beat. I saw the YouTube video some time back and got hooked on it.“Whenever I listen to music, I will turn the music up so I can get the ‘feel’ of the music. But this means that I often can’t hear anything else.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 9.14pmWhere: North East MRT Line, towards Punggol, near Punggol stationWho: Husband and wife Francis (right) and Sally Ye (left), both 66 and retireesMrs Ye: “We don’t use our mobile phones often. I play Candy Crush sometimes on the train. It’s a very fun game, but sadly, it always drains my battery life quickly.”Mr Ye: “We use the phone mostly to send SMS or make calls. We never use it to watch videos like young people. In fact, I think using the phone too much can be bad for your health. We sometimes don’t even use the data plans because we don’t need to go online.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 9.24pmWhere: East West MRT Line towards Joo KoonWho: Ms Nurul Ameera Azmi, 17, student“I’m chatting with my secondary school friends on WhatsApp and listening to K-pop music on my way home from school.“I love K-pop because the tunes are fast and catchy. I bought a Korean-language book and am trying to pick up the language.“My favourite K-pop group is Girls’ Generation because they are pretty and can dance well. I paid $288 to attend their concert last October at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. I bought the expensive tickets because I wanted to be in the mosh pit next to them. I also like BigBang and Exo because of their upbeat tunes.“I’m very sensitive to sound and am doing a diploma in sonic arts.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 9.48pmWhere: North South MRT Line, towards Jurong EastWho: Mr Chung Nyet Thong, 55, bus driver“I’m watching a Korean movie on my phone. There are no subtitles and I also don’t know the film title. But I think I can follow what is going on. It’s a thriller and the hero is trying to solve some criminal conspiracy.“I watch movies just to pass the time. I especially love horror movies because who doesn’t like a good scare? They inject a bit of excitement in our lives.“Thankfully, the monster doesn’t look very scary when I’m watching it on such a small screen.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 9.51pmWhere: Pioneer MRT stationWho:  Ms Sakilah A. Karim, 22, property officer“I’m listening to music and surfing the Web. I’m trying to find out if there are any upcoming stand-up comedy shows by local drag queen Kumar. He recently performed in Happy Ever Laughter and I heard he was great. But I’m not sure if I will get tired if I have to hear him rattle on for a long time. So I’m going online to see what others say about him. In the past, we’d have to go to the library to get information. Now, we get it just by tapping our phones. It’s great.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 10.01pmWhere: East West MRT Line, towards Pasir RisWho: Mr Ven Lee, 18, a member of staff at a Subway outlet“I’m chatting with my friends on WeChat and listening to Mandarin pop songs. I like listening to songs that help me relax and unwind after a hard day’s work. I like Freedom, a song by Mandopop singer Yoga Lin. It’s quite a sad song about relationships, but it’s melodic and the lyrics are meaningful. I also listen to piano music because the sound of piano keys can be very soothing. I also like music with a stronger beat, but not when it’s late and I’m tired.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014,10.09pmWhere: East West MRT Line towards Pasir Ris, near Buona Vista stationWho: Mr Darren Teh (right) and Mr Kenny Loh (left), both 17, students and friendsMr Teh: “I’m tweeting on my way home from football practice. Depending on my mood, I can write about how my training went or how I feel about major new reports. Sometimes, I retweet my friends’ posts, especially the sweet and nice ones, so others can see them too.”Mr Loh: “I’m ‘liking’ some posts made by my friends on Instagram. They like to compare how many ‘likes’ they get and sometimes the figure can go up to over 300, even though the photo is just a bowl of noodles or a selfie. If the photo is something posted by a friend and has a positive message, I’ll ‘like’ it to show my support.”

Spotted: April 28, 2014, 10.42pmWhere: Raffles Place MRT stationWho: Ms Ringu Ho, 21, student“I’m checking my WhatsApp messages. I’m part of seven group chats – secondary school friends, projects mates, my family, a street dance group and other groups of random friends. We talk about everything under the sun – films, how our day went, weekend plans, and if we plan to go to the gym.“I check my phone every hour because if I don’t, I’ll not be updated on news and gossip. I reply to messages whenever I’m free. I don’t reply to every message, only those I feel are urgent and pressing.“Some people say technology distances people from one another as everyone is so pre-occupied with their phones. But technology brings me closer to others. How else can I keep track of seven groups of people at the same time?”

Spotted: April 29, 2014, 7.07pmWhere: Braddell MRT stationWho: Mr Eric Chin, 57, Chinese physician“I’m waiting for a friend to give her a bag of Chinese herbs, which she bought from me. In the meantime, I’m playing Chinese chess on the phone to occupy my time. Even if she is late, it’s okay because I have something to do. Without it, I’d be awkwardly looking at people around me. I think people will get antsy if you look at them in public places.“Chinese chess also helps test my brain power and strategy skills. I might be playing against a computer instead of a real person, but it’s still fun.”

Spotted: April 29, 2014, 7.19pmWhere: Newton MRT stationWho: Mr Mohammad Shah, 51, condominium security guard“I was watching a film on my phone, downloaded by my friend. On the train, I keep to myself because I can look quite fierce to others. Someone almost challenged me to a fight a few years ago because he thought I was staring at him. People can be so sensitive sometimes.“I like to watch films with exciting scenes and special effects. I hate soppy romantic comedies because nothing really happens; only girls like to watch these films. It can be uncomfortable to look at a small iPhone screen. Watching on an iPad would be much better, but it is so expensive.”

Spotted: April 29, 2014, 7.44pmWhere: Orchard MRT stationWho: Madam Helen Chan, in her 50s, property agent“I was checking my e-mail and replying to e-mail from prospective customers.“I was also about to send an SMS to my friend to tell her I would not be accompanying her to a social dance class at a country club tonight. I am too tired. I spent the whole day walking around the city viewing properties.“With the pace of life increasing every day, we have to constantly be on the move. It can be quite tiring sometimes, but we’ve all got to survive.”