Youth Olympic Games 2010: mrbrown tours with the torch on a 'happy bus'
I spent a Saturday afternoon smelling the teen spirit of the Youth Olympic Games. By that, I mean really smelling it. I was on an open-top Hippo bus converted into the Coke Happiness Mobile, riding with 17-year-old male and female cheerleaders as it followed the Olympic torch through the heartlands of Singapore.
Dismiss any glamorous images of girls in short skirts and pompoms a la "Glee" and "Heroes". The young people I was with were togged in practical red tees and white caps, and we all perspired together under the sun for six hours. If I had any doubt that there was any YOG spirit left in this country, these young volunteers showed me there was still hope.
I joined the Happy Bus (my name for it) at Raffles Institution (RI), one of the top schools in Singapore (so they say... ok, ok, I used to study in a rival school). Already, there were festivities happening there, as RI students lined the school's entrance to welcome the torch and the convoy. Merly and Lyo, the YOG mascots, were seen in the school's sports field, taking photos with enthusiastic fans. Must have been hot and sweaty in those mascot suits.
It was day one of the journey of the torch, the Singapore leg. And apparently, the torch was going to wind its way through Singapore for six days. Yes, six full days and 2,400 torchbearers.
Now if you knew how small Singapore is, you will know this means the organizers plan to cover every square inch of Singapore. You could WALK across Singapore in less than six days. I climbed onto the Happy Bus a little skeptical, not knowing what to expect.
On board, the airconditioned lower deck of the bus was filled with bottles of Coca-Cola and souvenirs for giving away. The floor was constantly wet from the condensation from the ice boxes that were keeping the bottles cold. Yet, everyone looked unfazed and moved with purpose.
Most of the volunteer cheerleaders, young men and women mostly from the Polytechnics, were at the open-air upper deck. It was like going back to the army again, bringing back memories of loading up the back of a three-tonne truck. Some sat on the seats, some sat on the floor as the bus moved off to follow the convoy.
Once we were underway, the cheerleaders got on their feet. The music was blasted through the giant speakers sharing the cramped open deck with us, and the cheering began.
They cheered, they shouted, they blew their horns cleverly shaped like a Coke bottle, waving to the crowds lining the streets of Ang Mo Kio, one of our biggest towns. The final destination was Nanyang Polytechnic, where a party was going to happen in the evening, to mark the end of the first day.
There were students in front of their schools to welcome the convoy as it came by, presumably, er, volunteered by their school principals to burn a perfectly good Saturday. Their cheers seemed genuine and sincere though. I loved the handmade YOG posters they made too.
At some choice locations, usually near town centers, Members of Parliament and grassroots people also stood by with lion dancers and the YOG mascots, Merly and Lyo. How did Merly and Lyo get from Raffles Institution to Ang Mo Kio Central so fast? These must be their evil clones.
The unplanned crowds were the best though. These were folks who happened to be there when the torch convoy went by, startled by the loud cheering and blaring music from the red Coke bus and the "rival" blue Samsung bus. These passers-by waved back, smiling and laughing at the rare sight of cheering busloads of teens.
Even I could not resist tooting my horn and waving back. Their enthusiasm was infectious. People were genuinely warm and friendly when our buses drove by, which is something you don't expect in competitive and metropolitan Singapore. Some waved from their apartments. Some waved from the street. Some waved from the public swimming pool and we even had ubiquitous foreign workers waving from the construction sites.
I felt like a politician waving back to my loving constituents. "Thank you for your vote!" I wanted to shout. But of course, this merriment was meant for the YOG and its torch bearers. It would be great if you can bottle the rah-rah and reuse it for the coming elections. Most of the time, people ignore the election trucks of politicians here.
Another nice thing about our six-hour journey through the heartlands was seeing my country and her residents up close, at a leisurely pace, from an aerial view, and with a police escort.
The closest I have come to this is riding my bicycle to work.
On this Olympic bus ride, life does not whiz you by but surrounds you at 12 miles per hour. You are not hiding behind an air-conditioned car window, but you are out there in the sun, breeze in your hair, body odours wafting through your nose, and the tops of trees literally an arm's reach away.
And adoring folks are cheering you on, as you blow your horn as loud as you can.