One of the things I do very often, whether I’m travelling on the bus or sitting in a crowded foodcourt or even just walking on the street, is watch people. Singapore is a small city, but it’s densely populated, so even if you just walk into a mall on a lazy weekend afternoon, you’re likely to see thousands of people going by, all prime targets for ardent people-watchers like me.
Now, I don’t watch people to gain any insight – I do it because I never get tired of being reminded just how varied and diverse the world is. Each person you walk past in a single day is a whole world unto themselves, a life that branches out and connects with many, many other people. Each person has a history, each person has a future. You’re not likely to know anything worth knowing about a person just by looking at them, but half the fun of people-watching is imagining and extrapolating their lives based on what little information you can glean by just watching them go about their business.
There’s no particular list of things to look out for – people-watching is a very free and easy kind of hobby – but I tend to focus on clothes, accessories (I’m a particular sucker for watches), hair, nails, shoes (you can tell so much by shoes), whether they’re listening to music or reading a book when they’re by themselves (or doing both), mannerisms and tics, languages and accents (it’s always a treat when I come across an unusual one), posture and gait. There are enough different people I cross paths with every single day for just these things to keep me occupied and entertained.
In special cases, like when I used to invigilate school exams, and the silence and general lack of activity (for the teachers, of course) was practically oppressive, I’d amuse myself by watching the kids. During the longer papers, I’d even make mental charts – how many left-handers versus right-handers, how many girls had bangs, how many kids wore glasses, how many brought a water bottle with them, how many rolled up their socks, etc.
The information I obtain is obviously never of any real use, but in a strange sort of way, it feels like living vicariously through other people. I’m trying to understand another person for a moment, trying to put myself in their (very telling) shoes, trying to actually experience their life just through the power of imagination. I can’t say that it’s useful or productive, no, but I feel like it gives me just a little bit of perspective and helps keep me grounded in my own life.
I am but a tiny, miniscule part of a very, very large universe. I look at people and I notice things about them, and life feels less insignificant. It’s easy to feel small and unnoticed in a crowded world, but hey, if I’m watching a stranger and marvelling at the universe, it’s possible that someone’s watching me and marvelling at it too.