So much has been discussed about our transport system in Singapore today. The news pieces have jolted me to write about my own experience in the past when we did not have the luxury of the MRT trains and beautiful air-conditioned buses.
This posting is not about buses in general but one about the excitement of taking Singapore bus rides in the 1950's as a teenager. Whether I was as lucky as The Hollies I cannot tell now but I did have an encounter. So be warned.
In the 1950's there were different modes of transport on the road. I could take the trolley-bus, the trishaw, the taxi or the private car. Strangely, it wasn't any of these vehicles that excited me (images above). The buses did. These large vehicles had always been a fascination for a teenage boy like me. Although I still have a phobia because I was hit by one as a child at school I still love to ride in them.
A bus could take me further than my bicycle. (*Remember my bike adventures which took me to school and my vinyl record buying spree?) I had never thought of taking any other mode except the bus.
I started taking buses in between my bicycle trips. I would cross the road from my shop house and wait at a Singapore Traction Company (STC) bus stop near the Queen's Cinema at Geylang. When the bus number 15 arrived from Tanjong Katong Road, I would board it to go watch a movie at the Odeon or Capitol Cinema at North Bridge Road. Depending on the time of the day, the bus could sometimes be packed.
Boarding A Bus 1
I got excited when it was full because I could purposely position myself precariously at the entrance and hold on to the side-bar. Those years buses had the same entrance and exit. It was exciting standing at the step-landing of this entrance.
The idea was to feel the full force of the wind on my face and the adrenaline rush that ensured. I would 'land' at every bus stop on the way and get on again when the bus moved. Best thing was, nobody bothered. The bus driver didn't bother; the bus conductor didn't bother; the passengers didn't bother. Freedom.
Actually many of the bus commuters, especially the younger ones, were just trying to avoid the heat and sweat in the bus because it was furnace hot inside, especially when one took the mid afternoon buses. Standing at the entrance was one of the best places to be when taking a ride since buses were not air-conditioned then. "Cool wind in my hair."
Boarding A Bus 2
The other 'adventure' was avoiding the bus conductor and this idea was brought about by a school mate. The conductor would usually go round in the bus with a little canvas satchel when passengers had to buy differently priced tickets depending on the distance.
I had always paid my five cents for the ride when I was inside, especially when the conductor asked for payment. We would be given a clipped ticket for the exchange. But this friend would play hide and seek with the conductor and would try to avoid him for as long as he could until he paid for his ticket or was chased out of the bus.
Since long seats were arranged on both sides of the vehicle there was much standing room for most passengers in the belly of the bus. A crowded bus was like a forest of people inside so it was easy to avoid the conductor. If he came to the front a commuter could snake easily to the back and vice-versa and sneak out of the bus when it stopped to avoid payment. I had always paid for my trips.
Boarding A Bus 3
One of my worst experiences was when I started boarding the bus at the Tay Koh Yat Company terminus at the junction of Aljunied Road and Geylang Road across from the Post Office. It was my connection point to reroute to my school.
A young man in his twenties started getting friendly with me and even wanted to pay for my fare. He was on the bus almost every day and as much as I tried to avoid him he would somehow acquire a seat next to mine and would start talking to me.
I knew what he was up to. At 14 years old I had learnt a lot instinctively. Since I read books often and experienced much from movies I was aware of his intentions. I guess in today's language one would call him a stalker. In later years my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the movie, **Never Take Candy From A Stranger.
I could not avoid him so I learnt to be friendly with him but had always avoided his advances and invitations to, "go to a movie" and "eat satay at the Rex Cinema."
Boarding A Bus 4
Many years later and just past my teens, an early evening drizzle cheered me up when I took an occasional bus to the Odeon Cinema in town. It was there that the lyrics of The Hollies song became meaningfully real as I boarded the bus:
Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say
Please share my umbrella
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella...
Today I have started taking the buses again but it's a different experience. Air-conditioned comfort without having to think at which direction I'm heading and bus captains that have been very helpful. Also a tap with your card to pay your fare.
But no long, cool woman in a black dress...
Did you enjoy your bus-rides as a child? Come tell...
**Never Take Candy From A Stranger was a 1960 thriller. The twin themes are pedophilia and sexual abuse of children, and the way in which those with sufficient pull can corrupt and manipulate the legal system to evade responsibility for their actions.
Film is regarded as bold and uncompromising for its time in the way in which it handles its subject matter. (Wikipedia.)
Waiting for the magic bus at Orchard Road - request stop no less. Bound for Island view via Pasir Panjang if memory serves. 1966 (From Peter Wythe FB).
Some Songs with bus titles:
1. Waiting for the Bus; ZZ Top
2. Magic Bus; The Who
3. Trailways Bus; Paul Simon
4. Thank God and Greyhound; Ray Clark
5. Tie A Yellow Ribbon; Dawn
6. Wheels on the Bus; Folk Song
Images: Google and Singapore Heritage Board Websites.
You Tube: The Hollies with, Bus Stop.
This original article is copyrighted.
*My bicycle story: