Saturday, August 29, 2015

Adventures On Board A 1950's Singapore Bus

                                            Bus Stop: Hollies (1966)

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. 

 The Excitement

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:


Victor said...

Thanks for the very interesting snippets of your bus journeys in the 1950s, Andy.

I remember that in the 1960s, I used to take my neighbour's Ford Anglia to my primary school called Selegie Integrated School.

In secondary school, it is about 2 km or half-an-hour walk to Victoria School in Tyrwhitt Road from my SIT flat in Cheng Yan Place. I seldom take the bus because I wanted to save on the 5 - 10 cents bus fare.

I blogged about the Ford Anglia here:

I remember that the buses in those days were all non-aircon. When it rained, passengers would rush to close the windows. Some of the earlier buses had windows that require lifting to close. These were particularly hard to close, especially for ladies. The later models (of buses, not ladies) had windows that were slightly easier to close as they only needed to be slided forward or back. When the windows were jammed, the rain would get in and everyone would avoid sitting on the wet seats even though the bus was jam-packed.

The closed windows would turn misty quickly from the humid condition within the bus and we liked to doodle on the glass with our fingers to pass time on the long and boring bus journey.

MERLIN LIM said...

Bus n MRT, my mode of transport. Beside walking!

Interesting article. I've never ever thought of not paying my fare. The only time i am at the steps is getting ready to let go of the handle bar when the bus has slowed down sufficiently in order to jump off and running together with the momentum of the bus. If you jump from the slowing down bus on to the road with the wrong foot you are mostly likely to fall and that can be dangerous! Not only bruised ego!


Yes I am a bus person. Read your article.


I'm amazed how u re able to obtain all those pictures. Archives I suppose. Write a book man!

AUDIE NG said...

No prefer MRT cause bad experience before, cause once my car was in workshop and I took a us but boarded by centre door when it opened. Didn't realise that new bus entry from front n d bus driver shouted at me for being a swar-koo (mountain turtle) n I shouted back at him saying that it was the first time I was taking a bus.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks to everyone who replied and gave their views and DENYSE TESSENSOHN for sharing my post on her FACEBOOK.


chakapchakap said...

"Bus Stop" is a song recorded and released as a single by the British pop band The Hollies in 1966. It reached No.5 in the UK Singles Chart. It was the group's first US hit, reaching No.5 on the Billboard charts in September 1966.

It was written by UK songwriter Graham Gouldman, who also penned major hits for The Yardbirds ("For Your Love") and Herman's Hermits ("No Milk Today"), as well as The Hollies' first venture into the U.S. top 40 with "Look Through Any Window".

Extracts from Wikipedia.

chakapchakap2 said...

The main bus operator was the Singapore Traction Company (STC), plying routes in the city area. There were many small and individual Chinese private bus companies like Tay Koh Yat, each plying a small part of the rural and fringe areas of the island, with only a few routes each. A simple journey from the East to the West of the island could involve several bus transfers, and could last a few hours aboard noisy and rickety buses.

Be grateful we have ultra modern MRTs today and sleek, well-run buses that are so efficient and regular. Coupled with the dust and grime that commuters had to put up with while waiting for the buses are far different from the clean and comfortable bus-stops on Singapore roads now.


Hi Andy

Thank you for relaying the fun stories of your bus experiences.

I am impressed by your good memory of that time period, the place mentioned which I too am familiar with.

You certainly have got all the carefree fun time during your younger days.

The only one I miss out was the tramcar as I could only remember the STC bus with the two supposedly electric connector above, maybe I was too young then.

Anyway I enjoyed reading, thanks again.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Rickie for your constant support and comments.

Thumbs up from: WONG KC who runs an FB post called "Baby Boomers of Singapore" (a closed group) and LUM CHOONG EU, LINA KOH, JOSEPH CHEW, TERRENCE BETTEWORTH, ANTHEA NG.

Mr. Wong remarked, "Yes, these are all acceptable and very valuable memories for the Baby Boomers, please post and share it here."

Tony Tan said...

Talk about the bus strikes, like Hock Lee and Yellow Bus. Remember the bus terminal at the junction of Paya Lebar and Geylang Road opposite the Paya Lebar police station? I was anxious to board the STC rolling out its first air-conditioned buses. That time I was staying in the Joo Chiat Place and Telok Kurau area.

You are right. Nowadays these youngsters know nothing but complain. Today they take things for granted, wait till they encounter hardship.


"Dismissed workers of the Hock Lee Amalgamated Bus Company went on strike from 25 April 1955. Joined by supporters and Chinese middle school students, these strikers picketed the bus depot and disrupted bus services. Police were called in to disperse the crowds and resorted to using water jets when warnings failed. The strike escalated into a riot on 12 May 1955 resulting in four deaths and 31 people injured."

CYLIN said...

Buses of long, long ago. Wasn't there a Green Bus Company? One of its fleet ran along Selegie/Mackenzie Road to Newton and on to Bukit Timah. Tay Koh Yat service number 9 would come along Paterson Hill and on to Merchant Street (Chinatown). Weekends would find our family going for a ride and ending up for char kway teow at one of the street hawker stalls. Hock Lee Coy (red, yellow and green body paintwork) brought us to Great World Amusement Park on Kim Seng Road.

These days I too enjoy taking a bus (off peak hours) and going to various parts of the island to take in the amazing changes to the landscape. Now with the fare card system in use, the bus captain can take note that passengers have paid upfront. I wonder if you have noticed in fairly crowded situations, some tap their cards at the exit reader at the mid-position of the vehicle, but only get off a few stops later. Fares being distance calculated, some money is saved on the trip. :-)

R.C. said...


This is a real nice Hollies song. I think this song has the best introduction ever recorded.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Lin, Tony and RC for your comments.

Lin you have such a good memory, being able to remember the different routes of the different buses. I have seen students today doing similar tricks to reduce their fare. I guess it's human nature? Get away with it as long as they don't get caught.

Tony you remember the strikes and the period when they rolled out the new air-conditioned buses. I can't.

And RC. You must be able to play the introductory rift to LCWIABD. I just love it. Kicks in the whole music afterwards. One of my favourites.

J.D. (CANADA) said...

Hi Andy,

I enjoyed reading your bus stories ... they would fit in nicely in a coming of age novel, don't you think?

Re: your tale of the stalker ... glad you had your wits about you on that one. I wonder how very many of us had encounters of that nature while growing up ... saved by our own intuition, and/or perhaps by the grace of God.


E.GO(H) said...

I remember my own experience too, taking the bus from where I lived. Perhaps next time, I will tell my story?

Linda said...

I have always loved this song, Andy! I love all the photos and images here! I live in Montreal, Canada, and have always taken the bus even as a little girl because my parents never had a car. Now, as an adult of 59 years I still take the bus and I don't mind it at all, because I am used to it. Thanks so much for sharing all these great memories!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Linda. Appreciate your sharing too. Buses are really wonderful to be in because as a car owner and only driver for 50 years taking the bus explains the phrase, "like a breeze." The freedom to dream as I see the sights on the way to our final destination and using the mobile phone while seated comfortably without a care in the world.

Thank you also for visiting.

Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for sharing nostalgic memories and experiences of travelling in public buses in the 1950s.

Pls check out this related blog to share.


Good morning dearest Andy Young. Thank you for sharing my dear friend. God bless you richly Andy. 🌞❤😘💟☺🙏

JOSEPH GOH said...

Yes...still vivid to see the shining tin roof of the bus on a sunny hot afternoon ride home from school.


In the 50s,60s and even 70s, there were numerous bus companies like the Green Bus, Changi Bus, Hock Lee Bus Tay Kok Yak and the Singapore Traction plying the streets. The fares were cheap and students pay very little. Just ten cents they could travel to Changi. Then the Govt made them join as one company. Now is back to square one.


Under my umbrella. Used to sing this song to tackle girls?? Haha

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, Stephen. Thanks for providing such useful information. I forgot about Green Bus and Changi Bus.

And all you others with your stories about our buses. Appreciate the time you all took to write your anecdotes.


Thanks to the following for liking this post:

James Seah
Rose Khoo
Tan Teng Teng
Davychandavy Chan
Eddie Ng
John S H Quek
Norhana Yahaya
Wee Ping
Pauline Onn
Eunice Chua
Bryan Wong
Chew Eng Ong
Nelson Choy
Eileen Tan
Lawrence Ong

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi, Joseph. Now I never thought of this view. Thanks, a very interesting angle to look at buses from.


My friends and I used to love taking the Tay Koh Yat bus from Capitol to Changi


Wisma Indonesia is just in front. Opposite the Wisma would be C.K. Tang Shopping Centre. Look at the "Empty" Orchard Road at that time. The Good Old Days!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi, Peter,
Thanks for the pix and info. I've put up your pix and comment on the posting.

Hi Richard,
Thank you, Richard. True the good old days.


Bus stop " was my favorite song back Then...good memories whenever I hear it !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Margaret, thanks for the comment. Same here. Love the song. Do check out the blog when you can.