Saturday, December 16, 2006

On the Buses – Brian Mitchell

I found Chun See’s excellent blog through the links at Memories of Singapore and its pictures of Changi Village and Upper Changi Road - taken near Toh Drive where I lived in the early 1960s when my father was stationed at the then RAF Changi airbase. He kindly invited me as a UK friend of Singapore to contribute.

A Stretch of Upper Changi Road near Toh Crescent and Toh Drive today.

What struck me about the pictures of Upper Changi Road was how quiet the road looked – and there were no buses! In the 1960s Upper Changi Road was the main route between Changi Village and the City and buses flew down it every few minutes at busy times.

And what buses they were! They were old and well used, rattled like mad and travelled with all the windows down – and that was just as well because they had shaken and rattled so much that the window glass had gone crazed and was opaque, nothing could be seen through them!

Those buses were the main means of transport for me and my friends – no Mass Transit system existed in those days. We would wait on Upper Changi Road for our frequent trips to the Village and the airbase swimming pool. Suddenly a bus would fly over the brow of the hill near Changi prison – and it might be more than one, they seemed to race each other and sometimes arrived in groups. Then we would rush onto the hard seats and spend the journey sliding around and hanging on as the bus flew onwards.

There are two other things I always recall about those buses – if you travelled at night you might see the biggest cockroaches ever. And then there were the bus tickets. Well the tickets need explaining - they were small coloured card tickets and they had numbers on them. Being teenage boys we had a game with those numbers – add up the digits and if they came to a special number, like 18 or 21, then you were in luck with your girlfriend - I won’t go into more detail! I wonder if similar games go on today.

So what are the buses like today? Air-conditioned and cockroach free? Driven carefully, with comfortable seats and with no rattles? I would be interested to hear from today’s Singaporeans.

Brian Mitchell

Footnote: Thank you and a big welcome to Brian for sharing this story from the 1960's. We look forward to more stories from him. Thanks also to Peter Tan for the photo below of 1960’s bus tickets of the Paya Lebar Bus Company. Notice the interesting way of writing "5 cents" in Chinese – Lam Chun See.


Victor said...

Thanks for the interesting story, Mr Brian Mitchell.

Today's buses are very modern, air-conditioned and rattle-free. Some even have LCD TVs fitted on them. One taps his EZ-link card (contactless) card at the card reader near the entrance door when boarding. When alighting, one more tap at another card reader near the exit door will deduct the correct fare automatically according to the number of fare stages travelled. No more bus tickets being issued also meant that we had no more luck with our girlfriends. But then again, for the local men, our luck with our girlfriends have never been based on the numbers on our bus tickets. LOL.

Chun See - I think Peter prefers to be referred to as "Peter Chan" when you credit him for his photos.

Lam Chun See said...

Brian. The reason the road looked so empty is because I took the pictures on a Saturday afternoon. As you probably know by now, the area is sparsely populated. Besides the Changi Prison complex, there are a no. of drug rehabilitation centres and factories. So during weekdays, there's quite a bit to traffic actually.

Brian's story has stirred up memories of the old buses. I will be writing another article shortly together with my friend Peter. I think the young ones will find our 'bus stories' quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

Bus companies like Tay Koh Yat, Paya Lebar Bus, Green Bus and a host of others engaged many drivers and conductors of dubious characters, often gangsters. Hence they were very intimidating to bus-users (a far cry from the present disciplined crew). One day I overheard my father's good friend Mr Tham (working for the city council) having a conversation with my father. Mr Tham had a very fiery temper and nearly had a fight with a conductor but luckily it did not happen. My father being a milder person advised him not to be rash with the conductor or driver especially near the bus depot, when they can rally immediate support from the bus workers there. Mr Tham could receive a severe beating from these hoodlums.

pinto said...

Interesting! I still remember similar bus tickets when I was young. By then, there was only Singapore Bus Service (SBS), Trans Island Bus Service (TIBS) and City Shuttle Service (CSS). Actually, I'm not sure if the name is City Shuttle Service!

Yes, one of my ex-girlfriends used to add up numbers. This was even with the machine-printed tickets.

Anonymous said...

A little political history of the fifties, a city mayor by the name of E G Ong had just taken high office. He was like the proverbial crow having flown on top of the tree and thought he had become a phoenix. He bullied everyone from top to bottom and the civil servants, including Mr Tham (a cashier) in the city council, were his special targets. Mr Tham came to the kampong to see my father to pour out his sorrows, tears in eyes, wanting to retire immediately, whereby risking his pension flying out of the window. My father tried to calm down his highly emotional friend, by saying:
"Do not worry Tham, be patient. I am sure the PM would in time FIX UP THIS FELLOW". My father, being a trade unionist, was able to see the political trend much further afield. His predication came true and Tham was able to work happily until retirement. Incidentally, his elder son David was my school-mate in Bartley, only one year junior.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes, CSS stood for City Shuttle Service and was part of TIBS.

Anonymous said...

during my time, the bus tickets in singapore is those printed one and when the TIBS OMO buses were introduced.

the SBS buses has big round red bell for us to press.

i also regularly ride the Johor buses and the tickets are colourful like the one u mention. the bus conductor would make his way around the bus to give the colourful tickets.

and then the conductor will make his way round again to check and either tear or punch a hole.

after a passenger disembarks, he would hit his puncher against the metal railing to signal the bus driver.

Anonymous said...

That isn't a funny way of writing cents. It is written in Hokkien, isn't it? (gor ziam)