Saturday, January 13, 2007

Masuk Dalam, Masuk Dalam

Masuk Dalam! Masuk Dalam!” is Malay for “Move inside! Move inside!”
“Ow buay boh kwee”, is Hokkien for “There are no ghosts at the back” (后面没有鬼)

These are 2 common expressions that kids of my generation used to hear on the buses back in the 50’s and 60’s. They were uttered by the fierce bus conductors who wanted us to move to the rear of the bus and not crowd around the entrance.

Today, with the help of my friend Peter Tan who is about the same age as myself, I would like to continue from where Brian Mitchell left off, and tell you more about the bus taking experience of the ‘old days’.

It was the sight of a crowded old bus in Yangon last year, like this one, with people standing at the steps, that nudged me into starting Good Morning Yesterday. Photo from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

First a bit of history of the Buses of Those Days.

I must warn that what I describe here is purely from memory and not research and thus cannot vouch for the accuracy of dates and names.

Prior to around the mid-60’s, there were several small bus companies operating in Singapore. These were mostly family businesses and poorly managed. As such the service was terrible. For example, many of the conductors and drivers were gangsters. Some names that come to mind are: Tay Koh Yat, Easy Bus, Keppel Bus, Kampung Bahru Bus, Green Bus, Bedok-Changi Bus, Changi Bus, Hock Lee Bus, Ponggol Bus, Paya Lebar Bus and STC.

Later, presumably through pressure from the new PAP government, they were amalgamated into 4 companies; UBC, ABS, STC and ABC. Conditions improved, but were still unsatisfactory. Sometime in the early 70’s, the government sent in a Government Team of Officials to clean up these companies and formed a single bus company called SBS (Singapore Bus Services). I believe, our present minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan was a member of that GTO. I read their report when I did my university final year project at the SBS (more about that another time).

1960 Photo of Paya Lebar Bus at Jalan Kayu Village (Courtesy of Peter Tan)

Bone Shakers

As you might expect, the buses of those days were all bone shakers. For example, whenever it rained, nobody would take the seats next to the windows. Why? Because the windows, which were usually the sliding type were often jammed and could not be raised and thus rain would splash onto the seats. Unless you were a ‘Hercules’ you wouldn’t dare try to draw it up; especially if there were school girls around. Imagine how malu (embarrassing) if you were not strong enough to do it.

Breakdowns were a common occurrence. Whenever a bus broke down, all the passengers would have to debus and wait at the roadside for another one to come along. When it did, you can imagine the mad rush and the packed condition.

Two brands of buses that I can recall are International Harvester and Isuzu. When I was studying at the Prince Edward campus (Those days, the University of Singapore’s Engineering Faculty was housed at the Singapore Polytechnic at Prince Edward Road), there was a bus terminus across the road. Next to it was a big car park which would be turned into a open air hawker centre in the evenings. Every morning, the drivers would rev the engines of their Isuzu buses for ages, and the noise was a great disturbance to our lectures.

About these dinosaurs, Peter recalls:

"Buses in the 60s had wooden floor panels unlike the metal ones we see today. Sometimes there were gaps between the panels and we could see the transmission and the road below us. Standing passengers stood along the aisle and you know what some school boys would do when they need to get down from the bus ... leave you to imagine .. "

Packed Like Sardines

As expected, buses were often very crowded. Sometimes the bus was so packed that you didn’t need to hold the overhead railings to maintain your balance. The situation was not helped by the fact that many kiasu passengers were reluctant to move to the front and rear sections for fear that they would not be able to make it to the single entrance/exit which was usually at the centre of the bus. Consequently, we often had to cling on the side rail at the entrance of the bus with one foot on the steps and our bodies hanging out of the bus like in the photo above. Sometimes, the bus conductor used his metal ticket punch to knock our fingers in an attempt to dislodge us.

One thing we liked about this dangerous practice was that we were able to enjoy a bit of natural air-con ….. plus we needn’t pay the bus fare. Another dangerous thing we liked to do was to imitate the ticket inspectors by jumping off the buses before it came to a complete halt. We would hit the ground running.

Undated Photo of bus along North Bridge Road (Courtesy of Peter Tan). Notice that there is only one entrance/exit near the mid-section of the bus. Passengers were reluctant to move to the front and rear of a crowded bus because they did not want to push they way to the exit when it was time to get off.

The Ticketing System

Besides the bus driver, there was a bus conductor whose job was to collect the fare and punch the tickets. The tickets of various denominations were mounted on a metal pack with thick rubber band (like those for pyjamas). He carried a canvas satchel for the coins.

Bus conductors of those days were usually rough characters. In fact many were gangsters. Of course, they were not as disciplined as the bus conductors of today. For example, the driver often parked his bus at the roadside next to a coffee shop, with all the passengers inside, so that they can buy their breakfast. Sometimes, they would simply drive into the bus depot, again with all the passengers, to top up their petrol tanks.

Occasionally, a bus inspector would board the bus and made random checks. After he had inspected your ticket, he would make a small tear to authenticate it.


Besides the above, Peter also has some fond memories of his bus rides:

I recall one botak conductor from Green Bus who could balance on one leg when the bus was swaying from side to side. He boasted he was the "Monkey God" and indeed he could really imitate one.

I often took Green Bus to Tek Kah to get to school. What I liked most was when the bus had to be changed at the depot because the bus was konking-out (due to steam coming out from the radiator, or gear cannot change).

Because my school was in Bras Basah, sometimes we saved 10 cents by walking to Queen Street (where Rochore Center is) to board #1 Green Bus. Otherwise if we wanted to catch the sight of Convent girls we stood at Capitol (Stamford Road) for a STC and got off at Selegie Road and walked over to Rex Cinema (facing KK Hospital) to catch Green Bus.

When my school relocated to Grange Road in 1972 for a short period of time, I took the Amalgamated Bus Company’s #200 via Sixth Avenue to Holland Road (facing Chip Bee Estate) and then a #12 via Queenstown to River Valley Road. To our delight, we discovered that there were also pretty girls studying in the Queenstown area.

Those were the days when X films were banned in Singapore but available in JB (Johor Bahru). So we took UBC (formerly Green Bus) #170 to JB to watch at the Rex Cinema. Then we stayed longer for the evening and went to Mechinta Night Club down at the Lido beach to watch a striptease show.

Undated Photo of Green Bus Terminus in Johor Bahru (Courtesy of Peter Tan)

Green Bus had its depot at 6 ½ miles Bukit Timah Road, where the present McDonald’s HQ stands, opposite Bukit Timah Plaza. There were 2 sections. 1 section was where they kept the buses (nearer to the railway track) and the other section (closer to King Albert Park) was the workshop. When it was time to change buses, Green Bus entered through Clementi Road and stopped at the workshop area, we got down and switched buses, and exit into Bukit Timah Road.
Other landmarks I remembered for bus stops and terminus are:

  • The Changi Bus kiosk in town (North Bridge Road opposite to Captiol Cinema where St Andrew"s Church is, got this photo for you),

  • The STC terminus up at Siglap Hill (you still see an unusual U-shaped road built specially for STC to make a turn from Changi Road into town,

  • The STC Workshop at McKenzie Road (the red brick faced workshops and open-air depot nearer to Rex Cinema),

  • The STC terminus for Nissen bus at Upper Aljuneid Road,

  • JB Green Bus & Singapore-Johore Bus terminus,

  • Tah Kok Yat terminus at Satay Club (which is the road nearest to Shaw Tower in Beach Road),

  • Hock Lee Bus terminus at Chulia Street (right in front of OCBC Center today),

  • STC teminus at Shenton Way (after the old Singapore Poly),

  • Paya Lebar Bus kiosk at where City Plaza is now.


Anonymous said...

Here is one story. Way back in the sixties, when I was working in the Port situated at Tj Pagar, the bus I took started and ended at the STC bus terminal there. As usual the bus crew were mostly with bad reputation, until one day I notice an exception, there was this young conductor very courteous, helpful to customers and seemed to be bursting with energy when doing his job. In order to encourage good services, I wrote a letter to the company, praising this conductor. Not long afterward, I noticed this guy was wearing a pair of expensive sun-glasses, walked like a peacock, and speaking quite loudly, with his fellow busmen poking fun of him saying that he had now transformed from a crow into a phoenix. At once, I thought my letter must have taken effect, most probably the company had commended him, and with some monetary rewards thrown in.

Chris Sim said...

Woa peter, quite naughty ahhh. Watched the film in uniform ahh? tsk ..tsk..

I tot there was a bus company known as SCS? Ya, I remember those conductors and inspectors all right! Some inspectors were really nasty. When they came on board to check the tickets, some commuters were napping. You know how a long journey can make one sleepy? Even if you aren't tire!. They would jolt these poor commuters out of their dreamland and commented, "dun pretend to sleep, ok? Where's your ticket??!!" Hahaha...

Anonymous said...

That was the problem of having a puritanical govt in the sixties, cannot do this and that, driving curious teenagers to flock to night-clubs and cinemas at JB. The X-films shown in JB at that time were nothing to shout about when compared to today films shown in local cinemas. It was a case of curiosity kills the cat, and JB authorities took full advantage of Singaporean weaknesses.

Lam Chun See said...

Guys .. how about sticking to discussion about buses. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Chris - Chun See wants your volcanic stuff confined to your turf and not to disturb his buses.

Anonymous said...

I remembered when I was in Sec 3 in 1975, I will go to the bus depot at King Albert Park to buy 'season' tickets meant for student. The season tickets come in the form of card showing the date from 1st to 31st of the month. Every time when we boarded the bus, the conductor would punch a hole on the date. Sometimes kind conductors will 'give chance' and won't punch the ticket thus giving us a free ride. At that time, the fare for students was ten cents per trip.

pinto said...

Chun See, thanks for this post. I remember in the early 80s, SBS wasn't as efficient as it is now. I recall some of the things you mentioned, like stopping at the depot for fuel, windows that couldn't close and breakdowns.

Anonymous said...

Another story, I was travelling on board an STC bus going to work. Before turning into Anson Road from Shenton Way, the bus made a stop, with only a few passengers left, and suddenly there was a sharp scream at the rear, a man was hotly pursued by a young but fierce girl, vainly wanting to punch his back, while he was rushing down the steps of the exit door. From the bus we saw the man disapeared in a flash. Meanwhile the nonchalant driver drove away and we passenger looked dumbfounded, regretfully unable to render any help, because the incident happened so fast. This a case of despicable molester at work.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure when the practice stopped. Each school issued a bus concession pass for every student. On the concession pass was your photograph. We had to produce the pass each time we boarded the bus. No matter how long or short the trip was, STC charfed 10 cents for student fare. However the Chinese bus companies did not charge 10 cents but instead we paid at a reduced rate (1/2 the adult fare) each time we showed our concession pass. There were times when we did not need to produce the concession pass - all we needed to do was to wear our school uniform.
This concession pass is different from what Chuck described.

Now I remember the X-rated movie we saw at the Rex Cinema JB: it was a 1968 French movie called "Je'taime. I believe there is also a song by the same name. song was played on an organ. As the olot thickened, the song got louder and louder (with lots of hoofs & puffs in-between).

Lam Chun See said...

I just recalled another incident. I was very young at that time - maybe 5 or 6 and I was with my mother boarding a Tay Koh Yat bus at Bartley Rd, near to Serangoon Rd 4th Mile stone. I think the bus started to move off before I could get up. My mum was quite fiery when young and gave the driver or conductor a thorough tongue-lashing. Those days, even a gangster would think twice before taking on an enraged kampong lady. They were known to use their shoe to beat up guys. Bad luck would surely ensue.

Lam Chun See said...

Could the SCS that Chris mention be the City Shuttle Service (CSS)? That was operated by TIBS and came much later; probably in the 80s as part of the Restricted Zone/CBD thing.

Chris Sim said...

Yes, you're right Chun See, it should be CSS... I forgot I'm relatively younger...

Back then, buses were also cockroaches infested. Personally, I have no problem with such pest. But I remember I once took a bus with my younger sister who is extremely scared of cockroach. Needless to say, she screamed her head off when a baby cockroach happily landed on her lap. It was quite funny. Hee.

Zen - this is not the kopitiam where one can indulge in sundry and all, ok? Better stick to the topic. Want someting raunchier, visit my blog. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Chris - In replying to you (not on buses), sometime a kopitiam owner believes that he should be, like a sherpard, shooing the runaway sheep back to the flock, moving them towards his focus destination. I think every blogger should have a core objective to pursue, other than sundries. If you adopt sex as your core theme, I do not see any harm in that, definitely colourful, very energizering, highly sophiscated and I am sure many viewers would appreciate such topic. Apart from the theme, I am sure you would like to pursue 'anything under the sun' in your home ground.

Anonymous said...

well the buses are obviously a great source of memories. You know I was rather worried about mentioning the cockroaches on the buses for fear of offending today's Singaporeans but those reading the blog have come up with far worse memories!

Brian Mitchell

Anonymous said...

This is a hear-say story from my colleague who told us that a pick-pocket was discovered while he alighted from a bus opposite the Capitol cinema (North Bridge Rd), and was beaten by a crowd. He died subsequently. I couldn't believe it and asked my colleague: "How could such a fatal thing happened ?". He replied: "Lam, when in a mob, everyone dares to be a hero, just delivering one punch per person would send the poor guy to heaven..." In the sixties, raw justice can still happen, but I must admit that I did not verify the fact of this incident. In today context, with strong law enforcement, I do not think such type of incident can happen, when most people are aware of its dire consequences.

Victor said...

For the first photo, do you think the man hanging onto the moving bus with the larger part of his body outside the bus is dangerous? Not quite. In the early 1980s, I saw something even more dangerous. I was in Medan (Indonesia) when I saw several people sitting on top of a moving bus together with their belongings! I took a photo but I don't know where it is now.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bus memories. Although some of the conductors & bus drivers' background might be dubious my experiences with them had been very positive to this day.

Back when I was a Primary 2 student in Jalan Eunos Primary School (1965), on a few occasions I had spent my meager allowance (20 cents - 5 cents for a sugar drink, 5 cents for a greasy plate of fried kwayteow or meehoon for recess. That leaves me the ten cents to take a bus to & from school) for the bus fare on sweets or kropok. Thus I would usually have to walk home because I forgot to save up the 5 cents for the bus fare. I was a small skinny little tyke with a torn heavy book bag & always have to push my way up into the crowded bus. I remembered the conductor would hauled me up & yelled at the adults to make room for me to move inside the bus. Also when the conductor came to collect my bus fare I would tearfully told him I lost my 5 cents in school & he was very kind to let me stay on the bus instead of kicking me out of the bus. I think it might be a Hock Lee bus. Some of those drivers & conductors might look mean but my experiences with them show me that they do have kindness in their hearts for the poor.

Anonymous said...

My sister Pat once lost her pocket money at school, and I was not around, she had the initiative to borrow money from a drink seller for bus-fare to get home. This positive attribute can still be found in her up to today.

Victor said...

Zen, borrowing money from others can be seen as a positive attribute? Be careful of what you say. Young and impressionable people who read this blog may grow up borrowing money from loan sharks. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is wrong to generalize that most bus conductors & drivers were gangsters those days. But it is a fact that gangsterism among them was a probem. In the GTO report that I mentioned, it was reported that one of the officials seconded to clean up the bus companies was a senior official from CID, or Criminal Investigation Dept; (Mah Bow Tan was an industrial and systems engineer from Mindef, incidentally). His duty was to deal with this problem. Subsequently, he headed the Operations Dept of the newly formed SBS where presumably the problem was the most serious.

Again, I emphasize, all these is from memory. Reliability/accuracy probably not 100%. After all, it is more than 30 years ago.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother used to say: "D'ont spend future money", meaning money not earned yet. Nowadays, it is common to seen loans dangling all over the place - housing loan, car loans, and whatever loans. Are not loans considered borrowed money ?

Anonymous said...

Some corrections on Lam's posting:
International Harvester is a brand of army truck used by the SAF in the early days as well as the ANZAC forces stationed in Sg. The other army truck used was the Bedford.
The buses at Prince Edward Rd are usually Isuzus, Nissans Mercedes Benz, Albions and Fords. It was one of the most busy terminus in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sorry, now is Peter's turn, #200 was operated by UBC, not ABC.
The schools issue bus concession passes which entitle students to pay a fare of 10 cents irrespective of distance travelled on any bus company. The bus companies (at that time UBC, ABS, ABC) came up with their own card type passes which Chuck had described. The card type passes can only be used on the particular bus company's buses only and is only valid for 2 trips, go to school and go home.
Anyone still have one of these card type passes?

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous

Yes you are right -#200 was by UBC. My typo mistake. I sure wonder whether those acronyms were a quick measure by someone (government?) when the buses were amalgamated into 4 different groups. What do you think?

I am not aware that each bus company issued their own concession pass. Must be after I had left school. IN my time our school issued us with a students concession pass and this allowed us to claim for students fare on any bus company - up to 1972. Before the student concession pass was introduced I think there was a practice where when one wore school uniform and one could automatically claim for student concession. If you a student and did not have a student pass or in unfirom, either way you could not claim for the concession.

Friend can you help me on this. There was Easy Bus COmpany which ply between Jalan Jurong Kechil and Pasir Panjang. Can you tell me the route it took?

I got a student concession pass but it has someone's wife photo on it.

SDAF IH trucks - were these usually used by the Reservists because they were relics from the Israeli-Arab War of 1967? Seems this brand had overheating problem and faulty exhaust. Commonly seen at the Pasir Laba Reservist Field Camp. When I was there, the MT Line was always repairing these trucks and no Reservists enjoyed sitting on them because of the exhaust fumes filtered back into the truck when the wind blew.

The Shenton Way terminus was opposite the old Sing Poly only in the 1970s. In the 1960s, it was then opposite the now MAS Building because Shenton Way was a dead-end road because of godowns between Palmer Road and Anson Road. Buses had to make a U-turn before heading back to Robinson Road. I used to go to the Metropiltan YMCA down at Palmer Road as late as 1967.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

The information you gave on validity of student concession travel - 2 trips only. - is new to me. Again must be after my time. If we wore uniforms/produce the concession pass on week-ends and before 7pm, we could even claim the concession, regardless of the number of trips taken. On week-days the same rules applied.

If you are interested in a STC share certificate I will be happy to provide you if you leave me your email address.

Do you have old photos of Ewart Circus at 7 miles Upper Bukit Timah Road?

Lam Chun See said...

Anonymous: Thanks for your inputs. Maybe I got confused bet the buses and army trucks in the 70's.

But I seem to recall during my final project in SBS being told that IH was an old model they were phasing out. It gave many problems. Year was 1975 (not 76 as I said earlier).

Unknown said...

I wasn't yet born in the 1960s, so its fun to read about what it used to be like back then. I'm a retro freak! But somethings havent changed--namely crowded buses and people not moving to the back! I hope some bus drivers are reading this and shout “Ow buay boh kwee” the next time people are crowding the bus entrance!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

I don't think the goverment gave those acronyms. Singaporeans are fond of giving acronyms for everything.
There is a confusion about school passes. The school issue bus passes free and can be used on all buses. These school issued passes has photos on them to prvent abuse. The ones issued by the bus are monthly passes which have to be purchased from their respective depots and used only on their buses. Cannot be used on other companies' buses. It comes in a form of a card, with the company's logo or name, month and then 2 columns, "IN" and "OUT". Below the in "IN" and "OUT" columns are numbers 1 to 31 depending on the number of days in the month. The conductor will punch a hole on the date on the "IN" side. When going home, he will punch on the "OUT" side. Sometimes these fellows anyhow punch on the dates, ignoring the "IN" and the "OUT" and sometimes they don't even bother to punch. At the end of the month the card will be full of holes. These passes are not valid for weekends and holidays.

Easy bus has 2 routes:
1 goes from Jurong Rd via Portsdown Rd/North Bouna Vista Rd/Pasir Panjang Rd, ends at Alexandra Rd junction
2 same as 1 except via Clementi Rd & Ayer Rajah Rd

The relics from the Arab-Isrealis war are AMX-10 tanks. The IH trucks are Australian made, either MINDEF buy them or donated free when the Australian forces left Singapore. I am not sure about this.
Sorry Peter, no photos of Edward circus.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lam

The 1974 GTO report list the following models :
Mercedes, Albion, Bedford, Ford, Austin, Isuzu, Nissan, Guy, Fargo, AEC, Leyland, Seddon, Fuso, Berliet.
Total 14 different make of buses. Each make can be subdivided into various models, eg for Mercedes, there are OF1413, OF1113, LP1113, 321, 322 and 312 models.
Total number of buses listed in GTO's report: 2033
Number of buses in ROV register : 2081
48 buses unaccounted of. Strange. How can 48 big buses dissappeared and nobody know where they were.
From the list, the only make that is common to both SAF and SBS is Bedford. It could be the Bedfords which you are referring to.
Anyway, after the GTO took over SBS management, the company sold or scrap all the Bedford, AEC, Seddon, Fuso, Guy, Isuzu, Leyland and Austin buses.

Anonymous said...

Wah lau Anonymous. Really impressed by your detail knowledge. How about contributing an article for my blog man?

M&M: Nowadays our buses so high-tech they don't need the drivers to shout “Ow buay boh kwee”. They will probably record it and keep repeating it after every 5 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry lah Lam, don't want to embrass myself. My standard of English not that good. If you are interested in buses, you can visit this website on Singapore transport started by a group of bus enthusiasts :

Anonymous said...

you can also visit this website on Singapore transport started by a group of bus enthusiasts :

Anonymous said...

Dear Chun See,
I stumbled upon your pages quite by chance and enjoyed an hour of reminiscing. I was born in 1950 in Penang but went to school in Singapore after a short stay in Thailand. I first attended De La Salle Primary School and then went on to St. Joseph's, from which I graduated in 1968. From some of your descriptions, I suspect you were probably there too, unless you attended Raffles Institution.
I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of what the buses were like as I had to catch two each morning to get to Bras Basah Road from Pasir Panjang, where I lived just next to Haw Par Villa. So the many pictures I was able to see on the link to the site you provided was a bonus. I promise to visit your site again when I have a little tiem to spare. I retuedn to the UK in 1970 and have been living and working in Greece since 1975.
Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous of 3 February 2008,

Like you, I happen to stumble upon this page. Memories came flooding back - a wonderful blog that brings us back to the "good old days".

You stated that you were an ex-Josephian and based on your comments, I think you are "Rodney C....s". I believe you are visiting Singapore in a few months time, and also to attend your class reunion.

Hope you visit this blog, very soon.


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