A few Saturdays ago, I took a bus (I have not taken one in months) and had a great view sitting on the upper deck and watching the streets as if I were a tourist. A tourist indeed, I was.
I could not help reminiscing the days when everyday was a struggle chasing after the bus. It was in my secondary school days when I had only 30 cents to 50 cents to take me to school, had my recess and back. Bus fare was inexpensive (when we look back) at 5 cents on way. But catching that bus was not easy. 7am in the morning was too late.
Each morning, it was a prayer hoping that the bus would stop at the bus stop just near to the end of Bukit Pasoh Rd with New Bridge Road. There was only one bus, No.4 (Hock Lee Bus). Almost inevitably, it would not stop. So, our best bet then was that the traffic light went red at the New Bridge Road/Cantonment Road junction. It would have been already jammed back, but getting to school on time was important. Or it would be detention class. And so, lugged with a heavy bag that seemed to fly, a few of us would be dashing to the slowing bus, oblivious to the other cars coming along. And then, it would be Tarzan and the Bus as we clung for life as the bus did it right angle turn. The bus conductor would be shouting away but no body mind. Often, one might hear him shouting "Ou Way Wu Kiu Arh?" (Are the ghosts at the back?), trying to get the passengers to move to the back so that we poor souls could get a better foothold.
With the rushing wind brushing against our face as the bus moved, it was quite thrilling. We were too young (maybe) and too worried about going to school on time to worry about the dangers. Years later when I saw such scenes in India, I could realise the dangers, but it was also nostalgic at the same time. (^^)
Those were the days when there would be Bus Inspectors who would appear (out of no where) to check out if we had bought enough fare. There were many tricks for those who did not, especially when they were sitting. They would pretend to be sleeping. Some might not have even bought the tickets! It was a skill for the Bus Inspector to be able to squeeze through the crowded bus to check the tickets. And as soon as he was done, he would glide off the bus as the bus came to a stop. Wow, he looked cool sliding off the bus. And of course, many a times, we did the same too since we were just standing by the bus steps.
There were days when I thought I would tighten my stomach and catch the bus a different way. In this case, I would cross to the opposite side of the road to catch the bus to the terminus as North Canal Road. There was the infamous smelly public toilet there that I wondered how the bus workers could tolerate. But then, that was probably the only public convenience there. Catching a bus to the terminus would cost be 5 cents and following it back to school, which was now twice the distance would mean 10 cents.
There were better days when my uncle would be working in the afternoon shift at the then Singapore Harbour Board (one of the prerequisites of Harbour Board workers was that he must be able to ride a bicycle because he has to go from wharf to wharf to carry the bales of rubber sheets or sacks of rice or flour. And so, with a lot of dented shins and knees, I would brave the same rushing bus to cycle to school at Kim Seng Road. Closes brushes came by the dozens each week, but it was a less stressful way to go to school.
Ah, those were the days my friend.
PS: Anyone has a photo of the Hock Lee Bus ticket to share?