Some kids grow up wanting to be doctors or lawyers. Others dream of becoming astronauts or firemen. But for Bryan Wong, it was all about becoming a bus conductor. And now the 46-year-old star gets to relive his childhood dream (well, sorta) as the host of new Ch 5 documentary Buses: Dawn to Dusk, which traces the evolution of the local bus industry as well as what the future holds for commuters. Here, Bryan tells us more about his experiences with Singapore’s most common form of public transport.
8 DAYS: What new information about the local bus industry have you learnt from hosting the two-part documentary Buses: Dawn to Dusk?
BRYAN WONG: My understanding of buses was all from my childhood or schooling days. But now I know about the new bus contracting model, and how LTA is the one that owns all the buses and they have different tenderers bidding for the bus packages. And I understand why I see more buses on the road now — they have a rule that buses should arrive within 15 minute intervals. Also, we’ve all heard of pilots going into flight simulators. Apparently, there’s a bus academy in Singapore and all the bus captains, on top of their on-the-road training, go into the bus simulator to learn how to drive a bus. I got the pleasure of trying it out. Also, what’s interesting about the buses here in future is that every inner seat will have its own USB port, which is so cool.
So when was the last time you took the bus in Singapore?
It was when I was filming a drama back in 2001. It was a Ch U telemovie, Wonderful Life: Aspirations, where my character met the love of his life on the bus (laughs). At that time, not all buses were air-conditioned and the one we were filming on turned out to be not air-conditioned. But if you’re asking about me being on the bus as a commuter, it’d have to be in my early 20s. These days, I drive, so I don’t take public transport.
What were your fondest memories of taking the bus?
When I was in Sec One or Two, I stayed in the east. Once, my best friend and I took the bus to Orchard Road — it was our first time getting out of the east and going to Orchard Road by ourselves. That was quite fun (laughs). I still remember the good old days when I was studying and I had a bus card that allowed me to take the bus like nobody’s business (laughs). I thought one of the best ways to see Singapore was to hop onto one of the buses that I don’t usually take and go to places that I’ve never been to.
So where’s the most exciting destination you’ve taken a bus to?
I’ve ended up in the Choa Chu Kang cemetery area before. I was still young then, so it was quite scary (laughs). The bus passed by the cemetery and went into this — we’re talking 20-something years ago — road that was very under-developed. The Sungei Kadut area then was still all farmlands. Another bus that I liked taking was the one that went onto old Punggol Road ’cos at the very end of the terminal, it was actually the sea (laughs). [Taking the bus around Singapore] was one of my fondest childhood memories and I would do that during my school holidays, I didn’t come from a well-to-do family so I didn’t get to travel the world like some of my classmates. At that age, I thought of Singapore as very big with plenty of places that I’d never been to. And since I had a bus pass, why not let it bring me anywhere I wanted?
How did you while the time away on the bus?
Sleeping or listening to music. During those days, having a Walkman was a very big deal. So I’d stick my earphones into my ears and play Bananarama or Rick Astley, or whatever hits I had in my Walkman. Other times, I’d be spending my time trying to get chewing gum off my pants or shirt (laughs).
On the show, you mentioned that you’d always wanted to be a bus conductor when you were young.
I don’t know why. Maybe ’cos I had a fetish for uniforms as they looked really cool. And I liked how after doing their job, bus conductors would just stand on the steps of the exit and stick their heads out [of the window]. They looked so commanding and cool, like a man of authority (laughs). When I was in primary school, I had this habit of collecting bus tickets. Sometimes, when I was on the bus, I’d pick up the bus tickets that I see on the floor. I’d also go to bus stops to find them. I’d look out for different colours or the different denominations [of the tickets]. I had a lot of the 20 cents ones ’cos that’s the fare I had to pay as a kid so it was nice to find the 60 cents or 90 cents ones. I'd collect them, stack them all up on a board, and then pretend to be a bus conductor with my childhood friends and issue them bus tickets (laughs).
Do you take the bus when you’re overseas?
Yes ’cos I always believe that public transport is one of the best ways to see the city. Usually, if I go to a foreign city, I’ll get on their Hop-On Hop-Off Bus and go on a complete round tour to familiarise myself with that town or city. Whenever I’m in London, I have to take their double-decker bus ’cos I’m so in love with their old buses. I’ve always wanted to drive a bus ’cos I think I’d get a thrill out of commanding such a huge monster.
Have you had any interesting experiences on buses while overseas?
Once, I was stuck in traffic on a bus in Bangkok and it was so hot I had to get off the bus right in the middle of the road. If you think that sitting in a cab in Bangkok during a traffic jam while the meter is ticking is bad, it’s worse when you’re on a non-air-conditioned bus (laughs).
Buses: Dawn to Dusk airs on June 6 (Tue) and June 13, Ch 5, 9.30pm.