Words by Choo Nyuk Lin /photo credit: Google
If you are as old as I am, or slightly younger, you must have experienced taking the Foh Hup (hereinafter called FH) buses during your younger days.
For those who do not know, FH used to operate the biggest fleet of buses plying along the old trunk road between KL and Seremban. They also provided services for some small towns like Pajam, Nilai, and Lenggeng.
What’s the most unforgettable trait of FH? Well, her drivers and conductors.
I would say, a large proportion, probably a quarter, of their drivers and conductors were rude, reckless, and hot-tempered.
In fact, FH was well-known for her arrogant drivers and conductors who would not hesitate to scream at you whenever they felt like doing so.
I could still remember vividly this guy-a conductor of plump size, in his late forties, hair half grey, and Hakka speaking. He was forever scolding passengers. As soon as you pressed the bell to get down, he would expect you to get up from your seat and walk to the front; and as soon as the bus stopped, he would expect you to get out within split seconds. He was forever shouting ‘faster, faster!’ to everyone, regardless of age and gender. I was told he was whacked by someone one day. It seems that the bus service of FH in those days did not follow fixed time-schedule. The earlier the bus reached the station the earlier it could make another trip. Hence the reason for chasing the passengers to hurry up.
During those days the bus fare between Mantin and Seremban was 40 cents for adults, and 20 cents for children. But for teenagers of around the age of Form 1 or Form 2, it’s hard to classify them as children or adult, as there was no clear-cut criterion. Hence we often witnessed heated argument between conductors and parents as to whether a certain kid should pay 40 cents or 20 cents. I have also seen a parent place a big child of about 8 years old on his lap just to save 20 cents.
Those of us who attended school in Seremban would travel to and fro daily, using a student pass which we would renew monthly, at a much cheaper rate than the normal fare. Each time we took the bus we had to present the pass to the conductor for punching. In those days it’s a common practice for those who did not study in Seremban to borrow your pass to go for movies or jalan-jalan in Seremban during the weekends. Youngsters today will not believe that their older generations could be thrifty till that extent.
There were times we forgot to bring along our pass, and told the conductor so. Most of them would let you off with a stern warning to the effect that if you do it again you will have to pay. One Mr Chiam was not so nice. He would make sure you pay the normal fare of 40 cents should you fail to produce your pass. Another conductor Mr Ho was the opposite. Once I forgot my pass and wanted to pay the 40 cents fare, he pushed my hand away and asked: ‘Too much money ah?’
There was a period FH employed a couple of female conductors, both Chinese and Malay. These lady conductors were much friendlier compared to their male counterparts, and moreover, they were young and good-looking. These attractive ladies, in tight-fitting jeans, squeezing their way through sardine-packed men passengers, selling tickets with half their buttock anchoring on your shoulder(if you were so lucky as to occupy the aisle seat), was considered a norm in those days.
FH buses were notorious for not stopping at outskirt stops along their route. If you waited for the buses at stands in town, where the buses were moving slowly, then they would stop to pick you up. But if you waited for them at stands, say opposite the Chung Hua High School, or at the junction near the Mantin New Village, the chances of them not stopping for you were quite great, despite your waving frantically at them. Why? Maybe they were speeding and could not slow down on time, or they simply pretend to not notice
A lady nicknamed ‘Nyonya Wangi’ used to take bus at the stand near the Mantin NV. She had encountered many instances of buses not stopping for her. Being a member of a share-holder family, she could not swallow this bitter pill. She went to the FH office in Seremban and banged table. After that the buses did stop for her, but at a distance of about 100 feet ahead of the stand. On seeing that she ran towards the waiting bus, but when she was about to reach, the bus sped off without taking her. She was even more furious and went to the town office straightaway. What happened later was not known.
There were a few helldivers in FH. During those days there were many bends and corners along the Seremban-Mantin way. These fantastic drivers could negotiate them at a very high speed, making you feel like riding in a roller coaster.
In spite of the high frequencies of trips (every 15 minutes from 7 am to 6pm), and over-speeding, accident rate was relatively low. However, there were a few fatal ones.
I remember one driver Ho brought his bus down the slope near mile 7, overtaking in the opposite lane. He collided with a sedan, killing the driver instantly. He was not seen driving after the mishap but working as a conductor from then on.
In another incident, a bus lost control while travelling downhill and overturned at around the same spot. I can’t remember if anyone was killed but my primary school teacher Mr Tay was in it. He was seriously injured and hospitalised for quite some time. After being discharged from the GH he was never back to normal. He died not long after.
In those days, FH buses were one notch above all others, being in tip-top condition and very new. Every few months new buses joined the fleet, replacing the older ones. When we were in these relatively new buses, we couldn’t help sneering at the horrible condition of buses of other companies plying the Rantau, PD, KP, Rembau routes. In fact, the oldest buses from FH were far better than those shabby bone-shakers of all other companies.
Who owned FH? As far as I know the directors were mostly from Mantin-the Foo, Au, Tong, Tam, Chiam, Ho, and few others. I do not know of any non-Mantin directors.
Today there is no more FH. Taking over their routes are other companies such as City Liner. But I miss their regular and frequent services, their well-maintained vehicles, new (at that time) buses, skillful drivers, and (some) friendly conductors.
I would say, if you don’t own a car, it was much easier to travel from Mantin to KL or Seremban and back 40 years ago than today.