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Confessions of bus driver: Some of my passengers become my Facebook friends

The one thing he fears most is vomit.

As a bus driver ferrying tourists from Changi Airport to hotels, he has had unfortunate experiences with hurling.

On one occasion, he managed to pass a plastic bag, albeit with holes, to the passenger in time. But on another occasion, a child upchucked all over the seat and floor.

The journey back to the airport to clean up the mess felt endless, with him feeling nauseous from the smell.

"I could even see what the kid ate," says Mr Alan Tan Siong Lee, a bus captain with Woodlands Transport.

The company is one of the biggest private bus operators here, and is among the 20 would-be bidders for Singapore's maiden public bus contract.

Despite all that, Mr Tan, 36, truly loves his job. So going the extra mile - like hauling a woman's luggage up three storeys because her hotel did not have a lift - comes naturally to him.

He recalled driving a passenger to several hotels to find a room. The Australian tourist had arrived without a booking, so they drove around until they hit jackpot in Little India.

DIFFERENT

It is a very different kettle of fish from when he started more than five years ago. Then, he got scolded by passengers almost every day.

Mr Tan tells The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin: "It was stressful then because I was unfamiliar with the routes. I would pull over to look at the map."

Some passengers hurled expletives at him, while others would show their displeasure via their body language.

"The men were more vocal, while the women would either give me looks or snatch their luggage from my hands when I helped to carry them."

But now, the city centre and Orchard Road are his "playgrounds".

"I know all the shortcuts," he says.

"Once I get the list of hotels, I immediately map the shortest route in my mind."

The worst passengers are people in a hurry, like businessmen.

Mr Tan says: "They would breathe down my neck about getting to their hotel quicker, and I have to keep apologising. If I apologise enough times, they would feel embarrassed and return to their seats quietly.

"I don't know why they want to take the shuttle bus instead of a cab if they are in such a hurry."

To improve at his work, Mr Tan has also got over his fear of speaking English in public.

He says: "When I first started out, I didn't dare to speak to the passengers because I was afraid they could not understand me."

COURAGE

But Mr Tan read up on tourist spots and plucked up his courage.

"Whenever I pass by any tourist attraction, I'd repeat the same lines."

And it works. Tourists are grateful for his commentary during the bus ride.

Mr Tan recalls ferrying delegates of the 2009 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meeting here.

He was awestruck when country leaders like Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak sat in his bus.

He says: "I felt happy and honoured, but also stressed. I was ferrying country leaders and I had to make sure my bus didn't break down.

"Plus Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was waiting for the delegates to arrive, so I had to make sure I stopped the bus with the door right in front of him."

The best thing about his job?

It brought him the love of his life.

Mr Tan met his Filipino wife, who works with Singapore Airport Terminal Services.

He says cheekily: "I knew it was love at first sight for her.

"But she is smart - she didn't accept me at first. She wanted to observe me and to get to know me better."

They dated for two years and finally tied the knot last year.

He has been learning Tagalog from his wife and using it to converse with his Filipino passengers.

He says: "It always surprises them and they would chat more with me. My passengers have become my friends on Facebook."


SECRETS OF THE TRADE

1 Keep an air freshener and plastic bags handy in case a passenger suffers motion sickness.

2 Read up on tourist spots and special features of hotels, so that you can recommend them to the tourists.

3 Don't drink too much water before the start of a trip to avoid having to hold a full bladder for a long time.

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