Confessions of a party bus driver

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7pv_2pIo4E
PRIDE: (From left) Mr Md Ali, 52; Mr Mohammad Yazid, 33, and Mr Aidi Zunaidi, 40.

The US may have its stretch limousines but party buses are Singaporeans' idea of an ostentatious and flamboyant night out.

Just ask Mr Mohammad Yazid, the 33-year-old driver of a minibus which has been retrofitted with the latest sound systems, a blinding LED- and laser-lit interior and yes, several smoke machines.

He has been at the wheel of a 13-seater Toyota Hiace for the past three years, ferrying revellers from club to club, bachelorettes on hen nights or partygoers at extravagant birthday bashes.

"We get looks from people all the time, from other drivers and pedestrians. It feels good," he says.

Mr Yazid is one of about 20 drivers from Unity Limo Party Bus Singapore, also known as Unity, one of a few companies that provide such limousine services here.

Nothing turns heads more than the laser trails, billowing smoke and loud music, he adds.

Rates for party buses start at around $75 for one-way transfers or $180 per hour, which is decent when the fare is split 12 ways.

Once, he drew gasps from children when he picked up a student from school, as his parents had planned it as a surprise birthday party for him.

But the majority of his passengers are expatriate partygoers or corporate clients, he says.

"I get such jobs about thrice a week, and some can last up to eight hours long," he tells The New Paper on Sunday.

There are caveats. Alcohol is not allowed to be sold by the drivers and smoking in the vehicle is not allowed.

Once, on a club crawl, Mr Yazid drove six obviously drunken ladies who stripped down to their undergarments and started dancing to the loud music.

One of them even asked him to spank her buttocks.

"I was so shocked, and I politely declined because it is my job to concentrate on the road and not be distracted," says Mr Yazid, who is married.

He laughs at the memory, adding that his wife also had initial concerns about the dangers in his job, since passengers do try to get the drivers to drink with them.

PROFESSIONALS

Mr Yazid says: "I had to reassure her that we are professionals, and we will never touch the alcohol."

By starting a service to ferry alcohol-fuelled revellers, the party bus drivers believe that they are keeping drunken motorists off the roads.

Mr Yazid has spent nearly $10,000 on cosmetic upgrades to his minibus, though there are other drivers who have sunk more money into what is arguably more of a hobby than a job.

As Unity functions more like a collective of passionate minibus drivers than a company, there is no standard layout for the vehicles. Each bus is designed according to the whims and fancies of the driver.

Of course, they also have to abide by regulations set by transport authorities, they say.

The pride among the bus drivers is evident, as is the friendly rivalry.

TNPS had asked to meet one driver but by the end of the interview, nine minibus drivers had turned up with their vehicles, eager to show the unique concepts of their cars.

One has a karaoke theme and comes with a pop-up 40-inch flat screen television. The driver of the vehicle, Mr Aidi Zunaidi, 40, spent nearly $20,000 on upgrades.

Mr Aidi jokes: "Some passengers have bad singing, but no choice, got to tolerate it. My trick is to turn down the volume a bit without them knowing."

He says that now and then, the drivers would gather at a random carpark to show off their newest modifications to the others.

But all the drivers vote that the most elaborate party bus belongs to Mr Md Ali, the 52-year-old driver who started this trend here in 2007.

Although he denies it, the others say his minibus pumps out the loudest sounds, the brightest light shows and the most smoke.

He is believed to be the first to come up with the idea after he realised that several pub owners needed a service to drive drunken partygoers home safely.

"A few decided to copy my idea, and the trend grew from one party bus to around 30 today," says Mr Ali.

"All of us here are doing this because we are against drink driving. We let our passengers enjoy the experience without hurting anybody."

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

  1. Always abide by the law. The sale of alcohol and smoking in the vehicle is strictly forbidden and breaking these rules can incur sizeable fines.
  2. Make sure you agree on the rate before you set off. Some customers may try to bargain aggressively when they are drunk.
  3. Be diligent and check your minibus for damage after each job. Vomiting in the vehicle, or damaging equipment or lights comes with a fee.

She provides overnight pet-sitting service

PET LOVER: Miss Diane Yue Hui Hui has been a pet-sitter since early last year.

Although there are pet hotels, some pet owners prefer to have their pets cared for in their own homes by a pet-sitter.

Miss Diane Yue Hui Hui, 31, is a pet-sitter with Pawshake, a San Francisco-based website that links pet-sitters with pet owners.

At $20 per house visit, which lasts between 30 minutes and two hours, Miss Yue goes to the client's house to feed and clean the pet.

Sometimes, for $100, she even stays the night to provide in-home pet care, or house-sitting.

She says it is a popular option for people who own pets with medical conditions and anxiety issues - shy, unsociable and aggressive animals do better at home.

And while many Asians are not keen to have strangers staying in their homes, Mr Tanguy Peers, co-founder of Pawshake, says the mindset is changing.

He says: "Singaporeans are getting familiar with the 'sharing economy', like Airbnb, and are getting comfortable with the system.

"Singapore accounts for 20 per cent of Pawshake's revenue, and the market is growing rapidly."

Miss Yue, who works as a realtor, chose to be a part-time pet-sitter as she feels it is a good opportunity for her own dog to have companions.

CAUTIOUS

She adds that some clients are tricky to deal with at first, saying: "Singaporeans tend to be more cautious, and they ask more questions about my background. Some even request for a copy of my NRIC, and they install closed-circuit television cameras in their homes."

But she has noticed a shift.

"People are opening up and learning how to trust, especially the younger generation," she says.

PET LOVER: Miss Diane Yue Hui Hui has been a pet-sitter since early last year. PHOTO: DIANE YUE HUI HUI

Miss Yue, who has been a Pawshake pet-sitter since early last year, says her best experience was a three-night "holiday" at a Holland Road penthouse stocked with pre-cooked meals.

"The owners are American expatriates, and they told me to treat it like a vacation. It truly felt like a resort vacation, and I got to bond with the dog and teach her new commands and tricks," she says.

"I always strive to do a good job and to exceed expectations because nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals.

"I am happy when meaningful friendships are formed from the work I do."

Clients get full spa experience at home

Mobile businesses set up shop at clients' homes for their convenience

The co-founder of The Outcall Spa, Ms Stella Tan (right), and one of the massage therapists, Flora.

An injury at home prevented Ms Chong Li Yuen from going for her regular massage.

But that incident last September sparked an idea - a mobile massage service that provides a full spa experience in the client's home.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "In-home spa and massage service are common in Western countries, but you cannot find a reputable one here."

The 36-year-old decided to rope in a friend for the business venture.

Together with Ms Stella Tan, 35, owner of an interior design firm, they figured the business needed drivers, therapists and vans to transport equipment including a massage bed, towels, essential oils and even ginger tea.

Their only experience with massage techniques was what they had received as customers.

But when the duo launched The Outcall Spa in April, it was immediately popular. It receives an average of six appointments daily and double that on a good day.

Ms Tan says: "We didn't expect such a huge response, so we had to advertise to hire not just more manpower but the right people to represent the company."

To sieve out the good from the bad, Ms Tan tried out the massage therapists.

The Outcall Spa brings the spa straight to you, providing quality massage in the comfort of your own home. TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

"We had 50 to 60 people interviewing for the job, and Stella ended up receiving a lot of free massages," says Ms Chong.

The pair now hire eight employees - four are therapists, and the rest are drivers and customer service staff.

NO LIMIT

Ms Tan says: "Since this is a mobile business, there is no limit on scalability. The more staff we employ, the more appointments we can take."

The Outcall Spa is a hit among people with erratic schedules.

Mr Victor Cui, 44, a chief executive officer, is a regular customer. He travels three to four days a week and is often home only late at night. With The Outcall Spa, he manages to have his massages even at 11pm.

Says Mr Cui: "I book an appointment once a week, and once the massage ends at 1am, I can walk a few steps to my bedroom and fall asleep immediately."

Getting tanned indoors

Mobile businesses set up shop at clients' homes for their convenience

STAYING COOL: Tan@Home is a mobile spray tanning service that allows clients to achieve tanned skin at home.

She figured there was still room for a spray tan business in sunny Singapore.

Trained and qualified as a tanning technician in London, Ms Margaret Treaner, 46, a Singapore permanent resident, quit her teaching job and launched an islandwide mobile spray tanning service.

Tan@Home was started in December 2010, and it allows clients to get a non-permanent spray tan under 30 minutes by a qualified tan technician in their homes and offices.

The services, which take place in portable pop-up tanning pods, start at $70.

When Tan@Home first started, expatriates from the United States, Europe, and Australia made up 80 per cent of the customer base. The rest were Singaporeans.

Ms Treaner says of her local clientele: "It is sunshine all year round here, and it is a long-held tradition in Asia that fairer skin is preferable as a sign of wealth, class and beauty."

Tan@Home is a mobile spray tanning service that allows clients to achieve tanned skin at home. TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

But she adds that there has been a shift in attitudes as the younger generation, spurred on by celebrities with bronzed skin, now covet tanned skin.

And as people became more health conscious and educated on the risks of skin damage from ultraviolet rays, she realised there was a gap in the market for a safer alternative to attain a tan.

Ms Treaner says: "It is no secret that a light dusting of a spray tan gives a natural, healthy glow that is completely safe."

REGULARS

Today, Asians make up more than 70 per cent of her regular clientele.

She says she receives about 10 new bookings or inquiries a day and has 30 clients getting a spray tan on a weekly basis.

"Time is precious, and many of my clients are very busy people, either with careers or with their kids," she says.

She adds that having a spray tan at home also helps in other ways.

BRONZED: Founder of Tan@Home Margaret Treaner (above, middle) with her clients, Ms Alexandra Zahra and Mr Edwin Aw.

"It is important to remain cool for two hours while the tan develops, which is much easier to do at home with Singapore's harsh climate."

Mr Edwin Aw, 30, a personal trainer, is a regular customer.

"I look forward to getting a nice tan under 30 minutes, rather than spending two to three hours under the sun, exposing myself to harmful ultraviolet rays," he says.

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Other cases of child abuse

UNCLE RAPED HER

A 14-year-old's life of sexual abuse came to light only after she tried to kill herself.

Her uncle first abused her when she was only 12. Two years later, he raped her.

The girl was so traumatised that she tried to kill herself by drinking bleach solution and soap powder.

On Oct 26, 2015, the 54-year-old food stall operator pleaded guilty to four counts of sexually assaulting, molesting and raping his niece.

FAMILY TORTURED HIM

Between 2009 and 2011, Zack (not his real name) endured a litany of abuse, including having hot oil splashed on his body, being hit by a belt and having his fingers snipped with a pair of scissors.

His abusers were his 46-year-old maternal grandaunt, her three daughters and her former husband.

Zack's plight came to light only after he was seen wandering alone at a bus stop in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 9, near Thye Hua Kwan Community Hospital.

His abusers were all jailed.

FATHER KILLED HER

Natalie Nikie Alisyia Sallehan was only 23 months old when she was beaten to death by her father for playing with his cigarettes in 2010.

Sallehan Allaudin had slapped and punched her so hard that she died of a tear in a major vein, probably from a hard punch, kick or stomp. He was jailed for 10 years and given 10 strokes of the cane.


MUM'S BOYFRIEND KILLED HIM

In 2009, Sri Alyaniz Nazri died after 18 days of abuse by her mother's boyfriend, Mohd Azhar Ghapar. She was then two years and four months old.

He had punched her abdomen and pinched her arms, ear, chest and stomach. He also head-butted her and stepped on her abdomen, fracturing her ribs. Azhar was jailed for 12 years and given 12 strokes of the cane.


Child Protection Specialist Centres

HEART@Fei Yue

6819-9170

www.fycs.org/index.cfm?GPID=260

heartadmin@fycs.org

Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm

Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre

6445-0400

www.biglove.org.sg

contact@biglove.org.sg

Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm

Child Protective Service Helpline (MSF)

1800-777-0000

MSF_cpsintake@msf.gov.sg

Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm

Saturday, 8.30am to 1pm

Tinkle Friend

1800-274-4788

Monday to Friday, 2.30pm to 5pm

Online chat operating hours: 
Monday to Friday, 2.30pm to 5.30pm 
and Wednesday, 6.30pm to 8.30pm

Why did no one help?

The abuse that killed two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser last year was the second case of child abuse in Block 19, Telok Blangah Crescent.

But is this more than just a chilling coincidence?

According to experts that The New Paper on Sunday spoke to, the “fine line” between abuse and disciplining children keeps neighbours from reporting them to the authorities.

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