News

Story of a NUS ISB Driver and a Long-Lost Graduation Photo

In this edition of The Cinnamon Roll, writer Ryan Ch'ng tells a story of luck, chance, and fate on the NUS ISB.

By Ryan Ch’ng

If you were reading the MythBUSting article and looked closely at the header image, you might have noticed an affectionate thumbs-up from the driver of the bus. I didn’t notice the thumbs-up until it was time to process photos for the article — upon which I promptly let out a chuckle, and made it my laptop wallpaper so I could see a thumbs-up of affirmation every day.

About Uncle Wong

Over the course of the investigation for the article, I got to know that driver — Mr Wong KF, in his early 40s. His usual route is the D on weekdays, and the A on weekends. If you’ve ever been on an ISB that seems to be driven extremely gently around the UTown roundabout, it’s very likely his — sources say he regularly comes up top on safety scores. From far, many students recognise his bus from the careful driving, the beige cap and the 1.5L bottle and ‘Good Morning’ towel that adorn his dashboard.

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Mr Wong, gamely posing for my camera while waiting for traffic.

Unlike many drivers who rush to make up for lost time due to demanding schedules, Uncle Wong puts his passengers’ comfort and safety first, taking a shorter water break if he needs to (hence the 1.5L bottle). He takes care to go around corners and over humps slowly, and makes sure not to speed.

Uncle Wong is a native of Pahang in Malaysia, but currently lives in Johor Bahru, twenty minutes from the checkpoint. His family remains in Malaysia; he often asks me to help take photos of him to send back to his family whom he rarely sees. Every morning, he wakes up in the wee hours to ride his motorcycle across the Causeway into Singapore to start his ten-hour shift at NUS, after which — if the weather or traffic is good — he rides back home. If not, he stays over at a relative’s house in Woodlands.

The photograph

After a few conversations with Uncle Wong, he sent me a photograph, asking me if I could help somehow to locate the subjects whom he had not seen for a long time, as he figured I was “good with computers”. It was a selfie taken on his phone, in June 2017, of him posing with a couple in graduation gowns inside his bus.

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The selfie that Uncle Wong kept in his phone, waiting for his subjects to contact him about.

As he recounts from memory, this couple boarded his bus at the Museum, and followed him to the last stop on the line, where they asked to take graduation photos inside the vehicle with their camera and tripod.

Uncle Wong had no idea why a couple of students would want to take graduation photos inside a NUS shuttle bus. But knowing that they were not inconveniencing anyone, he obliged, and joined them for a photo. He took a selfie with them on his phone as well, for memories of the occasion — and then exchanged contacts with the young man, asking to get a copy of the graduation photo when it was processed, and to keep in touch.

More than a year later, he had yet to receive the photos — or any contact from the young man.

Enter the ramen

On the 26th of October 2018, I headed alone from Cinnamon College to PGP Residences by Uncle Wong’s bus for a bowl of ramen.

At this point, Uncle Wong had been messaging me every now and then to ask if I had made any progress on finding the people in the photo, always making sure to reassure me that it was okay if I had not. I had promised to update him if I found any leads, but frankly I had no idea where I was going to begin. I hadn’t the slightest inkling of what faculty the students were in, or if they stayed on campus, so I didn’t know who to ask at all.

So that day, I headed down to the UTown bus stop. I’d known Uncle Wong was on D2 that week, which plied to PGP, so I let one bus pass and sure enough, the white ‘Good Morning’ towel showed itself and I greeted Uncle Wong as always.

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Uncle Wong dutifully checking the rear view mirror for students boarding or alighting before he closes the bus door.

At PGPR, I queued for my bowl of ramen and headed off to find a seat. And that was when I noticed a familiar face at one of the tables. I did a double take.

Am I seeing things? Wait, do I approach him?

After frantically abandoning my food at some table, I rushed over to the table where the man with an uncanny resemblance to the graduate in the photo sat.

Throwing all sense of awkwardness to the wind, I approached him with my phone in hand.

“Hey sir… sorry to disturb you, but… are you this person?”

Kelvin Ang’s story

In 2017, Mr Kelvin Ang, a Computer Engineering student, graduated from NUS along with his girlfriend. They had met on an NUS shuttle bus, and fallen in love thereafter. So after the graduation ceremony, they went to find a bus to take a photo on, to commemorate the story of how they met each other.

Kelvin doesn’t remember boarding the bus at the Museum — he says they had a photoshoot at the School of Computing first, after which they walked down to the end of the bus route. He does recall boarding the bus, and asking the driver for a photo opportunity, and then proceeding to use their camera and tripod to do a photoshoot in the bus. For them, things had come full circle.

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Kelvin saved Uncle Wong’s number, but later that day when he tried to find the number to send the photos to, he had forgotten the name of the driver, having lost it in the sea that is the contact list.

After graduation, he found work as an engineer at Shopee, whose office at Science Park was within walking distance of PGP Residences where he would regularly go to for lunch with his friends and colleagues.

So it was to his complete surprise when he was approached at lunch by a current student with the bus driver’s selfie in his phone.

The reunion

After a long explanation, where I clarified that I was not Uncle Wong’s son, and that I had not been stalking Kelvin, he and I posed for a photo together and swapped contacts. I also passed Kelvin the phone number of Uncle Wong — which is where we discovered it was already in Kelvin’s phone, under Uncle Wong’s full name.

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The writer (left) and Kelvin Ang (right) at the PINES food court.

Both of us were completely floored by the coincidence. While I had planned on going to PGPR by Uncle Wong’s bus that day, I definitely did not plan on running into the very person I had no idea how to even look for. It was a stroke of luck itself that Kelvin returned to NUS regularly, and it was by chance that I headed to PGP and saw him

Kelvin, unfortunately, wasn’t free to stick around, as his lunch break was over; if not, I wanted to wait for Uncle Wong’s bus to roll around again, and bring Kelvin on board for a reunion. Alas, it was not to be. Kelvin’s lunch breaks did not coincide with Uncle Wong’s in any way. So I trudged over to the PGP terminal alone.

I got back to Uncle Wong, excitedly telling him that I had somehow located the student he was looking for, and waited for his bus to come. It turned out I had completely made his day.

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Mr Wong driving, happily doing his job every day.

As Uncle Wong shared, he had somewhat lowered his expectations of retrieving the photos, seeing as the students had graduated and would not be on his bus again, but refused to give up hope that he would one day cross paths, indirectly, with either of them again.

And now he has. He thanked me profusely, saying that as a nobody, it was impossible to have found the person in the photo, likening it to finding a needle in a haystack, and that he felt very blessed to have encountered me. Honestly, I teared up a little too.

Uncle Wong and Kelvin have kept in touch, with Kelvin having sent the photo album from that fateful day. Uncle Wong is now finally able to relive his memories. And he now has an answer to his question — “why on earth would two students take a graduation photo on a bus?”

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The writer (left) posing with the still somewhat stunned Uncle Wong (right) at the end of the line, later that day.

All that remained was to find his bus and take my own photo at the final stop of Uncle Wong’s route — even if just to prove that I had met Kelvin and Uncle Wong on the same day.

Ryan Ch’ng, who also calls himself “The ISB Man”, is also running a blog of the same name, in which he posts regular updates on the NUS ISB service.

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