Major Accident – Update

10 07 2006

Decided not to press ahead with the lawsuit as it is not cost effective, hence I shall recount the incident. Anyway, let me move on to the juicy bits.

So there I was making a trip up to Penang on Friday night so that I can sleep on the journey and arrive fresh on Saturday morning. The usual bus company that I take (Konsortium) was booked full so I took Transtar instead. Not a very smart choice. The route taken was the usual Lavender MRT — 2nd Link — North-South Highway route so there was nothing much to expect. I had with me a small Timberland haversack with I stuffed my favourite sweater and shirt, hoping to have a nice dinner at some swanky Italian restaurant on Saturday night as well as the usual requisite gifts for friends.

Anyway I boarded the bus (AER7777, you 4D junkies out there can have a field day buying your lucky numbers. Can save you money too, no need to buy “pah kah liao“, or all possible permutations) at Lavender MRT station, well not exactly, its the carpark beside the ICA building. The seats were pretty comfy, afterall, its one of the more expensive bus rides, and at around $43 bucks for a 26 seater bus, its one of the steeper ones around. Of course you can’t compare with those that come with a personal telly and steward service, but for its price bracket it is definitely a tad more than the rest. The seats were apparently massage seats, or at least there were buttons on them that were seemingly for controlling the massagers. As any one would do, I tried pressing them but I guessed the seats were not switched on. And I found out later that I was not the only one fiddling with the buttons. In the end, I gave up and eased back the seat and whipped out a book (Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini, if you must know, and no I’m not curious abt mine) and set about reading it, after having a hard time stuffing my bag and everything I had (I hate having my big fat wallet in my back pocket when I sit down) into the luggage compartment above me.

Bus Seating DiagramI was one of the earlier ones, so I had the luxury of settling into my seat and observing the people around me. The passengers were pretty much a hodge-podge bunch. Then again, aren’t all trans-national buses like that? You’ve got your ubiquitous Chinese auntie who would bitch and complain about just about everything, the paranoids who would hug onto their luggage like they have wads of bankbills stuffed into them (in this case an Indian couple who sat in the seats behind me), the sullen solo travellers who would plug themselves into their iPods and be lost to the world (on either side of me), and the simply lost, who are probably embarking on their first trip. Thee was this girl who shuffled onto the bus and plumbed herself beside me in seat 15 (I’m in 14, or the aisle seat smack in the centre of the bus, you can see from the diagram on the right), and I remember her because I had to get out to let her in everytime she needed to move from her seat. I’m not saying she’s fat, because she isn’t (well, she ain’t no Kate Moss either) but rather the seats were pretty tightly spaced and getting in and out is a hassle because you’re bound to obstruct someone. And she had a Caucasian friend who came on to return a ballpoint pen. Swede, by the looks of it. And I supposed she was Malaysian, judging from the fact that she only started doing her text messaging when we crossed into Malaysia. But more later.

So anyway we happily departed the carpark at slightly past 9.30pm. We got onto the Pan Island Expressway and I was so bushed from work that I K.O.ed in the plush seat. The necessary was done at both the Singapore and Malaysian side of the Tuas Second Link and we were happily sent on our way to Penang. Having left the customs on the Malaysian side driver drove over to Esso and topped up a full tank of diesel for the trip. I recall us having to wait for a few minutes for the truck ahead of us to be done, and it occured to me that the fuel tanks of these long-haul vehicles must be huge. Anyway, the deed was done (RM$500 worth of fuel, or so I heard), the lights went out in the bus and all the passengers went to sleep. And so it was that the next few hours was pretty much a blur, save for a couple of rest-stops for us to top up on our junk food and make the trip to the toilet to ease our distended bladders.

After the last stop somewhere after KL, we set off for the final leg of the journey. I was happily munching on a stick of Clorets chewing gum (now that’s one really useful thing to keep your breath fresh. Do you really believe one tiny Clorets sweet will freshen your breath? How many of us actually pop in 2 or 3 each time because we seriously doubt the effectiveness of a tiny sweet) and spat it out before I fell asleep again. I woke up to the acrid smell of something burning. It was not very strong, just a lingering smell, like a burnt clutch or a hand brake that wasn’t released properly. Whether it was because I spent so much time in the M113 while I was serving my national service that I became immune to burning smells (damn, everything smelt like it was burning or soaked with engine oil in the M113) or I was just too dazed I don’t know, but not long after that I woke to the sound of the driver screaming his head off.

At first I thought he had hit something or someone, but it didn’t take long to dispel that fact because he didn’t slam the brakes or anything; rather, he was kind of pulling over to the side of the road. I remember thinking that it’s really foggy outside the bus, and for a split second I thought maybe there wassome terrific accident that happened because of this fog and the driver was pulling over to see whether he could help. It was only when everybody started to get up and pour out that I figured that we are that accident.

Now, as you had seen in the diagram before that mine was the aisle seat, and I had to stand in the aisle to let the person beside me out. And if I stood there waiting for her to get out, the people in the back would not like me very much, especially since by then it had dawn on me that we had to get out real quick, and the fog wasn’t outside — it was in the bus. So in having to let everyone off the bus, I had to abandon everything I had in the bag. Like I said earlier, my wallet was in it, together with my passport and basically damn near every ID I had. Besides that, somehow the #1 question I had been asked over the past couple of weeks when I recounted the story to others was, “was your favourite piece of clothing inside”, or something to that effect. Well like I mentioned right in the beginning it was a Timberland bag, one of my favourites, the wallet was a Kline, and yes my beloved Springfield cashmere sweater was in it. Sob. Oh, and the shirt (which I went all over Singapore looking for because none of the shops had the right size) that I mentioned earlier.

So we got out, and smoke was bellowing out from the bus. We went a fair distance down the road because someone had said that the bus was gonna blow. Pretty much everyone was standing stunned, and I was thinking, “Man, my passport. I’m fucked”. It took a while for the bus to brew up, but when it did, it was pretty spectacular. The flames shot out from the engine compartment at the back, and the windows started blowing out one by one as the fire consumed the passenger compartment. It was just about 6.20am in the morning and the sun was not up yet. We were in the middle of no where, surrounded by forest and I was wearing only a pair of cordoury slacks and a thin shirt that I wore to work. I was practically freezing my butt off and my teeth chattering from the cold. Any army boy will tell you that the forest is the coldest just before sunrise, and I was standing there thinking that this is one big sick irony that a hundred meters in front of me is this huge bonfire and here I am, all miserable and freezing, unable to get any warmth from it. I could still remember the Indian couple standing beside me, the poor lady sobbing her heart out as she wailed, “My luggage! My luggage!”. Man, if the Taoist had their way, hell must have been a lot richer that morning.

I was pretty glad I had my mobile with me, and I rang my folks to tell them that the bus is toasting right before my eyes as I’m speaking to them. I didn’t want them to hear abt from the morning news instead of me and be worried sick (you know how parents are) and I asked for the embassy number to have my passport sorted out. Obviously they didn’t have it, so I called my girlfriend in Penang (whom I’m visiting if you haven’t already figured) and asked her to find out for me. The number came and I rang up the embassy, only to find it closed. But thankfully there was an emergency number, and even though I didn’t know it then, it was the mobile number of the embassy’s First Secretary, a Mr Brandon D’Cruz (I wonder if he’s related to Andrea D’Cruz?). So I called, after having to call the embassy number a couple of times more to memorise Mr D’Cruz’s number because I didn’t have a pen (it was toasting away) and you know how long Malaysian numbers can be.

Thankfully I got through within a couple of rings, and I recounted my situation to the groggy voice at the other end (it is after all still only 6.30am), with the brewing bus adding dramatic sound effects like the popping of boiling diesel and the shattering of heated glass. I told him that my passport is kaput and he kindly told me to make a police report, without which I’m basically fucked. He said that he would ring up ICA for me to sort out my travel documents and I can make a trip down to KL to pick it up at any time. He even offered to have the embassy open for me over the weekend to pick up the papers if I needed. Talk about celebrity treatment!

BBQ BlazingPoof!

As I stood there looking at the bus burn, and boy did it burn fast (15 minutes from the first flicker of flames till the entire bus being engulfed), I was thinking I remember that diesel doesn’t burn explosively. And so, the fear or the bus exploding was pretty unfounded. But of course no one would be stupid to approach the bus and pray that he doesn’t get proven wrong. Anyway, the pictures are for you to see.

So there you have it, the burning hulk of the bus (many thanks to one of the passengers for sending me the photos and giving me permission to use them; those in my phone came out pretty bad, and the ones before sunrise were pretty hard to make out) and you can just make out the shape of the bus from the first picture. The others were taken probably around 7 or so when the sun had risen and the fire brigade had arrived. Pretty much everything was gone, save a few luggages that were stowed in the luggage compartment on the bottom right side of the bus, which was the only part that was still relatively unscathed.

So anyway the passengers were given a choice by the bus company, whom the drivers called. We could hitch a ride on one of the company’s buses that was travelling up to Penang, or wait for another to take us to the police station and make a police report. So obviously I has no choice but to take the latter option, but I was surprised that only 4 others opted to make the report, and 3 of them Singaporeans. The wailing lady happily hopped onto the bus that took them to Penang, and I’m sure a lot of others lost their belongs. The last, a Malaysian, needed to make the report because he lost his passport and he needed to return to Singapore as he worked there.

So I stood there wondering if it is part of the Malaysian psyche to “let it be”, and put the loss down to an act of God, or is it a lack of understanding of their rights, or that they just couldn’t be bothered, and simply glad to be alive. Is it a Singaporean mentality to reclaim what is lost, if possible with interest, if the circumstance of the loss was beyond their control? Has that mentality of pursuing our rights been deeply ingrained in our minds? I mean, one moment someone could be wailing their eyes out about their luggage, and the next moment an alternative transport arrives and that someone just simply hops onto the transport without a word of complain or indignance. Is this apathy? Maybe apathy is too harsh a word, but up till now I still find that behaviour inexplicable.


The juicy bits of the story has been recounted, abeit a little longwinded and lacking in storytelling skills. I could continue telling how the driver went out of his way to search around the little village in Perak where we ended up to make our police report for a pair of slippers to put on the feet of one of the passengers who escaped without any footwear, or my adventures in KL getting my passport done, or how I survived without a single cent on me, but that’s for another day. For now, I need to go sleep.




3 responses

12 07 2006

God’s angel must be with you guys tt morning…

hmm.. so wat’s the cause of the fire? burnt brakes?

15 07 2006

Yea. Amen.

No idea what’s the cause, but I think it should be an electrical fire. If it were because of the rear brakes the bus would have been skidding and sliding all over the place I think.

Whatever the reasons were, very minmal compensation was being offered; that’s why some passengers and myself were thinking of filing a lawsuit. As it turned out the company was registered in Malaysia and we don’t plan to waste time suing in KL so we dropped the case.

17 08 2007

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