I took a bus ride with a bus enthusiast in Singapore
Benjamin, a 17-year-old student, tells us how and why he started his hobby of photographing buses.
A few weeks ago, I made my way to Bukit Panjang Bus Interchange. I was about to take an hour-long bus ride with a complete stranger I had reached out to via Facebook.
Not able to recognise each other at first, I walked past him a few times until I received a text message asking if I was wearing white.
That was how I first met Benjamin, a 17-year-old bus enthusiast currently studying automotive technology at the Institute of Technical Education, a course he picked because of his love for buses.
A person of few words, when I asked if I could take photos of him for my article, he replied: “Try not. Privacy.” He later gave me permission to capture photos that did not include his face.
Through his mostly monosyllabic responses, I learnt that he first discovered the bus enthusiast community five years ago, when he joined an online group for bus enthusiasts with a friend. Although he has since distanced from that friend, his love for buses has only grown.
A passion for all things buses
Like most bus enthusiasts, Benjamin has boarded every single bus service in Singapore – that’s over 370 different routes. His personal favourite bus service is 143 as he used to take it home from school.
Throughout our bus ride, his eyes would light up as he pointed out the different types of buses and their unique electronic signs. The features of the bus that I would usually overlook were exciting to him.
Benjamin is even able to distinguish bus models just from the sound of their engines or radiators.
He said: “The older buses like the SBS Transit ones have a very loud sound, so the model is very obvious. I had to listen many times so I could be familiarised with the sound.”
Unlike other bus enthusiasts, Benjamin typically does not “joyride” on buses for fun as he is already familiar with most of them. Instead, he enjoys photographing the buses with his Nikon Coolpix P500 and posting them on his Facebook page, Singabus fan hub, which has over 700 likes.
He has documented every single bus service on his Facebook page. If buses – like horses or carriages – go extinct in the future, he hopes his hard work at maintaining an archive of bus photos will let the future generations see how buses used to look.
His interest is not just limited to public buses but also private ones, such as the coaches used to transport COVID-19 patients.
“Some of the [Facebook page] followers asked if I could show them the interior of the bus, but I don’t want to get COVID,” he said with a laugh.
After I shared my personal experiences with buses, like my favourite bus routes, I could feel Benjamin start to relax and open up more. As our bus bumped its way along Bukit Batok, he took out his phone to show me the photos of buses on his personal Instagram accounts.
Maintaining a social life
Being a bus enthusiast requires a lot of time and commitment, especially if you want to be the first to capture a new bus.
On the day of the recent train breakdowns on Oct 14, Benjamin got some insider information that a new bus would make its debut at Jurong East Interchange. Along with a few other bus enthusiasts who were excited to see the buses being switched up, he camped at the interchange for hours just to get a shot of that bus.
Although running a Facebook page can be time-consuming, Benjamin makes sure he prioritises his studies and social life.
Like most teenage boys his age, he plays video games with school friends after school. However, unlike most people his age, he is also friends with people much older than him: Bus drivers.
One of his favourite experiences as a bus enthusiast is simply befriending bus drivers and having pleasant conversations with them. Although he did not recognise the driver of the bus we were on, he is familiar with many other bus drivers.
When he’s crossing the road, some bus drivers will even recognise and wave at him.
“I recognise them and they recognise me, but some of them don’t recognise me in a mask,” he lamented before pointing out a funny advertisement on another bus.
Despite being an introvert, he enjoys reaching out to bus drivers and talking to them.
Being mocked for his hobby
Bus drivers are friendly with bus enthusiasts, but many others think bus enthusiasts are strange for liking a form of transport so much. Others even started calling them “bus otakus”, a nickname these enthusiasts are uncomfortable with.
Benjamin admitted: “A lot of people find it weird. They’re like: ‘Who will ever take pictures of buses? They’re all the same!’, but they’re different to me.
“Sometimes I get mocked, but I choose not to care because I already knew what would happen when I started the hobby. I knew insults would happen.”
He estimates that there are currently over 500 bus enthusiasts in Singapore, mostly males in their teens. Some of them like and comment on his Facebook page, but he does not interact with them much due to his shy nature.
While he admits that some bus enthusiasts can go overboard with their hobby by skipping school or forsaking their social lives, he is not one of them. He simply appreciates buses because he thinks they look cool, and has fond memories associated with them.
After following and documenting buses for years, Benjamin has run out of buses to capture. He is considering finding another hobby.
Although he is unsure of what he wants to do in the future, he would like to try his hand at becoming a bus driver himself. Otherwise, he has interests in doing something related to film, an interest he discovered through photographing buses.
When asked if he would still ride any new buses in future, he looked out of the window and pondered for a brief moment, before replying: “I will. Whatever I haven’t snapped, I’ll ride it and snap it.”