Kee Sia, 87, began his career with the Tay Koh Yat bus company at the age of 21. His foray into the business was one of coincidence and strong relationships - back then, to apply to the bus company, a prospective employee had to pay $100 of “coffee money”. Kee Sia was lucky enough to have known the supervisor, and was offered a job without the fee.
Being a bus conductor had its perks, and as Kee Sia shared, it certainly helped his romantic prospects. Many girlfriends would give him their photographs as he made his rounds, scribbling a message and a phone number on the back. Yet none of these girls struck his fancy; he would meet his wife only after being laid off from the company in 1951. Taking a few pictures out, he explained that he was drawn to his wife’s determination to decide her own future. She quit school after finding out that the matchmaking process had thrust her together with a boy she disliked. Kee Sia says, “I asked her if she found the boy too ‘sissy’ and who she would prefer.” It’s no surprise that his natural confidence won his wife over!
In a time when business was booming, why had Kee Sia been asked to leave the company? He explains that he had been working with a trying superior then. In one incident, a few bus conductors were falsely accused of embezzlement and fired without thorough investigation; to express his displeasure, Kee Sia withheld a greeting for his superior during Chinese New Year. This, he believes, is the reason why he was told to leave – but fate must have meant for him to return to Tay Koh Yat.
In 1955, while Kee Sia was working as a photographer’s assistant, he met an old boss of the company who asked him to return – this time with a managerial position and an increased salary. His career took off, and he was tasked with the administration of the entire bus company until his retirement at 64.
After having lived through dramatic and tumultous times, Kee Sia is now enjoying being a grandfather. He says, proudly, that he looked after his three grandchildren and is pleased to watch them grow up to become promising adults today.