KTM Oral History Project

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Profile Mr Mohd Zaid Thiyagarajan is of Indian-Muslim descent and was born on 24 January 1957. He worked as a train supervisor on board the KTM train for 26 years. He joined the railway services as a ticket collector in 1987. Mohd Zaid was based in Kuala Lumpur, and worked as a train supervisor on the KL–Singapore line in the 80s and 90s. He has many memories of this route and the station, and even helped to sell souvenirs during the station's last days. Mohd Zaid recounts his experiences and relieves fond memories working as a train supervisor. * Some parts of this interview transcript have been lightly edited to improve on its clarity. INTERVIEWER: The first question I will ask you, Encik Zaid, is what is your relationship with KTM? Have you worked with KTM, and in what position? ZAID: For 26 years, I have been working on board the train, travelling up and down, Singapore to Butterworth, and then the East Coast, Kelantan side. I am a train supervisor. INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us a bit about your duties as a train supervisor? ZAID: Train supervisor, I'm in charge of the passengers on board the train. I'm in charge of the canteen. Whatever goes on board the train, I'm in charge of that. I'm responsible for whatever happens while we are travelling enroute to any of the destinations. INTERVIEWER: So basically you're in charge of the security, cleanliness, everything, efficiency of the train? ZAID: Yes. Anything that will, and is going to happen on board the train is my responsibility, while on the move. At the station, it's the station master's job. Once the train starts moving, it's my job. INTERVIEWER: Until the train stops at the end of the line, it's your job? ZAID: Yes. Until we reach our destination, and when all the passengers have gone down safely from the train. INTERVIEWER: Can you give us a specific period, from which year to which year, your duties took you to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station? ZAID: Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was the last stop for my train. From KL to Singapore, that was the last stop. And Tanjong Pagar memories, we can't forget because we've been going there for years. We've been staying in the running bungalow. We call it running bungalow. INTERVIEWER: Running bungalow, is it? ZAID: We call it running bungalow. That's where we stay. INTERVIEWER: When you were in Tanjong Bungalow, there is a bungalow called running bungalow? ZAID: Yes. We call it running bungalow. Furthermore, we were right in the heart of Singapore. We practically cross the whole of Singapore to reach Tanjong Pagar. And then – the memories – there are many memories there. Everything – is now gone. The only thing left. I love to go back to Singapore. If I were working, I would love to go back to Singapore. INTERVIEWER: You travelled from KL to Singapore, or Butterworth to Singapore? ZAID: My base is Kuala Lumpur. So from Kuala Lumpur, I travel either to Butterworth, or I travel to Singapore. Because we are in the centre. INTERVIEWER: So from what year to what year you went to Tanjong Pagar? Do you remember the years? ZAID: The day I joined railway, that was in 1987. I practically joined as a train ticket checker. That means I practically started working on the train the day I joined the railway. I joined as a ticket checker, so I must be, I'm bound to be, on board the train. INTERVIEWER: The ticket checker just checks the ticket? ZAID: Yes, yes. He is the person [who] does this. He is also acting as the assistant to the train supervisor. INTERVIEWER: Before the train takes off, he checks all the tickets, is it? ZAID: Yes, he checks the tickets and all that. If there is anything, a problem, something like that, then he will come and see me. INTERVIEWER: ’85, you started as a ticket checker? ZAID: ’87. – I should know, before I joined the railway, I was a prison warden before. Worked in the Kajang Prison. INTERVIEWER: So from what year to what year were you travelling from KL to Singapore as part of your duties? ZAID: Can't remember on that, because we would be on and off. INTERVIEWER: In the 80s or 90s? ZAID: From the 80s to 90s, and then to 2000. INTERVIEWER: Can I ask you, what do you think are the differences between Tanjong Pagar and the other stations? For example, in terms of building, or the kind of passengers. ZAID: I think when they put the station at Woodlands, that is the last stop now, the journey is practically not as beautiful as was the case. Because when we were going through to Singapore, most of the passengers were happy because we were running across Singapore, right to the heart of Singapore. Now you put them at a side, the Malays call “di tepi pingiran” [at the edge]. And we call them to go by yourself. Tanjong Pagar was a beautiful area by itself. Near shops, coffee shops, and all that. Woodlands, you have nothing. You have to go out quite a distance to get a drink, even if you are thirsty or hungry… Even the scenery, the scenery is not as good at Woodlands. It's just like everything is official. You get your passport chopped, you go out, you get a cab, then you disappear somewhere. In Tanjong Pagar, you can walk to Chinatown, you can walk to so many places in Tanjong Pagar. And historically, I think Tanjong Pagar was much, much, much more beautiful than Woodlands. INTERVIEWER: Do you remember your co-workers and the hawker food at Tanjong Pagar? Any special memories of that? ZAID: As I just said, you can go out and get nice food. And you can get to meet people there. In Woodlands, you can't meet anybody there. Nobody is even allowed to wait for you there. So you have to walk quite a distance. If you are an elderly couple, you have to walk so far away for someone to come and fetch you. – I think I still prefer Tanjong Pagar any time of the day. INTERVIEWER: When you were travelling from KL to Singapore, during that time, do you remember changes in Tanjong Pagar itself, or the KL-Singapore line over the years? What were some of the changes, can you recall? ZAID: Formerly, when you were going from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, the line was practically slower. They refurnished some of the track. Going a bit faster, the train a bit faster. And then the scenery changed through the years. While you were going from Kuala Lumpur to Tanjong Pagar, formerly it was a jungle. If you are a nature lover, you would love to take the train. And then as time went by, there was more development, the scenery, it changed. The scenery became like Kuala Lumpur itself, in a town. Because travelling by train is one of the most beautiful experiences you can get if you are travelling to any of the destinations, especially to Tanjong Pagar. On the way. Because I'm a nature lover, so I loved to see the scenery outside. So, people might ask me, “Don't you get bored travelling by train?” I tell them it is how you look at it. To me, even if a tree loses one leaf, it means a difference to me. Even if I pass by, I see a tree losing a leaf, it makes a difference to me. So it is how you look at it. So I love scenery and especially nature. It was a beautiful sight. Last time, it was beautiful. You don't have too much development. You don't have too many buildings around. Nowadays, you see at the side of the track, all so many buildings. INTERVIEWER: Last time, was it mostly greenery or trees? ZAID: Yes, we have trees. Jungle trees. Primary jungle. Sometimes, you can even see animals INTERVIEWER: You can see animals, too? ZAID: Yes. Nowadays, even the animals do not want to come near the tracks any more. INTERVIEWER: The history of KTM. Do you remember when the train engine changed from steam or coal to electric and diesel? Do you have an idea what year was that? ZAID: Coal, it was way before, – even before I was around, I think. So I can't recall. I took it once in a while when they have, say, a leisure talk. When people can take it, especially one of the Australian companies took it. Even they can't run. It is not viable to run the coal train any more. They were running for some time, then they went bankrupt. – and I was around. INTERVIEWER: So coal was during the British time? ZAID: Ya. And then they didn't even use coal. They used like generator after that. But it was still not viable. For memory wise, it was beautiful. But only that. You can't run it on track. Not convenient, let's put it that way. INTERVIEWER: What about your experience, can you recall some of the changes like when Keretapi Express was introduced, or some of the changes in the service between Singapore and KL? ZAID: Formerly, if you are a tourist, you want to take leisure, there are trains that take more than 12 hours to reach Tanjong Pagar. You take it at 8 o'clock in the morning, 8.30, and you are expected to reach Tanjong Pagar at 6 in the evening, or 7 in the evening. INTERVIEWER: 8.30 from KL? ZAID: From KL to Singapore. But if you are a tourist, going on a sightseeing tour, then that is the best train, because we stop at practically every station, even if it is very small. Sometimes, the station doesn't even have a station master. We'll stop the train there. I mean, it was beautiful. When I was working last time, we can stop for a little while. And then people will be coming out, getting down, especially the village people. Nowadays, the train doesn't stop in the small station. Only stop in the major stations. When I was working, when I joined the railway, the train stop at practically every station, you can name it. INTERVIEWER: What were some of the interesting things you saw along the way, at the small stations. Can you recall a few of them? ZAID: The people. Because each district, the people have a different way of living. You find [out] when talking, you make friends everywhere you go. And then the station itself , let's call it an antique station. Kata orang, antique station. Because you can't get that kind of station anymore. INTERVIEWER: Can you give me the names of some of the small beautiful stations? Can you give me the name, one or two? ZAID: With the remake, this doesn't exist anymore already. Even at the stations that they have now, you do not find the old stations any more. All in concrete, you cannot find any more. You take the train from KL to Tanjong Pagar, you won't find one station that is still intact. All gone, all concrete now. Even Gemas, a beautiful area, an intersection whereby the East Coast people will come there, the mainland people visit, now it's even modern. I do not like the station. Yes, maybe it's much easier. The facilities are there. But the sentimental value is gone. INTERVIEWER: What are the most beautiful old stations that you remember? Which ones do you remember? ZAID: All the old stations were built, practically designed. Like Kuala Lumpur. Just take Kuala Lumpur itself. I still love the old station. It beats KL Sentral by miles. The old station. When I started working, I started working from the old station. The train starts from there last time. Only now, it starts from KL Sentral. Even that, is a good example. A beautiful station like that, now just running for the Komuter Train. Sometimes, the tourist also can't see that building. It just passes by. Stop one minute, and then goes. I mean, that station in Kuala Lumpur is quite beautiful. - Lucky they did not break our office. Formerly, they wanted to change from office to hotel. But because it's beside the mosque, they quit the idea. I mean some thing should be kept intact, not everything go and change. Maybe because they are young, they don't value. Old people will value, the history is there. Like Tanjong Pagar, people's memory is there. When they were small, they were taking the train there. Nowadays, nothing. Woodlands. To me, certain things should be kept intact. But Tanjong Pagar, I don't know what to say. Because this one, involving the governments. INTERVIEWER: Talking about the future of Tanjong Pagar, would you like to see the building preserved? What is your feeling about Tanjong Pagar's future? ZAID: When we get down at Tanjong Pagar, we have to walk, either we take the engine, or sometimes I will walk to the running bungalow. Even walking to the running bungalow, the feeling is different. If you walk to Woodlands, totally different when you walk to Tanjong Pagar, with the old building. Formerly, there was a hotel there. Even that was kaput. There you can sit down, relax, then you walk all the way to the running bungalow. The scenery there was more down to earth. But I still prefer Tanjong Pagar anytime. I even cry when I stop going there – . INTERVIEWER: Sorry, can you repeat that? ZAID: Yes. I think about all the years I have been going up and down, and suddenly they stop like that. Even for selling souvenir items, I was sent down to Singapore. I was selling souvenirs in Singapore. So when you look at all the items there, you see it is all gone. The years crumble in front of your eyes. INTERVIEWER: So, Encik Zaid, when you heard the news that Tanjong Pagar would no longer operate as a railway station, what was your feeling? Did you feel sad when you heard that? ZAID: I was really sad. Because you will miss it. You miss it daily. Because Woodlands is nothing. It is just a check point. – Fair enough – it is not convenient for the Singapore government for the train to run through. Because our track runs right across Singapore. Development in Singapore will be harder because our track is running through all the places in Singapore. So if they want to build something, they cannot simply build. The track is Malaysian land. Because we have about 15m, or what, from the track, belongs to Malaysia. So if anything Singapore wants to do, they have to ask our permission. And then it's a hassle for them. But for us, it's the sentimental value. But for the government, it's for developmen and for the people. INTERVIEWER: I'm sure you spent so much time in Tanjong Pagar, you have lots of memories. Before the Tanjong Pagar closed, did you take any photos or keep any souvenir to remind you of Tanjong Pagar Station? ZAID: I took some photos. My handphone. I took it with my handphone. I took it all the way. I even videotaped the place as I walked through. Because the custom officials were there, the immigration officials were there. The Malaysian side was there. The Malaysian people were staying in Tanjong Pagar, the flats. The customs and immigration officials were staying there. And then there were animals, cats. There were so many cats near the running bungalow. Which practically grew up, from small there. So I was thinking, what will happen to all these animals? Even a photographer from a television broadcasting company came, took my photographs in the running bungalow, – while I was holding the cat. So I told him what will happen to all these cats, and all this. I have been taking care of these cats for so many years. I can't bring them back to Malaysia because they are already big. They cannot last in a new place. So – it's a quite a sad thing to see the trees that grew up from small, now already big. You cannot see them anymore. I'm sure they are going to destroy everything there. All that is – not much value to Singapore. The flats, and all that. INTERVIEWER: You mentioned the running bungalow. That's very interesting. Is it a bungalow? ZAID: It's a bungalow, with many rooms inside, whereby the driver and the running staff stay there. INTERVIEWER: You mean the staff who travel up and down? ZAID: It was our second home. Practically our second home, where we take bath, and tomorrow we go to work from there. Running bungalow. Then we have a sports club in Singapore, whereby we can play games. The club is between the running bungalow and Tanjong Pagar Station. So we just walk there in the evening, play games, then we have a place. We have all the sports, indoor sports, outdoor sports. Not football – the land is quite – Volleyball, [sepak] takraw, badminton, table tennis. I mean, it was a life that I cherish there. INTERVIEWER: So, the running bungalow is within walking distance of the Tanjong Pagar Station? ZAID: It is about a quarter mile. Because I studied miles, it was a quarter mile. INTERVIEWER: Of all the hawker food in Tanjong Pagar, which one you like the best, or remember the most? The food, or any of the sellers that became your friend? ZAID: The Pakistani shop, the Mama shop there, it's very well-known. There were hundreds of people who come there every day just to eat in this place. This stall, at the side of the track. I think you have been there right? INTERVIEWER: What food is it famous for? ZAID: They are famous even for their chapati [Indin flatbread], their rice in the afternoon. They sell in the afternoon and early at night. At night, by that time finish also. They have so many things – mee hoon soup, their coffee, their Nescafe. That place is very well-known for Singaporeans to come. Even outsiders always come there. And then when you wait for somebody who is coming down from Kuala Lumpur, or from Seremban, you have a place to sit down and drink. Woodlands, what can you do? And then you can meet old friends there. That's no problem. Anybody can come in and go out. Woodlands, nobody is allowed to come in. You have to go quite a distance to meet anybody. So – even the atmosphere is different between Tanjong Pagar and Woodlands. INTERVIEWER: So you like the atmosphere in Tanjong Pagar – it was very friendly. How would you describe the atmosphere, the special atmosphere at Tanjong Pagar? ZAID: You know when I was selling the souvenir items for Singapore, you can imagine of what sentimental value Tanjong Pagar is. There were two couple – old man and old lady sitting in the chair, for hours, until – until next day, they were sitting there. I was selling the souvenir items. I opened up a table there for the railway. I went to talk to him. He was crying. He was telling me, “From school days, I was taking the train. Why they suddenly close down Tanjong Pagar? ”. Since it was going to close down permanently, that's why he's sitting there. Whole night, he was sitting there, you know. Because they have been travelling to Malaysia by train, and back. Now they say, they have to go all the way to Woodlands to take the train. And they say, “This is the door I have been going through for years”. Their sitting place was near the door. -The couple. I met the wife. They were telling me the story. So, for some people, much more sentimental than for other people. But any which way you look at it, Tanjong Pagar was of sentimental value for many people. They come to eat there. So they bring their girl friend before they got married. Before they got their children. Even after getting their children, they come there. They take the train there, or buy food there. So there are many memories. So I can imagine what they were going through when they were sitting at the station at that moment. That's why thousands of them came. I think half of Singapore, maybe more, would have taken the train from there before. From young. Not now, from young. So, I mean I can tell, more than half would love to have Tanjong Pagar back again. But the problem is because of development and all that. It is running right in the heart of Singapore. So there wasn't much choice for the government of Singapore. INTERVIEWER: So you said you came down to sell the souvenirs. That was in 2011? Just before it closed, is it? ZAID: Yes. INTERVIEWER: What do you think were the most popular souvenirs that people kept of Tanjong Pagar? ZAID: Okay. The t-shirts with the Tanjong Pagar photograph with the front there. Even the track, the whole track that was cut and put inside the, I don't know what you call it, they put inside the cover, the plastic cover and sold, even that people buy. They wanted to buy even my uniform. I tell them, “No, no. This is the only uniform I have.”

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