• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:40pm

Poon Keung

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2003, 12:00am

In 1964, when I was already a foreman-mechanic, the company invited outsiders and graduates to apply to join as engineer trainees. I applied because I wanted the company to be fair to their own. Also, engineers earned more than mechanics. I saw the personnel manager who said I would have to resign my job before I could be considered for an interview, and I would have to compete against three foreigners from Britain for a six-month contract. I succeeded, but my pay dropped from $1,100 a month to $650. Six months later, I was promoted to assistant engineer, and from January 1965 I went back to $1,100 a month and was put in charge of the bus construction depot in To Kwa Wan. When my pay dropped, I told my wife and mother that I was willing to accept the cut because I had a good future with the company. They agreed to cut down on spending. My wife even made fewer visits to the hairdresser.


I was promoted to service manager in 1977. This was the job I enjoyed most. I had been depot manager before that. My policy was always to meet the workers face to face. I tried to practise fairness, and to let them know that the company cared about their welfare. I knew morale was paramount. If a worker came to me and said his mother was sick, I would say he had to look after her. Workers also need to be praised for a job well done, and I enjoyed that part of my job. When I joined KMB in 1949, the service department was about 400 strong. By the time I retired, we made up one-third of the roughly 12,000 workforce.


I was sent to Britain in 1973 and spent two years training with London and Birmingham bus companies. It was hard work. I went back to being an ordinary worker and started at the bottom, going through rotations of quality control, stores department, parts issuing, administration and scheduling. While I was in Britain, I noticed youngsters working as apprentices. The bus companies had a successful culture of training. When I returned to Hong Kong, I told my boss this was something we could adopt. That was how the KMB apprenticeship scheme was started, with the Labour Department as our partner.


This is very different from when I was a trainee. We had no training. We were expected to learn on the job, but those who were supposed to teach us jealously guarded what they knew and were always sending us off on fool's errands. I used to sneak up to the top of double-deckers and watch what they were doing. On Sundays, I would sneak peeks at the service manuals, which were never given to us. My knowledge was gained through experience and keeping my mouth shut - this was the way to learn in the atmosphere of the KMB then.


My wife and I married when I was 22 and we now have five children and seven grandchildren. My elder son, who is already 47 years old, became a supervisor in the service department in 1980. Then I told him that should he get an opportunity outside, he should leave. I didn't want any family members in my department. It would have been awkward in case of a dispute. He owns his own decorating company.


My father was killed by the Japanese, who suspected him of spying. I remember the evening in 1944 when the military police banged on our door and took him away. That was the last time I saw him alive. It was 18 days later that we got the news that he was dead. He had undergone water torture. We had no money, so I made a coffin for him by nailing four planks of wood together. My father was just 39 years old when he died.


There were terrible hardships during the war years. In the beginning, non-workers were allowed 6.4 taels of rice daily. Half a year later, only the workers got rations paid for by the Japanese. The worst time was between 1942 and 1943 when rice transports were bombed. That was when workers were given 3.2 taels. Non-workers - women, children and the sick - got nothing. We had to collect wild vegetables and nuts, which we cooked with whatever little rice we could get. Our bodies swelled from malnutrition.


After the war, I went to evening school for $5 a month. My pay then was $1.70 a day, approximately $54 a month. Bus rides were 10 cents a section. Drivers were paid more than $200, which was a great deal of money in those days, because the old buses had no power steering and were very heavy. Gear changes were hard and on sharp corners you could see drivers almost standing.


I know how hard their job was. We had no more than 200 buses in 1949. When I retired the company had a fleet of 4,300.


My life now follows a routine of yum cha, going to the market, shopping with my wife and daughters, watching TV and listening to the radio. Sometimes I enjoy sitting outside the temple in Wong Tai Sin and watching how people react to the teachings of Buddha. I am interested in religious literature and Sars has given much food for thought.


Contact vmaher@pacific.net.hk if you have interesting memories


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