Saturday, 4 August 2018

In My Twilight Years.

My Twilight Years
I’m now 73 but still young compared to Dr. Mahathir who is 93 and running Malaysia as the oldest Prime Minister in the world. But on second thought, it was only yesterday when I was 23.

You know. . . time has a way of moving swiftly and catching you unaware of the passing years.

It seems just yesterday I was young 23, and embarking on my new life. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where all the years went. 

I know that I lived them all. I have glimpses of how it was back then and of all my hopes and dreams. But, here it is... the twilight of my life and it catches me by surprise... How did I get here so fast? Where did the years go and where did my youth go?

I wonder if 50 years ago, at 23 when I first started working, what dreams I had for myself. At 23, I was strong, full of energy, with nothing but time and my imagination standing between me and the future.

I took night-classes hoping to qualify for university, wanted to travel the world as a sailor, or start my own business. Perhaps I figured working was a part-time endeavor, something to tide me over and help my mum. Perhaps I looked at all the other middle-aged men struggling at the desk or behind steering wheels and told myself, "I'll never let myself turn into that, God forbid!". 

Then I met a girl, got married, had one kid, then another, and suddenly all those doors closed. I had responsibilities, bills to pay, obligations to keep. All my dreams evaporated like my breath on a cold morning. And years later I looked in the mirror one morning. I saw my face staring back with the greying temples and the thinning hair and the dark circles my his eyes and I asked himself, "OMG, where did the last forty-five years went?"

Life can take a sudden turn and we've no control over it no matter how we monitor our health and safety. We all have only one shot at life and nobody knows when it will end. So, before it's too late, let's take stock of our life now. 

Unfortunately, for poorer Singaporean like taxi drivers, there's no much stock to talk about, when faced with escalating costs of living, scarcity of suitable jobs, no welfare, no money. 

To me, life was then a daily struggle to place three meals on the table, paying household & medical bills and keeping the roof above our head.

I remember well seeing older people through the years and thinking that those older people were years away from me and that winter was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like. 

But, now here it is...my friends are retired and getting grey... they move slower and I see an older person now. Some are in better and some in worse shape than me...but, I see the great change... Not like the ones that I remember who were young and vibrant..but, like me, their age is beginning to show and we are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we'd be.

Each day now, I find that just trying to squat and bending is tough.! And taking a nap is not a luxury anymore..it's mandatory, because if I don't on my own free will, I just fall asleep everywhere I sit!

And so...now I enter into this new season of my life..my twilight years, unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and ability to go and do things that I wish I had done but never did!

But, at least I know, that though the winter has come, and I'm not sure how long it will last... this I know, that when it's over on this earth...it's NOT over. A new adventure will begin somewhere. I don't know and I don't care!

Yes, I have regrets, many. There are things I wish I hadn't done...things I should have done, and done it in any way but indeed, there are many things I'm happy to have done. It's all in a lifetime.

So, if you're not in your winter yet...let me remind you, that it will be here faster than you think. So, whatever you would like to accomplish in your life please do it timely and NOW! Don't put things off too long!

Life goes by quickly. So, do what you can today, NOW! as you can never be sure whether this is your winter or not! 

You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life...so, live for today and say all the things that you want your loved ones to remember...and hope that they appreciate and love you for all the things that you have done for them in all the years past!

"Life" is a gift to you. The way you live your life is your gift to those who come after. Make it a fantastic one.

REMEMBER:....

"It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver."

LASTLY, consider the followings:

Today is the oldest you've ever been, yet the youngest you'll ever be, so - Enjoy This Day While It Lasts.

~Your kids are becoming you......

~Going out is good. Coming home is better!

~You forget names... But it's OK because other people forgot they even knew you!!!

~You realize you're never going to be really good at anything.... 

~The things you used to care to do, you no longer care to do, but you really do care that you don't care to do them anymore.

~You sleep better on a lounge chair with the TV blaring than in bed. It's called "pre-sleep".

~You miss the days when everything worked with just an "ON" and "OFF" switch..

~You tend to use more 4 letter words ... "what?"..." when?"... "what?"  "where?"

~Now that you can afford expensive jewelry - it's not safe to wear it anywhere.

~You notice everything they sell in stores is "sleeveless!?"

~What used to be freckles are now liver spots.

~Everybody whispers.

~You have 3 sizes of clothes in your closet.... 2 of which you will never wear.

~Empathy is few as we struggle with the fear of getting old but in the end we shall find peace and even a kind of happiness in caring.

~But Old is good in some things: Old Songs, Old movies and best of all..OLD FRIENDS!! 

It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of winter yours is or is going to be. Enjoy life before winter or enjoy the winter.

Enjoy your life while you can.

- Do not wait until you cannot even walk just to be sorry and regret.

-As long as you are able, visit places you wish to visit.

-When there is an opportunity, get together with old friends.
  The gathering is not just about eating.
  It’s just that there is no much time left.

-Money kept in the banks may not be really yours.
 When it’s time to spend, just spend.
 Treat yourself well as you are getting old.

-When you feel like eating, just eat.
  Eat often and more healthy food.
  Eat less often of unhealthy food but do not abstain from it totally.

-Treat sickness with optimism whether you are rich or poor.
  Everyone has to go through birth, aging, sickness, and death.
  Do not be afraid.
  Let the doctor handles your body.
  Let God handles your life.

-Our kids will make their own fortune.
  
-Look after four treasures.
  
  1ST, Your body.
  
  2ND. Your retirement fund.
  
  3TH. Your old companion, spouse.

   4TH. Your old friends.








Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Lunar New Year of the Dog - 2018


Soon after Christmas 2017, came New Year 2018 and now, Chinese Lunar New Year is just two days away.

Wow!, three festivals in two months. It must be a hectic month for both cabbies and revellers.

I'm not driving anymore but my buddy told me that JustGrab jobs were plentiful, with thousands of shoppers thronging the ubiquitous shopping malls and everywhere in Singapore. However, he lamented that it could have been better for him if not for the recent UberFlash that competed directly with JustGrab.

His JustGrab's booking had dropped a bit recently but he was not short of customers. But for how long? He hopes the status quo would not change too drastically but stabilises at an equivalence between Grab and Uber.

Now, how do I celebrate Chinese New Year?.

Briefly, like most Chinese Singaporean of my age, CNY to me is like an ordinary day. The halcyon days of joyful excitement, fun and frolic in celebrating CNY had long dissipated.

To me, it's now more a financial burden than anything else. Giving "any pow" (red envelopes filled with money) to unmarried juniors, buying goodies, decorative materials, new clothing and food for feasting, drill a big hole in my pocket. But I still pour money generously to prepare a lavish reunion dinner for my family on New Year Eve. 

I consider it's the most important event of the year, similar to a Christmas dinner.

Usually, my family will have a seafood steam-boat dinner with the more expensive items like abalone, lobster, oyster, scallops, crab and pomfret fish. If leftover of wine from last year feasting is available, I'll have a few glass of it with my grown up children and wife.


Before the big day, I cleaned up my flat, sweeping away all ill fortune and decorated it with red couplets in the popular theme of prosperity and happiness.

On the first day of CNY, I would visit my mother-in-law and close friends, followed by rounds of mahjong games with my taxi buddies till daybreak.

With both parents gone and being the eldest of 8 siblings, my siblings with spouses and offsprings would visit me on the second day of CNY. Though we hardly see each other on the other 365 days, they would surely pay me a visit on this day without fail.  This tradition of home visitings has been going on in our family for the last 30 years.

Like my reunion dinner, I splurge a sumptuous lunch and dinner for them. My sixty plus relatives would spend the whole day in my apartment, often creating a "ruckus", eating, KTV singing, watching movies and gambling. 

The joy in seeing my extended family tightly knit together and growing are worth more than the money I splurged for this occasion.

This visiting ritual is part of the Chinese culture similar to Malays and Indian culture. It's important to pass this tradition down to each generation and not to put it on the burner. 

Another Chinese tradition that should be promoted is the "Ching Ming" festival, (Remembrance of Ancestor Day), a day when the living pays their respect to the dead ancestors. It's an extension of the CNY visiting, albeit visiting the dead.

The only activity that I missed about CNY of today is the playing with firecrackers. 

As a teenager, I play the cheaper type of firecrackers that are bonded in a long roll with 2 or more extending out at each level.

I remember dislodging a single piece from the string and placing it under an open condensed milk tin. With one hand pressing hard on one ear and the other hand igniting the firecracker with a lighted joss stick timidly, the thrill and trepidation of a sudden explosion were beyond description. Upon exploding, the tin would fly high into the sky like a space capsule and falls back, crushing like a fallen.......tin.

As a naughty kid, I would indiscriminately throw a lighted firecracker at unsuspecting siblings or friends and ran away laughing at their fright.

Nowadays, I hear only fake noises of firecrackers from recordings and see dummy crackers serving as doorway decorations. These come nothing close to the real ones.

Firecrackers were banned in Singapore in 1967, due to many fire and fatal accidents. The joy that comes from playing with it was then gone forever and I felt privileged to have enjoyed the cheap thrills of good old days.

Nonetheless, some loving parents bring their family to neighbouring regions like Batam (Indonesia) and Johore (W.Malaysia) that allows playing of firecrackers to enjoy the thrills of a traditional CNY activity.

May I use this opportunity to wish all my Chinese readers,

"A Happy, Healthy and Prosperpous 
Lunar New Year of the Dog -  2018"

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Good Old Days of the Sixties.

Skipping with a rope all day long.
I wish I could press the pause button of my life and rewind it to the Good Old Days of the Sixties when "The Beatles" was my favourite rock band and Quah Kim Song was my beloved football player.

In the sixties, as a country teenager, I catch Siamese fighting fish from the hyacinth plant ponds at the end our village and rear them for "fish-fighting" session with my friends' catch. 

I catch spiders too from the hibiscus bushes in my neighbour's farms or the nearby forest without worries of Aedes mosquitoes or dengue fever. The worst disease one could get was a *lock jaw* caused by a rusty nails.

In school, I trap giant black ants from the holes in the ground of my school compound by getting the ants bit at a fresh grass stem and pull them out of the hole. Later, I arrange the ants to battle each other to their death.

Kite fighting was my favourite sport during the December school holiday when the monsoon wind was strong and gusty. I pound broken glass into powder and coat the string (thread) using horse glue. Only string tension is used to control the kite and the aim of a kite fight is to cut down an opponent kite with pulling and letting go the strings to exert right tension like a sword duel. The thrill of cutting down (defeating) an opponent's kite was like winning a 50 meters dash and losing was reverse.

Young kite runners were aplenty with long poles and their eyes fixed at the sky for a defeated, falling kite. Occasionally, I would join them and run with all my might over broken glass, nails, fences, drains, chasing dogs and dangerous traffic risking limbs, bones and life for a mere 10 cents kite.

In the beginning, I bought my kites from a young Teochew man at his run-down shed for 10 cents a piece. After a period at observing his method of making a kite, I made my own kite, albeit crude using resilient bamboo and old newspaper.

In the forest reserves, I shot birds with catapult made from guava tree branch for pleasure and with adults, I trap wild boars with shape bamboo spikes in 6 feet deep pits for sales in the wet market, denuded of all morality.

For those who could afford it, I remember goat milk was house delivered punctually by our affable and robust Mr KK Singh on his bicycle. He uses a stainless steel container, mounted at the back of his bike to hold the milk. And the container cap served as a funnel.

Old and scrawny Uncle Tan sells home-made light soy sauces at 10 cents per ladle full and will fill up your bottle at your doorstep, while energetic Uncle Lim will sharpen your kitchen knives or scissors, sitting on a wooden stool with grinding and sharpening tools.

Kacang puteh (peanuts) man came peddling, walking and balancing on his head 6 compartments of different types of peanuts and spicy fired pastries ... and sometimes I barter our old exercise books for a paper cone of kacang puteh.
A Kachang Puteh Man
At pasar malam (night market), I rented comic, storybooks and magazine for 5 cents a piece, some of which I never return to the owner.

F&N orange juice in glass bottle was served in wooden crates and displayed on tables during festivals like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, etc. Double Ace, 555 and Captain brands cigarettes were the crazes of the day and my parents favourite. 

Eating chicken or birthday cakes was rare and was a treat during festivals or church celebration.


Driving test was at Maxwell Road and driving license renewal was by pasting an additional slip at the back of a small red booklet.

To pass a theory test, we need to memorise only a few highway codes and correctly push toy cars on a wooden board with a traffic junction diagram.

A Travelling Barber

A crew cut haircut by the travelling Indian and Hokkien barber was only 30 cents, all the way to the top. Reason:- easy to dry when swimming in the stream, river or in the sea, mostly with no swimming trunks and completely naked.

M&M's was called Treets ...

We always carry a one dollar note at night in case we were stopped by corrupt police for not having tail lights on our bicycles.

Chor kway teow (fried noodles) was only 30 cents and some brought their own eggs. One roti prata (dough) without egg cost 15 cents and a goreng pisang (fried banana) for 5 cents.

We would buy only a piece of beef or chicken satay for 20 cents and finished the whole bowl of delicious gravy and another plate of union and cucumber for free. After a while, the old Malay satay man would chase us away and banned us from their stall.

We bought Pakistanis bread from KK the Indian bread man who paddled his bicycle around the neighbourhood with the familiar ringing sound.

At times we bought Cold Storage bread wrapped in waxed paper. Spread the bread with butter and kaya (sweet coconut paste), wrapped back with the same waxed paper and take to school.

On Sunday mornings, we listen to Ong Toh's Hokkien radio epic sword fighting Chinese stories and on Saturday nights *Top of the Pops* by DJ Patrick Teoh.

Saturday mornings, we entertained ourselves with cheap matinees, usually a cowboy or Greek mythology movies like Hercules at our village wooden cinema for 30 cents a ticket for children. 

Only on Chinese New Year, grandmother would give 50 cents for the night screening. Sometimes, one ticket admission for 2 persons or I would sneaked in with adults pretending to be their kids, without paying.

Iced ball was only 5 cents with half red sugar and black sugar. It cost 10 cents with additional red beans. 

Never talked or mixed with girls until Sec 4. Learned the waltz, cha-cha,  rhumba, foxtrot and offbeat cha-cha from a classmate's sister. 

When first time dancing with a girl at a friend's birthday party, my heart nearly froze; my heart went boom…boom….boom. At a start, I was sitting quietly at a corner waiting hopelessly for a girl to invite me to dance. She never comes until my friend pulled one to me. It was the only dance with a girl in my secondary school days.

The housemaid was never in our vocabulary. My mother cooked, cleaned, washed and took care of us at the same time while having a full-time job in a nearby shoe factory... singlehandedly. 

We took aspirin, candy floss, fizzy drinks, shaved ice with syrups and diabetes were rare. Salt added to Pepsi or Coke was a remedy for fever. Tonic water was taken at the first hint of malaria and we plastered our rusty nail cuts with chicken fats, not tetanus injection.

As children, we would ride with our parents on bicycles/ motorcycles for 2 or 3. Richer ones in cars with no seatbelts or airbags.

In a small shed (latrine), we shit into a bucket underneath or into a deep pit in the ground or into ponds or running stream. Our children will not know the danger of visiting the outdoor toilet at night nor jumping in fright when the night-soil man collected the bucket while we were still doing our business. 
A nigh soil man 
Toilet paper was torn up newspapers which we have to crumble first before using. White toilet paper or liquid soup was an unknown luxury.

Girls would play the five pebbles (stones) and boys would have an endless game with a ball (tennis ball best), and run like crazy for hours.

We caught guppies in drains/canals and when it rained, we swam there.

We ate salty, very sweet & oily foods, candies, bread and real butter and drank condensed milk coffee/ tea, but we weren't overweight because we ran and ran and cycled all day only returning home at sunset or when hungry.

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and we still continued the stunts. !!!

Most of us never had birthday parties till we were 21. Some don't even know what's so big about 21st birthday.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and just yelled for them. We don't have cell phones!

When our parents found out that we were caned in school, it's certain we would get another round of caning. Parents always sided with the teachers.

We were the last generation to know how to use logarithm tables and slide rulers.

AND I believe this pioneer generation produces the best parents because we remember the hard times.

Some parts of this blog post were from an unknow writer.




Monday, 22 January 2018

My Halcyon Days of Youth at Grandmother's Mandai Farm.

Rambutan and Chiku Fruit Tree.
I am a sentimental slob who loves to reminisce the memories of my halcyon days and frequently too now that I am in my twilight years.

During school holidays in the 60's, I roamed free like a butterfly in my maternal grandmother’s large farm in Mandai Village that is now part of Singapore Zoo.

I had cats, dogs, chickens and goats for companionship and the occasional rabbit for a pet. I especially took loving care of the white rabbit. However, one day the rabbit disappeared mysteriously and reappeared on the dinner table. My uncle had double-boiled it with herbs to pretentiously nourish my grandmother’s failing health.

Luckily, there were lots of other recreations for a young slob like me and I soon forgot about Bugs Bunny.

I love the acres of fruit tree garden that my grandmother took years to laboriously cultivate and nurture till her grandchildren were spoiled with choices and enjoyment.

We had several rambutan and mango trees and they fruited regularly. One of the few times I was canned, was when I climbed up the tree risking life, limb and my new clothes and stuffed myself silly with the barely ripe fruits. 

To make matter worse, my bottom was bitten red and swollen by the resident colony of red ants which saw my intrusion with great indignation.

The mulberry by the garden gate was a lot friendlier. Its low branches hung heavy with deep red and purple fruits and you didn't have to work very hard to pick up freshly fallen berries. The only setback was when I wiped my juice-stained hands on my clothes. 

I enjoyed playing with the leaves too, rolling them up into "cigar" and "smoking" them just like my uncle with his cheroots.

There were a few guava trees close to a "longkang" (small stream) that runs through the boundaries of my grandmother farm. Like any mischevious kids, I love to clamber up a particularly short and strong guava tree that has branches stretching over the stream and dive into the stream especially after a heavy thunderstorm when the stream is deepened with overflowing stormwater. That was how I acquired my secret diving skill and my elders never knew. 
Climbing a guava tree.
The guava trees also fruited regularly when small guava turn pink when ripe and become pungent and delicious.

I remember making a catapult out of "Y" shape branch of the guava tree and used it to shoot birds on the farm. My grandfather made walking sticks or "tongkat" out of the strong and hard-wood too. 

We had sugar cane in the backyard and the little bracket included both the green variety and the thicker purple canes. The cutting of the canes was an occasion to celebrate and the whole family would gather as a couple of fat, juicy stems were chopped down and stripped of their barks and leaves. 

We'd each get a generous stick and the chewing kept us quiet for a bit, eyes slowly glazing as we hit the sugar high. By the time we finished, our jaws would be tired and we would all need a bath to clean up the sticky drips. 

There was a huge chiku tree tucked to one of the two wells near the fence separating us and our neighbour. This chiku tree gave us delicious fruits in certain season and was sometimes the cause of dispute between my uncle and the neighbour. 

My asinine uncle objected to our neighbour savouring the chiku fruits that fell into their compound. My grandmother was more generous and would send them a basket of chiku fruits when we have more than we can devour. 

The delicious chiku fruits are round and brown with milk-coloured inside and shiny black seeds. My mother used to pluck the half-ripe fruits in her attempts to pre-empt and avoid quarrels with the neighbour. She would wrap them in the newspaper and placed in the bin of rice to ripen. 

The only fruit tree my grandmother refused to plant is the king of fruit...Durian Tree. Naively, I questioned her and she replied: "Son, the falling spiked durian could kill you"

Those halcyon days in my grandmother’s farm, they became the foundation of a life-long love and memory bank that kept me happy through those more sober times to come.
Guava and Mulberry Fruits Tree.


Sunday, 31 December 2017

Wishing Everyone A Glorious And Happy 2018.





Today is New Year Eve. A year is coming to an end soon.

I would like to use this opportunity to wish all my readers

 -"A Happy New Year 2018 "

and also to give my brief take on this year happening from my simple perspective.

Undoubtedly, 2017 has been an eventful year. Internationally, there was an alarming threats of a nuclear war in East Asia after the vocal stoush between USA & N.Korea. At home, it was embarrassing that our PM had a debacle with his siblings that requires a parliament seating to clear the dispute and of course, the "phony" Singapore Presidential Election that installed a PAP preferred person without election.

On a personal level, the most fateful happening in my life is I can no loger drive a taxi for a living. I might look for another job or retire blissfully. Maybe I'll become a security guard, gardener or whatever to keep myself occupied instead of staring at the four great walls that surrounds me (remember Tom Jone's song).

Honestly speaking, there are many things I love about being a cabby -- primarily the people and the adventure, the unpredictability of each shift, and the endlessly fun game of discovering unusual places in Singapore -- places I would never visit on my own. And most importantly, as a cabby I can provide a free chauffeur sevice for my wonderful wife to work every morning.

But there are also a few things I could never come to terms with as a taxi driver, like traffic jams, accidents and all the abuses, assaults and insults that is so regularly heaped on Singapore's cabbies.


In 2017, I met a great varieties of people and had countless adventures. Most are nothing to write about.

I also experience the happiest and saddest moments in the last 365 days.

First, I was extremely delighted when my letter to the press was published. In it, I highlighted the plights of taxi drivers and debunked the wrong impression that driving a cab is a lucrative job. It was my first and only letter I ever written to the press. It gave me great pleasure to be able to say something in a national paper on behalf of my fellow taxi comrades.

Second, the saddest moment happened about a month ago. It has nothing to do with grieving of death, heartache of broken relationship or nightmare of financial disaster. It concerns an interview I attended for a direct-hire job as a security officer at a local hotel. The interview lasted less than 5 minutes although I look an hour to attend.

This was how it went:

Interviewer : "Mr. Lim, How old are you".

Me : "I'm coming 70 years old but I'm healthy and strong"

Interviewer : "Sorry, We are looking for people below 65 years old".

Me : "But I'm healthy and strong and willing to do shift work".

Interviewer: "Sorry, Like I said earlier, it's our company policy to give preference to applicants below 65 years old."

Me: "This job do not necessarily require a person to be younger than 65. I'm a licenced security officer".

Interviewer: "Ok, Please wait for our letter regarding your application. Thank you for coming to this interview"

The letter never come.

Age discrimination is one of the most pertinent problems that comes with an ageing population. Such discrimination includes rejecting potential employees who are over 60 years old, and terminating their contract when they pass the age of 60.

Is this any of your concern? One day, it might be.

Meanwhile, lisent to this wonderful rendition of the traditional Auld Lang Syne that make you want to stay in the old year.


Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ten Years as a Singaporean Cabby


Today, I'm precisely 70 years old.

For the past several weeks, the thought of writing a recollection of my 70 years of somewhat eventful life has kept surfacing in my mind. I hesitated for the reason that I had not been accustomed to sharing my personal life in publication, albeit what was previously written in this blog.

At present, my memory is surprisingly good and dependable but a sudden change is always possible. Therefore, in this blog post, I shall only summarize veraciously my fond memories of my life as a cabby in the last 10 years and will make no effort in fine writing but endeavour to state facts of my taxi driver's life in such a way as to make them as interesting, intelligible and anecdotal as possible.

Today is also the day I had to surrender my TVDL (Taxi Vocational Driving License) to LTA as I would surely fail my compulsory medical test at Tan Tock Seng Hospital due to acute Glaucoma.

I'm now partially blind and is legally unfit to drive a cab although our LTA permits a taxi driver to continue driving till the age of 75 subject to passing a yearly medical test from 73 at Government Hospital.

The medical test fee is $200 but the actual test is extremely stringent, involving a thorough medical examination and a dexterity driving test. I decided to skip the test as I know I would surely fail the visual acuity test. My fate is sealed.

Now, what I write in these pages are not my autobiography but rather my enduring recollections, knowledge and experiences as a cabby and my impressions of men and women as I know them as passengers in my cab.

For a starter, I clearly recalled my needless fear on my first day as a cabby. My apprehension was not not knowing my routes but rather I was worried that I might pick up a friend or ex-colleague as my passenger. Then, I was bashful to be a taxi driver and had kept my new job a secret. Before becoming a taxi driver, I was an executive with a spacious office of my own but by a twist of fate, I got cooped up in a tiny confine of a driver's seat as a taxi driver.

Only my immediate family members knew my downward career switch and they gave me encouraging words to give it a try. With their support and encouragement, my transition to my new job was made much easier. I quickly came to term with my new circumstances and crushed my ego. I also took comfort in the pleasing fact that I was placing decent meals on the table for my family although as an unglamorous cabby.

In the beginning, I kept reminding myself with false pride that my job as a taxi driver would probably be temporary one as I continued to hurt for a more “respectable” career. But with God’s grace, it turned out to be otherwise a decade-long job and I've no regret whatsover.

Initially, I started driving with Comfort for a year as a hirer, sharing my taxi with about four relief drivers. None of my relief drivers stayed with me for more than three months due to various reasons. As a hirer and rookie, the stress and pressure of having to pay a daily rental of $110 was nerve cracking and always put me on an edge.

In total, I spent six years driving in the night shift and four years in the day. In my day shift, my first passenger was always my wife whom I send to work for free, which was the least I could do for her. 

After I fulfilled my first contractual year as a hirer with Comfort, I swiftly switched to become a relief driver. It was a wise move for driving then became less stressful and profitable. I never return to be a hirer again.

I drove for almost all the taxi operators in Singapore like Comfort, Transcab, Silver Cab and SMRT except PrimeTaxi. My last “taxi” was a rented private hired car with Grab. I’ll elaborate on the current taxi market and my driving experience with Uber and Grab at the end of this blog post.

I remembered on my first day as a relief driver doing the night shift, I drove for about five hours with one five minute toilet break at a secluded roadside. It was almost midnight when I headed to meet my taxi buddies at a Jurong coffee shop that I accidentally hit a road curb and my taxi crashed into a drain. Fortunately, the accident happened near the coffee shop where my buddies were waiting for me and I was uninjured. Shockingly, eight of us were able to lift the cab back to the road. We were 10 years younger and stronger then.

When I got home, my wife greeted me with a hug and said: "You have the typical taxi driver smell and beer". I told her about the accident and my beer treat for my buddies, many of whom are still my closest friends today.

I believe taxi drivers have always been a fascinating lot to most people and there remain so much you do not know about them. What are their background and driving habits?. How hard and why they become a cabby?. Who is a good and bad cabby?. How much do they earn a day? What impact has Uber and Grab on them now?.

Nowadays most Singaporean taxi drivers are fairly well educated, some at diploma level and bilingual too with a good grasp of both their mother tongue and English. They come from all works of life. Some are a former police officer, businessman, private tutors, ex-convicts, PMET, hawkers, labourers and you name it, they are in as taxi drivers.

A typical taxi has two drivers (day & night shift), splitting the rental cost and 24 hours usage equally among them.

A driver usually collects about $25 fare an hour and earns about $12.50 an hour after deducting fuel, rental and other expenses. On a monthly basis, a cabby typically earns about $3,500 for 10 hours of driving every day but without medical benefits, annual leave, CPF contributions and other perks of salaried employees. He is basically self-employed like a rental HDB shopkeeper.

Every morning, a day shift driver would usually head first to a housing estate like AMK, Jurong, Yishun, Woodlands etc.... as there are always passengers going to work from estates. If the passenger’s destination ends in the city, the driver would usually return to the housing estates again for new passengers. For the night shift driver, the agenda is the reverse but after the peak hours, there is no telling where the driver would end up.

One of the perk as a taxi driver is travelling to places in Singapore you would never go on your own or you never knew it existed. Although I've been on the roads for 10 years, I was always discovering new roads and places in Singapore.

Like new places, I get to meet new people every day. Some of my passengers get embedded my memory forever. Here are a few:-

On Day 1 as a cabby, my first passenger was a white Caucasian man in his fifties with white long sleeve shirt and grey trousers. He was fat with silvery hair and a bulging stomach. He got into my cab at Mount Sinai around 8am and wanted to drop off at Orchard Tower. I knew the way and promptly dropped him off about 15 minutes later.

After he left, I heard a ringing tone inside my cab. As it was my first driving day and in my excitement at successfully completing my first trip, I thought the sound was from my faulty taxi meter. It never occurred to my mind that the sound was a ringing tone of a cell phone which the white man had dropped in my cab and his wife was on the line trying to contact me. Later, I obediently returned the cell phone to the owner and was rewarded $5.

On the Last Day of my driving career, which was two days ago, I ferried the most beautiful lady passenger I have ever seen, from the airport to the newest hotel called YOTEL at 366 Orchard Road. Like most passengers, she kept to herself and spoke only a word of thanking at the hotel drop off. She was tall with a gorgeous body, fair skin, big sparkling eyes, silky black long hair and thick eyebrows. She would easily qualify as Miss Universe Philippine 2018 like former Miss Rachel Peters.

My best passenger was the one who gave me the biggest tip in my entire driving career. He was a Korean man in business suit. At 8 pm, he boarded my cab at Esplanade and wanted to drop off at Fullerton Hotel, a mere 3 kilometres away with a $6.00 fare, I thought. Another Korean man was with him and they spoke in Korean. The older man in his sixties was the boss as the younger guy was always answering in a pliant tone.

When we arrived at the hotel after the short trip, the Boss passed me a $50.00 note and asked me to keep the change. I never met another generous man like him again.

The worst passengers were a group of four office girls whom I picked up at Star Vista on one afternoon during lunchtime. They want to drop off at the driveway of their office at Ghim Moh Community Club. An unloading lorry had blocked the driveway and I was forced to drop them a mere meter away from their preferred sheltered area. The fat girl who sat beside me was furious and filed a complaint with Comfort, resulting in me getting the sack.

In general, if the passenger did not reply or uttered only a monosyllabic answer, I took it as my cue to be quiet and to just drive. Usually, passengers travelling in groups tend to ignore the cabby, talking among themselves as if you are transparent. In this way, I could not help eavesdropping on them complaining about the Government, and workers complaining about their bosses.

Often I’ve passengers who, literally made me feel sick. Like the old man, I picked up in Jurong polyclinic who coughed and sneezed all the way to Choa Chu Kang or the drunken young man who vomited in my cab. Then there was the Chinaman who burped and burped from a heavy meal of "ma la huo guo", or spicy steamboat throughout the trip.

Taxi drivers are usually helpless when passenger failed to show up at call booking or run away without paying. Every day, however, I would meet at least one or two passengers who are pleasant and polite, saying "please" or "thank you", or making conversation that helped to make a lonely job less monotonous.

Only one female passenger I took from the AMK to Pasir Ris sent Comfort an e-mail complimenting me, saying: "I am really impressed with his job attitude. Thank you, Uncle!" It made my day.

In Singapore, if you drive a taxi, you’re everyone’s Uncle or Auntie irrespective of your age because that’s how a passenger would frequently address a taxi driver.

Here are some secrets of the taxi trade for the uninitiated.

It's easy to get passengers in the morning when people are heading to work from HDB estates.

To earn $3 more in the evening, go into the CBD and pick up passengers while the CBD surcharge applies from 5pm to midnight. Sorry, but people waiting just outside the CBD will have to just keep waiting. Even inside the CBD, cabs will be scarce just before the surcharge hours begin.

Heartland towns like Woodlands and Semarang offer slim pickings in the evenings because residents hardly go out then. But hospitals everywhere are good places to find passengers, especially after evening visiting hours.

Overall, demand for taxis far exceeds supply during the morning and evening peak hours, so a cabby who is disciplined about driving during these periods can earn a decent living.

There are downsides as well. Getting caught for breaking traffic rules like beating the traffic light meant a $200 fine in less than a second - my earnings from about 18 hours of work!

Developing haemorrhoid from sitting for hours is a common ailment among cabbies, along with backaches, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, stroke and heart attacks. Having said these and in total honesty, I would love to continue driving till my last breath if our law and my health permit.

Name me a job that allows an old man the freedom to decide how much he wishes to earn, when to eat, rest and sleep on the job.

What better ways to spend one's time at twilight days then to experience new happenings every day and get paid at the same time?. But alas, it's over for me.

Today, I've a new found respect and admiration for taxi drivers who had survived more than 30 years behind the steering wheel and still going to places.

In conclusion, this blog post would be incomplete without a brief mention of the recent dramatic transformation of the taxi market in Singapore with the entry of Uber and Grab about four years ago.

Uber and Grab are essentially middle-man companies that provide a  mobile platform for passengers and drivers to complete a "hail-ride" at an outrageously cheaper price and faster quality service, compared to traditional taxi rides.

But they are in a very powerful position with the power to determine not only the price (fare) a passenger pays but also what a driver would get at the end of a trip. This opens the door to easy expliotation of the drivers by these middlemen who owns no vehicles, abeilt operating a private car leasing company under a separate business entity. The evil deeds of middlemen are common knowledge throughout the centuries.

However, the success of Uber is phenomenal and worldwide with operations in 600 cities and still expanding.

In Singapore, they had de-monopolized taxi operators like ComforDelgro and dominated the taxi trade with 70,000 private-hired cars compared to 24,000 taxis.

Out of curiosity, I drove a private-hire car with Uber and Grab for about three months and discovered that without their monetary "incentives" for drivers who achieved a set of tough "criteria" in a week, I was earning half of what I would normally earn as a traditional taxi driver.

Why? Because Uber and Grab fares are dirt cheap and they deduct a 20% commision on these cheap fares from the drivers taking. Apart from these two factors, a private car using petrol is more costly compared to subsidised diesel of taxis although rental is only marginally cheaper. On an average, a driver earns only about 35% of the fare after the 20% commission, 20% fuel and 25% rental. Out of a $10.00 fare, the driver earns a nett amount of $3.50 without Uber/Grab incentives. It's simply not worthwhile to drive for them if you're a cabby.

Therefore, a cabby should remain as relief driver but use Uber or Grab mobile application to increase their income with more call jobs. Leave the "Uber/Grab" business to non-professional taxi drivers.

Sadly, a traditional taxi driver who fails to keep up with technological advancement will realise that their rice bowls are porcelain made without iron cladding.

For me, as long as I'm healthy, I'll probably find another job as a security guard, petrol pump attendant, gardener, 7-11 counter staff or operates an online household and hardware sales site.

I shall continue to post at this site should I have something interesting or worthwhile to write.

May God Bless Everyone of My Reader.

Merry X'Mas & Happy New Year!!! Cheers
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