Thursday, 14 April 2016

Latest on Third-party Taxi Booking Apps and Drivers

Frankly, I wonder whether anyone is still reading my blog. Nevertheless, I reproduce in full the following two recent Channel News Asia articles on Third-party Taxi Booking Apps & Drivers to thoses who still does reads my blog and might find these articles informative and interesting.


There will be a new licensing framework for private-hire car drivers come the first half of 2017, and updates to the existing Taxi Driver Vocational Licence (TDVL), announced Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng on Tuesday (Apr 12).


Mr Ng, during his speech in the ministry's Committee of Supply debate in Parliament, noted that there was a rise in taxi drivers taking bookings via apps. For instance, the number of pre-booked taxi trips has increased by 50 per cent over the last three years, with the bulk of this increase coming from bookings via apps.


He noted that this increase is in part because taxi companies here have improved their own booking apps, with smarter algorithms to more quickly and efficiently match commuters with drivers. Third-party apps have also helped to "aggregate supply and demand" at the industry-level, he added. 


As a result, taxi drivers are earning more. On average, taxi drivers' nominal net earnings have increased continuously over the past three years, Mr Ng, who is also the Acting Education Minister, said. 


Commuters, too, have benefited as there an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 drivers providing chauffeured services during peak hours. "This has effectively increased the supply of point-to-point transport services by about a third during these hours," he said.


PDVL REGULATORY FRAMEWORK


However, while the growth of such services has benefited commuters, there have been some speed bumps. 
Mr Ng said the new competition has "understandably caused disquiet amongst some taxi drivers”. Thus, a new regulatory framework has to be in place to better protect commuters, and help the taxi industry adapt to the new environment. This led to a review of the private hire industry in October 2015, which he had spearheaded.


"With the growth of apps like Uber and Grab, some basic regulations are needed to ensure that the commuters' interests, particularly safety, are taken care of,” Mr Ng said.

"Hence, LTA will introduce a new Private Hire Car Driver Vocational Licencing (PDVL) framework. This framework ensures that drivers providing chauffeured services undergo sufficient training on safety and the regulations for providing such services."
 
Applicants will also undergo background screening, and be subject to a demerit point system - the Vocational Licence Points System - for errant conduct, like touting and soliciting street-hail jobs, he added.  


MEDICAL, BACKGROUND CHECKS NEEDED


Elaborating, Mr Ng said that to earn a PDVL, applicants must go through a medical examination. They must be employed either as a driver in a limousine company, or be a registered owner of a chauffeured services company. Singaporeans have to be sole-proprietors, or employees of a car rental or chauffeur company.


These drivers must also have driven for at least two years, and must hold a Class 3/3A driving licence for at least two years prior to applying for a PDVL.


Applicants must attend and pass a 10-hour PDVL course, and go for a three-hour refresher course once every six years. Active drivers with no demerit points will be exempted, and so will drivers employed by limousine companies, if the companies' training programmes meet LTA's requirements.


Besides the PDVL, Mr Ng said that private hire cars must now be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Drivers must also display their PDVLs and a tamper-evident decal which cannot be re-used once it has been removed.


The Transport Ministry said this will assure commuters that the cars are indeed registered with LTA, and to strengthen enforcement efforts.


CHANGES TO TDVL TO REFLECT CHANGING LANDSCAPE


Mr Ng also said that most taxi drivers feel that the training curriculum for the existing TDVL should be updated. That is why the ministry is making changes to reflect changing industry practices and technology.


In the revised TDVL course, taxi drivers will be taught how to use tools such the Global Positioning System (GPS) and not just the traditional hardcopy street directory. The course will also be shortened - from 60 hours to 25 hours - and there are plans for more training to be taught online rather than in classrooms.


As for the refresher course taxi drivers must attend every six years, Mr Ng said this will be shortened to three and five hours, from the six- and nine-hour sessions. Good drivers who do not have any demerit points will also be exempted from having to attend the refresher course, he said.


"I hope this incentive can lead to better services which would ultimately benefit commuters," he added.
For those who wish to convert their TDVL to a PDVL, Mr Ng said a two-hour briefing is needed.


"The TDVL curriculum covers a substantial part of the PDVL curriculum,” he said. “Hence, we will make it easy for taxi drivers to convert their TDVL to a dual TDVL-PDVL licence. They will only need to undergo a short briefing on the chauffeured services industry and regulations unique to the industry. This will allow them to easily switch between taxi driving and providing chauffeured services using private hire cars."
 
The new TDVL course will be updated from May 2016, he said.



UBER REVISED TAXI FARE.


Ride-hailing app Uber announced a fare cut for its private car service, uberX, on Wednesday (Apr 13). 

The base fare for uberX has been revised to S$3 instead of S$3.50, lower than the cheapest flag-down fare of S$3.20 for local taxi companies. The subsequent per kilometre and per minute charges for uberX have also been revised downwards by S$0.05, to S$0.45 and S$0.20 respectively. 


Competitor Grab's GrabCar Economy service has a base fare of S$3.50 and subsequent charge of S$0.90 per kilometre. It has no per minute charge.

Uber's announcement of its fare revision comes just a day after authorities announced new regulations for the private hire industry that will make it a must for private hire cars to be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA). A Private Hire Car Driver Vocational Licencing framework will also be introduced to ensure that drivers providing chauffeured services undergo background screening and have sufficient training on safety. 

They will also be subject to a demerit point system for errant conduct such as touting.

UPDATED TO 18TH. APRIL 2016
 
Ride-hailing app Grab reduced base fares and per kilometre charges for its private car service GrabCar on Monday (Apr 18). 

The move, which took effect at 11am, comes days after competitor Uber announced a 15 per cent price cut for its private car service uberX. 

The base fare for GrabCar passengers is now S$3, down from S$3.50, while per kilometre charges have been reduced from S$0.90 to S$0.80. With this new structure, fares can start as low as S$4 instead of S$8, the company said in a media release. GrabCar does not impose per-minute or other time-based charges.




Wake up, Uncle!. They are taking private car taxis. Time for you to jump boat.


Typical of a PAP MP instilling fear into gullible Singaporean when he cautions taxi commuters against taking Uber/GrabCar when he asked this stupid question in The Shit Times...that obediently published such shit.

"Who do the commuters look for..Uber, GrabCar, the drivers, or the leasing firms?@ (in case of accident)

It's common knowledge that every vehicle on Singapore road has a compulsory motor insurance policy, irrespective whether the vehcile is individually or company owned. In a claim, the insurer of the vehicles will settle the claims of the aggravated parties. In a accident, report to police with all the vehicle licence plates and soon specialist lawyers will be knocking at your door to represent you.

Slyly, Mr Ang is asking for level playing field. Do PAP consider this when contesting with opposition? Is level playing field in his volcabury?
Mr. Ang Hin Kee plays the fiddler of PAP and is not fit be an advisor to NTA

Monday, 8 February 2016

2016 Lunar New Year Greetings



Wishing All My Chinese Friends & Readers ...A Happy & Healthy 2016 Lunar New Year of the Monkey!......Huat,  Huat, Huat AH!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

What it takes to be a Grabcar or UberX driver.


From the driver's perspective, the main worry is whether there is enough business to make it worthwhile to be a Grabcar driver instead being a normal taxi driver. Remember, Grabcar drivers are allowed to ferry passengers only from call bookings and not street jobs.

I think the popularity of using private cars as taxis to travel will improve when LTA address and regulate the service, reliability and security issues of this new business. When stringent LTA regulations are implemented, commuters confidence in using private cars will rocket off.

Grabcar and Uber can send taxi operators into bankruptcy if they and their drivers offer a pricing to commuters that's impossible for them to resist. For example, if Grabcar and Uber charges $20 at non-peak hours from Changi airport to Jurong Point compared to a normal cab fare of $30, which commuter would be foolish to take a normal cab.

As had happened in other countries, I guess such a day (when normal taxi drivers switch to be "private car drivers") will come sooner than expected. I can always become a GrabCar or Uber driver when that day arrives.

Good riddance COMFORT!

An interesting read: Three years on, how has Uber impacted Singapore? (Link)

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Taxi Driver Lucky Draw



Hi James,

Thank you for sharing the interesting personal experiences as a Singaporean Taxi Driver  on your blog: http://cabby65.blogspot.sg/

We would appreciate it if you could share an exclusive Taxi Driver Lucky Draw campaign for Singaporean Taxi Drivers only on your blog to help us but more so for the welfare of fellow taxi drivers.


Old Chang Kee is holding a SG 50 lucky draw campaign for our prestigious local taxi drivers, to appreciate their daily efforts.  For this, we are offering a bargain at our 10 Old Chang Kee petrol kiosk outlets, where taxi drivers can buy ANY 3 FOOD ITEM @ ONLY $4 by presenting their taxi license. This purchase entitles taxi drivers to participate in a weekly lucky draw where they all stand a chance to WIN $688 CASH PRIZE EVERY WEEK, for 26 WEEKS in a row.
 

We hope you would be able to share this taxi driver only bargain and lucky draw campaign to all your taxi driver readers. I have attached the lucky draw campaign poster and week 13 winner’s poster for your kind sharing.
Thanks!
 
Warmest Regards,
Ms. Ng Chee Yan | Marketing Communications Executive
cid:011204201@18122009-33DB
Old Chang Kee Ltd.
c/o Ten & Han Trading Pte Ltd
2 Woodlands Terrace, Singapore 738427 
+65 90070357  |m

Monday, 22 June 2015

In-Taxi-Camera.......Good or Bad?


According to a recent blog post (Link) , the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has just announced that taxi drivers can now install in-taxi camera so as to deter potential troublemakers of both drivers and passengers. I'm not sure where they got the news from nor whether it's a confirmed fact.

Nonetheless, if it's true, to me, as a taxi driver, it's the best news of the day. I always believe that deterrence is the best form of prevention.

I think you have not forgotten how a cab driver was killed  by a Ferrari driven by a Chinese national, who beat a traffic light at high speed, ......how another cab driver was slashed in an unprovoked attack in the early morning hours somewhere in Jurong, ........And another cab driver beaten unconscious by Korean male passenger who complained about his "lousy" taxi. All these incidents happened three years back. Lately, there were at least 4 cases of drunkard passengers beating taxi drivers up after refusing to pay their fares. In one of these latest assault case, a NUS assistant law professor Sundram Peter Soosay, was convicted for assaulting a 70-year-old cabby, Sun Chun Hua. He has been sentenced to 4 months imprisonment and ordered to compensate the victim $1,500.

There are many nasty taxi related incidents and assaults of taxi drivers that goes unreported in the main media. But in this facebook page "Stop Assaulting Our Taxi Drivers", you'll be horrified to read the many more horrendous stories of taxi driver assaults. Those reported incidents might give the impression that cab driving is a hazardous job in Singapore.  I don't think so. Why? Because at anytime, there are at least 15,000 taxi drivers on the road plying 200,000 passengers. Most passengers are normal, decent and law abiding human begins. Only a few are douche bags. When faced with a potentially difficult and aggressive passenger, I humbly retreat and let them be the winner of the moment. The rest I leave it to fate to decide my destiny. Having said that, I think any "measures" from the "G" to enhance the safety of both drivers and passengers or protect cabbies from attacks by aggressive passengers is a welcome gift, like this lifting the ban on in-taxi camera.

Previously, the LTA banned the in-taxi camera recordings citing the intrusion of privacy as a major concern. In Singapore, how much privacy do we have, anyway?. CCTV is omnipresent in many public places like shopping malls, bus stops, banks, schools, hospitals and also inside public transports like buses and MRT trains. Even unregulated private drones with telescopic lens are flying freely in housing estates.  Like it or not, "Big Brother is perpetually looking over our shoulders EVERYWHERE. So, where got privacy! ". 

Many households has CCTV at their front door too. Whether these household CCTV cameras are real or fake, most burglars would avoid such households that has one displayed. It, therefore, acts as a deterrent. So, the same principle of deterrent effect can be applied inside a taxi with a real or fake camera. Even a bold red sticker reading "CCTV On Board" might deter prospective criminals or aggressors of taxi drivers.           

If a real CCTV miniature camera is installed at a inconspicuous spot inside the taxi, the images or audio recording captured can be relayed through the GPS system to the taxi operator control center but not taxi driver who might use it for nefarious purposes. The facial images stored would certainly helps the police in any criminal investigations or provides audio evidence in case of driver/passenger disputes.

To allay commuters fear of invasion of privacy, only taxi company or the authorities can have access to the password-protected camera recordings. This visceral fear of taxi drivers is not surprising. Like elsewhere in the world, most Singaporean are wary of and don't trust lowly taxi drivers who scavenge for a living.

Now, regarding the in-taxi camera, the big question is whether taxi operator is willing to needlessly spend million of dollars to protect taxi drivers. Frankly, they are more concern of their bottom line than anything else. As long as rental is collected, they do not care how the drivers survive or care about their safety.

Everyone knows that airbags had save thousands of lives since their introduction in early 1980s. To cut cost and maximize profit, the most despicable thing some taxi companies had done was instructing their taxi manufacturers to dispense with and remove the airbags of all their taxis before they landed in Singapore. Cabby Cheng Teck Hock, 52 of the fatal Ferrari  accident might be alive today if COMFORT had not detached the airbag of his Sonata taxi. Is LTA aware of the evil and unscrupulous removal of taxis airbags or are they closing an eye while bedding GLC partners?. Toyota Wish taxis of Transcab and Prime Taxi has airbags but not COMFORT taxis. What about SMRT and Premier?. In case you are inside a COMFORT taxi, try to avoid being a front seat passenger and if you are a COMFORT taxi driver, GOD BLESS YOU!.

COMFORT has installed in-vehicle camera facing the road solely to protect their interest in case of a traffic accident cum insurance claim and certainly not for the safety of their drivers. If cost overrides the safety of their drivers, perhaps COMFORT could be persuaded to spend just a few hundred dollars on cheap "CCTV On Board" stickers instead of a real camera for the sake of their drivers.
Take my money. Don't kill me!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Thank you Uber, GrabTaxi, Hailo and EasyTaxi.




I was flabbergasted after reading a news article in yesterday Straits Times with a heading… “Cabbies cry foul over rival drivers”.

In the first place, the news article reported mainly the opinions of a single person, Mr. Ang Hin Kee, who is NOT a cabby but an adviser of the National Taxi Association (NTA) and a Ang Mo Kio GRC, Member of Parliament. Undoubtedly, his views cannot be depictive of Singaporean cabbies in general. To me, he seems more like a spokesman of COMFORT which Temasek has an interest than of Singaporean cabbies.  

As a cabby, I would like to share with you my views in respond to his statements.

1.   Mr. Ang said “These companies are “creaming off profits” without having to meet the stringent requirements and standards the taxi industry has to meet”.

I shall break this statement into two parts.

Firstly, these “companies” refer to Uber, GrabTaxi, Hailo and EasyTaxi, that are Taxi Booking Apps providers.  

I think Mr. Ang is essentially saying that COMFORT is the only taxi operator whose profits from taxi booking is now being "creamed off" by these companies because others taxi operators like Premier, Transcab, SMRT or Prime are not affected as they inherently have very few taxi booking jobs to begin with. Consequently, my heading for the news article would instead be “COMFORT cry foul over transport providers app”.

By the way, how much is COMFORT estimated earning from taxi bookings before competition?.

Assuming each COMFORT taxi driver does an average of 10 booking jobs a day (24 hours) and COMFORT deduct 30 cents per job from their driver. Therefore, COMFORT earns $3 per taxi per day.

COMFORT has the largest fleet of about 16,000 taxis. Assuming 80% of their taxis are active on the road, therefore, COMFORT earns $3 x 12,800 taxis = $38,400 per day. Multiply that with 365 days. Wow! $14 millions annually.

COMFORT is now losing about 25% of booking jobs to these app providers. i.e. about $3.5 million per year. And this lose will surely increase when 3rd party booking apps becomes more popular with commuters. This "threat" is real as COMFORT is now occasionally absorbing the 30 cents surcharge that they previously charge their drivers. In offering this minor incentive, they hope their drivers would concentrate on doing COMFORT call bookings instead of their rivals.

Is COMFORT cabbies earning affected by these companies?

Yes, but in a positive way. The 3rd party taxi booking apps has turned out to be the best things that ever happened to Singaporean cabbies. Opportunities and options to earn more are open to all taxi drivers. Many COMFORT cabbies are using the 3rd party apps to do more booking jobs and earn more especially when these companies enticed them with incentives. 

For example, Hailo is now giving an incentive of $160 for FIRST 40 jobs done between 1st.June to 15th June. And another $100 for every 20 jobs after the first 40. In a month, a driver can earn an extra $320 - $500.  Other transport app providers are also giving drivers incentives in various forms.

2. Mr. Ang's continuous statements:                   "It's an issue of a level playing......................thanks goodness, we've not had any major incident”.
 (His full statements are in a photo at the end of this post). 

Briefly, Mr. Ang is making lame excuses to kill off competitions from Uber and others. His various concerns and issues will soon be comprehensively addressed in LTA new rules and regulations for 3rd party taxis booking app and ride-matching services (LTA press release) .  

Now, to be fair to the reporter of this news article, Mr. Christopher Tan, he has pertinently highlighted an impending "tsunami" that will completely change the landscape of the taxi industry here.

The "tsunami" is the new breed of Uber drivers who use their own or rented private cars to ferry paying passengers through call bookings. Soon, Grabtaxi and other transport app providers will also be joining the fray. These innovative apps companies are effectively running a parallel taxi operation, albeit strictly through call booking only. They are not vying with cabbies as they are prohibited to pick-up flagging passengers from the streets.

Undeniably, they help to service "peak-hours or in " COMFORT's cabby-forsaken" landed estates areas like Bukit Timah, where people find it impossible to get taxis. They absolutely improve taxi availability for commuters island wide. Like hotel and travel agents booking app or online purchases portals, they are not parasites that lives on the hospitality of others but modern technological companies that provide a complimentary, convenience and useful service that consumers need. 

Nevertheless, licensed cabbies naturally felt their rice bowl are threatened as booking jobs that otherwise goes to them are now taken over by these "un-licensed" drivers. But in reality and practice, there are more booking jobs during rush hours than all drivers could cope. In any case, these "un-licensed" drivers do not compete with them for street flag-down jobs.

Presently, new rules and regulations are not in place yet to address safety and security issues of commuters using these alternative taxi services. Reliability and accountability of these transport app provider are also pending. However, once LTA's all-embracing controls are fully implemented, taxi commuters' confidence and trust in these companies will rocket. And like in a G.E., scare tactics to avoid Uber or others would not work.

In this situation, Uber will creates a foothold in the taxi community after its popularity with customers grows. Taxi operators like COMFORT are very worried because the Uber business model of getting a taxi or ride-matched car via an app is superior to having to call them for one on the phone and wait for it to show up, if it shows up at all. 

But taxi drivers are not worried. Why?  

Because taxi drivers are hirer of taxis not owner. Therefore, they can easily defect to Uber as their drivers or drives their own car using Uber app, if it makes economic sense to do so or for other reasons. Like room renter who disappear from their units in the middle of the night, the drivers can desert the taxi operator freely. And like the saying goes, "If you can't beat them, join them!".

Please allow me to make a simplistic comparison to check whether it makes economic sense to desert COMFORT to join Uber. 

COMFORT Sonata                    Uber Used Aries
Daily Rental: $106.00                            $55.00
Fuel Cost (250km): $30.00                    $30.00*
Misc Expenses: $4.00                            $  4.00
Total Cost: $140.00                                $89.00
Fare Collection: $230.00                        $230.00
Company commission: $00.00               -$  46.00                                                  (20% of Collection)
Nett Income: $90.00                              $95.00**
(* Cheaper fuel from JB.)           
(** Exclude Incentives)  
If my estimation is accurate, it means a driver can earn more with Uber/GrabCar. Needless to say, a Uber driver could earn much more if he use his own car as the rental cost is not in the equation.

This is a disaster scenario for taxi owners like COMFORT. It is an expensive operation to constantly keep a large fleet of taxis on the streets of Singapore. COMFORT's main source of revenue is what they receive from the rental fees of drivers, so if too many cabs stand empty for too long, COMFORT will not only had their profits "creamed off" but will face bankruptcy.

What does this all mean for the Singaporean cabbies?. It means hallelujah, leverage has arrived at last. It has arrived not through feeble threats of strikes or work stoppages, but through competition for the services of drivers. 

Now, for the first time ever, taxi operators will have to give serious consideration to how their actions affect the lives of their drivers. If they are wise, they should think of how to improve the working conditions of their drivers - like reducing the 250 km minimum mileage, high rental, indiscriminate sacking, repair costs and so on.

Hey, COMFORT, do you want your drivers to desert you ?. The days of your authoritarian, arrogant, uncaring and high-handed attitudes towards your drivers need to change. Remember, they are your partners not employees!

How about doing some surveys?

Find out what's really needed and wanted from the drivers.

And then give them some good reasons to stick with you or you prefer to sack them for frivolous reasons despite the fact that many of your drivers had been your royal partners for more than 20 years?.

By the way, I am mulling to be a Uber-X driver as I prefer to drive less mileage and hours with hopefully a survival income. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

My First Poetry - A Cabby Life in Brief.

Image from www.taxiuncle.com
I'm not good at writing poetry.
My cab is in workshop. I've nothing to do. I write this for you.


I am a cabby.
I drive for money not for hobby.
To buy milk for my baby
And pay corporate P.A.P.


You probably look down on me,
Until you’re late for work and need me.
Then I’m your savior not a nobody.
Without me you might lose your position,
What’s the use of all your qualifications,
Without me, a cabby?.


All kinds of folks use me.
For work, for play and for a fee.
I’m your carrier,
while you’re in pursue of your career.
I take you high, I take you low,
I take you wherever you want to go,
to achieve your whatever goal.


My job is not glamorous, you might not want to do.
I don’t cheat the system like some P.A.P. supporters do.
Though I am but a cabby,
I’ve a name and dignity.
When I greet you “ Madame or Sir",
Please don’t return with a silent sneer.


I've seen joy, I've seen sadness.
To ROM in gladness, mortuary in sadness.
If you can’t pay, the fare is on me,
I felt pain when you run on me.
Wheelchair people, I like to pick,
Their smile for me is all I need.


I take people from place to place,
Oh my goodness, sometimes to wrong places.
You give the destination, I carry the burden,
We are together for only a moment.
After you depart, we’ll not meet again,
So, please forgive me, I won't do it to you again.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Remembering Bukit Panjang Village and My Childhood (Part II)

Bukit Panjang Village Wet Market in the 1960's

"Memory’s a funny thing.
With age I find myself  forgetting things and remembering those things that don’t really matter.
How long have I been having this problem?
Huh?
What problem”
By Lohcifer at Loh And Behold 

Now, let me continue from where I left.
Huh?
Where did I left?.
Oh, Yes!. Wait a minute. Now I remember.

I remember there was this unforgettable Bukit Panjang Wet Market to the left of my house. My immediate recollection of this market was the many childhood friends I had and still have till today. They were the market vendors’ children. But before I talk about my childhood friends, please let me firstly share with you my recollection of the memorable wet market.

I remember it was not a colossal market but a steel structure building that occupied about half a football field. It had steel H-Bean pillars, slippery cement floors that were forever wet, florescent electrical lighting, asbestos shingles roofing and a large concrete septic tank that stored human excrement. The two toilets were always disgustingly filthy with choked feces and urine. Nobody clean or use them. A monsoon canal that was perpetually cloged with all imaginable garbage flowed at one side of the market.

In the messy, smelly, chaotic and dreadfully hot atmosphere, about 50 to 60 vendors marketed fresh vegetables, meats, poultry, tofu, vermicelli and noodles from village farms and household manufacturing outfits. Dry sundries, spies, herbs, fruits and seafood sold were mainly imported goods. Fresh flowers and plants were noticeably missing as they were dispensable luxury in those days. If I remember correctly, there were no Malay vendor and only one Indian stall selling mutton. 

After a minor extension of the market towards the side of the monsoon canal, some food stalls selling stir-fried carrot cake, curry noodles, economic vegetable and rice sprouted up. My Grandma always pampered me with my favorite carrot cake with egg that cost 30 cents a plate.
Street Vendors
During weekends or festive days like Chinese New Year, a kaleidoscope of colors, fragrances and boisterous noises  would dominates the small road (Jalan Cheng Hwa) that run along the market. Unlicensed street vendors from nearby villages lined both sides of the narrow road selling an assortment of goods that competes directly with the market vendors. Each tried to eke out a living despite the risks of arrest, fine and confiscation of their merchandise by "TayGu" (Hawker Inspector). These municipal council inspectors were conspicuously absent on festive days and the road was impassible to traffic, which were few, anyway. I loved to jolt with the madding crowd and soak myself in the festive mood. It was always an inerasable and enjoyable experience.

Boh Leng's Poultry Stall

One of my childhood friend, Boh Leng, helped his elderly father at his live poultry stall near the septic tank. Live chickens and ducks were sold in weight and slaughtered on the spot. Hot water and wax were used respectively to remove the feathers of the birds. 

Most shoppers would avoid his stall because of the foul smell permeating from the manure of the caged poultry. But I spent most of my wake-up hours with Boh Leng at his stall and I never smelt anything unbearable. Now I understand why night soil collectors were able to endure their menial work.

On busy days, I lend a helping hand at the stall. One incident stands out in my memory. I remember the day I was almost electrocuted and died while helping at the stall. The incident happened one evening on Chinese New Year Eve. As evening approached, I stood on a cage to change a blown light bulb with the electric power on. My hands and feet were wet from de-feathering the chickens. I accidentally held a live wire and the resultant electric shock threw me off the cage but my hand still held on to the live wire. In seconds, my body squeezed and crushed like an aluminum can and I could not breath. I knew I was about to die and fainted. 

A few hours later, I woke up in hospital with my Grandma at my side. I was told that a quick-thinking vendor cut off the main electric supply and an off duty Malay fireman resuscitated me. They save my life and my Grandma subsequently rewarded them with simple gifts. 

Although it was a near fatal accident, I continued to hangout with Boh Leng. Sometimes, I cycled with him to procure poultry from small farmers in the village for sales in the market. Apparently, from a tender age, Boh Leng was already willy-nilly running a business and today he runs a thriving multimillion dollar enterprise.        

Another close childhood friend of mine was Bak Seng, whose parents manufactured noodles and kway teow (flat rice noodle) in a small wooden outfit near where I stayed. I remember when I was 8 years old, a fire completely destroyed their manufacturing facility but they rebuild and prospered.

They also had a stall in the market. Every member of his family of 12 helped in the business. As early as five in the morning, Bak Seng, a teenager, transported baskets of noodles on bicycle to the market. Occasionally, I would help in his "factory" too, but I did it more out of personal enjoyment than rendering any meaningful help. Remember, I was still a teenager then. Today, Bak Seng runs a large, modern and successful noodle manufacturing factory in Woodland Industrial Estate and fervently play golf for leisure. 

Incidentally, Bukit Panjang wet market was never upgraded or revamped. It was eventually expunged in the late 1980's to make way for the new Bukit Panjang housing estate  

Old Bukit Panjang Road and shophouses in the 1960's

About a hundred, two storey concrete shop-houses lined both sides of the kilometer Bukit Panjang Road. Because the villagers were predominantly Chinese, majority of shopkeepers were Chinese with only one or two Malay barber and Indian provision shops. 

Like shopkeepers elsewhere in Singapore at that time, they sold a myriad varieties of daily necessities like sundry goods, clothing, Chinese herbs, bakery and general hardware. Many were coffee shops with traditional marble top tables and teak wood chairs. Departmental stores dedicated to selling luxury brands were nonexistence. So were personal services like foot reflexology, spa and cosmetic beauty treatment.

Shopping these days usually means heading to a mall or trawling the internet. Back in 1960's, most trading in Bukit Panjang took place out on the street, or in small, dimly-lit stalls or shops. Many of these trades had been delegated to history. I remember there were two unique shops that are extinct today. One was a chick/duckling hatchery shop and the other was a maternity shop with rooms for wealthy mothers to give birth. Incidentally, my father worked in one of the only two bicycle shops near the police station.

Among the rows of shop houses were Chinese Clan Association buildings like Hokkien Kuay Kwan, Hakka Assocaition and China Yuping Min Fraternity Building. These are the only buildings that are still standing today apart the one and only Lee Huat Motor shop.

Then, Bukti Panjang Road was a vibrant and busy thoroughfare that link the city to Johore and Choa Chu Kang. Buses and taxis were few but pirate taxis were aplenty plying the streets at pre-agreed fare without meter. Night market or "pasar malan" vendors did brisk business every Friday night along this road.     
Endearing Sin Wah Theater at Bukit Panjang Village

And of course, all pioneers of Bukit Panjang will surely remember the endearing Sin Wah Theater, the only zine claded cinema in our village that screen mostly Hong Kong Chinese movies, with occasional western from Hollywood. 

With only a few ceiling fans running, patrons endured the stuffy, smoky and hot atmosphere in uncomfortable plywood chairs. But a ticket cost only 50 cents and popular shows like "Lui Sun Chair" (Three Lui Sisters) could run for weeks. Poor village teenagers like me would sneak in among an adult crowd for free show. After being caught a few times, an usher would recognize us but we repeatedly sneaked in when new ushers were in attendance. Only on Chinese New Year day, when I had extra cash from my "ang-pow" money, did I ever bought a proper ticket to watch a Western movie. 
Zinc roofed shops along Jalan Cheng Hwa. First shop on the left was beside wet market.
By the way, Bukit Panjang was also known as Zhenghua in mandarin and Ya Sua Bay (Coconut Hill End) in vernacular Hokkien. I reckon there were plenty of coconut tress at the hilly area when early settlers first arrived in the early 1900's. This strange name refers to the villages settlements behind the wet market and along the short gravel Jalan Cheng Hua lane. 

Unlike shophouses along Bukit Panjang Road, only about 20 small wooden zinc roofed shopshouses lined both side of Jalan Cheng Hwa, selling mainly provision and sundry goods. There were Chinese medical shop, barbers, stationary, tailor and hardware shop too. Mr. Sim Wong Hoo's  沈望傅 (Chairman of Creative Technolgy) parents operated a provision shop at the end of the lane near a "wayang' stage. 

Towards the end of 1970's, my father managed to acquire a bicycle shop beside the "wayang" stage. In reality, his shop was a tiny attap hut, the size of two latrines, with no water or electricity. But he did a boomy business as his was the only bicycle repair shop in Bukit Panjang Village and every villagers who owns a bicycle came to him for repair and services. From this humble hut and one of my younger brother today owns a multimillion dollar HDB shophouse and a thriving bicycle business. He helped my dad from a young age and picked up a skill which I did not.    

On festive occasions, Chinese street opera (wayang) performed at the "wayang" stage for the amusement of deities at a nearby temple and these performance were usually paid for by wealthy Chinese businessman or clan associations. Consequently, such performance became the cheapest form of entertainment for the villagers. I remember my elders would place wooden benches in front of the stage to book a strategic spot, days before the performance started. And whenever a "wayang" was staged, scores of cooked food vendors would ply their trade along the narrow road thereby transforming Jalan Cheng Hwa into lively and rowdy lane.

Of all the shophouses alone Jalan Cheng Hwa, my most vivid recollection is a simple standalone shop (attap hut) occupied by a Teochew elderly man nicknamed "TayGu". He was stout, single, lived alone and always shirtless. He made a living selling cooked cockles at 30 cents a bowl at his hut. To increase his sales, he ingeniously allowed customers to try their luck with a dice game of 4-5-6 with him. If a customer  wins in three continuous throws, with each throw having a total higher than his throw, the customer gets another free bowl of cooked cockles. Additionally, by paying 10 cents, anyone could gamble with him for a free serving without buying. I always lost to him. I heard he left for China in late 1980's and died there.

In the 1960's, "Ya Sua Bay" was well known as a notorious enclave with gangsters of the "kung tong" triad. They frequently clashed with a rivalry "lee-sun" (23) triad that controlled the wet market areas. Many youngsters were members of these gangs. Fortunately, I avoided them and they never trouble me. Shopkeepers and street vendors had to pay "protection" money to these gangs or face harassment. Strangers wondering in the areas were often intimidated or assaulted. Secret gambling and opium dens were aplenty in the village.

A Chinese language village school called "Cheng Hwa Primary School" stood at the top of the hill. Like all my siblings, poor children in the village studied at this free primary school that was managed and funded by Hokkien Clan Asssociation. Majority left school prematurely to work or lean a trade at a very young age. Interestingly, black and white Chinese movies were screened in the open school court on weekend evening for a10 cents entrance fee.

As a growing up teenager in Bukit Panjang Village in the 1960's, life was a simpler world altogether. But we were not pampered, spoilt or soft. We were resourceful and had to use a lot of our imagination to get and play with what we wanted with whatever little we have. This probably taught us to "never say die". I hope the memories of my childhood would inspire you to dare to dream the impossible and never, never say die!

On a personal level, I hope this blog post will become my legacy of memories for my future generations.

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving"
 
    

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Remembering Bukit Panjang Village in the 1960's And My Childhood (Part 1).

My Wooden Attap House.

As a teenager in 1960, I lived in this wooden attap house that nested beside the obliterated Bukit Panjang Wet Market and now stands the Bukit Panjang Bus Interchange. I am not sure where I was born but it must be either this house or Tekka (K.K.) Hospital. I never asked nor ever told. 

Anyway, this dilapidated dwelling housed a large family of 25 or more people under one roof and had five rooms. My parents, siblings, grandma and uncle's family lived and slept together in three rooms of the house. My astute Grandma (My Wonderfull Grandmother)rented out two spare rooms to earn income. As the eldest grandson, I had the privilege to share a room with my Grandma. But my 8 siblings cramped into a single room with my parents. My Grandpa died before I was born.

The relatively big house had an elongated hall. The floors were compacted clay without cement but it was kept clean and smooth through regular sweeping and years of pounding from footsteps. 

The two families cooked and ate independently in two separate kitchens adjacent to the main house.Water was drawn from a well in the compound for cooking, washing and drinking. For fire, my mother painstakingly collected and carried firewood from a forest ten kilometer away at Pierce Reservoir. Night lighting in the hall was from a pressure kerosene lamp and I studied under candle light in my Grandma's room.

When I was young my parents were very poor. They both worked hard to support the family of 10 children. My mom worked as a factory worker in Nanyang Shoe Factory and while my dad helped in his uncle’s bicycle shop nearby. Their incomes were barely sufficient to place two meals on the table, with no spare for her nine children education.

Paying to study in an English language school was relatively uncommon in the 1960's. Fortunately, with discreet help from my Grandma’s sales of illicit “samsu” ( an alcoholic drink ) and room rental, I enjoyed an English education, unlike all my siblings who went to a free Chinese language village school. Why "discreet"?....to avoid envy and fearful quarrels with uncle and aunty.

My zine roofed house.

Between my parents and my Grandmother, there was no question as to whom I admired and loved more. Through her sheer resourcefulness and saving from frugal living, my Grandma at almost 80 single-handedly paid for a complete renovation of the attap house into a cemented and zine roofed house 10 years later. Then, we had electricity but no piped water nor proper sanitary system. Bucket latrine was where we deposited our human wastes.  A night soil collector would arrive regularly, usually at night to carry the buckets of nauseating excreta to a specially designed lorry for eventual disposal. A lazy night soil collector would often secretly dispose off his work into nearby drains.


Most villagers were poor but the children were happy and carefree with no class tests, tuition or dance/music classes. After school, the first thought we had was to play in the open. Maybe then I was just a kid without worldly and adult worries.

Main Bukit Panjang Road in the 1960's

Now, please let me share with you also my memories of Bukit Panjang Village in the sixties. And to those who lived in Bukit Panjang Village at that time or is familiar with the place, maybe my recollections, experiences, thoughts and anecdotes would rekindle your fond memories of yester-years. 


A stone throw away infront of my house was a Malay kampong, a cluster of some 40 to 50 attap or zinc-roofed huts. Small in numbers but they had a relative big prayer house built in stilts with elevated wooden floors like all dwellings in the kampong. The raised floor helps to prevent damages from frequent flooding from a monsoon drain that runs along the village. As next door neighbors, their loudspeaker calls for morning and evening prayers were my wake-up and dinner time calls. And the Malays children would secretly steal long beans, green peas and sweet corns from my Grandma's small vegetable garden.

Bordering this small Malay enclave were all the Chinese families. The Chinese and Malay villagers were not close but they lived harmoniously side by side. However, it was only during the bloody racial riots in 1964 that I was terrified of their close proximity to where I stayed. Hundreds were killed during the riots and racial tension was extremely volatile. Malaysian soldiers with machine guns regularly patrolled the grounds separating the Malays kampong and Chinese villages. No violent clashes occurred between our Malays neighbors and Chinese villagers during that sad period of Singapore history.

I remember a Chinese timber merchant operated a flourishing business at the end of the Malay kampong. Every family bought their timber needs from him. My mother supplemented her income by thatching attap leaves into attap roofing panels at his enterprise. Her hands often bleed from long hours of thatching.

Bukit Panjang Police Station in the 1960's

In front of this timber merchant was the conspicuous Bukit Panjang Circle and the Police Station where the present 10 Miles Junction Malls stands. Once a month, the police station would screen a free movie in their compound for the villagers to mingle and enjoy. The station was headed by a Mr. Khosa (Superintendent of Police) who was the husband of my primary school form teacher. I remember he was sacked and jailed for involvement in running a "Chap Li-ki" (Two Number Lottery) in the village. Some short years later, many of my secondary school mates worked as policeman in this station. Jobs were scare and becoming a policeman was the best option available.

My Primary School during a sport festival.

Adjacent to the police station was my Bukit Panjang Primary School. I was academically weak in my primary school days and never passed any school exams. But annually I got automatically promoted to the next level. Many of my classmates could not even recite “A to Z” when they were at Primary 6. Children were more interested in playing home-made games like 'kasing" (tops), marbles, five-stone, flying/fighting kites or catching spiders, swimming in monsoon streams or fighting than studying. 

Then, teachers would throw books or dusters at us when we were not attentive in class and pitched our thighs at their leisure. Canning was common and so was voluntary superannuation i.e. leaving school without completing the 6 years primary course. 

We sung “God Save The Queen” in our morning assembly as Singapore was a British colony. During recess time, we drunk free powered milk from charity and our dental health was examined yearly through a mobile dental clinic.

Schooling was not mandatory and the social environment was not conducive for academic pursuit. Getting a job, trade or skill was paramount. Somehow I managed to creep into secondary level after two tries at "PSLE".


Directly across the Woodland Road of my primary school was the Bukit Paniang Child Welfare Clinic. Every child in our village passed through the maternity care of the nurses in this clinic. Our illiterate parents called the nurses...."Mi-si".... as they had difficulty pronouncing "Miss" in English. They were respected and feared as they would furiously reprimand our parents if they suspect a child had been neglected, abused or a medical instruction or appointment had been ignored. With high child mortality rate and as "insurance" at old age or extra hands at business and no TV, having 8 - 10 children in a family was the norm in those days.

With regard to the fearsome nurses, I remember the day when my mum came home with redden eyes after the nurses discovered cane marks on my younger brother arms and body. But she never learned nor reformed from that incident. Dad never bother us as he was always occupied with his opium addiction. Mum was our sole discipline master and corporal punishment was common in those days.

Part II coming soon.