Monday, 3 February 2014

Mediocrity is Better than No Mercy

"When managers tolerate a culture of mediocrity, they reinforce the most pernicious barrier to change. Mediocrity insidiously works its way through every nook and cranny of the organization. It anesthetizes people into passivity and even worse, creates a quicksand of generalized inertia that continually frustrates those who attempt to shake things up towards real change.

The symptoms are numerous - shoddy workmanship, impolite staff, poor internal infrastructures, insufficient training, a culture of blame, lethargy, complacency, reactivity and defensiveness, and very often, all the ills are manifested through poor customer service". says Lohcifer of LohandBehold.

I recently had the misfortune of being slapped with a "warning letter" from my company due to a mediocre officer in charge of investigation in the company.

Please allow me to share with you my experience.

"On 24/01/2014 at around 9.30am, I accepted a call booking to pick passenger(s) at Cashew Park Condominium.

A short distance from the gate to the lobby of the first block in the condo, I saw two young men in early twenties talking to each other. One was quite plumb and the other had yellow colored hair. Both were wearing shorts and flashy T-shirts.

I stopped in front of them and used my hand signal to check whether they were the ones who made the call booking. They did not acknowledge my hand signal and gave me a surprised look. They also ignored me.

Assuming that I had arrived at a wrong pick-up point and the young men were not the passengers, I decided to leave the lobby and moved forward to reverse my taxi out of the condo.

Unfortunately, while reversing my taxi, the right side of my back door slightly knocked against the tail end of a parked 16tons lorry. The lorry did not suffered any damage as it has a steel beam bumper. My taxi had a slight scratch at the place of impact. The broken left signal light was due to an accident that happened a long time ago.

I left the condo to search for my missing passengers but ended in vain.

In the same evening, an officer from my company called me to inform me that the young man had lodged a telephone complaint against me, alleging that I had driven recklessly after the serious accident with the lorry. The officer wanted to hear my side of the story and I gave him my account of what happened as written here. He then ordered me to report the accident and send my taxi for inspection at our company workshop asap. I complied to what he instructed obediently on 28/01/2014.

On the day when my taxi was at the workshop undergoing inspection, I received a WARNING LETTER dated 27/01/2014, that I had committed a "service lapse" and it would affect performance incentive of hirer."

I was flabbergasted and wrote them an email (after C.N.Y. so as not to spoil their festive moods):

" To: Senior Investigation Officer - Driver Affairs. Dated 03/02/2014

Re: WARNING LETTER - ACCIDENT RELATED CASES - At Cashew Park Condominium 20/01/2014 at 09.29hrs

Dear Sir,

I had to suppress my indignation upon receipt of your WARNING LETTER relating to an "accident" case at Cashew Park Condominium.

In my opinion, there was no ACCIDENT. If you consider lightly touching the back of a stationary lorry while reversing my taxi as an accident, then I believe no motorist in this word is humanly able to maintain an absolute clean driving record in his lifetime. If you can tell me honestly that you NEVER had any unintended or minor mishap in your driving career, I would salute you as the most impeccable motorist on earth. You are probably better than a robotic driver.

Now, in your warning letter to me regarding my accident case, you mentioned that you have carefully considered all the facts, which were obtained from a telephone call from the young adults (complainants) and my written explanation ( as written above ). 

Basically, it was a question of whether you believe the complainant side of the story or mine. I appreciate that it is a dilemma that all investigators had to face. But to arrive at a fair and accurate judgment, you ought to have indisputable evidences on your desk before you make a judgement.

In my case, I wonder what evidences you had, apart from the cell-phone call from the complainant, to firmly determine that I was guilty of reckless driving?

Did you go down to the site or made an effort to take statements from the security guard as a witness?

Did the complainant provides you with a video recording of my reckless driving? No, right? So, your facts were based merely on hear-say and therefore, it could be a pack of lies.

By the way, the driveway from the guardhouse to the lobby and the car park is a narrow lane of less than 50 meters. How could I be driving at a dangerous speed on such a short and narrow stretch of road in my 7 years old Toyota Crown Taxi?

Could it be possible that the complainant made a baseless complaint against me to spite and take revenge at me for failing to pick them up?

In any case, an In-Vehicle camera would have vindicated me.

Apparently, you decided to believe only the complainant side of the story and arbitrarily issued me a warning letter for a service lapse on that occasion and reminded me to observe all the traffic & taxi rules & regulation at all time. You also warned me to always project a good image of your taxi service.

I am proud to say that as driving a taxi is my livelihood and profession, I had always being mindful of what you had stressed in your letter. Therefore, I took your warning letter seriously as it questioned my integrity and pride as a taxi driver in your company. Nothing hurts me more than to be wrongly accused and made a scapegoat due to sloppy investigative work in your office.

As my case had elements of doubts with no conclusive evidences, it should not have warranted a warning letter. It would have been better if your esteem office had issued me an ADVISORY LETTER to remind me of the importance of upholding the company image, observe all traffic & taxi rules & regulations and also be mindful of road safety.

Honestly, your warning letter seriously affects my moral and the Performance Incentive in the EIP payout for hirer.

Maybe after another warning letter, you might chose to expel me from your company. Therefore, any warning letter is a serious matter and should be issued conscientiously after exhaustive investigation with irrefutable evidences and certainly not based on frivolous accusations or due to mediocre performance of your office operatives.

The worst practice is to ditch out a standard warning letter to drivers to quickly clear all customers' complaints.

We are partners in the taxi business and depend on each other for the success of our business. If I could not look up to you as my partner for support, who else could I turn to?

I would love to continue our six years of partnership based on mutual respect and not on you looking down on me and vilifying me unnecessarily for whatever simple mistake I might have made.

Life as a cabby is already stressful enough with having to deal with difficult passengers, drunkards, fare cheats, robbery and assaults. That said, it would be helpful if your esteem officers do not make it worst for us.

Thank you and regards"..

This evening, a polite officer called me to advice me that they would review my case and revert asap with......I don't know what?. Frankly, I don't give a shi.....anymore, now that I had said my piece.

Because, comparing my case to the poor student who to had to ditch out $400 for using the electric socket point at a MRT station, mine is like a slap on the wrist and her is like a kick to "the groin". Click here to read Gintai's blog on this subject (Link)

And if LTA had handled my case, I would not only be similarly doomed to mediocrity but worst, raped without mercy. 

Fuck My Job and Life.

P/S: Updated on 18/02/2014.

A few days ago, I received the following company letter dated 06/02/2014:


We refer to your email dated 03/02/2014 with regard to the above-mentioned subject.

Our management has further reviewed your case. We regret to inform you that your appeal is unsuccessful.

Please note that we encourage our taxi drivers to comply with traffic/taxi rules and regulations at all times, so as to project a good image of our taxi service.

Yours sincerely,
Senior Executive
Drivers Services


So be it!!!

Enjoy these antique stickers in my taxi...Not many around!!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Only Government Decision can Change the Taxi Model here.

Taxi Drivers Strike in S.Korea

I told my wife: ” Honey, I am very sorry to tell you that you are married to a prostitute”. 

She stared at me with her mouth wide open and said: ” Honey, what do you mean? Are you bisexual? Are you having sex with men too”?.

I replied  "No. I am neither bisexual nor I've ever had sex with males. By saying I am a prostitute, I meant that I am a taxi driver. A taxi driver in Singapore is nothing but a prostitute. Think of it. We have this blood-sucking government agency called LTA in our back, day in and day out, busy summonsing cab drivers to their offices,  pulling their pants down and verbally screwing them. Then we have the blood thirsty taxi operators that don’t bother fixing the cabs properly like changing worn-out tyres and removing ABS air-bags and as a result cab drivers end up having accidents and dying. Then you have the traffic cops giving you questionable tickets for picking or dropping in a bus lanes. To top it all is having to deal with all those mentally sick, drunken ang-moh and fare beaters. Like prostitutes, we have to service our customers without questions once they land their buttocks on our seats. Who is around to protect us and hear our complaints".

"Having to go through all these if it is not a prostitution what would you name a cab driving profession here in Singapore? A professional road pilot?. But, thankfully no other job would give an old man like me $25,000 a year. And thankfully again, 99% of my passengers are GOOD people. Thank you, Sir & Madam, from the bottom of my heart!. But, I have lost my self respect and dignity for that f...king $25,0000 per year."

After hearing all my bullshit, she gave me a light knock on my head and said "Quit if you can't take the heat or complain to your MP or NTA (National Taxi Association)".

I replied "Don't waste my time. All these people are bedding each other and "wayang" performers. Instead, we taxi drivers have to depend on ourselves for protection and swallow all the bitter pills of complaints with a pint of salt".

"Why can't you people unite, protest or strike? she asked innocently.

"What?, unite, protest or strike? We already "united" under NTA but the chief is an MP from the G. What good can you expect? Prepared to go to jail? Honestly, we have to blame ourselves. We are traitors and cowards. Yes, traitors are us, the cabbies. Cowards in ourselves. We’re too selfish to help a fellow cabby in trouble, and have all the time and effort to cut off a weak cabby and snatch his fare from under his/her nose. We have no time to unite and are cowards to fight for our basic human rights. Yes, we are the cowards, the worst ones. Like hungry wild dogs who kill and eat up their own weak brother, but run away when a wolf shows up. Shame on us."

"Do you know that 200,000 taxi drivers went on strike in South Korea in June this year? she asked like she knows everything.

"Of course, I know. I know more than you, ok? I know they went on strike when their G refused to pass a bill to subsides taxi drivers when fuel cost rocketed, among other things".

"I also know taxi drivers there want their industry to be considered a public transportation, the same way that buses and trains are. Classifying taxis as part of the country's mass transportation system would mean that taxi drivers can get state subsidies on fuel, tax and other benefits just like bus and train operators. 

But their G rejected their appeals saying that public transportation refers to mass transportation operating along specific routes and fixed timetables, so taxis cannot be included in this category. But, in S.Korea, taxis ferry 11 million people in one day, while buses ferry 13 millions. Only a small difference. This shows that a lot of people in S.Korea use taxis because fares are so cheap. Anyway, Korean go on strikes like having birthday parties for every buddies in the block every other weeks. But here, we go to jail the moment three or four people hold "Anti-G" banners or wear T-shirts with words like "Kangaroo Courts". 

Ough! My wife had fallen asleep before I could bombard her with more of my b.s.

So, allow this old querulous taxi driver to continue with more rhetoric here.

Presently, all players in the taxi game are unhappy with the taxi model here.

- Taxi commuters are unhappy with sporadic fare increases, complex fare structures and surcharges, difficulties in getting a cab, poor customer service, etc.
- Taxi operators are facing difficulties in maintaining their bottom line with increasing operating costs, higher COE,  hirer issues, meeting regulatory standards, etc.
- Taxi drivers are forever grouching on their hardship in earning a decent income with increasing competition on the road with more taxis, increase running costs and taxi rental, no protection or social safety nets whatsoever, etc.

All these grievances and issues are interlinked and nobody is able to devise a system to satisfy all the different needs which has no obvious pattern.. Sadly, this sorrowful situation had been going on for the last 28 years since taxi industry was deregulated in 1985. Like Mr Han Fook Kwang (Managing Editor of ST) said, "no transport minister had the appetite to intervene in these issues". But rightly, our transport minister ought to take the lead to set the RIGHT PRICE and proceed from there. Allowing the "monopolistic" COMFORT to set taxi fares is essentially wrong, for obvious reasons. All the woes in the taxi industry requires decisions that ONLY the G can make. 

Most importantly, before our G goes about tackling the complex issues in a fundamental way like setting the right price, they must first of all remove or reduce all the taxes and revenues derive from the taxi transportation industry, like ERP charges, COE, road taxes, fuel taxes and what have you taxes.

Essentially, our G should subsides taxi transportation like buses and trains. If this is done, everything else will fall beautifully into place. Taxi commuters will enjoy lower fare with lots of taxis plying the road. Taxi driver will also enjoy lower rental, fuel cost, more passengers and additional monetary incentives for picking more fares per shift. Taxi operators will have lower operating costs, less un-hired cabs in garages and lower hirer turnover. Everybody is happy!

Is it that simple?. Am I dreaming?

Saturday, 30 November 2013

LTA's Measures Are Merely Painkillers.

A few days ago, the G mouthpiece, "ST" reported on its front page that Mr. Yeo Teck Guan, LTA group director for public transport, proudly proclaimed that his ministry's arbitrary measures has proved successful in improving taxi supply in Singapore. Mr. Yeo, are you sure or not?

Here's a quick recap of LTA's measures implemented about a year ago.

1. From January 2014, 80 per cents of taxi operator fleet, up from 70 per cent, is required to be on the road during peak hours.

2. Similarly, each taxi must clock at least 250km per day.

3. Any taxi operator failing to meet the above standard would not be allowed to expand their fleet and a financial penalty of $5.50 per cab or up to $100,000 will be imposed if a operator fails to meet the standard in two consecutive months from January.

Not surprisingly. Government Link Companies, like Comfort, CityCab and SMRT, passed with flying colour. Between them, they will add a total of 400 new taxis to the 27,500 already on the road next year. Other non-GLC taxi operators failed the standard miserably. One of them, SMART had been eliminated from the taxi industry.

Our Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew was quick to urge taxi companies hit with a fine to "not pass down the penalties they incur to the drivers". Apparently, Mr Lui has the interest of taxi drivers at heart and ST, as usual, promptly highlighted his deep concern of taxi drivers welfare for the general public to appreciate.

Now, let me bluntly go straight to the point. No matter what measures or standards LTA implements, taking a taxi in Singapore during peak hours or rainy days will continue to remain like a cancerous pain in the neck and complaints of difficulties in getting a cab will NEVER diminish. This is simply because Singaporean taxi commuters are generally an impatient lot who likes to be served quickly as and when they need a cab. And complaining in writing on all sorts of matters to all G bodies or MSM is a national pastime for many people here. It's one of our culture.

In my opinion, LTA's measures are merely painkillers to make the pain more bearable. It will not destroy the malignant tumor unless the most drastic measure is taken, like the cancerous neck is chopped off...aka removing taxi transportation all together. Of course, this measure is unthinkable. Pardon me for my satire suggestion. I'm sick and tired of LTA narcissistic self appraisals and banality in their measures. They are simply unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. Hopefully, the latter part of my post will justify my disparage of LTA. 

As a taxi driver, I would like to share with you some of my alternative painkiller which I hope would further ease the pain of my passengers and hopefully those in higher authority would approve it and add them to their standard prescription. Like LTA measures, mine is also a painkiller not a cure.

One of my medication is to eliminate smart taxi drivers who play "games" to maximize their income. I think mercilessly penalizing those taxi drivers who play games illegally during peak hours and high demand is more effective than adding more taxis on the road. What's the use of adding more taxis on the road when these taxi drivers are "cheery-picking" or not picking up passengers when they should. Inevitably, these errant cabbies are compounding the problem of non-taxi availability and fueling the fury fire of complaints.

I have three types of painkiller.

Firstly, the "Change Shift" tablet. I believe this has happened to you many times when you hail a taxi in the CBD during peak hours at 8pm. With his roof-top sign showing "Change Shift", he winds down his window, stops besides you and asks "where are you going". When you say "Woodlands", he speeds off without a word. You're lucky if he replied "Change shift, Queensway".

Right now, it's NOT illegal for cabbies to reject passengers when the "Change Shift" sign is displayed. In the above scenario, the rule is broken only when the "Change Shift" is not displayed. The difference is subtle but important – if a driver states by displaying the "Change Shift" sign which way he or she is headed for the cab’s handover, it maintains an appearance of propriety. Many smart taxi drivers use this subtle difference as a loophole to ‘cherry-pick’ their passengers with destinations of within 5 km radius of the CBD during peak hours to maximize their income with quick turnaround and therefore more $3 surcharge collections. This illicit practice is becoming rampant here and it's basically pure creed. An empty return trip from Woodland to CDB would mean a lost in revenue, time and fuel of at least $20 for the cabby.

A vast majority of cabbies actually change shift between 4pm to 6pm and again between 4am to 6am. Therefore, to avoid victimizing the rule-abiding cabby and also to curb the blatant abuse of the "Change Shift" sign, LTA should restricts the use of this sign for these specific periods only or eliminate the use of "Change Shift" sign entirely. This "Change Shift" light is a relic of bygone days. The only purpose it serves today is to confuse the passenger. Taxi roof lights should be simple. If it’s on (TAXI), it means you can flag the cab down. If it’s off (BUSY), it’s unavailable. People hailing cabs don’t care about the particulars of the lighting system. The passenger only cares if the cab is available or not. I say "get rid of the "Change Shift" sign entirely.

More importantly, commuters should be encourage to report those errant taxi drivers who abuse this privilege to LTA directly, not taxi operators. If you believe a cab driver who turns you down was not actually changing shift as he did not display the "Change Shift" sign, note down the taxi plate number, call LTA and file a complaint instantly. LTA should beefed up its staff to handle such complaints round the clock. Those who file the complaint can testify by phone (1800-225-5582)– a process that can take less than 5 to 10 minutes.

Taxi drivers are not allowed to refuse to convey passengers without valid reasons and the penalty, if caught, is $300 fine and six demerit points under the Vocational Licence Points System. The licence will be revoked if he accumulates 21 or more demerit points within 24 months. Undoubtedly, with my fierce advocate of reporting errant taxi drivers to LTA,  I am placing my "buddies" under the bus for running over. Sad to say, I get highly incensed when I had to send the rejected passenger to Woodland instead of the smart driver ahead of me at a taxi stand or elsewhere. I feel the right thing for taxi driver to do is to drive straight to handover location without stopping to ask "where are you going" when change shift is sign displayed, UNLESS the unknowing passengers flag for you.

My second painkiller tablet is for commuters at the fringe of CBD.

ERP gantries are placed around the CBD (Central Business District), major expressways and heavily used roads. If a commuter takes a cab inside the CBD during peak hours from 5pm to midnight on every day of the week, he or she has to pay a surcharge of $3.

Most cabbies are naturally seduced by this surcharge and converge into CBD like bees to honey. All ranks inside the CBD, like Lucky Plaza and Suntec are lined with many taxis but with few customers. On the other hand, around the fringes of CBD like Far East Plaza, Orchard Tower, Vivo City, Mustafa Mall, etc, the ranks are empty without taxis but with many angry customers. This is clearly a mismatch of supply and demand. Perhaps, LTA should designate some "popular fringes CBD taxi stands" with a location surcharge of $2 like the Singapore Expo Center in Changi. I think it's worth paying an extra $2 than endure a frustrating half an hour wait at taxi ranks.

My third third and final painkiller is literally a "killer".

With an impending increase in our population from 5.4 million to 6.9 million in 2030 and an increase of 8.7% of 11.7 millions international visitors to Singapore in the last 9 months, the demand for land mode transportation overwhelmingly out-strip supply.  As the bus and train system are already horrendously over-crowded, demand for taxis is aggravated. In simple economic theory, to suppress the demand for taxis and remove fringe taxi commuters, taxi fares should be simplified and adjusted to make taxi commuting a luxury, not a necessity like those in Tokyo, London and NewYork.

Correspondingly, customer service must be upgraded to international standards like those in first world cities. Imagine taking a taxi trip from Orchard Road to Ang Mo Kio during peak hour would cost you $25 instead of $12 now. Therefore, my final painkiller is a killer because taxi fare is seemingly preposterous but I believe it will be a reality in 10 - 15 years time down the road.

In conclusion, difficulty in getting a taxi during peak hours is indeed a problem that has plagued the taxi business here for a long time and nobody seems to have a complete solution for it, not even the scholars in LTA. So, in the meantime, a little more patience and understanding would go a long way to make your commuting time more pleasant for both the taxi drivers and yourself. Have a Good Day, Sir/Madam

Click this Link to watch  New York Taxi Drivers Playing Games Like Those in Singapore

Today (1/12/2013), "ST" Managing Editor, Mr. Han Fook Kwang wrote an interesting and comprehensive article on the woes of taxi business in Singapore. Some of his observations are similar to mine, WOW!!!!. Enlarge to read his story in below 2 photo shots.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Taxi Flagdown Rates Going Up with New Models.

It is almost a month since my last post. You might have wondered what has happened to me lately. Am I in good health, sick or lying in bed with a serious injury from traffic accident?. Your kind concern is understandable because my job as a cabby expose me constantly to many dangers on the road. There's almost a weekly news of traffic accidents involving taxi drivers. Fortunately, with God's grace, I'm Ok!.

Actually, it is not difficult to explain why I have not written as much as I did in the past. Apart from getting older, I'm not enjoying cab driving as much as I used to. I also noticed recently that I haven't been engaging in conversation with my passengers as much as I used to. I'm sure all are related. Maybe, I'm just been feeling tired and withdrawn.

However, if a friendly and talkative guy gets into my cab and engage me with the hottest issue of the day, like the current increase in flagdown cab fares, I'll throw my taciturn temperament out of my window. And this was exactly what happened few days ago when I picked up this youngish IT executive at Vivo City.

"Uncle, why your company keep increasing cab fares so often nowadays?

"My friend, my Sonata flagdown fare is still the same at $ increase. It's only our company's new Hyundai i40 that has gone up to $3.80. By the way, this new model i40 is introduced 6 years after the Sonata. So, flagdown fare increase is not often every few months. But the most drastic taxi fares increases was about two years ago when surcharges period were extended, distance meter rates and other related items were highly increased.

"Uncle, it seems to me that your company don't care about customer welfare at all"

"Young man, you're right. Not only our company don't care about customer welfare, they also don't care about taxi driver welfare.

"Uncle, how can you say that. The flagdown fare increases also benefits you, right?.

"No, the increased flagdown fare don't benefit me. In fact, I've to work harder and longer hours because I've to pay a higher rental for the new i40 at $126 per day instead of $100 for my old Sonota. My rental had gone up by 26% but the flagdown fare increased by only 16%. (from $3.20 to $3.80). Now I've to do at least 50 pickups to cover the extra $26 increased in rental on a 24 hours shift.

Our company feels justified to charge a higher rental because the newer model cost more. They don't care about the unhappy reaction from taxi commuters or suffering of taxi drivers. Now, many taxi commuter avoids taking i40 if other models of taxis are available. Do you know that taxi companies are like Food Court Operators (eg. Kopitiam & Food Republic). Once they renovate their premises, stall rental and food price increased correspondingly.. It's the consumers and hawkers who suffers.

On the other hand, the company makes more money introducing new models. As evidence, ComfortDelGro revealed in their 2012 financial report that in Singapore their revenue from taxi business was10.1% higher at $824 millions due to higher rental from a larger fleet and an increase in new replacement taxis. Taxi business form the single biggest income generator for ComfortDelGro.

Uncle, if you're not happy with your company, you could join other taxi companies like SMRT, Trans-Cabs, Premier etc.....

"My friend, it's easy to say. Don't you know that other taxi companies also introduced new models and increased their flagdown fares and rental too. For example.

SMRT's Toyota Priuses at $3.80

SMRT's Hyandai Azera at $3.80

Trans-Cab's Renault at $3.90

Trans-Cab's Epica at $3.60

Premier's Priuses at $3.50

Prime's Priuses at $3.60

"Aiyoh, looks like these taxi companies operate like a cartel. Why LTA is not doing anything about it?"

"On the surface, LTA's policy is "Bo Chap, or Mai Chap" (don't care or  don't get involves) because taxi companies are private business. Government don't get involve in setting prices of private companies' products or services except essential items or services. They let the market set the pricing

 In my opinion, the greatest handicap in the taxi industry is a lack of serious competition. COMFORT, the biggest taxi company in Singapore controls 60% of the market and is a GLC (Government Link Company). You don't need to be a rocket scientist to speculate whether they are bedding each other. 

"Uncle, what's your greatest grievances against your company?

Worst of all, all taxi companies do all they can to muster as large a fleet of taxis as possible and get every taxi rented out to drivers, regardless of the demand and competition on the street. As long as rentals are collected promptly, they do not care how the drivers survive".

"Wow, you talk so bad about your company. You're not scare to get sacked like blogger Gintai of SMRT? (Link)?

"So be it. If you lives in a forest, don't worry about no wood to start a fire"
Stay Cool. Don't Worry, Be Happy. Life is Short.

                    Porsche Boxster 987 Taxi in Bangkok - Thailand.
                    Flagdown Rate : S$50.00

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Singaporean Millionaire With a Heart of Gold. Part 2.

Children at Batam Orphanage

I'm back to continue with the true story of Mr. Chan (not Mr. Chua), the Singaporean who singularly setup and run an orphanage in Batam with his own money.

An anonymous person correctly commented in my earlier post (Link) that he's Mr Chan not Mr Chua. I would like to share with you his comments about Mr. Chan as a person and a boss to him for your reading pleasure.


"From what I know, there is only one boss from that big shipyard speaks “pure teochew”, sixty something, skinny, soft spoken, polite, but he rarely wear short sleeve shirt, I hope I didn’t get it wrong. Or could it be one of his two brothers? which I don’t think so, neither of his brothers “co-owned” that business, and also, may be not that rich. Mr Chan was originally an Indonesian many years ago before he started his shipbuilding business; the “pure teochew” is more an Indonesian accent. I worked for him for a year or so when he had shifted to Jurong from Lorong Buangkok in the mid 80’s, he straggled quite hard in those days, with the kind of traditional management style and a soft heart; he did quite well but not really good before his big boss set up these yards in Batam and got it listed in Singapore. He is a very nice boss, I’m glad to know that he has since “semi-retired”, a man like him, with a great heart, is more valuable to be him today (in the charity) than in the money making business. I sincerely wish him all the best. Eagerly waiting for your part 2, would like to find out more about him and his orphanage house. And James, you take care and drive safe. Sorry for my poor English." 

Mr. Chan (nickname "Ah Sun" - skinny), had only a secondary Chinese education and speaks passable English but he's blessed with a sharp and intelligent mind and is always thinking of ways to get things done in the most efficient and pragmatic way. One example of these is developing 22 hectares of virgin coastal land into the biggest shipyard with three floating docks and huge adjacent engineering and fabrication facilities in Batam, without paying a single cent to any professional consultant. He builds oil rigs, oil tankers, livestock and cement carries and ship conversion, among others also singularly. Mr. Chan did all these gigantic projects without even a diploma education or training in engineering practices but self taught himself with a hungry and intelligent mind for details and experience. His shipbuilding knowledge and engineering skill is astonishingly brilliant, comparable to any professional in the same line.

Mr. Chan was not born into a rich family and with his meager capital. He went into simple engineering works and barge building business in the seventies. Initially, business was tough with lots of competition and scarcity of projects in Singapore. Fortunately, he met a Mr. Tan, who saw something "special" in him and they became partners till the day their business were sold off to an Arabian company for billions in 2007.

"The hardship was unimaginable in my growing up years in a village in Indonesia," Mr Chan told me a bit of his childhood while we were at his orphanage last Saturday. "Those early years of existence living and experiences helped me to shape my character, encrypted my motivation to never knee down to poverty. It taught me to deeply empathize with the very poor as a fellow human begin". 

The dire faces of hungry orphans, as well as the lack of opportunities to escape poverty for the vast numbers of destitute, which he never forgot, were the key factors that motivates him to setup his orphanage.

"Presently, my needs are simple. I don't smoke, drink or gamble. I don't splurge on luxuries, drive expensive car or live in bungalow though I've the means to do it. I don't clamor for fame, demand respect or admiration because of my wealth. I don't exhort my friends and I lead my life as an example to them".

These days, the 60-years-old Mr. Chan, who was once the CEO of the Batam facility of a main-board listed company in Singapore, wants nothing more than to spend his days at his orphanage, hoping to make a difference to the life of the kids there, not just with his money but more importantly, with his personal involvement and physical work. His own children had grown up with professional careers of their own.

Now, let me share with you my short visit and what I know of Mr. Chan's orphanage in Batam as accurately as I possibly can remember.

Mr. Chan, two of his friends and I visited the orphanage late afternoon last Saturday. It was my first visit to an orphanage and a day I'll remember for a long time.

About 20 kids, with age ranging from 5 to 12 years old were at the gate, waving and screaming with joy as we arrived at the center.  

"Selemat Datang, Bapak Chan", they screamed and surrounded Mr Chan, who was beaming with the kind of joy only man with a heart of gold can appreciate. Certainly not the same kind of emotion an MP felt when grassroots leaders and guests standup and greet him/her out of protocol.

The orphanage, called "Panti Asuhan Yayasan Padmila" is about the size of a half a football field and sits in a center of vast vacant land about a mile from the popular "Batam Holiday Inn Resort" at Waterfront Ferry Terminal. The premises is half-walled and manned with a security post at a single entrance. The housing is two rows of concrete, single story building with insulation roofing, each row measuring about 100 x 20 meters and a courtyard in between. Inside the housings are two aircon classroom, kitchen, dinning rooms, toilets, bedrooms and an office. All these facilities are built to modern standard like a hotel with piped water and electricity. And the cost.....nearly a two million US dollars.

Mr Chan established the orphanage 4 years ago to provide a safe home for the orphan, abused, destitute and abandoned children in and around Batam Island. These children are given a stable and loving home where they are fed, clothed, cared for and schooled. They are also given personal and professional development activities with the aim of bringing them up with a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life after leaving the orphanage at a matured age of about 18 years old. Children at the orphanage are NOT allowed for adoption and their ages ranges between 5 to 15 years. As the orphanage do not have baby caring facilities, no babies are admitted.

Like most orphanage centers, all children are under close supervision for their own well begin and character development. Transports are provided to send children of school going age to national schools and frequent excursions to local events and festivities for integration with local communities are arranged.

"Mr. Chan, how much does it cost annually to run your orphanage and why you do it"  I asked while sipping tea at the dinning room with him alone

"Around half a million dollars annually. It's difficult to answer your second question". He replied and after a short pause, he continued...

"Honestly, I'm a humble man and do not wish to propagate or exaggerate my work. I did it because this is something I think it's worthwhile doing and I can to do it quite easily with what I have. Please don't ask me to speak more on this matter".

I salute this humble and unsung hero. Mr. Chan is truly a person who has the vision, the dedication and the kind heart in doing whatever it is need to be done in and out of Batam. He is helping those who are unable to help themselves by helping them to help themselves.

Mr. Chan is unaware that I'm secretly writing about him in this blog. I'm amazed and honored that he was willing to trust and befriend a lowly taxi driver like me to share a small part of his life. The children in his orphanage are, without doubt, fortunate to be taken under Bapak Chans wings. It’s forever a work-in-progress and I’m secretly spreading the word about P.Y.P. Orphanage and hope that somehow, somewhere and someway, my friends and strangers could reach out to them and make our contribution in whatever small way we could.

"Mr. Chan, what are your view of the current society and government we have in Singapore in term of charitable works" I pressed on with our conversation.

"Mr. James, I'm not a highly educated man. Therefore, I can't answer your question again. But I can say that a society and government can be better if everyone (including the government) is willing to do a bit more, either in action or in cash than what they are doing right now".

Now, I would like to use this post to repeat what had been spoken before about philanthropy in Singapore. 

Singaporean may still be giving to charity despite the gloomy economic outlook, but the country trails other territories in the region in terms of philanthropy. In a global report on 153 territories two years ago, Singapore maintained it's 91st ranking for contributions to charity. She tied with India and Iran. Mr. Laurence Lien, chief executive of Singapore's National Volunteer & Philanthropy Center said that "giving is not a way of life in Singapore yet. However, Singapore is certainly on the right path, even though there is a lot of room to grow when it comes to giving locally (Link) 

The same can be said about this Government in term of social spending as a form of philanthropy. This Government spent only 3.5% of GDP on social welfare (Link)

Learning to give in a "kiasu" society (Link) 

How many of our million dollar Ministers, MP, Top Civil Servants and Millionaires are doing charitable works or contributing money from their own pocket to charity?. 

Compared to these rich and powerful people, Mr. Chan is a rare gem in our materialistic society and an inspiration to many.

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” by Mother Teresa.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A Singaporean Millionaire with a Heart of Gold - Part 1

Distance view of Orphanage in Batam run by a Singaporean
Yesterday, I visited Batam (Link), an Indonesian island 45minutes ferry ride from Singapore. I was there not for pleasure or business but an exploration of sort, as a result of picking up an extraordinary Singaporean four days ago. You'll get to know a bit more about this Singaporean and my reason for visiting Batam, as I share with you my real life rendezvous with him in this post.

Recently, I changed to a day shift taxi driver after six years as a night shift driver. Perhaps a divine voice reassured me that I had made the right decision in my shift change, as I was rewarded with meeting an exceptionally benevolent man on the very first day of my day driving. It was a day I will never forget for a lot of reasons.

Here is my true story.

This Tuesday, around ten in the morning, a booking came in to pick someone at a Hillview Avenue condo. Standing alone at the lobby was a skinny local Chinese man in his late-fifties. He wore a blue striped short sleeve shirt and a pair of pants in light beige color; both were neatly ironed. He looks ordinary and was smiling as I rolled into the lobby. Beside him were about ten cardboard boxes. With him giving me a helping hand, we had no problem loading his stuffs into the boot and back seat of my taxi.

As he gingerly seated himself beside me, he politely told me in pure Teochew to send him to HarbourFront...ferry loading bay. He must be a trader with business in Batam, I told myself. As I drove along, I asked him in Hokkien, "How is business in Batam". His answer was an astonishing revelation of sort.

"I don't have business in Batam anymore"  he answered slowly. And after a long pause and looking straight into my eyes like a psychiatrist carefully examining his patient, he eventually continued  "I used to co-own and run the biggest shipyard in Batam. After we sold our shipyard to an Arabian company, I'm now semi-retired.

"What are those boxes for" I asked with tongue in cheek.

Again, with some reluctant he answered, "Goodies for kids in Batam"

At that point, many questions floated in my mind. "Why is this rich man, who lived in a condo and once owned and run the biggest shipyard, is now sending goodies to children in Batam. If this delivery is not for business, then what?" For fun-fair or charity?

I was intrigued and wanted to know more but I reminded myself to be tactful with my queries as he wasn't much of a conversationalist and perhaps age had made him taciturn.

After much careful deliberation, I asked "Are the goodies for poor children in Batam"

On hearing my compelling question, his sleepy eyes brighten up and he spontaneously answered  "Yes, I run an orphanage in Batam for charity and these goodies are for "my kids" there. If you want to know more of my orphanage, you're welcome to join me in my next trip there this coming Saturday.

I was shocked at his impromptu offer. Can I believe what he said, a total stranger?. The only way to find out is to accept his invitation and follow him to his orphanage in Batam which I did yesterday.,

Wow!, here we have, a true blue pioneer Singaporean who built his wealth through sheer hard work and is now contributing back to the society in Batam, particularly in making a difference in the life of many orphaned kids there. Why he did that? What kind of orphanage he runs in Batam? What kind of a person is this remarkable Singaporean who run his orphanage out of his own pocket money, without donations, whatsoever. What are his personal motivations and views of the kind of society and government we have in Singapore. And many more.......

I'll answer these questions in my next post as I've urgent personal matters to attend to right now. Meanwhile, here are two photos of the Batam orphanage run by Mr. Chua.

Courtyard inside Orphanage