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!

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:

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.
Warmest Regards,
Ms. Ng Chee Yan | Marketing Communications Executive
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, 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
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?
What problem”
By Lohcifer at Loh And Behold 

Now, let me continue from where I left.
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"? 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.  

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Singapore Booming Taxi Booking Apps..

Flagging Billboards at Bukit Merah View Hawker Center,

"Uncle, STOP!!.a deafening scream suddenly pierced into my ears.

"You almost bang into the car in front. You can go and die but I don't want to die young, ok!", my lady passenger furiously scolded me.

Yes, I had committed the most unforgivable sin for working on a third-party taxi booking Apps with my cellphone while driving. I could have landed with a hefty fine, jail, revoked license and worst of all, destroyed or killed an innocent life if a fatal accident had happened. I had absolutely no excuse for my "horrendous crime" and begged for her forgiveness.

The dangers of using a handphone while driving is well understood and yet it is an incorrigible habit of many drivers worldwide.

Lately, taxi drivers in Singapore are incentivized and bombarded with an explosion of third-party taxi booking Apps like GrabTaxi (Malaysia, Oct 2013), EasyTaxi (Brazil, Dec 2013), Uber (USA, Sept, 2014) and Hailo (Nov, 2014). A lot had been written about these Apps in the press and blogsphere. You may want to read them at these links..(Boom In Taxi Booking Apps) (Vulcanpost - GrabTaxi) ( Say-Hello-to-Hailo-Apps ) (Mr. Tan Kim Lian Apps)         

As anticipated, our transport authority is now mulling to control and regulate these Apps as their impact on public transportation system grows. Currently, technological companies that operate these Apps are not regulated. Now, tell me, which business or part of our daily life is not regulated by PAP?.

Nevertheless, as a taxi driver, I think the need to use a handphone to work on these Apps while driving has the most dangerous impact on me and my passengers. If an increase in regulation is indeed required, scholars at LTA should focus more on the safety impact of these Apps rather than the economic impact on Government coffers. I hope Mr. Ang Hin Kee (PAP MP and advisor for National Taxi Association) will also focus more on the welfare of taxi drivers instead of finding faults with these Apps companies, echoing LTA views or protecting GLC taxi operators interests. 

Although a proposed amendment to Road Traffic Act next year will make using or holding a mobile device while driving a more serious traffic offense with stiffer penalties, all laws will never eliminate diehards. There will always be law-breakers. Which taxi driver never make an illegal U-turn to catch a passenger faster?. In their natural anxiety to earn more, surely more taxi drivers will lose their vocational license and livelihood when caught using these Apps while driving.

While it is an offence when a driver holds a phone and uses it to communicate with someone else through voice or texting, it is not against the law to use the phone or other mobile devices if it is mounted on a holder under the existing and new law.  

Thus for the safety of drivers and passengers, the technologies companies that operates the taxi booking Apps should be legislated to compulsorily provide a strong, adjustable and detachable holder to their drivers. They should also provide a handphone solely delegated for use on their Apps only. Uber had done this!. I hope the other three techno companies would follow soon if they want more taxi drivers to join them. Their investment would be recovered in the long run when more drivers in their fold.  

As you probably know, when I was a COMFORT driver, I was not interested in these Apps because COMFORT provides me with more call bookings than I could handle. Then, I could pick and choose which call booking I want to oblige. I've no competitor fighting for my call booking. I would avoid Mrs.India and grab Mrs. Europe as I've the luxury of choices. My poorer cousins then in SMRT, Transcab, Premier and Prime do not enjoy such luxury as they have few call booking.    

Sad to say, to this day many gullible taxi commuters still assumed that they could get a taxi faster through COMFORT call booking just because COMFORT has the biggest fleet of taxi here. Unfortunately, when making a call booking to COMFORT, especially during peak hours, they would often get a recorded message saying that "no taxis are available in their area. please call back ten minutes later". 

It was usually a big hassle to book a taxi with COMFORT. In reality, there were tens of taxis in their area waiting for call booking, except that they were not COMFORT taxis but SMRT, Transcab, Premier or Prime taxis. The latter were ignored and therefore had few call booking jobs.

However, when a person uses EasyTaxi, GrabTaxi, Uber or Hailo, instead of calling COMFORT, he/she could get a taxi faster, for the simple reason that the call booking goes to all brands of participating taxis in the vicinity instead of just COMFORT taxis.

A total of six taxi companies operate nearly 28,000 taxis here. If all the 28,000 taxis use the various Apps, it means more taxis are available for booking than the 16,000 COMFORT taxis! Unfortunately, if more taxis are occupied with booking jobs, less taxis will be available for street pick-up jobs. But from a national perspective, if more taxi rides are made through call booking, less taxis will need to cruise empty on the road hunting for passengers. Taxi drivers can stay stationary off the roads to answer call booking, thereby resulting in less traffic congestion, accidents, pollution and fuel wastage, among other benefits.

Unlike selfish COMFORT who warned their drivers against using the Apps, the enlightened SMRT collaborated with HAILO and encourages their drivers to use the Apps to earn more.        

For too long, COMFORT's taxi drivers and commuters alike had to endure and live with monopolistic, inefficient and arrogant COMFORT. Soon, when 3rd party taxi booking application is commonly used, COMFORT will discover an exodus of taxi drivers joining the poorer cousins who now has equally abundant call bookings. It is an industry fact that many taxi drivers join COMFORT only because of their copious call booking and nothing else.

Taxi Drivers Crowding to Join Apps.

At this juncture, I would like to share with you my observations, thoughts and experiences in using these Apps for the last two weeks as a taxi driver.

Two weeks ago, I went to the popular Bukit Merah View hawker center for my lunch break. As soon as I got out from my cab in the car park, a young lady approached me with a EasyTaxi leaflet and started her sweet sales talk to persuade me to sign up as a EasyTaxi driver. I happily joined EasyTaxi without hesitation and in seconds, she downloaded and activate the system application of EasyTaxi available in the Google Store of my cheap Samsung ACE android smartphone. Instantly, I could accept call booking.

The other three Apps companies ( GrabTaxi, Hailo and Uber) were also present inside the hawker center, with hundreds of eager taxi drivers queuing to sign up. With four huge billboards flagging on that windy day, the "makan" place was turned into a busy exhibition hall of Apps companies.

Many GrabTaxi drivers came to top-up their credit to use for paying the 30 cents tax for every job done through GrabTaxi Apps. In less than hour, I observed at least twenty drivers came to top up their credit in cash of between $20 to $50 through Mr.JingWei's mobile device. I understand that in future, GrabTaxi will allow their drivers to do this top up at any AXS machine. On that day, it seems that GrabTaxi was the most popular Apps company in the hawker center because of these top up visitors. 

But most drivers were crowding around the Uber table and joining them because Uber was providing a free delegated Iphone to solely use their application and a holder for the Iphone to mount onto the taxi windscreen. This Iphone cannot be used as an ordinary smartphone. 

Uber is also unique because they accept non-taxi driver to join their rank. As long as you own an acceptable car and is their approved driver, they will provide you with taxi booking jobs and you can use your private car to ferry your assigned passengers like a chauffeur. But you certainly cannot ply the street with your private car to ferry passengers like normal taxi drivers. 

The enterprising Prime Taxi company is collaborating with Uber to lease out their fleet of private car at $55.50 per day to anyone who is interested in the taxi business but do not hold a taxi vocational license. When your rented car is not used for ferrying Uber passengers, you may use it to drive up to Malaysia for holiday.
During their promotional period, each Techno company offers different monetary incentives to both the drivers and commuters to attract them to use their Apps. Like most business, when the promotional period is over or their business becomes established, the initial rewards will give way to normal charges as these companies are not charitable organisations. They need to make a profit to stay alive and they also tried hard to find a niche in this competitive business.

For example, EasyTaxi and Hailo give confirmed jobs to drivers while Grabtaxi offers more jobs but through competitive bidding. When using Hailo Apps, it is not like a Western shootout where the fastest trigger gets the job because sometimes the fastest finger could be a lot further away - which means the customer had to wait longer for the cab.

I prefer Hailo or EasyTaxis as my reflexes are slower than younger drivers. I avoid Uber as payment is too slow to my liking. Uber also competes with normal taxi drivers for jobs through their use of private cars. In any case, working with more than two Apps creates confusion and distraction while I am driving.

I wholeheartedly welcome these third-party taxi booking Apps to Singapore because they improve my income with more jobs, incentives and lower my fuel cost as a result of less cruising around hunting for passengers. In the last two weeks, I did about 10 call booking jobs a day with an additional income of about $25 per day from booking fee alone.

The only grouse I have with these Apps is the frequent inaccurate and brief address of pick up point displayed on my handphone. I had to call the passenger to confirm the address. When I do that I inevitably commit a serious traffic offence for using my handphone. I hope my Apps partners will resolve these teething problems soon and also provide me with the aforesaid "safety devices".  

Honestly. the main benefit I get from using these Apps is driving less hours and still earn the same income. I usually stop driving when I hit a monetary target and not on an hour mark - it means that when I hit $150 collection before cost deductions, I stop driving irrespective of the time. It could be 2pm, 3pm or 4pm. But unfortunately, I think soon I had to surrender my vocational license to LTA because I'll surely be caught for working the Apps with my handphone while driving. Anyway, at my age it is a good excuse for early retirement from driving to become a security guard instead! Cheers and Good Luck to each and everyone in our driving business!

Tombstone Guard.