|Come In. Free Lunch!!.|
I woke up and instinctively pressed the alarm clock to death. It was 9pm on a Wednesday night. I had overslept by more than an hour. Quickly, I rushed to have a bath, bite and hit the road with my cab in 30 minutes. The morning medical appointment had disrupted my sleeping routine and I had slept like a dead log. Somehow, I knew the night would be different from other Wednesday nights. And true enough, something out of the ordinary did happened later and I would like to share my experience with you.
I hit my favourite pick up spot at Night Safari around 10pm. About 60 taxis were already in the queue that stretched up to car park entrance. I was not deterred though because I knew the crowd would soon arrive at the taxi stand. Thirty minutes later, I had my first passengers. They were three young Chinese girls and a man - all in their early twenties. They had deliberately avoided taking the "expensive" black "Chrysler" and a "Chevrolet" ahead of mine and boarded my "slightly-cheaper" blue "Sonata", smiling and laughing happily. Immediately, I knew my passengers were street-smart and calculative people, mostly likely Mainland Chinese.
"Royal Park at City Hall, please" the man asked with a typical Mainland China ascent and sat beside me. I was right in my prediction of their nationality.
"I got it" I replied, punched the meter and hit the highways.
Through out the journey, the group talked non-stop and loudly in Mandarin, like most Chinese nationals do. Each time when the man beside me talked to the girls at the back seat, he would turned his head around to speak to them. The bad breath from his mouth was horrible and I had to place a finger across my nose to mitigate the terrible smell. I did not squeezed my nose as it would be offensively rude.
Well, I did not alter a word during the trip, as they were talking totally among themselves. Their conversation revolved around their office politics, travels, relationship within their families and friends but not a single word about their experiences here nor comparison of China with Singapore. Apparently, the group were office colleagues on holiday around this region and not China girls from the night entertainment industry here.
Soon, we reached the hotel. A girl paid the exact fare of $20.50 and I gave her a receipt upon demand.
A buddy of mine was at the nearby "Esplanade Mall" taxi stand and I drove off to join him for a smoke right behind his cab.
Within minutes, my buddy moved off with a white couple to Holland Village and a Filipino man boarded mine to Ponggol Central. It was a good fare for me.
Now, (if you're still with me), what happened in the next hour was something out of the ordinary and a good learning experience for new cabbies.
A few minutes after I moved off from "Esplanade Mall", my cellphone rung:-
"Mr Lim, did you pick up a group of people at the Night Safari earlier" a lady from COMFORT call centre asked politely.
"Yes. what's the problem?. I replied.
"A girl left a camera in your taxi. Please check whether it's there" she asked.
I turned around to look at the back seat and immediately, my Filipino passenger passed me a camera. It was a miniature camera in a cotton pouch.
"Yes, it's here. My honest passenger found it". I replied loudly so that my passenger could hear my compliment of him.
"Ok, I'll ask the girl to call you" the lady said.
"OK, But first, you must tell the girl that she had to compensate me based on the meter fare when I return the camera to her. I'm now on my way to Ponggol with a passenger" I demanded as a matter-of-factly.
In my rookie days, I had returned many lost items like cellphone, camera and laptops to owners without a single cent of reward nor a word of "thank you". Some people think that it is a taxi driver's obligation and duty to all return lost items to owners. Yes, I agreed but we've the options to select where and when to return item. After five years of taxi driving, I had wise up. I'm a poor taxi driver with a family to support not a wealthy man with free time to do charity work.
"If she don't accept my request, she had to pick up the camera from COMFORT office tomorrow". I continued.
"Ok, I'll check with her and call you back", she answered calmly.
A few minutes later, the call-centre lady called to say that the girl accepted my request and would call me directly soon.
Ten minutes went by and then my cellphone rung again.
"Driver, this is Hotel Royal Park. When you reached the hotel, call me at the number appearing on your cellphone and pass the camera to me". a Filipino ascent man spoke brusquely over the line.
"Look. I don't have to talk to you. Ask the girl to call me directly using her cellphone or she had to pick her camera at COMFORT office tomorrow, period". I told him off bluntly as he was rude. I reckoned he thinks that taxi drivers can be easily bossed around.
"She don't have a cellphone" he replied angrily.
"Tell her not to bull-shit me". I screamed over the phone and hung-up.
I was petulant with the hotel staff's attitude when he spoke to me. But infuriated at the girl reluctance to call me directly. I knew she was using the hotel staff to collect the camera on her behalf to avoid paying me the "compensation-fare", just like she avoided taking the expensive "Chrysler" earlier at Night Safari?. She thought she was smart but I wasn't stupid. From past experience, I observed that most of my passengers from Mainland China are cheapskates, shrewd and unscrupulous. I never like them and never will.
A few minutes later, my cellphone rung again. As expected, the girl finally called me with her cellphone. She spoke to me snobbishly in English with an American ascent. I replied in Mandarin sternly.
Eventually, we met at the driveway to the hotel entrance. Two hotel staffs were with her to lend their moral support. I handed her a meter-fare receipt for $22.00. Before she hand me the cash, she demanded to inspect the camera for damages and defects. I pushed the pouch into her hand, took $20 out of $22 from her palm and walked away feeling disgusted. Typical China girl!. I didn't open the pouch at all while it was in my hand.
Anyway, not a word or gesture of appreciation was given. Was she disappointed that her decietful trick failed or was she expecting a free return all the while?. Now, who pays for my fuel, rental and "missed opportunities"?. She thought she could trick this old man to get a free lunch. FAT HOPE!
Somebody should tell her that in Singapore, don't ever expect free lunches. Our government never give free lunches and we're obediently following their footsteps. However, at the risk of sounding self contradictory, I'm pleased to say that in recent months, this government had increased social spending and extend more state support to the elderly and low-income workers, like me. This is long overdue.