|Actress Lee Lihua in the sixties,|
On a thundery wet Wednesday morning, I saw an old Chinese lady with an open umbrella standing conspicuously near Hazel Park condominium along Bukit Panjand Road, looking like she wanted a cab. She did not raise her hand up as I slowly approached her.
At that moment, my instant dilemma was whether to stop or not to stop. If I stop and it turns out she don't need me, I feel like an idiot. But if I don't stop and then another cab behind me stopped and nab her, I would be cursing myself for not stopping for her. So what should I do?
I stopped anyway.
She hesitated momentarily. Then she got in. I was elated because my taxi driving experience and instincts were validated. I knew she wanted a cab though she didn't hail me. The elation of getting her to take my cab was like winning a single number in a roulette wheel at a casino.
"Aunty, where would you like to go?" I asked in Mandarin after she was comfortably seated.
She kept quiet briefly and then "Where are we, Sir?" she asked like she just woke up from a dream. But then she continued immediately "Please drive slowly in this a miserable wet morning, Sir. I'm not in a rush ".
Her spoken English was perfect with a strong American accent. I was bestirred and impressed. Never in my driving career did I ever had an elderly Chinese lady passenger who pronounced each word in perfection with a resonance voice. Undoubtedly, she is educated and probably lived in a western country for a long period of time.
She was about my age but has a full bloom of neatly permed charcoal black hair, like Mrs Margaret Thatcher, whereas mine is receding. Her Chinese cheongsam dress with short slit fits her slim body beautifully, unlike that rude and awful Chinese lady at MP Kumar's CPF dialogue.
"Sure, Madame. I'll drive slowly and carefully but first, you need to tell me your drop off point". I asked politely, reminding myself to speak in understandable English, not Singlish.
"Just keep driving towards the city. I haven't decide where to drop. Maybe you can help me to decide." She asked with a broad smile.
I was only too happy to oblige.
"What do you've in mind," I replied quickly.
"Well, I'm thinking of whether to visit The National Library or attend the Parliamentary session at Parliament House", she answered.
I was slightly taken aback by her interest in our politics.
"Why are you interested in our politics. Are you a Singaporean.? I asked tongue in cheek.
She was not offended at my directness. Instead she surprisingly went on to tell me a bit about her background after she correctly guessed that I'm an educated person and not "run of the mill" taxi drivers like those immigrants in her place of abode - New York.
This is her story:-
She was born in Singapore and migrated to USA after her marriage to a white American at age 35. Before that, she taught English in a secondary school after graduating with a degree in journalism. She grew up in Bukit Panjang village and that explains her presence at that place then.
In USA, she worked as journalist till her retirement about ten years ago. She holds dual citizenship of Singapore and America but plans to renounce her Singapore citizenship soon so that she can withdraw her CPF monies. She visits her Singaporean relatives and friends regularly and is specially fond of Bukit Panjang village for nostalgic reasons.
She has written many articles about Singapore social and political transformation in the last 50 years for American readers and had kept abreast of Singapore current affairs.
"If you've never been to Parliament House, may I suggest you attend the Parliamentary session," I proposed after knowing her brief background.
She paused and then said these all in one breath:
"Singaporean loves to complain and gripes about the country. They complain about foreigners taking away jobs, lack of freedom, high cost of living, pressurizing education, overcrowded MRT system, overpaid ministers, CPF etc…
Singaporean are really DAMN LUCKY and should be grateful to PAP that worships meritocracy, self-reliance, integrity, transparency, accountability, incorruptibility and efficiency in governance. This is one of the easiest places in the world to become a millionaire like becoming a Minister or follow the footsteps of multi-millionaires like Sim Wong Hoo, Ron Sim, Olivia Lum, Dr. Susan Ong etc....
You've the lowest income tax rates in the world and no capital gains or estate duty tax. You can walk the perfectly clean streets at 3am without fear of being mugged, shot and killed. Only foreigners appreciates these beauties of Singapore and one day they might become the owner as they are more appreciative and deserving.....I believe....."
"Madame, sorry to interrupt you. We're now in the city area. Have you made up your mind where you want to stop," I asked in an apologetic tone.
"Ok, lets go to The National Library," she said, seemingly unhappy with my sudden interruption and unresponsiveness to her speech during the whole journey.
Frankly, though her voice was delightful, I was getting annoyed with her one sided compliments of our system. I wanted to offer my alternative views but then I was worried that we might end up with unpleasant arguments. Customers are always right and a as service provider, we must always remember to uphold our company good image and not get into unnecessary arguments with our passengers. So, I remained silent and concentrated on my driving on a wet morning.
Apparently, she had benefited from our system like many of our elites but probably forgotten about those who has seeps through the cracks.
She gave me $20 for a $15 fare. I thanked her, cleared my ears and drove on to hunt for my next passenger on a wet Wednesday morning.