Thursday 10 July 2014

Driving Mrs. Ex-Singaporean.

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.
Angry Singaporean.


Gintai_昇泰 said...

Interesting read. I really enjoy reading it. Thks buddy.

Anonymous said...

With all that analysis and rhetoric she was sprouting, if I was given the opportunity to be in your shoes and am able to allow her to finish her piece, upon reaching her destination, I would politely ask her, "Madam, if you so strongly believe in the system, why do you seek to abandon your Singaporean identity when you are in your twilight years?" and see how she would reply to that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous. If all is that good, why give up your citizenship? Leave the CPF where it is, after all she should have enough to flaunt without having to touch her CPF. This is what we term in hokkien, 'chui kong lampar song." Forgive my vulgarity.

BTW, good reading.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Yes, she belongs to the old school well to do Sinkies who had never suffered.

I won't blame her because she had left Singapore for so long. I think we would think the same in the late 70s and 80s too where we do have a wonderful government. PAP was the envy of every government of the world at that time.

I believe every government would want that kind of respect that people give to their government in the 80s despite the term 'Pay and Pay' had appear during that time. Her memory had stuck in the 70s & 80s and mind you, PAP is very good in selling the 'Perfect Singapore' image outside Singapore.

Every dude outside Singapore who have never worked here thinks Singapore is heaven on earth. However, when many started to work in Singapore they will realised that hell and heaven is just next to each other.

Dudes like Anton Casey will definitely find Singapore to be heaven, while the Indian worker who can only afford to shop in Serangoon in the weekends will find it as hell!

Hands-On Green Matters said...

For The Crazy Ones (among us) - Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Boh Tong said...

You are brilliant at story telling James. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Who can tell what Singapore would be like without the PAP? Perhaps more locally grown companies who might prefer local employees because they appreciate the domestic culture? Perhaps students who are more creative and entrepreneurial because they are not programmed and incentivize into exam taking machines or risk being sent down to the Normal stream? Perhaps we may have still have historical districts such as Bugis street, Chinatown and not the sanitized versions we have today? Perhaps we may have a population that is more adaptive to a rapidly changing world because they are not used to self censoring themselves?

blogger said...

Sometimes we do meet such passenger, they are always right. And they know all.

How can those people live in their ivory towers understand?

Anonymous said...

Uhh... doesn't she know that dual citizenship is not allowed by Singapore?

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Everyone,

My post has generated a lot of comments in TR Emeritus and here, therefore I feel I should let you know my personal opinion of what my elderly lady passenger said and did. Of course, my views are based on conjuncture but my encounter is based on a true story.

1. Why she renounced her Singapore citizenship if it’s so “good” here?

Since she had lived in the UAS for more than 30 years and probably has a husband, children and grandchildren there, it’s only natural that she preferred to live close to her family there.

2. Why withdrew CPF?

Who wouldn’t do that? In fact, that’s the only way to get your CPF monies! I think she did the smart thing now that she had decided to renounce her Singapore citizenship.

3. Singapore is democratic country. Everyone is free to express their opinion within OB and we should respect opposing views.

While she is entitled to her beliefs, the tone of her compliments of PAP seems like she had been brainwashed from years of news feed from only the mainstream media like the “Shit-Times”. She is unaware of the present unhappy undercurrent flowing in this country, which is very real. Like the PAP elites, she is out of touch with the people on the ground.

4. Like a patriarch, she seems like scolding her family for been ungrateful and unappreciative of what she had done for the family.

Though I don’t like her views and attitude, she has the same entitlement of free speech like every one of us. In the course of my driving career, I’ve driven many passengers like her with such superficial views. She is not someone out of the ordinary. Believe me.

Anonymous said...

Hello James, I left Singapore at age 39 and migrated to the US. I lost my job at age 37 and could not find another one. That was in 1986 during the recession. Either you are lucky or I was unlucky. I chose to renounce get all my CPF monies. It is not true you can maintain both Singapore and US citizen status. The US Government does not require you to give up but Singapore does want you to choose. So, I have a feeling she is only a PR in the US until today and finally decided to renounce to get her money out. I read the TR Emeritus every day and obtained a lot of information of life in Singapore. I do come back once in a while and still have a brother and nephews in Singapore. My wife's whole family is there too. I say one thing - Singapore is getting very expensive. The MRT is getting very crowded. Housing getting out of reach with the younger generations, especially one does not earn much, so I learned. Not enough for retirement, as read an article today on CPF in the TR Emeritus. I am glad to have left.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Anon,

Thanks for sharing your experiences as an ex-Singaporean now happily residing in USA.

While its true that you can't legally holds dual citizenship but if USA don't need you to renounce your citizenship, then what's the problem? Its different here. If anyone wants to become a Singapore citizen, they must first renounce their original citizenship. If you're rich, the world is an oyster.

Singapore is slowly becoming not an ideal place to raise the next generation because of many social and political reasons. If I'm young with marketable skills, I would surely want to migrate to maybe NZ.

Good Luck to you, Anon. God Bless!

Anonymous said...

James, thank you for your message in answer to mine. There is no problem with the US government. However, one cannot use the Singapore passport to enter Singapore if one has not given up. The point is, one does not have to renounce but the Singapore authorities must not know you have obtained US citizenship or else they will make you decide. So, I guess this lady has gotten US citizenship but have not renounced and probably going to. It does must sense since she must be retired and collecting her social security and is afraid the risk of losing her CPF monies in the future? Who knows!

Anonymous said...


me likes to apologize for not turning up at HLP.
Was having a terrible headche and it is still on and off.
Hope You had a good time meeting others and had enjoyed tge Event.


Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Patriot,

Me too also didn't attend because of a wedding dinner at Ritz Carlton around 7pm. My apologies. Rdgs: James.

Anonymous said...


it is reported that the Event will be a monthly affair and our Fren Redbean aka Mr Chua Chin Leng of My Singapore News(Blogsite) has offered to buy coffee for his readers. Me am one of his long time fan and commenter at his Site, so we can have coffee together on any of the events. Btw, do hope that You visit My Singapore News where one can find one Singapores' most passionate citizen.


Anonymous said...

First of all, thank you for the article. It was an interesting read. I am also a lapsed Singaporean (waiting to give up citizenship), having lived overseas for over 7 years now. While I don't agree with your passenger's comments 100%, I do think that her views are understandable. I have no love for the PAP, but the governments in the West also have their major failings. While Singapore's government places heavy emphasis on commerce and productivity seemingly without regard to its peoples' troubles, on the other hand the sheer amount of interest groups in the West can be stifling. There are many, very large social problems overseas that Singapore does not have, such as violent crime, rampant destitution, drug use, to name a few. While I do understand that things are very frustrating back in Singapore, Singaporeans would do well to acknowledge that other societies also have their share of issues and difficulties. When foreigners praise the SG 'way', they really are comparing it to the failings of their own systems.

kevin lok said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Anon,

Thanks for your balanced comments. I appreciate it especially from an soon to be Ex-Singaporean.

I don't believe that the grass over the hill is always greener but I do believe that I you do not walk over to have a look, you'll never know.

Thanks again,

Regards : James Lim

Joe said...

Hi James. In the past few weeks, I have been reading your posts to know more about driving a taxi in Singapore. I just started out as a weekend driver and find your posts very informative and entertaining. Thanks a lot. Think you must have been an English major or something in university.

Have you thought of any way to leverage on your own experience as a taxi driver in order to earn more income? I mean taxi driving is like exchanging hours for money - no work, no pay. It is not exactly a good biz model, pardon me.

Grabtaxi did it by leverage on the existing pool of taxi drivers. I know this is an open blog and anyone can read what you post here but some ideas won't hurt. After all, the devil is always in the details....

Anyway, thanks for putting the effort and time into writing your blog. It is really solid :)

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Joe,

I'm not an expert in the taxi driving job and have never thought of using my taxi driving experience as a leverage to earn more income. I wonder whether there is such thing as leverage in taxi driving.

In coffee shop, I often hear of TD boasting how street smart they were in upping their income with various "techniques or games they play", like picking and choosing passengers at certain time and place. These are illegal practices and I fear being caught, so I don't use them as leverage to up my income.

From my experience, a TD income boils down to how many hours you spent working the road and at which locations that determines how much you earn a day. And of course, luck also plays a part. Contract trips also helps but it comes with "trade-off".

For me, I'm just an ordinary TD with an ordinary income and I'm satisfied. Regards: James Lim

Sean King said...

For the record, NYC taxi drivers can be very political. It's just they're perhaps, interested in different areas of politics. It's also worth noting that the featured picture of actress actress Lee Lihua shows her posing in front of the Chinese Nationalist flag that's now used on Taiwan. Hence that photo was likely taken before 1949.