Taxi Uncle

Posted: July 23, 2009 by fievel in Labels: ,

I took a taxi yesterday, and yes at times like these when Im fast approaching the state of being "chronically unemployed" I really shouldn't be taking cabs anymore but let's leave that guilt trip essay for another rainy day, and I got into an interesting conversation with the cab driver.

Thinking back I should have asked him for his name, but I didn't, so let's refer to him as taxi uncle. Taxi uncle isn't all that advanced in age, he looked to be around 35, 40 at best. He spoke really good english with grammar being purposefully dropped for sounding more endearing as most conversations between Singaporeans in the heartlands go, and he started the whole conversation like this...

"What do you work as?" asked taxi uncle,in trademark Singaporean straightforwardness.

"I'm not working at the moment, im unemployed." I answered almost fashionably.

"Oh! How old are you?"

"30 this year" I wonder why I always add "this year" to this answer, as if that makes it any different.

"30 ah!? Can drive taxi lor." taxi uncle exclaimed without needing to further explain himself, 'cos I have already been reminded by my dad 30 is the legal age to apply for a taxi license :S

"Ah, no lah!" Talking before using my thick skull is sometimes what I do and I immediately felt ashamed for the obvious disdain I displayed for his profession, even if it was just disdain FOR myself doing it. And so I quickly added, "No lah, maybe just not for now, maybe next time."

Sensing my attitude wasn't of a rude nature, he said, "Look, I also used to think like you, but life and age can change how we think. I used to work as an Engineer you know, doing sales and earning more than 10k a month for a while. But ah...when I lost my job after analog got replaced by digital technology, I did many different jobs after that and one day I became a taxi driver. Strangely hor, this is the job I have enjoyed the most leh. No stress, enough money for family, have more time for my wife and kids now."

Look, at this point you can either doubt that he was really earning >10k a month long time ago, or you can just believe him like me, and begin to wonder if this man could really be me one day. It's not that I despise taxi driving, my old man was a bus driver and he earned an honest keep to support our whole family, it's just that I had always held higher aspirations for myself than working in menial labour.

The taxi trip was very short and so we had no time to bring the conversation much further than that, perhaps luckily so. It didn't occur to me to blog about this until earlier when I read on another blog about a man's question to MP Halimah Yacob.

See this The New Paper link and read below for excerpt.

THE man had a simple question for his MP:
I will be a security guard if I must, he said, but how can I encourage my children to do well in school if I can't find a good job despite my (tertiary) education?
It was a statement that shook even a battle-hardened MP like Madam Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC). 'When he responded in that manner, I also started thinking,' she said.

Madam Halimah was raising this example with The New Paper last night after a hotly-debated Parliamentary discussion on how to help retrenched Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs).The man, a former manager in his 50s with an engineering diploma, was retrenched late last year. Unable to find a job, he became a taxi driver.

Part of the problem why our nation has so many structurally displaced, unemployed workers, mostly past their 40s, is because our labour market does not have the chance to evolve on its own. There is too much government intervention. In fact, it is entirely directed and controlled from the top down.

I'm not into thinking that there are jobs out there for me that are being taken by a foreigner. But there are others who are indeed so displaced. There is no way anyone can prove or disprove the government's stance that we need all the foreigners who are willing to show up at our shores, or that the absence of a minimum wage is indeed better. But what every democracy needs is a bit more of a tug-of-war between the people and the government. There should be more voice, more to-and-fro-ing before policies get laid on us the citizens. I just think we should have a more independent labour union, one whose representatives speak their minds more freely without either having to worry about legal consequences or their very own continued existence as a labour union member. I don't know if all of you can see it, but I'm guessing that the below video shows a union member, not really asking a question, but making a statement, at the 2009 tripartism forum. Obama was recently criticized for planting a question during a planned press conference. I'm not implying this is the same (I'm afraid of legal repercussions too!) but I sure don't feel the spontaneity in Mr. Gary Haris' "question", for whatever reasons I can only guess at.