Exactly one year ago, I left my previous company in humiliation and with much anguish despite the fact that I served nearly 18 yrs of dedicated service with at least 4 commendations. In such a big company I was never considered for any re-deployment or other job options. I was treated like a filthy criminal and unceremoniously escorted out of HQ at North Bridge Rd and my work place. I had to throw lots of personal things from my locker cuz I could not carry them all in a plastic bag. There was no time for me to bid farewell to all my long time colleagues whom I had worked together for such a long time through thick and thin – in good times and bad times overcoming all odds trying always to get the trains running on time and efficiently despite the many challenges we faced. Unlike the government, they don’t believe in taking care of the pioneer generation. Do they?
But then I was paid handsomely for doing a job. There should not be any bitterness and I should not speak ill of our previous employer cuz people come and go in an establishment. In a way, it is quite true especially if the Chief decides to chop you off since you are a liability – a maverick loose cannon that did not contribute much to the bottom-line. As the saying goes, if the Chief wants you to go, you will have to go. After all he’s a great capable man and is worth much more than a cabinet minister. I say this cuz in the history of our cabinet, there is no equivalent. Currently only an MG waiting in the wings to take over. Running the rail services to perfection is “chicken feet” to him when we consider the fact that at one time he had the entire nation’s security resources at his command & control which literally meant that he could declare war on any belligerent hostile country. Thus, our collective destiny at one time was in his hands.
Indeed, we are blessed to have such a great talented local son running our railway system. I’m sure the Chief will solve those teething problems and make life better for all of us using the railway network. I’m not speaking ill of him but praising him especially when he assigned M Chua to handle my case. The latter ameliorated much of my bitterness and my perceived injustice. We’re friends now.
I’ve passed that uncertain phase. I’m into my next phase and maybe the final phase in my lifespan. The first few months I was searching aimlessly for survival in this most expensive city and where welfarism is a dirty word. I need to earn my own living at my age. If I were much younger, opportunities are aplenty but not when you are passed 50 yrs. After many interviews with the questions always falling back to my previous job, I finally gave up. I then decided to take up taxi driving job when a group of taxi drivers at my place in Elias Mall persuaded me to give a try.
In a way, I was blessed to have a group of taxi drivers in my neighborhood encouraging me to join their trade. Having made up my mind, I applied to LTA for approval. About a month later, the approval letter came and I registered for the 2-week taxi course at Taxi Academy. Finally in mid Jan 2014, I got my taxi vocation license.
On 28 Jan 2014, I started my virgin drive under the close supervision of my mentor Alan Taxi (AT). He gave me part of his 12-hour shift (6pm to 10pm at $5 per hour) to orientate myself on the job. From 10pm, AT took over until he handed over the taxi before 6am. Between 6pm to 10pm is the “golden window” where taxi demand is at its peak. After that, it’s more taxis than passengers. No others except AT willing to make such a big sacrifice for my sake. This arrangement happened for quite some time until I got the feel of driving a taxi. Whenever I had problems or not sure what to do, I would call him for help. For the next 5 to 6 months after mid Jan 2014, I became a relief driver.
I’ve driven at least 5 taxis around the neighborhood. A.T. would recommend me to his friends and neighbors in the area whenever those drivers go overseas or take off. I remember having to ride my bike all over the neighborhood to drive others’ taxis.
There was one short period I had driven a taxi at Pasir Ris St 52 for about 2 weeks on a permanent basis for a hirer which is quite a distance away from Elias Mall. All was well until one day the hirer demanded back the key when I turned up for work. I asked him what’s the problem? He said that he did not like the timing of my driving shift from 4pm to 4am. He already got his friend to drive for him from 6pm to 6am. I told him he could have discussed it with me and I would have agreed. Anyway, I used to wait for him to come back. He was never on time. At one time I even waited for nearly an hour before he finally handed over his taxi to me. I had to endure his unprincipled ethics. He never apologized nor explained his lateness. As a relief driver I had to suffer in silence. I had to take whatever shit thrown on my face.
When I told A.T. that I was sacked by that hirer, he straightway asked me to “help him” drive for 2 weeks as he was about to go for a “stones” removal operation. Happily I accepted the offer. After that needless humiliation which I took in my strife, I told myself that I will be the hirer and I will decide who will drive for me. My parting shot to that taxi hirer who prefers to let his own kind drive for him is that it is never easy to pair with a good relief driver and vice versa. I believe that I had done all that is within my duty and responsibility as his relief driver. “Oh it’s only the timing that I don’t agree”. “Nothing else” was his reply. He prefers his own kind to drive lah! After 2 weeks he texted me if I wanted to go back driving for him? I said no. A good horse doesn’t eat return grass! That’s the Chinese saying.
Fast forward to 5 Aug 2014, I took out a brand new Hyundai i40 from Komoco without paying a single cent. If I return the vehicle within a year, I will have to pay a penalty of $500. After a year, no need to pay anything if I return it back to the company. Fair deal. An offer I find hard to resist.
With so many good well meaning taxi driver friends in the neighborhood, I was able to make a swift and smooth transition from a senior train driver to a novice taxi driver. It looks easy but trust me driving a taxi is not a bed of roses. By clocking an average of 250km daily, my one year of driving taxi is worth your life time of mileage. As such, my driving skills improve tremendously. I’ve just started and there is still lots to learn. After all I’ve got another 24 yrs to drive – subject to medical conditions of course, until I hit 75 yrs old. Hopefully, I shall reach the stage when the taxi becomes a part of me and we move in tandem zipping across all our beautiful super world class highways earning a decent living. My Sifu AT and some of them may have already attained that level. Whereas, I still have a long way to realize this stage. They are seasoned veterans at Division 1 and I’m only at Division 3 standard. I’ll blog about this other time. In fact, there are so many things to blog about my taxi experiences. Surely there is much to talk about when I get to meet an average of 20 passengers per shift.
Currently, including myself there are 3 drivers operating my taxi. I’m off on 2 week days. My 2nd relief is off on weekends. AT will stand in on our off days. The taxi is running 24/7 with at least 500km daily mileage. It is never left idle. LTA’s requirement is at least 250km per day. We double that to maximize taxi usage on the road. Only 1.5 months, my taxi now exceeds 26,000km mileage. Every month, I’ll have to send it to Sin Ming for preventive servicing. To put it in perspective, my bone shaker – an OPC which I just scrapped after 10 yrs only clocked about 40,000km! My 5-year bike which I used to commute daily only clocks past 44,500km.
Like I say earlier, it is never easy to partner with good relief driver and vice versa. I’m fortunate to have Johnny Cash and Alan Taxi as my relief drivers living in the same block on different floors. The taxi is always parked at our car park. Everyone holds a key. We just msg on our WhatsApp group to inform about the car park level when we finish our shift and amount of diesel consumption or any other related matters. Partly because all of us own private cars, we are able to take good care of our taxi. Amongst ourselves, we set the rules and we abide by the rules. There are many unwritten rules in the taxi trade which I shall blog about other time.
Suffice to say that I’m most satisfied with the current arrangement where that taxi I brought out is able to pay for all the bills in 3 households since there is a steady stream of income. Johnny Cash specializes on night shifts scouring all the nightspots and pubs till the wee hours. He’s hopeless in the day shift. In fact, he can’t drive in the day. AT is versatile and is able to drive both day and night shifts. He was a tour bus driver and a limousine driver before. I’ll fall asleep once I hit 2am if I were to drive the night shift!
Even though Johnny Cash is 61 yrs and having gone through a triple heart by-pass last year, he is still able to push himself to the limits with fantastic mileage of more than 300km of night driving! I’m more worried about AT who is only 2 yrs older than me. He’s a “medicine man” – meaning that he needs a stream of medicines – popping many pills to sustain his momentum. Often, his right leg would “jam” resulting in him not able to drive. He’s just gone for a complete MR scan pending its outcome. I’ll talk about “medicine men” on my next blog. There are many medicine men amongst us in EM. It’s quite a sad reality as one ages and grows older.
One year after I left my previous job, I’m now a full fledged taxi driver earning a decent living to pay for all my bills in this most expensive city in the world. I’m coping well and meeting new challenges everyday. I’m glad to say that now I sleep well and eat regularly unlike in my previous job with all the crazy bizarre rotating off days and ungodly shift hours resulting in my biological clock going haywire! I now take it easy at my own pace.
Having a satisfying job also boosts up my self ego and dignity. At times, I’m able to converse in an intelligent and fruitful manner with some of my high calibre passengers. Often, they are amazed at the facts and figures I could throw at them with simple logical and fair comments! I don’t usually talk to passengers unless they wish to. That’s another basic etiquette we need to observe as a professional taxi driver. I’ll blog about taxi driver etiquette other time – the dos and dont’s. Yup, as a taxi driver we meet all kinds of passengers from the lowest food chain to the highest! All kinds of people take taxis since it is quite convenient and affordable.
It’s been quite a while since my last entry on my blog. I’ve been enjoying my new work life balance. Now I’ve got more time to exercise to keep fit. It’s a luxury I treasure now. Never in my 18 yrs on my previous job did I have the time to walk for 5 over km in our beautiful Pasir Ris park with my walking partner “Lao Si” whenever I’m off duty. Before that, more than 18 yrs ago, I used to run 12km at least once in a week at MacRitchie Reservoir with my buddy Dave Singh. I stopped after I became a train driver. If I had remained as a train driver I might end up like many of my ex-colleagues whom just simply perished on the job. Or I might even end up as a medicine man. It’s indeed a blessing in disguise that I was compelled to switch to my current job. Johnny Cash, AT and myself are grateful that this taxi has given us a stream of income to sustain our living expenses.
It’s always good to appreciate the small little things in life we always take for granted. There is always a sliver lining in everything. Thank you all for all the best wishes and concern especially those ex-colleagues and supervisors i.e. CMTs in TNM who were shocked and worried about my sudden departure. Some of my ex-colleagues like SM Wilson in PSR, Bernie, Bobby ( I hope he gets well soon and will walk with me at Pasir Ris park), Anthony, Simon, Lim, Clarence, Norman, Basri, Dark Knight, Busy Bee; Hassanee etc etc and I can’t name all, are still keeping in touch with me.
Amongst us, we just lost our good friend Raymond in a freak accident at Tampines St 11. We gathered at his wake with sadness and we grief over such a senseless loss of life. We sent him off with a heavy heart. May he rest in peace. It’s great to be alive and kicking and we should treasure those around us when we consider life’s fragility.