CNY get together …

On the afternoon of 22/2/2015(Sun), the 4th day of CNY, some of my taxi course-mates gathered at Old Kallang Airport Road Hawker Centre to touch base. Nearly 40 of us took the 2-week taxi crash course and graduated on 16 Jan 2014. It’s slightly more than a year since we passed out from Singapore Taxi Academy. It’s a pity that not all turned out in full force. We came with our own $2 red packet to exchange amongst ourselves for good luck! link

Anyway, we were very excited to catch up with each other. We exchanged news on our different career paths. Most of them are taxi hirers with few relief drivers working for different taxi operators. We related our own experiences and giving each other useful tips relating to our job. We started on an equal footing in the same class under the same brilliant instructor, but after a year of baptism of fire clearly we could sense the differences amongst us. Some ran faster whilst some are still playing catch-up. Even myself could not match the better ones amongst them. For instance I told them it’s not easy being OMO – One Man Operation without any relief driver. But many of them could do it OMO (paying full rental instead of half) driving everyday for more than 12 hours with no qualms at all. I really salute them for their tenacity and perseverance.

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Group photo of my taxi course-mates

I also learnt from them that so and so got a new job and given up driving taxi. Some have also returned their cabs and become relief drivers. Many have switched from the main taxi operator to a smaller operator etc.. They took time off from their busy driving routine (due to CNY) to drop by with some managed to catch passengers on the way to the meeting venue. They started arriving from 1pm onwards until we finally dispersed after 3pm. Before we left, we promised to meet annually to keep in touch. Hopefully, more of them will turn up next year. We expected our brilliant instructor Mr Foo to turn up since he suggested that we meet up. Unfortunately, he was busy with his “Lo Hei” session somewhere. I observed that some of my course-mates still addressed Mr Foo as “Sir”. It shows the kind of respect they accorded him. As the Chinese saying goes “一日为师,终身为父!”

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Our instructor Mr Foo with blue shirt appearing on TV

In fact, we are all on WhatsApp chat group. We used to keep each other updated of road conditions eg traffic jams, airport situation whether the taxi queue is long or the high demand of taxi in certain places and also not forgetting those monkeys hiding in the bushes! For example, some of them will update us via WhatsApp chat group whenever there is a huge cruise ship calling at Marina Bay Cruise Centre (MBCC). Once the huge ocean liner arrives at MBCC, we could expect few thousand passengers. If we happen to be around the vicinity, we would move over there.

On the same day in the evening, we had the biggest CNY gathering at Elias Mall coffeeshop. The 444 gang under Wilson also came over to join us at EM. More than 30 of us sat on 3 tables. Even M. Chua also took time off to join us to usher in the Year of the Goat. It started at about 7.30pm until past midnight. I had to take leave at about 11pm cuz I had to work the next morning.

The CNY gathering was planned well in advance before the CNY. The number of participants kept growing until it hit more than 30 members. Red Bull initially booked 2 big tables but not enough. We had to add another table to accommodate the extra bodies. Alan Taxi was the treasurer. We contributed a small amount to AT for the expenses. Albert acted as liason officer by setting the menu. Wilson sponsored the 444 gang tables. We only ordered a set of “Lo Hei”, steam boat and some side dishes. Ah Keng sponsored 5kg of fresh flower crabs sourced directly from the kelong. Ah Tong prepared tons of huge fresh prawns, cuttlefish, fishballs, meatballs, fresh vegetables, grouper fish-heads, mushrooms etc etc.

Initially, we ordered some beer to go with the occasion. Later, the boss Cheng San of the coffeeshop dropped by. Out of the blue, he gave instruction to the beer promoters  that 4 crates of beer delivered to our tables. 4 crates of beer comprising 2 Guinness, 1 Carlsberg and another Tiger giving us a total of 48 bottles of beer! M. Chua wanted to pay for the food and drinks but we declined since he’s our VIP for the night. Befitting of his status, he already had plan B in mind. He came prepared. Before he left, he distributed 40 pieces of red packets with a piece of Singapore Sweep ticket inside to all of us. With that gesture, he brought much cheers and uplifted the joyous mood by few decibels with shouts of Huat and Fatt!

As usual, we had portable speakers playing music in the background whilst we enjoyed the tons of food cooked on the steam boat with free flow of beer. How not to be merry with so much food, beer, music and most importantly good company? The star of the evening was our dear fren Bob. Everyone from EM and 444 seemed to know Bob. He managed to walk albeit slowly with a cane. He’s recovering fast since his spinal operation last year. He was completely immobilized when we visited him in the hospital last year. Every one took turns to wish him speedy recovery. We were so happy to see his usual self once again.

Obviously our invited guests from 444 were impressed. They thanked us profusely for the efficient and well organized feast. The only regret is that our Leong & Leong – FOM from 444 were not able to join us due to some unforeseeable circumstances. We hope they could join us next time. We missed them lah!

Wilson speaking for the rest declared that it’s the best dinner feast they ever had in recent memory. Many photos were taken and circulated on our smartphones. I even uploaded some of the pictures on Facebook. link It’s indeed a memorable way to usher in the Goat Year with a bang! So many “Huats” and “Fatts” were uttered whilst we cheered and toasted each other all night long!

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Group photo of EM & 444 members

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Lao Si, Datuk Lim, Chris and Bob

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Posted in Langgar | 2 Comments

Creative Chinese messages & greetings

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Typical Chinese New Year greetings

One of the things I look forward to every Chinese New Year is those Chinese greetings I received from friends. In the good old days, CNY greetings used to be sent via sms with 160 characters limit (include full stop, comma, exclamation marks etc). Short messages were created based on this 160 character limitation.

With the advent of technology viz a viz smartphones and the internet becoming prevalent, that 160 character limitation is lifted thereby opening the flood gates for all kinds of creative messages. Some even come with “stickers” or “emojis” etc.. Think WhatsApp and Wechat.

I am of the opinion that those Chinese messages circulating during CNY are much more creative than the English messages. The English New Year messages are usually, “Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year”, “May you be blessed with happiness, health and luck” etc. All standard forms of boring messages. Definitely no puns on the 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs (animals) at all.

I’m one of the fortunate in my age group – those past 50 yrs whom benefited from a forced bi-lingual policy. For that I’m grateful to this government for forcing us to learn Chinese (Mandarin) in school albeit at 2nd language level with only one Chinese book whilst the rest of my subjects were taught in English.

For more than 12 years of formal education starting from the People’s Association kindergarden class right up to Pre-University, I was schooled in English with only one Chinese subject as a 2nd language. At least, I’m able to see the world through two windows instead of one. People like Encik always condemns SBS – Shi Bu Shi. To him Chinese (Mandarin) is SBS lah! He feels awkward and uncomfortable with Mandarin speaking environment. Millionaire Caveman used to say that if only he had some basic Mandarin, he’d be a “billionaire” today. Yup, he was the first amongst the pioneers to venture into China during the early 80s when China just opened up its doors to the outside world. Opportunities were plentiful then. link

Anyway, I’ve given up any hope of convincing Encik about the uniqueness and beauty of the Chinese language. Like caveman, Encik had his formal education in Penang. As such, they didn’t benefit from our forced bi-lingual policy. How to explain to a blind man the different colors of red, blue, yellow etc? Sad to say, a person born blind will never know the beauty of colors no matter how you explain to him! Actually you just can’t explain colors. Like what they say seeing is believing. If you can’t see, what to believe?

Many of my friends have requested that I blog in Chinese. I wish I could write in Chinese as well as my English. Sadly, I can’t. I could only read and understand Chinese but not able to write fluently. Even composing short Chinese sms also see me struggling with the pinyin or the written form.

Two famous international Chinese actors from Hong Kong who could not even speak or understand English initially could now speak English fluently. I heard one of them speaking English with American accent on television recently. I was impressed. They had the time and money to engage private tutors to teach them English. If only my Chinese standard is of the highest fluency, I would devote the time in my remaining lifespan to study Chinese literature, philosophy or Buddhism. Even if I were to devote 20 years of my life doing just that might not be sufficient to fully reap the vast timeless wisdom in its bottomless treasure pit.

It is generally agreed that the English language blossomed around the era of Shakespeare in the 16th century – about 500 years ago. But Chinese literature was already at its height during the Tang dynasty in the 7th century – much earlier then the English. It’s easily more than 1,000 years earlier than the latter if were to include the earlier Han dynasty. 

Back to my subject matter. I’ve selected some Chinese message samples here received from friends. I’ll not attempt to translate them here. The translation will do injustice to those creative messages cuz they lose their meaning with translation. You could copy and paste them using the google translator to get the gist of it. Most of those Chinese messages revolve around hope, luck, happiness, health, wealth, work, family etc during the CNY. The most commonly used greeting year after year is “年年有余” - “Every Year With Surplus” with the last Chinese character “余” whose pronunciation is similar to fish. That’s why the fish image is quite prominently displayed on greeting banners, cards or even sms messages.   

Hope you will enjoy reading those creative messages. You may even recycle them for next CNY. It’s a good reference on how to send creative and interesting Chinese messages to your family and friends.

Read related article here.

中国有长城
美国有赌城
日本有不夜城
马六甲有古城
香港有郭富城
新加坡有狮城
你家更了不起…
有灰尘!
哈哈…该大扫除啦!

我率领全国人民提前祝福你和家人2015新年快乐!
你以后几天所收到的全部新年短讯都是我安排大家发给你的。 
我做事很低调的,你知道就好了!

如果,有只《洋》跑来你家,请不要慌张!它叫《五福》是我叫它来和你拜个早年!在这里祝你:《五福》临门,心想事成,福星高照,新年快乐!恭喜恭喜!

羊年送你三只羊…第一只祝你心想事成,得意洋洋。第二只祝你生活如意,神采飞扬。第三只祝你365日,天天喜气洋洋。《三羊开泰,羊年行大运》

送你一朵吉祥花;年年健康有钱花。
送你一杯吉祥酒;温馨甜蜜到永久。
送你一个吉祥月;天天出门有喜悦。
送你一道吉祥福;象征事业有钱途。
“祝你好运”

新春佳节快到了提早祝您 “新年快乐!” 
有个老板向我问起你的地址和手机号码我已全部泄露出去了,
他们会在 “除夕夜” 找你。
别惊慌,他名叫财神爷!

祝你新年里有鼠不尽的钞票,能牛转乾坤,虎虎生威,兔飞猛进,拥有龙马精神,蛇全十美,马到功成,羊洋得意,猴天得道,经鸡独立。猪你全家健康快乐! (Puns on 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs)

新的一年:
祝福你在新的一年:聪明如鼠!强壮如牛!胆大如虎!可爱如兔自信如龙!狠毒如蛇!浪漫如马!温顺如羊!顽皮如猴!美丽如鸡!忠实如狗! 肥过只猪! (Puns on 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs)

鼠钱不完
牛那样壮
虎虎生威
兔气扬眉
龙马精神
蛇得消费
马到功成
羊洋得意
猴会有期
鸡不可失
狗用就算
猪你发财
(Puns on 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs)

在金鸡年,祝你像公鸡般勤劳,像母鸡般伟大,像小鸡般可爱,像火鸡般够气,像孔雀般美丽,像马来鸡般纤体,像KFC家乡鸡般受欢迎,像金鸡下金蛋。(Puns on Year of the Rooster)

百花开在春天里再把心意传给你新春佳节没献礼来个贺语祝福你希望新的一年里身体健康长伴你万事如意四季里好运永远跟随你钞票多多皮包里新年快乐恭喜你

我的信息来啦!
收到的人春风得意;
阅读的人工作顺利;
储存的人爱情甜蜜;
转发的人大吉大利;
删除的人依然好运气!
愿你:天天快乐!

不知不觉又一年
愿望照常没实现
马票全跑浪费钱
到头只靠血汉钱
每晚都梦赚大钱
醒来原来要小便
希望来年有转变
财神到你家门前
给你财运送你钱
让你安心好过年

健康使一切变得可能,
财富使一切变得可行,
乐观使一切变得可爱。
愿您三者俱得。
过个可爱可能可行的2015。

身体健康长伴你
万事如意四季里
好运永远跟随你
钞票多多皮包里
新年快乐恭喜你

新春到来又一年
恭喜发财好年年
欢欢乐乐过新年
食物丰富吃得甜
身体健康是本钱
行情不好别花钱
真诚友情不讲钱
收到信息我心甜
幸福家庭好团圆
早早向您拜个年

新的1年即将到来
愿你好事接2连3
心情4季如春
生活5颜6色
7彩缤纷
事业兴旺8达
一切烦恼抛到9霄云外
请接受我10心10意的祝福!

新的一年
心到,想到,
看到,闻到,
听到,人到,
说到,做到,
日子到,时间到
你的礼物没到,只有我的祝福
传到…
祝您:2015 新年快乐福到财到!

手到、眼到、人到、心到、想到、说到、看到、福到、春到、财到、新年到、花红没收到、礼物也迟到只有我的祝福先到、新年快乐!
愿新的一年事事顺心。

新春到来又一年
恭喜发财好年年
欢欢乐乐过新年
食物丰富吃得甜
身体健康是本钱
行情不好别花钱
真诚友情不讲钱
收到信息我心甜
幸福家庭好团圆
早早向您拜个年

身体健康长伴你
万事如意四季里
好运永远跟随你
钞票多多皮包里
新年快乐恭喜你

新的一年百花香
一个信息带八香
一香送你摇钱树
二香送你贵人扶
三香送你工作好
四香送你没烦恼
五香送你钱满箱
六香送你永健康
七香送你好运到
八香送你年年旺 

新年到新年好
这讯息是个宝
传五人财源到
若不传样样倒
爬山山倒
爬树树倒
走路跌倒
开车不跑
吃饭不饱
爱人跟人跑
传吧
谁叫你人缘好

二零一五年
什麽都要多
祝福你金多多
银多多
钱多多
运多多
赚多多
存多多
财多多
中多多
发多多
乐多多
也要想
我多多哦!

新年临近百花香,
一条信息带六香。
一香送你摇钱树,
二香送你贵人扶,
三香送你工作好,
四香送你没烦恼,
五香送你钱满箱。。
百香送你永安康!

新春到来又一年恭喜发财好年年欢欢乐乐过新年食物丰富吃得甜身体健康是本钱行情不好别花钱真诚友情不讲钱收到信息我心甜幸福家庭好团圆早早向您拜个年新年快乐!

一个红包两块钱
羊年祝你赚大钱
三洋开泰四季春
祝你安康永常春
五福临门六六顺
横财就手万事顺
七星八仙来拜年
合家安康庆丰年
九霄云外十万哩
出国旅行任由你

希望二零一五年
老板顺着你
朋友让着你
敌人躲着你
爱人体贴你
贵人帮着你
家人护着你
多多偏向你
工作随便你
金钱黏着你!

财神老爷对你笑,
笑的胡子往上翘,
问你发财要不要?
享受富贵真奇妙,
钞票多多真有效,
看见什么都能要,
若问这天何时到?
读完信息就生效!

猪年快到了,让我先祝你:
新年好,天天吃到饱,
身体好,头脑好,
天天捡到宝,福气好,
运气好TOTO,4D中到饱!
祝你猪年天天好!

炮竹一响除旧年
满地红红接新年
春夏秋冬一整年
好运连连连一年
心想事成在今年
如意吉祥平安年 
发财发财是这年
祝你过个快乐年

这张《出入平安》符是我从猪八戒元帅那里跟你请的,
他会保佑你旅游也好,工作也好,赌博也好,增肥也好,一切顺利!

百花开在春天里再把心意传给你新春佳节没献礼来个贺语祝福你希望新的一年里身体健康长伴你万事如意四季里好运永远跟随你钞票多多皮包里新年快乐恭喜

再过几天,就是新的一年。我希望我是第一个、最早的一个、也是最特别的一个给你送上祝福;
愿您~
~猪年开始~

鸡年鸡将来临,给你鸡情的祝福
愿你的生活鸡极向上,能保我每一个发财的鸡会
把鸡肤保养的青春焕发,事业生鸡蓬勃

我在发展银行给你开了个户口,不多…
只有四千万:
千万要健康
千万要快乐
千万要寻爽
千万要记得密码
“1314168”
(一生一世一路发)

金鼠将至,祝你上班偷偷傻笑,下班活蹦乱跳,嘴里哼着小曲,不知不觉跑调,晚上唏哩呼噜睡觉,醒来吓了一跳,枕边全是钞票。祝你鼠年幸福快乐!

新春到来又一恭喜发财好年年欢欢乐乐过新年食物丰富吃得甜身体健康是本钱行情不好别花钱真诚友情不讲钱收到信息我心甜幸福家庭好团圆早早向您拜个年

光阴似水又一春
身轻如燕老益壮
耳边叮咛一声语
春花秋月年年似
鸿飞何处了无痕
(每行第五个字是我想提醒您的。)
(Hidden msg of getting older by a year)

月儿几时圆?
提灯问青天!
元宵十五夜;
家家庆丰年!
给您全家拜晚年!
家好运好人也好!
幸福美满更团圆!
祝您元宵节快乐!
(My favorite greeting on the 15th day of CNY)

Posted in Langgar | 2 Comments

Happy Lunar New Year 2015!

Yesterday after I finished my tour of duty, I presented 2 mandarin oranges and one red packet ($8) to my night relief Alan Taxi. I also thanked him for driving my taxi. I’ll do the same on Fri when my other relief Johnny Cash is on night shift. Both night relief drivers are driving the night shift whilst I take the day shift. So far, they are alright. They are competent drivers and most importantly they exhibit “car sympathy” – they really take good care of the taxi maintaining its cleanliness and exercise caution when operating it. As is the tradition of taxi hirers, we usually give a token of appreciation to our relief drivers during CNY. It’s also giving them luck when the red packet is presented. Some hirers go as far as giving hampers to their relief drivers.

This morning about 9am just before I started driving, my good friend Datuk Freddie zoomed in to my humble abode in his luxurious BMW 5series sedan to hand delivered 8 pieces of fresh rabbit fish. He told me he had gone to the Senoko fish market around 4am to order 26kg (costing more than $1,000 at $60 per kg) of rabbit fish distributing to all his family members and friends. Myself and Lohcifer are amongst the beneficiaries. Later in the day, my brother Dr Nigel and his family came over for lunch. They were able to partake the delicious rabbit fish.

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The 8 pieces of rabbit fish nicely packed by Freddie's wife

This is the 6th consecutive year that my good friend Freddie has done so! The Chinese really appreciate any fish given on the 1st day of CNY. It is symbolic of abundance cuz the fish pronunciation in Chinese is similar to the meaning of “extra”, “more” or “abundance”. 年年有余 – “Every Year With Abundance” since my good friend is sending fish to me every year. May he prosper and live forever so as to continue this unbroken link year after year! It’s one of those things I look forward to every year. Thank you again Datuk Freddie. Link here
Another link here.

Usually, I would start work late on weekends (Sat and Sun) including public holidays. Instead of 6am, I would start at about 8am or even 9am until I report off at 6pm. Reason is that there is no extra 25% morning peak surcharge on those days. Even on CNY, there is no extra surcharge at all. It really doesn’t make any sense at all when demand for taxis during weekends and especailly public holidays is at the highest yet there is no surcharge. Wonder no more there are so many desparate passengers waiting for the limited number of taxis.

Taxi drivers do not have annual leave or the luxury of taking off days cuz rental need to be paid on daily basis. For once a year, this is the only time during CNY when Chinese taxi drivers could bring their family members out for visiting. With no extra incentive to drive on CNY, the dearth of taxis roaming the streets is quite obvious. When I was around the vicinity of Rivervale Crescent this afternoon after driving continuously for hours with passengers boarding and alighting from my taxi non-stop, I decided to take a short break. I looked around and noticed there there were so many anxious people standing along the streets as if they are watching the Chingay procession. When I was about to resume driving, a maid with 2 young children came running towards my direction.

“Uncle, uncle, pls send us to Toa Payoh Lor 1. We have been waiting for a taxi for nearly one hour. There is no taxi at all!” 

“Are you sure? I know taxi hard to come by but to wait for nearly one hour I really don’t believe it. You must be exaggerating!”

“No. No. Honestly I am telling the truth. Just send us there. My employer is waiting for the children. They kept calling me but I can’t do anything if there is no taxi!”

“OK. I’ll send you there.”

The maid thanked me profusely. She told the children to wish uncle “Happy New Year” and say “Thank you to taxi uncle!”

I dare say that having the ability to earn an honest living and contribute in a little way to bring smile to others resulting in much appreciation is the ultimate satisfaction of a taxi driver. Never mind if it’s a dog’s life.

I understand that the dearth of cabs is a perennial problem during public holidays especially on CNY. Why is it that the problem keeps recurring? Why can’t it be solved? Or maybe they just can’t be bothered at all?

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We have more taxis than others yet can't meet demand.

You see, one month before CNY, barber shops all over the island jack up their prices. Even ladies going to their usual hair saloon also face a higher price hike. On eve of CNY right up to the 3rd or 4th day, all the coffeeshops jack up their coffee and drinks prices. Usually a bowl of noodle costs only $3.00 but it goes up by another 50 cents during this time. Those hawkers and barbers are self-employed and do not have bonuses. Even security guards are incentivized with “special package” to encourage them working during the festive season! They justisfy the increases during the festive season in lieu of bonuses.

It seems that only taxis are the neglected group. Like I say, taxi drivers will have to fend for themselves in this most expensive city on earth! No one would speak up for their welfare. No one cares for them. They are the pariah group in our 1st world country lah! 

With good attitude and a cheerful disposition, many passengers voluntarily gave me tips. One good example was an Indonesian couple I picked up at Ikea @Alexandar Rd. I took the current call booking. When I arrived there, there was the longest taxi queue I ever saw. I was wondering why would anyone go to Ikea on CNY? Anyway, I helped to load the tons of DIY furniture into my cab. When we arrived at the condominium basement carpark at Geyland Rd, the appreciative couple gave me $20 when the fare was only $16 plus including the $2.30 current call booking. Many others – Chinese and non-Chinese asking me if I celebrate CNY and why didn’t I go visiting? I told them if all taxi drivers go visiting, who is going to send them around visiting places? Almost all my passengers just round off the cents to the dollar when they paid their fare. At least, some sympathetic passengers do take pity on us by giving us “bonuses.”

I’m merely stating the facts. As I’m blogging this at Elias Mall coffeeshop, Red Bull just joined me. He’s complaining that the price of a bottle of Carslberg has gone up by $1.00. He just came back from visiting his relatives at Yishun. He told me that he gave the taxi driver $20 when the fare was about $16plus. I then related to him that the Ikea couple also did the same. Red Bull understands the plight of taxi drivers. He says, “it’s only once a year and that taxi drivers got no bonus lah!” How I wish that if only those gods in-charge of our destiny think likewise, our life would be much better. But then, given the fact that taxi driver’s official income is set at only $40 a day on a 12 hour shift; how could it be better? When I told my foreign passengers this fact, they just couldn’t believe it. What to do? Life goes on. We’ll just have to resigned to our fate lah! Link

Any way, I am grateful to be alive and able to earn a decent honest living. I take this opportunity to wish all my family members espcially my other brother James and his family in Vancouver, my friends especially Bodo, Heinz and Ulrike and my loyal followers a “Happy Lunar New Year!”

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One of the many CNY greetings received from frens

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Conversation with my pax: The African

I’ve picked up many passengers of different nationalities in the course of my work. But to pick up an African passenger is rather rare. So far, I only managed to pick up 3 African ladies including a South African white woman. I’ll blog about other nationalities especially Korean and Japanese other time. For now, I’ll blog about the nice African lady from Tanzania whom I picked up today just before I reported off duty.

Time was about 4.30pm. Location at taxi stand along Race Course Road opposite Little India MRT station. Time to head back home. But first, I would try to get a fish on the way back home. As usual, there was a long queue at the taxi stand waiting for taxi. Most of them wanted to go west but I already displayed my changing shift sign to Pasir Ris. An Indian gentleman then asked me if I could go to Hougang. When I said “OK!”, an African lady appeared out of the queue. He was asking on behalf of the African lady. She was carrying so much groceries in her shopping cart. I got down and assisted her to carry it to my booth. She was pleased with my initiative.

On first sight, I thought that my passenger was an Indian lady. But when she started talking to me, straightaway, I knew that she’s an African. Told her that I would take the CTE via Hampshire Road, Keng Lee Road then exit AMK Ave 3 heading to her destination at Hougang Ave 9. She agreed to the proposed route.

If I observe that my passengers are cheerful and chatty, I’ll talk to them. But if they are not in a mood to talk, I’ll just shut up. But sometimes an innocent comment to a Korean like, “Are you a Japanese?” could get you into trouble! I’ll blog about it other time. As for this lady, I’m very sure that she’s an African.

“Hi Ma’am! Good afternoon to you. We’ll make an U-turn here to get to our agreed route OK?”

“Yes, please.” she replied cheerfully cuz she managed to beat the long taxi queue to get into my taxi. She was in a hurry to get home.

“You must be from Africa?”

“Oh yes, I came from Tanzania. I’ve been living in Singapore for quite some time.”

I never asked my foreign passengers whether they are PRs or working in which line unless they volunteer to tell me. I always feel that talking to complete strangers should not be too abrasive or intrusive. We need to maintain a safe distance. Always strike a conversation on “safe” ground. That’s basic etiquette!

“I am a loyal die-hard fan to a famous African international writer Wilbur Smith. He’s written 35 novels and I’ve read all his novels. He’s still alive and living in London, UK. He’s in his 80s now” link

“Oh I’ve heard about him but I’ve not read his books.”

From there, I told her what I know about the African continent gleamed from reading Wilbur Smith novels. I told her that Smith writes only about Africa from ancient times to the modern times. He writes about the African wildlife, warring tribes, olden days slavery and even modern times such as the guerrilla warfare in South Africa, Rhodesia and Apartheid of course. The early years in Africa when diamonds were discovered. The mad gold rush where greed overtook everything with much bloodshed and deaths. 

When I talked to her about the “Masai warriors” where they used to be nomads roaming in the vast African Savannah grasslands searching for pastures for their herds of cattle. Those Masai tribesmen didn’t take meat or anything at all. Their only nourishment is to drink cow milk and suck fresh blood from their live cattle.

Next, we argued about the great river Nile. She said the source of Nile is from Lake Victoria. I told her from what I read in Smith’s novels, it’s from Ethiopia – the coptic Christians’ territory. Later, I went back to check. In fact, we are both right. The so called white Nile comes from Lake Victoria whilst the Blue Nile originates near to Khartoum in Ethiopia. It’s the longest river on earth running through many countries in Africa. link

I then told her that “The Elephant Song” is one of my favorite novels written by Wilbur Smith. You see when I started talking about Africa, she became so excited and agitated. She was virtually screeching in her high pitch tone whenever I told her something I know about Africa. (Click here) She really missed her homeland lah! She said that sadly locals don’t really know much about Africa except me – the taxi driver! She was much impressed.

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My Wilbur Smith novels collection

I countered her by telling that in the novel “The Elephant Song”, Smith describes vividly the behavioral patterns of the elephants. How they moved across the great African land mass looking for water holes and fresh pastures. How they cooled themselves in the hot blazing African sun. They seemed to know their parents and immediate family members. Elephants don’t mate within their own family unlike other animals in the animal kingdom. When they realize that the end is near, the aged elephant would leave the tribe and take a solitary long walk to a remote cave to die. They seemed to be programmed from birth going through their life cycle! Sadly, those poachers were always looking for their ivory tusks which could fetch high prices in the international black market.

I also mentioned my other favorite writer Chinua Achebe – author of “Things Fall Apart.” She virtually went berserk after I commented that the main character Okonkwo’s life ended tragically when he committed suicide by hanging at the end of the novel. He lost his will to live when the white men came to colonize and drastically change his traditional village turning everything upside down! Hence “Things Fall Apart!”

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One of the best African literary works

Yup, she read that book. We agreed that Chinua Achebe passed away few years ago in an American university where he taught. link

“If you didn’t visit Africa, how on earth you know so much?”

“No lah! Only a little based from what I read. By reading it broadens your horizon. It makes you see the world differently. You will understand their cultures, characteristics and nuances in a society etc…” 

The African lady added that she’s been living here for quite some time, it’s not easy to find someone like me knowing much about Africa. She said that she felt “ashamed” that her children didn’t know much about Africa. She told me that she would ask her children to read Wilbur Smith novels. I told her she could always borrow Wilbur Smith novels in the many libraries around Singapore. There is a public library in almost every HDB estate here. It’s free. Just do a search for all the library locations. She thanked me profusely for giving her that information.

When we arrived at Hougang St 91, the fare was $12 plus. Helped her to unload her tons of groceries. She kept waving at me when I left for Pasir Ris to report off duty. Another day of driving ended on a cheerful note.

PS: I’ve told that African lady to read my blog. Hopefully she’ll read this post dedicated to her.

Updates …

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That African lady posted on her FB. We are frens now having 'like' each other

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Comments on her FB by her frens

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Conversation with my pax: Medical Insurance

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Table of premiums for citizens

Recently, I fetched a father and son from East Shore Hospital at Joo Chiat Place to Bedok North Ave 4. The son was huge – double the size of the old man even as they look similar in features. A chip off the old block as the saying goes. I innocently asked what happened to his son when I saw his face half bandaged.

“Oh, he had a cut whilst playing soccer in school. I brought him to East Shore Hospital yesterday around 10 pm. Got admitted and they patched his jaw with some stitches. There was a deep cut on his jaw. Luckily no fractures and no concussion on his head after X-ray and MR scan!” said the old man.

It was about noon when I fetched them. They were waiting for taxi for quite some time. The father complained that it’s always so difficult to get a taxi when you need it urgently. He’s rushing home as he had to get to work cuz he’s on half day leave.

The father and son were chattering in Mandarin in the taxi. I overheard them talking about the expensive medical costs. “Fortunately, I got buy medical insurance for you. Every year I pay about $335 for you. I’ve been paying for the past 15 yrs and now we have claimed back the expensive medical costs of more than $5,000!”

The father took out his handphone and started to calculate the total amount he paid for his son’s 3rd party medical insurance and the total medical costs for the one night costly stay at the hospital. He then declared that the insurance company still made some money from him despite the hefty hospitalization claims.

I then interrupted and told him that the government is about to introduce medical insurance for all of us including PRs. They are still debating the proposal in parliament. Soon, it will be implemented and it’s compulsory for all of us.

The father then said that he heard about it i.e. Medishield Life but still he’s at a loss. He’s not so sure of the scheme. From what he heard from friends and read on the internet, lots of people are unhappy about it.

I briefly explained to him. “Actually I’m also not very sure of the details. What I know is that it is an universal health care for all. From baby till the day you die all must pay medical premiums. How much you pay depending on your age. Whether you got any medical condition or not you will still be covered in the scheme.”

“Is it similar to what I’ve been paying for my son, myself and other family members?”

“Yes. In a way it is. Instead of paying to a 3rd party insurance company for your medical needs, now the government has taken over the role cuz not everyone like you could afford the 3rd party insurance. Some of them don’t even bother to buy medical insurance at all. The current medishield or even your medisave is definitely not enough to cover your medical costs in the event of prolong illness or a major operation in a hospital”

I added further, “We know that medical costs will definitely keep rising. The costs of the same operation few years ago will not be the same today. It will surely cost more than you could pay in future.”

“I am working and I could afford. What about those who are not working and can’t afford to pay the premiums?”

“The government has committed more than 4 billions to subsidize or pay for those citizens (NOT PRs) who really could not afford. Maybe they feel that it’s worth while to subsidize or pay citizens’ medical premiums than foot their hefty medical bills in the event they need to go for a major operation.”

I spoke to the passenger in English. I then said, “like you, I’m buying 3rd party medical insurance for my aged parents, myself and my son. I am using CPF medisave and cash to pay for their medical insurance amounting to more than $3,000 every year! With the government’s latest initiative, I need not have to pay cash out of my pocket. I also need not use my medisave to pay for my parents’ medical insurance premiums except my son who is not working and got no CPF.

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The yearly 3rd party premium I'm paying for my mother

I then gave the example of my 72 yrs old mother to illustrate what medishield life entails. “Currently my mother has $15,478 in her CPF medisave account. Assuming that she has to pay about $1,000 premium from her CPF medisave account per year (which is what I’m paying for her using my own CPF medisave plus cash to 3rd party insurance company), it will last for the next 15 yrs! She will be 87 yrs by then when her CPF medisave account is depleted.”

“For the next 15 yrs, I do not have to pay a single cent for her medical needs. I will have 15 yrs peace of mind. I need not worry if she is warded for any major operation or any prolong illness cuz the medishield life covers all these. Once her CPF medisave is depleted, I’m not sure if I will have to pay for her premiums out of my CPF medisave or the government will pay for her?”

My passenger was impressed. In that case, “Like you, I need not use cash to pay for 3rd party medical insurance any more?” Link

I would like to reiterate that my mother has been a housewife all her life. She never held any full time job. Only recently, about 7 to 8 yrs ago when my brother migrated to Vancouver with his family and all the grandchildren have grown up that she found it boring staying at home doing nothing that she decided to work. She is currently working as a kitchen helper earning about $900 monthly. She’s enjoying her work cuz her employer will entertain her reasonable demands such as taking a few days off without pay before the CNY to do spring cleaning for the house or going for medical appointments every now and then. I told her it’s due to her pink IC that her employer is tolerating her cuz they need to fulfill their quota for work permit holders. That’s the privilege of holding a pink IC. 

Back to the question as to how she could accumulate more than $15,000 in her CPF medisave account even though she’s been a housewife not holding any full-time job? The amount is actually due to the quarterly workfare that the government is giving her. Also every now and then, the government tops up senior citizens’ CPF medisave account. Plus the 4% earned and the compound interest resulted in her having more than $15,000 in her medisave account.

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My mother's CPF medisave account stmt

If the government does not initiate such a scheme i.e. Universal Healthcare system for all citizens, the $15,000 will be wiped out in a single major operation. I’ll have to foot her medical bills using my own CPF medisave once her CPF medisave is depleted. I would rather that she uses up her $15,000 to pay for the yearly medical premiums lasting 15 yrs than not using it at all. The fact that she is aging and hospitalization is definitely a possibility in the near future. That is the reality and an alarming fact.

“If what you say is so true then why there is so much opposition to the idea?” my passenger was quite confused when I painted the above scenario to him.

“You see, humans are such that they want freebies. No one likes to pay. They think that nothing will happen to them. Once they are asked to pay, they will jump. They expect the government to pay for their medical costs. They forget that the government has no money. Whatever money the government has is from the taxes collected from the people.”

“Just like you. If you did not pay the $300 plus yearly premiums for your son over the past 15 yrs, you would have to foot the $5,000 plus medical bills your son just incurred at the hospital. Nothing is free in this world. Someone will have to pay for the medical bills. Either you pay from your own pocket, the government pays (tax payers’ money) or the insurance company (provided you pay the premiums). It is as simple as that.

Soon, we reached Bedok North Ave 4. It’s time for the father and son to alight. The father declared that it’s a good medical scheme that the government is trying to implement BUT “I will check further on it since it’s going to affect me when it’s passed by parliament into law.”

My parting shot, “Basically, it’s a good policy. They just don’t know how to sell the idea. They are poor in their marketing strategy. The government is not so stupid as to introduce a policy that is harmful to the population. They risk losing power if they don’t handle carefully this politically sensitive and emotional issue affecting every citizen!”

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The minister trying to explain on FB.


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