27 May 2006

I like talking to taxi drivers

I like talking to taxi drivers.

Maybe it's because I am a taxi-driver's daughter, but I find taxi-drivers an interesting bunch, especially on night rides. (When the roads are clearer and they aren't cursing at whoever is cutting into your lane suddenly.) I am usually dead-beat when I get into a cab at night - either from work or from a night out - but I usually enjoy a good dose of conversation.

You can tell alot from cab conversations. Why, you may even be able to construct a cosumer sentiments index from cab conversations!

You learn that times are hard now. People who have worked in places like London and France are now taxi-drivers. I have excitedly exchanged reminiscence about Paris' charm and UK's shepherd pies with them before.

You learn that people are insecure about their jobs. Those working in the weekdays take on night shift driving, some on weekend nights only, but many on weekdays as well. (I am sometimes a bit concerned in such cabs 'cos they might be too tired and fall asleep at the wheel.)

You learn that the folks on the ground have come to their own conclusion that ERP = 'Every Road Pay', NTUC = 'Never Trust Union Compatriots' and NKF = 'Never Keep Funds'.*

You learn the latest upates of the election battles, who is fighting who and where the rallies are. (As a matter of fact, my daily news updates during the elections period came from cab drivers and colleagues around me. I had a big meeting in town that week and had no time to flip through the papers much.)

You learn why there was a shortage of cabs in the week immediately after the Progress Package was given out:

"Aiyah, everyone is shopping mah. Some cab drivers take a break to go shopping, those already shopping come out with big bags and all want cabs. Where got cabs for you?"

My latest one even tells me that he thinks that the latest S'pore Idol contestestants are planted:

"How can this guy possibly pronounce 'Long Long Ago' as 'Nong Nong Ago'? I mean 'L' is not a difficult sound for Chinese or Hokkiens what. Hokkien also got words like 'Ah-Long', how can it be difficult, you tell me? I think sure planted one. Just to add entertainment value.'

I enjoy my cab conversations so much that I am starting to think that it should be made mandatory for politicians to take cabs instead of being chauffeured around. (Assuming politicians are interested in knowing the pulse of society of course; one cannot be presumptuous in such things.) I definitely think cabs will give them a far superior sense of public sentiments than meet-the-people sessions or preccincts walkabouts. Maybe it is Asian mentality or something, but people tend to be very polite in such formalized settings. Worse, if you come by my house unannounced and ask me, "Any problem?", my reflex answer will of course be a polite answer of "no problem". By the time I come up with something I would like to raise to your attention, oops, you have moved on to the next house.

Cabs, on the other hand, are informal and annonymous environments. TPeople are reassured by the fact that their relationship end once they arrive at their destination. This thought sets people at ease and people share their opinions more easily. It is the same reason why Chinese emperors used to travel incognito and sit in teahouses, isn't it? Okay, the emperors might have been using it as an excuse to check out Jiangnan beauties, but certainly one of the reasons must have been to feel the pulse of society.

No individual's words should be taken as gospel truth or even representative, but public sentiments as gathered from cab conversations, is at least a piece of reality whose existence political leaders in tall towers need to know.

*For the benefit of non-S'porean readers, ERP is the Electronic Road Pricing System which charges tolls (some rather high ones!) for certain roads during peak hours. NTUC is the labour union in S'pore, but S'pore has a unique tripartite relationship among the government, union and companies. The term NTUC is hence more synonymous with supermarkets and insurance nowadays. NKF is the National Kidney Foundation, a charity organization for kidney dialysis patients which underwent a spate of scandal recently when its CEO allegedly abused the funds for personal favours and extravagances - such as gold-plated taps.

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