“Either taxi driving is the most privileged job in Singapore, or it is the last resort to be reserved for Singaporeans when all other jobs shut them out”, writes Dr Cai Mingjie aka “Singapore’s most educated cabdriver” in Diary of a Taxi Driver.
This book is an account of Dr Cai and his day-to-day experiences as a first time cabbie. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to drive a taxi, read this. You’ll get a slice of Singapore society today, including the good, the bad and the very ugly.
Having lost his job in 2008 at a leading molecular and cell biology research institute, Dr Cai looked in vain for another similar position. With the global financial crisis in full swing and a family to feed, he made the decision to become a taxi driver and began his new career in February 2009.
Diary, which originally began as a blog, chronicles only six months, a relatively short period in any job. His writing style is straightforward and often simplistic but it is the real life stories and characters that will keep you turning the pages.
The book is divided into many chapters, starting from the daunting first day where his “knowledge of roads and buildings was still woefully inadequate”. We go along for the ride as he meets people across all races, nationalities, economic and social backgrounds.
Each day there are endearing stories, heartbreaking tales and sombre accounts, particularly of the struggling working class. He encounters kind strangers, rude customers, and a surprising number of students-turned-KTV club hostesses.
We also discover the dodgy underbelly of a squeaky clean Singapore — transvestites, prostitutes, and even an indecent proposal — all in the back of the cab. Some passengers refuse pay to ERP charges, while others are hostile and abusive simply because he is a China-born citizen. If that’s not enough, he also has to contend with the taxi company and the daily $77 rental.
Diary, now in the spotlight again because of Taxi! Taxi!, the Gurmit Singh-starred movie loosely based on his experiences, will not win any literary awards, but it makes up for such failings with a hearty dose of honesty. So the next time you hop into a taxi, be nice to the ‘taxi uncle’ and give some thought to this profession.