‘You go West Coast ah? Very long already !’ exclaimed the cab driver.
I had hailed him at Changi Biz Part and had wanted to go to West Coast ( for the non-Singaporean folks, the distance is 29 KM and that is really one end of the country to the other).
No wonder the taxi driver was surprised ( happy as well, I guess ). I take taxi when it is rather late in the night for a commute home.
My routine inside a taxi is rather standard. I keep talking to the driver regardless of his ethnicity.
‘So Uncle, how has been the day?’
‘Okay okay lah, managing already’.
The driver was a 60 plus Chinese gentleman named Mr.Sim and he seemed cheerful.
‘You work during the night, Uncle ?’ The secret to touch the heart of a driver who seems elderly is to address him uncle or Sir and he opens up like, you know, the people flowig out of the MRT.
‘Yeah lah, evening to mid-night. No problem’.
‘So uncle, Makaan already ?’ – the singlish to ask if he has had his food. Once you go to Singlish, you open up the well of emotions and people start pouring out their hearts.
‘Yeah lah, makaan daily at 7:00 PM. No taxi calls lah’.
The ethnic Chinese in Singapore stick to their meal times. And they have an early dinner.
‘So Uncle, I want to ask you a question, Are you earning enough?’ I thought I was touching a raw nerve. But I was not expecting a lesson in philosophy for the rest of 20 minutes.
‘Ok lah, how much money is enough ? $20 per day was enough in 1980. Now-a-days $100 is not sufficient. I have children and have to support them lah. So I have to run.
But even if I run for more than 12 hours today, I can’t earn more than $100. I know that is not enough money.’
I wanted to interfere here.I wanted to ask him if he was happy. But he went on.
‘Sir, you are foreigner. You work here and make a life for your self. But your work helps me. I get such long rides. That is a blessing. But if I think you are foreigner and you are taking my job then I have every reason to be un-happy.
See, I can be happy as well as un-happy. It depends on how I take it.
Example,I have a bad day. So if I keep thinking about it I will be unhappy. If I think, okay so far the day is bad let me hope for some good rides from now on, then I will be happy.
So what makes me happy or un-happy depends on how I take it.
And why be un-happy when you don’t have control over the situation lah? What you say ?”
I didn’t have anything to say. What profound words would you have heard from a Guruji or a Management Expert ?
And he said something that I have not heard so far from any body. His Singlish translates thus :
‘You see, you are from another country. When you go back, if your situation has improved slightly than when you came in, then you are a success. As long as that happens, you don’t need to worry. The moment that is not the case, then you have to re-look at your options’.
I wanted to interject. So I stopped him and asked ,’ But so far every cab driver has expressed only un-happiness and stress. You seem to be different’.
His answer is a lesson for every one of us.
‘Sir, So far we travelled approx 27 KM. Never once we had a traffic issue. Never once I had to honk. Never once a driver gave me a hard time. Roads are good. So no stress. My children will be returning home safe. And I can go home and meet them. So what more does one want? One more thing. You cannot give me happiness. I have to make my own happiness.”
And we think taxi drivers are lesser mortals ?
I thanked Mr.Sim profusely for such an enlightening talk and asked him to write a book.
In case you are in Singapore and you happen to be driven around by Mr.Sim Teng Hwee in his taxi, you would be an enlightened soul before your ride is over.