I was on board a taxicab en route home one weekend (when it was approaching midnight) … when the taxi driver started talking.
Like most Singaporeans around me, I’m not particularly fond of chatty taxi drivers. But I felt that I owed this guy one – he was supposed to be changing shifts at some other part of Singapore but still agreed to ferry me all the way to the East anyway. So I decided to listen.
As it turned out, this fellow had plenty of interesting things to say.
The topic was on … foreign talent.
Foreign talent was a huge issue during Singapore’s General Elections some months ago. For the benefit of my overseas readers, I shall provide a brief run-down. Basically, immigration in Singapore was on an uphill trend in recent years. So much that the local dwellers are beginning to feel the heat, mostly in the form of competition for education, housing and uh, space in general. Not to mention how migrant workers being with them a host of practices and behaviour that is considered the ‘norm’ in their home countries, but didn’t sit quite as well here.
This taxi driver had a particularly huge vendetta against the immigrants from Mainland China, yammering on about his personal experiences with such commuters in his cab.
“You know ah, I can be driving halfway and these China people will suddenly just wind down the window and spit outside! Very disgusting, you know!”
I could only nod politely. Didn’t quite agree with this one. Time and time again, I’ve personally witnessed other local taxi drivers doing the exact same thing. Much less so for the foreigners.
He also went on about their other bad habits such as speaking in full volume, their general aggressive nature and sense of hygiene – most of which I was only partially listening.
Well, I did share the same sentiments but didn’t want to add oil to the fire by contributing my own thoughts. It’ll only cement his general hatred for China immigrants and strengthen the stereotype, no? I have friends from Mainland China and they don’t quite fit into the stereotype of these folks being loud, aggressive and rowdy.
It was only when he began sharing a particularly bad experience from his travels in Guangzhou when I completely sat up and listened.
He was on board a taxicab heading back to his hotel in Guangzhou. For some reason, the taxicab alighted him at the back entrance of the hotel instead of the main, road-facing one. (The reason is not the point here, though.) He simply alighted and made his way in.
Now, to make his way back into the hotel, he had to cut through the kitchen of a pretty well-known restaurant in the hotel premises. According to him, this restaurant was rated four-stars, pretty popular for their dim sum, and was often bustling with enthusiastic customers.
So when he entered the restaurant’s kitchen, he was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted him. Right at the back entrance of the kitchen was a large cage of stray cats. Seated next to the cage was a kitchen assistant skinning them cats one by one and basically slaughtering them for (what’s most likely to be) food.
Mister Taxi Driver began describing in great detail how shocked he was when he came across that sight, and his bewilderment at the sight of stray cats in the kitchen of a four-star restaurant.
He asked the kitchen assistant about it, only to be given the following answer.
“Well, don’t you know that people in China eat everything?!”
It basically scared him off all food in China from then on. Mister Taxi Driver began telling me about how he absolutely refused to step into China since that particular trip, and even shunning food in hawker centres and food courts in Singapore when he sees a migrant worker from China behind the counter.
I sat still in my seat, completely transfixed by his story.
Out of this world as it was, it was completely believable. China is no stranger to food scandals. (Remember the tainted milk, fake green peas, glow in the dark pork and the most recent exploding watermelon scandals?) Not to what my dad (who’s based in China) told me lately about the ongoing recycled cooking oil trade.
It’s little wonder why people are so distrustful of China (and its people) in general. Their (locally accepted but not well-accepted overseas) behaviour certainly doesn’t help.
The conversation with Mister Taxi Driver ended when I had to alight at my home. We bid each other a friendly farewell, and I wished him a pleasant and safe drive home (something which I generally don’t do). Then, we went our separate ways,
Me? Well, my personal perception of China’s mainlanders remain below average – considering my multiple bad experiences with these folks. (If I were to write about my experiences with them both overseas and in Singapore, it’d probably be as thick as an encyclopedia.)
However, I refuse to wipe them off entirely yet. I’ve met fellow students and friends from China who don’t fit into the general stereotype of China’s mainlanders, which leads me to believe that the crass behaviour seems to be limited to the middle-aged generation (while the Y-generation remains untainted). Not to mention how my Chinese counterparts at school and at work are extremely bright individuals, and are so easy to talk to and get along with.
What are your thoughts about China folk?
Two weeks ago, I bought about a foot worth of white cloth as I had a pair of jeans I wanted to patch.
However, I was way too busy at that time and left that folded piece of white cloth somewhere on my desk. Directly within sight, so that I’d remember to fix my jeans.
A few days later, my neat freak streak got the better of me and I decided to declutter my desk. I ended up placing the white cloth somewhere else in my room.
Now, I want to fix my jeans and have no freaking clue where the cloth is, despite racking my brains for almost three days.
FML. Welcome to my world.
In 1999, my favourite bus service (back at my old home) was converted from a purely non-air conditioned service to a partial one (meaning that some buses would be air-conditioned and others, won’t.)
I liked the feeling of natural air blowing at my hair as I rode the bus back from school back then, so I voiced my displeasure. I wrote a letter to SBSTransit (known as just SBS back then) expressing my distaste for how air-conditioned buses will pamper Singaporeans in general and cause more environmental pollution.
It was written on pink Hello Kitty paper, and I dropped it off at the information booth at the bus interchange while on my way back from school.
I didn’t expect a reply. But less than two weeks later, I received a postcard from SBSTransit, thanking me for my feedback and that they’d look into it.
Unfortunately, the postcard was intercepted by my then-family maid who passed it on to my mother, remarking that I’ve become a meddlesome creature who was making trouble for big agencies. Both then interrogated me about what I had written in the original letter and lambasted me for it.
I was since then, barred from writing letters to ‘big government companies’ because I was merely being a busybody and they won’t listen to a small fry like me. I was immensely annoyed, but didn’t say anything.
Less than two years later (when I was 14), a new neighbour moved in – whose window directly faced my home’s dining room where I studied every afternoon. The neighbour proved to be a disturbing one. His/her son would without fail, blast his infernal techno music at full volume every afternoon. Either that, or he would practise his guitar playing with the window wide open.
And I was trying to study.
Bearing in mind I was no longer allowed to write to ‘big government agencies’, I wrote directly to the neighbour – basically telling him/her that his/her son had to shut the hell up for the comfort of the other residents in their vicinity and for the general peace and quiet of the neighbourhood.
There was the sound of loud yelling from that neighbour’s house one afternoon. Apparently that of the neighbour screaming at the son for the daily afternoon din. Subsequently, every afternoon was filled with the song of silence, with the son’s window clamped shut.
A few days later, mum pointed out the sudden silence, bemused. “Eh, our neighbour is no longer making noise ah?”
So I pointed out that it was because I wrote to them.
She went white.
Just imagine her response after that. (Hint: It borders on the line of hysterical.)
This story doesn’t have a moral. This memory just suddenly came back to me once fine day and I wanted to share this because you know, just because “you are a small fry” doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference in today’s society.
Society generally frowns upon people who speak up more than they should. But if everyone keeps silent at everything, there wouldn’t be change. Be daring to speak up, no matter how young you are.