You Go Which Way?

Singapore, in the heart of the monsoon season. Incredibly hot. Never-endingly wet. Enervating humidity. On this particular Thursday afternoon the rain had yet to arrive but the threat of it hung heavy in the air. Towering black clouds were building menacingly to the west, occasionally under-lit by streaks of fluorescent-white lightening. In the far distance thunder rumbled.

I was on my way to Holland Village to meet friends for lunch. Luckily a taxi pulled up outside my apartment building just as I stepped into the lobby from the elevator. Its passenger climbed out. A tiny Indian lady swathed in a bright pink sari, jasmine blossoms threaded through a thick, glossy black braid that hung down her back. Laden down with packages of all sizes and aromas. Quite remarkable how she managed to carry it all. As she walked away in a cloud of sandalwood perfume I climbed into the back of the cab. My conversation with the taxi driver went something like this:

‘Hello. Can we go to Holland Village, please?’

‘Ahhh, velly good morning! You go Horrand Virrage?’ he cheerfully replied in perfect Singlish.

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘Ahhh. You go which way?’

Not an unusual question in itself. Whenever you get into a cab in Singapore the driver will always ask you which way you want to go. This is just in case you have a favourite route that you think is cheaper and you like to go that way, and that way only. This is the island where everything must be just so, after all.

‘Er, not sure,’ I replied. ‘I usually go on the MRT and then walk. You take me the quickest way. I leave it up to you.’

Silence pervaded the icy cold air-conditioned environment of the cab. We proceeded to pull away, slowly, and turned left out of the complex. As this was the only way we could turn it did not inspire in me a great deal of confidence. It was quite evident that the taxi driver had no clue which way to go. The demon of impatience in my head was moaning once again, convinced that this journey was going to be a disaster. The angel in my heart whispered,

‘Patience. Give him a chance. We all deserve that.’

‘You want go ECP and AYE or go PIE,’ he cryptically asked.

Singapore is a nation filled with acronyms. You can have entire conversations using them without ever uttering a verb or a noun. These particular ones relate to the names of various highways on the island. I had no idea which was either quicker or easier and said so.

As we turned this way and that off the main road I asked the driver how long he had been driving a cab for.

‘Ohhh, velly sad story. I was in Army long time. Got sick so had to leave. And now I drive cab.’

‘Oh dear. But how long have you been driving,’ I said, pushing the point.

Following a long pregnant pause during which time he managed to go three times round a roundabout he told me,

‘Just since yesterday afternoon, Madam.’
‘Well that explains it, then,’ I muttered under my breath.

I glanced at the road we were in and breathed a sigh of relief; I had travelled up it on the bus the previous day and recognised where we were. I pulled my much-used city map from my bag, sorted out the route and proceeded to give him directions.

‘Ahhh, Madam. You velly clever! You have map. I not think of that. Where you buy?’

I was incredulous. I told him where I bought it and how much for and suggested that if he wanted a successful career as a taxi driver he ought to consider buying one. We were travelling along the highway at about 70 kms per hour when he took it from my hand and peered at it intently through his thick rimmed, milk bottle bottom, gold-tinted spectacles. Peering in wonder. Oblivious to the fact we were only inches away from the car in front.

‘Ahhh, Madam. This no good for me. Cannot see, lah,’

‘What do you mean, you cannot see?’ I plaintively asked.

By now I was beginning to seriously wonder what I had done for this taxi to be delivered to me. A taxi that had a driver who had been on the job for just one day, who had no map and even if he did, wouldn’t be able to see it. The angel in my heart just smiled to herself. Confident that all of Life’s journeys are for a reason.

The taxi driver continued,

‘Ahhh, Madam. Velly sad. Even with glasses cannot see clearly. Actually Madam, you tell me when we get to Farrer Road? Can lah?’

‘Why do you need me to do that,’ I said, clutching onto my seatbelt for dear life.

‘Because I cannot read road signs, lah. Cannot see clearly. Velly blurred. Too many catalacts,’ he sadly answered.

We eventually arrived at our destination with my orienteering skills much improved. The journey had taken twice as long as it should have and cost more than double what I had expected. Small matters. We had got there. A miracle in itself.

As I was preparing to climb out of the cab the taxi driver impressed me with his marketing skills. He asked me if I wanted one of his cards so I could book him directly next time. I took one. I could not help admiring him.

Admiring his commitment to succeed. To make the best of his life.
Admiring his willingness to admit his shortcomings.
Admiring his unfailing belief in himself despite his limitations.

Rare skills.

Ones we all could embrace and be so much the better for it.

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© Jacqueline Le Sueur 2007
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