Diary of a Taxi Driver reviewed in The Straits Times

Diary of a Taxi Driver was awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars in a Straits Times review:

After an overhaul at the science research institute where he had worked for 16 years, Dr Cai Mingjie’s employment contract was terminated in May 2008.

Unfortunately, the Chinese-born Singaporean could not get another job despite submitting ‘numerous CVs and application letters to various organisations including universities, government agencies, and private companies’.

In February last year, he became a taxi driver: ‘The taxi driver licence can only be issued to Singapore citizens… Therefore, 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.’

His loss is our gain. While every taxi driver surely has his (or sometimes, her) share of stories to tell, few actually do, at least not on paper. But this learned cabby started a blog which he eventually developed into this journal-style book.

Although he drove for the comparatively short time of six months (according to the epilogue, he has since received several other job opportunities), this slim book is still packed with a wide range of characters and situations.

Some will be cringingly familiar to any white-collar professional who has ever been impatient or rude towards a cab driver; others are denizens of a Singapore that emerges only after midnight. Some stories are unexpected, some all too familiar; many are heartbreaking.

A passenger excitedly shouts his sexual experiences at Orchard Towers into his phone, oblivious that the driver can hear him. A bar girl from China, after a slow night at work and unable to afford the fare, tells him brazenly: ‘You are a nice man. I want to be a friend with you.’

Some of the stories can take on a rather sanctimonious tone but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Mostly, the writer avoids moralising, trusting the episodes to speak for themselves.

This book is not just the story of what it is like to be a taxi driver: It offers snapshots of a Singapore literally on the move, of a restless and dissatisfied population, of people rushing to be somewhere else.

– Stephanie Yap, The Straits Times

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