Stanford PhD graduate end up driving taxi for a living
Probably the only taxi driver in this world with a PhD from Stanford and a proven track record of scientific accomplishments, I have been forced out of my research job at the height of my scientific career, and unable to find another one, for reasons I can only describe as something “uniquely Singapore”. As a result, I am driving taxi to make a living and writing these real life stories just to make the dull job a little more interesting. I hope that these stories are interesting to you too.
Since the takeover of leadership by some western “big shots” a few years ago, the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) of ASTAR, Singapore, a place I have worked for 16 years as a PI (principal investigator), a place that was once flourishing, promising, and pleasant to work in, has been in a mess.
Bestowed with the kind of power they had never seen before, these once reputable scientists turned everything in the institute upside down. The previous democratic and consensus-oriented management system that had worked well for more than a decade in the past was thrown out of window and replaced by one that was marked by domineering, manipulation, and incompetence.
What they lacked in experience of management, adequate understanding of the institute, and proper respect for fellow scientists as their colleagues, they made up for in arrogance, prejudice, and naked muscle of political power. Some PIs were sent packing, and some were promoted, all up to the new leadership’s manipulative and twisted standards.
Despite my considerable contribution to building up this place into what it is today, I was among the first few PIs to be told to go. My employment contract with IMCB was terminated by May, 2008, without any forms of compensation given.
I was hence forced into a deeply difficult position. Becoming jobless at my age is perhaps the worst nightmare that can happen to any ordinary man, not to mention the loss of life-long career.
Ever since I was informed of their decision sometime in 2007, when the economy was still booming, I had been trying hard to find a job. I had submitted countless CV and application letters to various places in Singapore including universities, government agencies, and private companies. Most of them, however, never responded. A couple of replies I did receive never materialized into anything positive.
Later, the outburst of financial crisis world wide helped extinguish my last hope of finding a job anytime soon. By November 2008, I finally made a decision to become a taxi driver.
At the time like this, the taxi business is probably the only business in Singapore that still actively recruits people. I signed up for a training course run by a government-linked transport company in November, with a course fee of nearly $280. On paper, the Express Taxi Driver’s Vocational License Course, or TDVL, is supposed to run six days a week, five hours a day. But in reality, the daily course never lasted longer than 3 hours.
The whole purpose of the course was to help you pass the test and get the license. It was divided into five sections, Rules and regulations, Routes and landmarks, Names and locations of buildings, Defensive driving, and General paper, which included subjects such as highway codes, vehicle maintenance, healthy living, etc. The instructors were either veteran taxi drivers or representatives from government agencies such as Land Transport Authority (LTA).
My class started on 1st of December, 2008, which consisted of more than 30 people. There were three classes running at the same time and all were about this size. The course was very easy. Every day, the instructors told us what to highlight on the manual and asked us to memorize them because these were the materials that were going to be tested.
As long as you did that, it was impossible to fail the test. Even if you fail, you still have one year to take an unrestricted number of retest. With such ease, no wonder there are nearly 100,000 people possessing taxi driver’s license today in Singapore, almost 3 for every 100 Singapore citizens, children and infants included.
By the end of February this year, I finally received my taxi driver’s license, and thus began my new taxi driver’s career. This blog records some of the events that I have experienced as a taxi driver. They are all actual events and are presented as truthfully as possible.
Special precautions have been taken to avoid revealing any specific information which may help in any way the identification of the persons described in these events. The purpose of this blog is to provide readers with the first hand accounts of my experience of converting from a veteran scientist to a rookie taxi driver in today’s Singapore.
The views and encounters described in this blog may be insignificant, isolated, or biased. Nevertheless, I am sure some readers will find this blog interesting and helpful in widening their general perspectives on Singapore.
Finally, I want to thank my family for their trust and support, and for always being at my side to endure with me the trauma, the distress and the anxiety caused by my job loss. I also want to thank all of my customers, especially the ones who have shown their grace, kindness, and understanding to me when I made mistakes during my work. They are the important factor to encourage me to carry on.