By Gu Yuan You
WHEN I was in Singapore recently for a medical consultation, I took a taxi that was driven by a Malay. During the 30 minute-journey, the driver spoke to me solely in English.
'It is really fate that I took your taxi today. May I have this opportunity to speak to you in Malay while I am in Singapore? It would give me a sense of familiarity,' I clarified.
Unexpectedly, the driver replied, 'Actually, I have few opportunities to ferry passengers of my race, including those from Malaysia. So, of course I speak mainly English.'
We then continued our banter. I realised that this driver was not only chatty but also quite knowledgeable. When I asked him directly and indirectly about his life experiences in Singapore, he said, 'People are creatures of habit. After a while, they will get used to being scrutinised under a magnifying glass.'
'Do you know what fair competition is? The truth is, the Lee Kuan Yew government has made us Malays feel proud and given us a sense of pride!' he added. 'Being a taxi driver allows me to meet all kinds of people, understand different cultures and absorb new knowledge that can widen my horizon and thinking.
'The Malays on this island are very tough. Really, there are all types of people. From what I heard from various channels, I am puzzled and surprised that your country's leaders, especially (former PM) Mahathir, are quite opinionated.
' I personally feel that he is an unyielding person. Many of his statements are actually very hurtful. It clearly shows that he does not understand his fellow Malays in Singapore. He has lost touch with us.'
His sincere words reflected his feelings and thinking, and generally those of the Malays in Singapore.
At this point, he changed the subject and said that he was curious to know more about me. 'Why did you bother to take the night train to come all the way here from Kuala Lumpur? Isn't there any hospital in such a big city like Kuala Lumpur that can treat you?'
I thanked him for his concern and replied: 'It is not that troublesome! I am impressed with Singapore's border checks and public transport services such as the MRT, taxis and buses, as well as the hardware, software, medical skills and administrative efficiency of the hospitals here.
'It's true. There is also interaction between the patients and the hospitals. Moreover, the KTM railway station in Tanjong Pagar, which is worlds away from modern Singapore, makes me feel nostalgic too! It is now confirmed that the station will go into the annals of history soon. By looking at history, we can learn about the rise and fall of a place.
'Actually, after my first operation in Taiwan in the 1980s, I was referred to the National University Hospital here by the Taiwan hospital. It is through this hospital that I came across the first class medical system here,' I added.
Upon hearing this, the Malay driver felt proud of his country but warned: 'Mister, you are right. We are certainly more advanced than Kuala Lumpur. But we Singaporeans often pray that we only suffer from minor ailments. You must make sure that you do not have to be hospitalised for another surgery. You'll be in trouble if you cannot pay the deposit. The hospital will not show you sympathy. I have come across one actual case whereby the patient, who was my passenger, was refused admission. We are very good in everything, except for this.'
This column first appeared in the Oriental Daily News.