The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Are Singaporean taxi drivers trained?

Singaporean taxi drivers often strike me as among the least knowledgeable of their breed. Indeed, Singapore is the only country I have ever visited, in which the taxi drivers quite often don't know where they are going. It seems needless to add, but add I must, that Singapore is such a small country, that it is, in fact, a modest sized city, and that to not know where you are going, within it, as a professional driver, is quite some feat.

It is apt that I should comment at this time, for the largest taxi fleet is set to raise the flagdown rate of its taxis by a rumoured 30 cents and has hinted at other ways to raise revenue (read: increase pricing), as well. This comes upon the huge rise in call-out charges some months back.

The big question is, of course: are these price rises justified when service is so poor?

Before any prices rise, the taxi fleets need to address the issue of driver competence. Singaporean drivers are often a poorly informed and not particularly honest bunch. They don't know where they are going - or if they do, they deliberately take very circuitous routes. They do anything they can to inflate the fare and cheat the passenger - particularly if, like me, that passenger is a foreigner. I have seen all sorts of ploys - all of them calculated to deprive me of rather more dollars than is justified by the journey embarked upon. Some drivers have even driven off with the passengers' belongings. (Some 20,000 dollars worth of wedding gifts, for instance, in a famous recent case.) So, all in all, a Singaporean taxi is something to be wary of, for one reason or another.

A recent journey brought me to ask the title question. We booked a taxi (and paid the exorbitant surcharges), since we were going to a wedding. Rather than give him our precise location, we told him to drive to somewhere obvious, nearby.

"Jurong Junior College.", we requested, as we got into the cab.

"Where? I don't know.", he replied.

Ah, I thought, he doesn't know where the Junior College is.

"You show me.", he continued, pointing ahead at the mystery of the roads, on which he drove daily.

So, we were to show a professional driver, in a very small city, where to go...

We got to the first meeting of roads and he slowed. "Which way?" he asked, without embarrassment.

It was clear, then, that it was not the Junior College that he didn't know the way to. He didn't know the way to Jurong. That flabbergasted me - for it meant he didn't know the city at all.

As the journey proceeded, this man, who had the nerve to call himself a taxi driver, would ask us for instructions at every single meeting of roads, junction or turning, all along the way. He quite simply knew nothing at all of the geography of Singapore.

Finally, as we neared our destination, my wife said: "Just turn left at Jurong JC."

"JC? I don't know what JC is." he said, in utter mystification.

My wife and I looked at each other. There is something you should know at this point. Only Singaporeans are allowed to drive Singaporean taxis. That means that all were born here, educated here and grew up here. As you have no doubt noticed, JC is the abbreviation for Junior College (which we first asked him for). So, even if he had been a foreigner - which he couldn't possibly be - he should have known what JC was. Yet, he was a native. He had been through the school system - yet he had managed to do so, without knowing the names of the schools.

I grew really uncomfortable then. Was our driver senile? He didn't look old enough to be, being in his fifties at my best guess. Or was he just lying about his lack of knowledge? Was his "I don't know where I am going", just a ruse to ensure that, on average, he always travelled a longer route than otherwise, because his passengers would tend not to have the best route knowledge?

In a way, I rather hoped it was a ruse - for I find it incredible that someone of so little mental competence, as not even to know the most basic things about the society he grew up in - not its geography and not the names of its institutions - could actually be allowed behind the wheel of a taxi.

Was he truly that mentally incompetent? If so, he shouldn't be driving - and a system that can allow such a driver on the road, is seriously flawed. Clearly, there is no real training of these drivers. It is not infrequent to step into a cab driven by someone who hasn't got a clue where he is going. That should never happen. No-one should be allowed to drive until they know their way around.

In London, where I grew up, the cab drivers prided themselves on The Knowledge - an examination in the routing between all destinations in London. All cab drivers had to pass this test. As a result, I never had the experience, in London, of being driven by a taxi driver who didn't know where he was going. Yet, in Singapore, I have that experience several times a week. Singaporean drivers simply don't know Singapore. Furthermore, those that do, often use that knowledge of best routes, to avoid them and give the passenger the longest, most expensive route possible (at least they do to me, a Caucasian). It is truly a disgrace to the nation. Yet, instead of addressing the issue of useless, incompetent and dishonest drivers - what are the authorities going to do? They are going to raise the price of taxis again. That is the second time in a year.

Before they raise prices, they should first take off the roads all the dishonest drivers - and all the incompetent drivers. All new drivers should be exhaustively trained in the ways and byways of Singapore. Then, and only then, should they even begin to consider raising the price. They should remember that it is called a taxi SERVICE - and attend to the service part, first.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:35 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious--do taxis in Singapore provide child safety seats for child passengers? Are there seat belt laws in Singapore?

1:34 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am afraid I have to disappoint you: there are NO child safety seats in taxis, here. In fact, I don't think I have seen one in Singapore, since I arrived. They are certainly not the norm.

As for seat belt laws: I wear one, but many don't. I don't know what the law is on the matter, but certainly I have seen people not wearing them.

If it is road safety you are concerned about, you should note that I personally have seen several fatalities just outside my home in the past couple of years alone - and those are the ones that occurred at times of my passing. No doubt there were others that occurred when I was at work, or asleep. It is not safe, really.

I hope that helps.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I confess I am surprised! Here in the US most states have laws requiring seat belts and child safety seats. My kids are still using child safety seats and they are 8 and 5. Given the level of carnage you have witnessed outside your own home, are you concerned about the safety of your children in taxis?

2:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Many things are different in Asia. I see less concern over litigation (it generally doesn't happen, even when it should) and less concern over individual safety.

There are many things that could be done to improve road safety, which aren't. Cars don't even have to stop when the light is green for pedestrians to cross, at junctions: they can still turn into the adjoining road if there is no passenger in the way - at least that is what they do all the time. In other words, a pedestrian is at much greater risk of being knocked down than in most developed countries, because of this crazy road law.

There is too much leeway given to drivers and not enough to pedestrians.

Yes, I am concerned about my family when we travel by car. I generally get them to use the seat belts - but they are not ideal, being meant for adults. However, I tend to get them to put them under their arms (to avoid strangling them). It is better than nothing.

I must confess I have never seen so many road accidents, as I have since I came here, to Singapore. I don't know what the true statistics are - but to be witness to so many is a statistic enough for me.

I even once had to get out of the way as a motorbike skidded its way, on its side, along the ground outside my house, as I crossed the road: he had been "nudged" by an erring car. Luckily that one wasn't fatal - but was a very close shave for me.

Keep safe.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might consider getting belt positioning booster seats. They are very easy to use. You place the booster seat in the car, the child sits on the seat and then you use the vehicle seat belt to buckle them in. Here is an example:

There are other, less expensive options.

1:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that you have had so many bad taxi experiences. I have rarely, if ever met a cab driver such as one you have met. The worse was probably just those who do longer routes...

Sad to say, i think it is because you 're a Caucasian. No, it doesn't just justify what happened though.

Anyway taxi drivers are conventionally looked down upon in Singapore and most don't want to be one. A friend once said to me that most of the knowledgeable drivers are the old ones who are dying out. A lot of people now become taxi drivers because they have no other way to turn. Of course, the taxi companies seem to be overly lax in their criteria on selection of new drivers as you have mentioned.

2:07 AM  

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