Why are you still driving a taxi at age 73?

By James Lim

This article was first published at Diary of a Singaporean Cabby

“Johnny, why are you still driving a taxi at age 73.” I asked bluntly

“Why not!?  Health wise, I’m ok. Do you want me to stare at four great walls that surround me, daily”, Johnny answered jocularly with reference to a Tom Jone’s song.

johnnyAt 18, Johnny joined the Singapore Police Force with a secondary two education and retired at 45 as detective sergeant. After 27 years of police work and upon retirement, he took up cab driving in 1985 as he had no commercially marketable skills. Today, he still drives a cab at age 73, a 28 years driving carrier behind the wheel.

While in the police force, he fortunately made the right decision in chosing the Pension Scheme instead of the CPF Scheme. Now,  he receives from the Pension Scheme about $1,500 monthly plus free medical benefits for himself and his family till his death. If he had chosen the CPF scheme, his retirement fund would have been lockup with token sum of about $500 monthly from a CPF Life Insurance Scheme and no medical benefits whatsoever.

In addition to the $1,500 from his Pension Scheme, he gets about $1,000 “pocket money” from his five grown up children. His 4 room flat is fully paid and he has no major financial commitments. Therefore, by all accounts, Johnny is financially comfortable and should not have to drive a cab at his ripe age of 73, right?

Given Johnny’s stable financial position, I was initially intrigued by his decisions to continue driving a cab even at age 73 but on further probing, I discovered that Johnny was in essence a product of Lee Kuan Yew’s relentless indoctrination of the right work ethics and anti-welfarism agenda.

Mr Lee said “You work as long as you can work and you will be healthier and happier for it. If you ask me to stop working all of a sudden, I think I’ll just shrivel up, face the wall and just that,” he said.

On another occasion, he said “Government subsidies on consumption are wrong and ruinous…for however wealthy a nation, it cannot carry health, unemployment and pension benefits without massive taxation and overloading the system, reducing the incentives to work and to save and care for one’s family—when all can look to the state for welfare”.

From these two quotes of Lee Kuan Yew, I humbly rationalized that Mr Lee subtly encourages his people to work as long as possible so that our government’s coffer is not exhausted by unemployment and pension benefits.. However, though I’m a non-admirer of him, his preaching that one should work as long as one is able holds some truth.

Many bloggers has written excellent posts on why elderly Singaporean had to slog for a living in this 6th most expensive country in the world. But for this post, I would like to expound on the benefits of work after retirement on a personal level and not why Singaporean had to work after retirement due to social and economic factors.

Over a coffee talk with my taxi buddies, the subject of how we pass time when we cannot drive a cab surfaces. It was agreed by some that it will indeed be very worrisome and fearful to sit or lie and desire for time to speed away when you have nothing to do. I can understand how some of our wheel-chaired buddies feel right now. They are in the state that I might find myself in one day.  Some have no interest in television, reading, or simple pastime like chess, singing and enjoying listening to music.

Being filled with time you cannot use when you are old is quite frightening. We never worry over too much time when we are young. Rather we wish for more time as we have so much to do.  We need time to complete our school work or jobs. And we certainly want more time to discover life and enjoy ourselves more and more. Hadn’t we all wished once upon a time that there are more than 24 hours in a day? For some elderly people especially bed ridden or invalid they actually wish for less.

But time is the same throughout life. The perception of having more or less time comes from our awareness of its passage. Albert Einstein in explaining his theory of relativity used the illustration of how fast our time passes in the company of someone we love but the opposite when we dislike doing something. He said, “When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it feels like two hours. But, when you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it feels like two minutes. That’s relativity!”

I know why many older people are grouchy, difficult, attention seeking, hypochondriac, or just sleep and sleep. In their own ways they are trying to use up their daily quota of time. That’s because they don’t have interests to keep themselves occupied. That’s the reason why they ask, sometimes demand that friends and families visit and talk with them often. They are using others to help them pass time.

I am poor at 65 but better off than many older people. I drive a cab to pass my time productively and I am not bored from too much time. Fortunately I am not a physically active person, indulging more in sedentary activities like blogging, singing, listening to music and watching the world go by. My Internet is my window to life beyond my house. That I confess makes me exceedingly glad to be growing old now. To be a recipient of real time global connectivity and enjoy all the privileges of knowledge, opinions, images and videos, social networking and various interests the Net offer.

Now, Johnny still drives a cab at 73 because that’s the only way he knows how to pass his time and not to be bored to an early death within the four great walls of his flat. He had spent almost his entire life working and surely he would just shrivel up like LKY if he stops working suddenly.

Sadly, Johnny also has a “sinful” indulgence —buy 4D…a lot. So, needless to say, he needs to drive to get that “extra $$” for his 4D addiction.