Day and night, they ply the roads of Singapore, ferrying passengers around while filling their cabs with small talk. But for one Saturday every two months, they delve into the passages of imagination between book covers, acting out short scenes and leading animated discussions to unravel the meaning behind literary works.
The Taxi Sifu Reading Club, formed in 2005, has been going strong for the past decade.
As the name suggests, most of the Chinese language reading club's members were cabbies when the book club first started out with 16 members. However, membership has swelled to 200 over the years, and only about 10 of them are now current or retired cabbies.
The nine-member executive committee says that they encourage the public's participation.
" 'Taxi sifu' has become the popular brand of our reading club. But what we want to pass on to our future generations is this culture and spirit of reading," said retired cabbie Seng Say Lee, 75, the committee secretary.
Some books that have been discussed include modern Chinese classics like Shen Congwen's Border Town and Lu Xun's The True Story of Ah Q, as well as short stories by local writers You Jin and Lin Gao.
Marking a milestone
The Taxi Sifu Reading Club will be launching its 10th anniversary commemorative book at the Ang Mo Kio Public Library on Monday.
Members of the public can walk in to the club's next reading session on Nov 28, 7pm at the same venue, where it will be reading an essay collection, Waltz With Nature, by Singaporean writer Li Ximei.
Posters announcing the book selection for the next meeting are put up at the library after each reading session.
Back in 2005, Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, then a librarian, was scratching her head over which participants to slot in for the last leg of a 12-hour reading marathon as part of the National Library Board's Read! Singapore campaign.
It occurred to her that taxi drivers on the night shift would be active even at the late hour of 11pm to midnight, and contacted her then cabby friend, Mr Tan Seng Lee, now 76 and retired, to lead a book discussion. Over 100 cabbies attended that first session.
"Some of them came up to me and asked, 'Do you know how much money we had lost from taking a break for these few hours? About $60 to $70'," recalled Mrs Kiang-Koh, now 64, laughingly. "But it seemed like it was worth it after all, because many of them came back to attend other book club sessions," she added. Mrs Kiang-Koh is the adviser to the Taxi Sifu Reading Club, which was formed after the marathon.
An average of 30 participants now turn up for the reading club's sessions at Ang Mo Kio Public Library. A facilitator is usually appointed from the committee. Discussions, they emphasised, need to be as interactive and inclusive as possible. For example, when reading local writer Ding Yun's book The Last Village Of Nee Soon, some of the cabbies visited the actual site and took photographs of the area before putting together a short film.
Participants listen to a short presentation before breaking out into small-group discussions, so that everyone gets a chance to speak.
"We want this to be a proper reading group, and if we don't take it seriously, people wouldn't want to come," said Mr Seng.
The biggest challenge that the club faces now is attracting new participants who are equally passionate about the book club. "We are all getting older and we're not sure if we can last the next decade," said Madam Lim Ching, 75, who is a member of the executive committee and married to committee chairman, Mr Tan. "As long as you can speak some Mandarin and have an interest in reading, we have no restrictions on age or background."