Cabbies in the driver's seat at heartland arts event

Cabbies Ng Kah Leong (left), 47, and Tan Soon Heng (right), who played the Monkey God, as well as Mr Arend Seah, 47, who runs a salon, playing their roles in the performance in Ang Mo Kio yesterday.
Cabbies Ng Kah Leong (left), 47, and Tan Soon Heng (right), who played the Monkey God, as well as Mr Arend Seah, 47, who runs a salon, playing their roles in the performance in Ang Mo Kio yesterday.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Five of them stage play depicting their everyday encounters and acts of kindness

It is not unusual for taxi drivers to get behind the wheel, but it is when they do so on stage, as a few did in a play yesterday.

Even as they acted out scenarios depicting challenges such as handling difficult passengers, National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee spoke off stage about the larger challenges they face.

On the sidelines of a PAssionArts Festival event where cabbies put up a play in public for the first time, he said business has been slow for them. "During the school holidays, there were fewer families and working adults taking taxis, so the volume was low. There is also competition from private-hire drivers."

Cabbies have had to drive 14 to 15 hours a day to make enough money, up from the typical 12, he noted.

When they start work, they are already at a $130 "deficit", he said, referring to the rental for their taxis.

He called on the authorities to have "clearer enforcement rules", especially when it comes to private- hire drivers from operators such as Uber and Grab who pick up passengers at taxi stands or on the streets.

As for the show, Mr Ang, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said it brought the arts to the heartland with a topic that would resonate with people.

Mostly in Mandarin, the 45- minute show borrowed characters from the Chinese classic novel, Journey To The West, and played to an audience of about 250.

Five cabbies spent two months rehearsing for the play, performed under a tent at an open space in Ang Mo Kio. Two others who are not cabbies played supporting roles.

Cabby Tan Soon Heng, 57, who played the Monkey God, said they met once a week initially, then twice a week as the show date got closer.

Fellow cabby Tan Eng Cheong, 59, said they did their best. "I'm very tired. Acting is not easy."

The play depicted cabbies' day- to-day encounters and acts of kindness, including that of a driver who offered to donate his liver.

Mr Kan Chee Yong, 37, a civil servant who watched the show, said: "It's enriching for the audience and it gives us a glimpse into their lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'Cabbies in the driver's seat at heartland arts event'. Print Edition | Subscribe