Monday, 27 April 2015

My B grade essay for GL2102 (Yes, I included the pictures in my essay)

The task was for us to come up with an original story about three people and their positions in the supply chain/ GPE. I'm sharing this simply because I am proud of my essay (except for the convo part... was aiming for something more realistic but was constrained by the word count) regardless of the lacklustre grade. Based on the feedback, I got a B mainly because I did not have any citations and that there are some parts where I could have summarised and developed my story further. Anyways, please enjoy:

Mr. Taxi Driver (Inspired by a true story) 

Part 0: The Vehicle of …? 

This is a story centred on this car below:

Figure 1: Taxi car. Credits to the author. 

If you do not recognise this vehicle, you are probably not a Singaporean because this is plausibly the most common vehicle on the street (they usually vary in fashion but the LED crown on the roof is pretty standard). If you take this vehicle on a daily basis, you are probably richer than the average Singaporean, or simply have bad time management. This vehicle is one of my most necessary tools of survival right after air, water and food – which supplies may depend on this vehicle as well. I depend on this non-living metal produce like a baby depends on her mother’s milk. ‘Milk’ being the metaphor for money and everything else that comes with it, of course. My father has been a taxi driver for as long as I can remember and the one question that I ask him most often is: Why do you drive taxi? The answers that my dad gives comes in several variations like: “To earn money lor”, “To pay for your school fees”, “To put food on the table”, etc. But what my dad does not realise while answering this question is the true intended meaning behind my question. What I really wanted to know was WHY – Why, a taxi driver? His ‘answers’ can be achieved with other types of jobs too. So, why, a taxi driver? 

Biographical insert: My father was born into a family of seven, him being the eldest son. His mother (my grandmother) worked as a dishwasher while her husband (my grandfather) patronised illegal gambling dens around the country. My father never found the need to study hard, nor did my grandparents. I guess for my grandmother, she simply did not have the time and energy to care. He dropped out of school at fifteen and signed on to 5 years of national service. His career choices were limited, so he only tried out two other sales-related jobs before settling down as a taxi driver, a husband, and a father of three. We are not doing too badly; low-middle income, all kids in school (one in, supposedly, the most prestigious university in Singapore), albeit still trying to pay off a few bank loans. As you can tell, we are quite the average family (though not quite the kind that the government would feature on National Day).

My father always says that I need to study hard or I will end up like him. He likes to tell his friends that he has a daughter in university and that he can look forward to retirement. I think he places all his hopes on my siblings and I because he knows that he is stuck with being a taxi driver. ‘Mr. Taxi Driver’, that is his label in society. I understand that with my degree, I am more likely to be better off in terms of material and probably, non-material well-being (which is often made possible by money too). My father even tells me that I can change the world if I want to, and that my background does not matter, but what can a university degree guarantee? There are so many more factors involved in the journey to world domination. Am I bound to become just another worker (albeit paid higher) like my father? For whom am I working for? Am I simply a product of the capitalist production chain that is fated to become the factor of production for an even larger production chain? 

Figure 2: Human Capital Map. Credits to the author. 
Average, I realised, is a very scary state to be in. Because it is so average and normal, I wonder if I would be stuck in it without realising.

PART 1: The Taxi, The Driver and The Creator

One day over dinner, my dad shared with us that he drove his first billionaire. As my father recalled, these two men in suits, one visibly older than the other, entered his taxi and then just sat there, as if waiting for something to happen. It was obvious that they have never taken a taxi before because for the first time in a long time, my father had to ask, “Going where?”

They sat in silence throughout the journey until the older man asked if my father could turn up the air-conditioning (which was already at its maximum). My father apologised, and then went on to explain, “Sorry, FomfortGelgro taxis not very good these days.” The older man flared his nostrils (yes, so much so that my father saw it happen through the rear-view mirror) and said, “What are you taking about? This is FomfortGelgro, the best taxi company in Singapore, if not, the world!”
My father then replied, “Sir, I think you really haven’t taken taxi before. FomfortGelgro rental so high but taxis break down so easily! Always have to waste my time to go repair!”

“How can you say that about my company?!” The older man bellowed, “You should be thankful that we even offered you a job!” My father cannot stand arrogant people and so, despite the fact that this man can (and probably will) make him lose his only source of income, he continued the argument and it went something like this:

Father: Just because you’re CEO doesn’t mean you can be so hao lian (arrogant) hor! Why do you think you are where you are right now, earning millions and billions of dollars?
CEO: Because I am capable, I am the one who brought FomfortGelgro to a position that no one can beat.
Father: Could you have done it without taxi drivers?
CEO: …No, of course I will need workers. But it is because of the brand that I built that people would even be willing to tap on your labour. Which person in the right mind would board on a brandless vehicle? There is no assurance for them as to whether this particular service will be credible or effective! My status packages your taxi service and my high social status is passed on to the service that you provide. A service that people are willing to pay $3.40 the very moment they engage with it.
Father: Yes, but who created this perception of credibility and efficiency? We taxi drivers are your spokespersons! Without us, you and your brand are nothing.
CEO: All I know is that I don’t need a spokesperson like you! You are just another driver, there are hundreds of people who can take over your position. Have fun living in the bottom of the food chain!
Strange enough, my father is still driving taxi hitherto. Perhaps ‘The Creator’ left in such fury that he forgot to note down my father’s licence plate.

PART 2: The Thermos Flask

“Pa, this is your birthday present this year,” I said as I passed him the $50 (god knows why*) Thermos Flask that I bought from the department store. He asked me why I bought it for him, and I said it was because he sits in his air-conditioned taxi all-day. He then said my gift was redundant, because it would make him go to the toilet more often. Does he hate going to the toilet? No. My father avoids drinking water because it makes him go to the toilet which then leads to less chances for him to drive people around and make money. I wish I was exaggerating, and it hurts that it is true, but on a daily basis, my father drinks less than 500ml of water over a period of 12 hours (usual shift). How can he work so hard, to an extent that threatens his own well-being, and yet earn so little? It never made sense to me. Same goes for blue-collared workers like construction workers and factory workers; why are they all succumbed to such conditions? We are all human, but it is perhaps inevitable that we carry different sets of skills, skills that are not equally valued in the society. Because of this, we have to accept unequal conditions. I am reminded of that dark-humour quote from Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are animals more equal than others.”

Before my father became a taxi driver, I used to complain about how high taxi fares are, and that people who spend their money on taxis are just spoilt rich people whom cannot think of better ways of spending their money. But of course, now that my own father is a taxi driver, I know the sacrifices taxi drivers have to make and I complain about how taxi fares are not high enough given the profit margin. Yes, it is very ironic but it goes to show how one’s perception of value can be biased and may be subjected to change.

In other words, an average consumer probably does not value the taxi service as much as I do. Taxi fares are deemed ‘too high’ when the average consumer finds that it is given more value than it should and if we talk in terms of simple economic principles, the demand of taxi service would drop with relatively higher taxi fares. Even if the taxi company does not start retrenching, my father would probably still earn less money than before (given that taxi services are not exactly necessities to the average consumer due to the availability of public and private transport). Moreover, driving is just driving; technically, anyone who has a driver’s licence can be a taxi driver. My father’s labour is very replaceable and high in demand (i.e. labour can even become its own determinant). What matters is the end product; as long as they are able to reach their destinations, who would care about who is driving? Who would request for taxi drivers who give better customer service when they are rushing to get to work? And if the consumer does not care, the firm would not need to care either since their perceived value is derived from that of the consumer. There are, however, times when the consumers are constrained by the producers (be it workers or firms), especially in cases where the consumers place such high values on certain goods and services to an extent that is disadvantageous to themselves. Every actor in the global political economy is so intrinsically bound to one another that it is sometimes difficult to identify who is being played and who the player is. I feel that the power of the individual cannot be underestimated yet cannot be overestimated either. It all ends when you overestimate the power of certain actors.

*I know I said 'god knows why' but it's really just for comic effect. Me no Christian or Methodist or whatever subsidiaries they have.

1 comment:

  1. I loved it!! Thank you for such an insightful and hilarious read :)