Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cabbies participate in READ! Singapore

Correction: The author of 'XiNiEr' should be Mr. Chia Hwee Pheng and not Mr. Hwang Mengwen. My apologies for the error. (17 Aug 05)

28 May 2005. Saturday evening, 11pm to 12am. Ang Mo Kio Community Library (AMCL) hosted about 100 taxi drivers (yes, that many!). The book-talk session was the last leg of the READ! Singapore 12-hour marathon.

I have new-found respect for these cabbies. I shall call them Taxi Sifus ("Sifu" is cantonese for "teacher") from now on.

Supper was Teochew porridge. My colleagues expected maybe 30 Taxi Sifus at most, so the porridge quickly ran out some time before the start of the session at 11pm. Mr Wee Siew Kim (MP for AMK GRC) graced the session. I discovered later that the author, Singaporean Mr. Huang Mengwen Chia Hwee Pheng, was there as well (Xi Ni Er's his pen name).

taxi sifus1
AMCL Programme Zone. Supper before the session.

The session was conducted in Mandarin. Five Taxi Sifus (three men, two women) were in the panel, each sharing their thoughts on a chapter or two from the book, "Short Stories" by Xi Ni Er.
Short Stories_Xi Ni Er
NLB Call No.: SING XINE (Singapore Collection, Chinese)
Click here for item availability.

The Taxi Sifus in the panel took their task seriously. One took time during the day to write an essay. Another spiced his reading & sharing with dialect, much to the amusement of his fellow Cabbie Sifus. One of the women Sifu reflected on communication issues in marriages.

taxi sifus2
Five Taxi Sifus in the panel. The person standing is my colleague, Mr Peter Lee (programmes executive), acting as facilitator.

Most in the audience have not stepped into libraries for years. Some later registered as library members. Copies of the book was distributed during the session. It was heartening to see the cabbies flip to the chapters being discussed and reading the book.

I would have loved to see greater audience participation, as in questions or comments from the floor, but that might be asking too much. It was good enough to see them read the book, and stay till the end of the session.

taxi sifus5
Something you don't see often -- Taxi Drivers/ Cabbie Sifus reading in a group settting, and it's not their exams for the cab license.

Some of the cabbies took the initiative to get the author's autograph. It became an author signing as well! The author, Mr. Huang Mengwen Chia Hwee Pheng, said conversations with Taxi Sifus formed part of his inspiration and material for the book.

taxi sifus4
The author, Mr. Huang Mengwen Chia Hwee Pheng, is seated on the extreme right of picture.

Initially I thought the panelists might feel awkward but turned out they were highly enthusiastic and obviously spent effort preparing for it.

Ah! I forget -- most cabbies have no problem talking. Take a cab and you'll agree with me. I think what they need is opportunity.

taxi sifus2
The person standing is my colleague, Mr Peter Lee, Programmes Executive. He was facilitating the session.

I'm thinking, "How can the library create more of such opportunities in future?" And would all Taxi Sifus respond as they did like tonight's audience?

Probably not.

After the programme, one Taxi Sifu joked with me that it cost him $60 for the night to attend the session. Well, I won't deny that there are opportunity costs to such activities. Guess that's why there's a need to inculcate a habit of reading.

taxi sifus7
Library tour for Taxi after the session. The foyer of AMCL looks really grand from this angle.

In any case, it was a first for NLB to have so many Taxi Sifus in one sitting, attending a programme in a library setting. The book sharing ended at 12am, but the participants didn't leave until about 1am.


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