Thursday, 17 October 2013

A Chat with Yeng

Yeng, the Cabbie

I only know him as Yeng.  He drives a cab for Alijah Aliyah Taxi. He was very friendly and was very eager to strike up a conversation. I don't normally get too chummy with my cab drivers, but he was like a little boy eager to tell me his story, so I listened. This is his life as he told it, in the 30ish minutes I spent in his cab.

Yeng is the only child of his single mother. His mother fell in love with a jeepney driver whom she didn't know was already married. To cut the story short, he got her pregnant with Yeng. His wife started giving them trouble when she found out about them. Yeng's mother eventually left his father to avoid all the problems her relationship was causing, but she resolved to raise Yeng on her own. Yeng said she never married. She is now 62 years old working for a lawyer in the US.

Yeng began telling his story after he asked me a few questions. First he wanted to know why the cab behind him didn't want to take me. I told him I didn't know. The other cab driver asked where I was going. At first he was about to take me, but then for some reason, he changed his mind and started waving me off. Yeng, seeing this happen from his rearview mirror, pullled to the side and started backing up to where I was standing. That's when I got in his cab. He apologized because he saw me but couldn't stop because there were cars on the road blocking his way. I told him I understood and I saw that he was having trouble.

He said his cab was "coding" that day, referring to the car ban based on license plate numbers. But when he heard on the news that the coding was lifted, he decided to take his cab out. He said he could use the extra income. Then he said, he was doing all he can for his family. He wished his wife would be a little more considerate. Like when he came home late from driving the night before, his 1 year old son woke up crying. He had to be the one to put him to sleep, because his wife wouldn't get up to do it. He told me he has 4 kids, 3 girls and 1 boy. The eldest is 7 and the youngest is 1. He gets very frustrated with his wife, sometimes. She once left him and the kids, to go out partying with her friends and didn't came back for days. He felt so betrayed, and wanted to leave her for good but he didn't know how he could manage working long hours, without his wife to watch over the kids. He had no one to look after them if she wouldn't, so he swallowed his pride, and begged her to come back for the kid's sake.

He said she was very tidy with the their house, and his kid's were very clean and he really appreciated that about his wife. But she was terrible at budgeting. He said she got used to a very comfortable lifestyle, while they were still living off his Mom. But he came to the decision that he needed to learn how to support his own family. That's why he was driving a cab. And that's why his wife has to do with so much less money than she had become accustomed to. He refuses to take any more subsidy from his Mom, who fought him tooth and nail on his decision. His wife was also not happy about it, either. But Yeng told his wife, that they will have to learn as a family how to live on his income. He told me it was hard but he had to learn to stand on his own. His mother was getting old and he worried that when she could not support them anymore, how would they get by. So he forced himself to learn.

I asked him if he was able to save. Yeng said he was in debt for a while because his wife loved to spend. So they have not been able to start saving yet. But he said he has slowly crawling out of that situation and he is 2 payments away from paying off the debt. He said that after he pays off his debt, he would continue to take the budget for the debt and start saving it instead. Then he said, he did something he didn't tell his wife about. He joined a 'paluwagan', something like an informal savings group where everyone contributes a certain fixed amount regularly and the members take turns receiving the lumpsum collected by the group. If you have 10 members giving P2,000 each week at the end of the week the 1st member (the order drawn by lots) gets P20,000, the next week the next member gets the next P20,000 until everyone gets their turn. He said he will be getting his turn this December and it is a sizable amount that I won't mention here. I suggested he take the winfall and start saving. He said that was his plan, unless his wife finds out because she'll probably want to spend it on a new cellphone.

I then asked him if he had considered going into business, like maybe a sari-sari store. He said he used to run a mini grocery, but the work was too grueling and he barely had any time for his family. I asked him, why he didn't hire help. He said he did, but the pilferage got so bad, he was losing more money than he made. He mentioned that pilferage was at the worst when he hired relatives. They felt he owed them so much. He had to close down that business. He said the best business is food. He wants to open up a canteen, even a small one. He feels you can't lose in the food business, and his family would always have something to eat. He said he wants to buy a lot in Batangas where he can build a house and grow a small garden. 

I asked Yeng if he was renting his home now and he said, no. He owns his house. His mother had it built for him. He said his mother struggled to raise him, but she always found a way to make their lives better. She looked for a job in Singapore. She got him through school. He wished he was a little more serious about his life then. He was always complacent knowing his mom would provide for him. Yeng said his mother got her big break when she started working for her current boss, the American lawyer. It was in the US was that she started earning really well. She sent him a monthly stipend to support his entire family, and she had him build the house he is currently living in. She also is supporting another relative along with her family. 

When he told his mother that he wasn't going to take anymore support from her, he said she cried, and insisted that he let her help him. But he stood firm on his decision. He told his mother to save her money for herself. He said his mother had never met any of his children in person. They only talk on Skype. She sent them some money for his youngest and only boy's baptism. His mother was adamant that they take it. He suggested to his wife that they should save some of it, but his wife would have none of that, so they had a royal celebration. What can he do? he asks. It's been a year since he's accepted any subsidy from her. He seems determined to follow his own path and he appears to have no regrets. I had to get off his cab by then but I still didn't know his name. "Yeng, po" he answered when I asked him for it. So Yeng, it is. I am pleased to have made his acquaintance.

I wouldn't think it was possible to get someone's mini biography in a single 30 minute cab ride, but here it is. The story of Yeng. He spoke as if he wanted to hear his own story unfold; as if he wanted someone to know a Yeng existed in this world. I'm glad I listened.

A passenger's trip

I'm glad the first taxi driver refused to take me on. I guess I needed to hear Yeng's story. This is the life of a Filipino, a decent man, trying his best to afford his principles. It's not everyday when one gets a glimpse into into the life of an unknown kababayan. It doesn't help that we urban folk have been raised to be suspicious of strangers and our default mode is to keep a distance. Our communities have grown way too large for us to know each other or to even care. Yeng acted like we were in a small town and it was just the proper thing to introduce himself. He asked for nothing. Not even the typical driver spiel about the traffic being so bad and how they earn so little and so I should pay him extra to make it worth his while to drive me. Yeng didn't come across that way, he was talking to me like I was a neighbor that he wanted to catch up with.

It got me thinking, maybe our society has become so hostile and suspicious of each other because we no longer take the time to know each other. We harbor evil notions about each other. We find it hard to believe that the other person over there is struggling just like us. We assume they are either out to cheat us or don't really give a damn what happens to us. The distance between us makes it so easy to pull a fast one on each other because we belong to totally disconnected worlds. But the thing is we are all in this together, and basically we all want the same things. We love our children. We all have our troubles. We all aspire for a better life and a better world.

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