Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Singapore from below

I recently came across the blog A Singapore Taxi Driver's Diary, which gives a unique perspective on the squeaky clean city-state of Singapore. It's not surprising that a former scientist who speaks Mandarin and English would have interesting stories to tell after driving a cab for a while.

Probably the only taxi driver in this world with a PhD from Stanford and a proven track record of scientific accomplishments, I have been forced out of my research job at the height of my scientific career, and unable to find another one, for reasons I can only describe as something "uniquely Singapore". As a result, I am driving taxi to make a living and writing these real life stories just to make the dull job a little more interesting. I hope that these stories are interesting to you too.



Since the takeover of leadership by some western “big shots” a few years ago, the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) of ASTAR, Singapore, a place I have worked for 16 years as a PI (principal investigator), a place that was once flourishing, promising, and pleasant to work in, has been in a mess. Bestowed with the kind of power they had never seen before, these once reputable scientists turned everything in the institute upside down. The previous democratic and consensus-oriented management system that had worked well for more than a decade in the past was thrown out of window and replaced by one that was marked by domineering, manipulation, and incompetence. What they lacked in experience of management, adequate understanding of the institute, and proper respect for fellow scientists as their colleagues, they made up for in arrogance, prejudice, and naked muscle of political power. Some PIs were sent packing, and some were promoted, all up to the new leadership’s manipulative and twisted standards. Despite my considerable contribution to building up this place into what it is today, I was among the first few PIs to be told to go. My employment contract with IMCB was terminated by May, 2008, without any forms of compensation given.

I was hence forced into a deeply difficult position. Becoming jobless at my age is perhaps the worst nightmare that can happen to any ordinary man, not to mention the loss of life-long career. ...

Some good examples: Driving Miss Edgy, Indecent Proposal, Out of Innocence.

If you like these stories, you might also like my 1997 travelogue on Thailand and Japan.

I discovered the Singapore taxi driver via Kaleidoscope, the blog of a theoretical physics student in India.


Wade Nichols said...

I was expecting some interesting political commentary!

A couple times when I used to go to Singapore for work, I had a few cabbies that would make some "off the cuff" comments about the Singapore government, society, politicians, etc. I always got the impression that they enjoyed having a non-Singaporean who would listen to them without fear of reporting them.

Albert said...

I first read about him in a local Chinese newspaper back in 2008 in Los Angeles. He was a poster boy on how bad the economy was.

DK said...

I don't know how good he was as a scientist but he is right - new IMCB hires were selected based on fashions and connections to the old boys. That they would turn out to be incompetent at management isn't exactly surprising.

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