Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Tale of 3 Chinese Drivers – Different Ideologies of Life

For the last two months, I was on business trips to China three times. My beloved toddler asked mommy why papa is not home and she miss me. My heart melts. I miss my family. The schedules for these trips were always full, spanning across China with journeys on the planes, cars or even boats. Locations can be Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Yantai, Shanghai, Nantong, Zhangjiagang, Guangzhou etc.

Aside from getting my work done, one other very rewarding experience is to interact with many people to understand the diverse cultures within China. I am always curious and inquisitive, initiating conversations with different classes of people I met.  My colleagues are amazed how I can start a conversation with strangers so comfortably making them talk non-stop while I try to listen more than talk nowadays.

In this article, I will write about the tales of three drivers from different parts of China with different backgrounds, sharing their perspectives of life.   

1) Qingdao Driver – A farmer origin who appreciates life

My regular Qingdao driver, Mr. Xue is 45 years old. To be exact, he is from Huangdao, about an hour drive from Qingdao. A local bred farmer, Mr. Xue looked at least ten years elder with skin wrinkled and tanned by the years of harsh climate in the farmland.

The啤酒街 (Beer Street) in Qingdao city

No posh vehicle, but a posh heart!
Mr. Xue is my cherry-picked driver (no legal taxi licence) not because he drives a posh vehicle but because I am impressed by his simple, honest and sincere character. You know, I am good in assessing people…..LOL! Mr. Xue is a careful driver in his small, yet clean Chinese-brand Tianjin-made vehicle. He is always happy, always punctual and never overcharge me. No matter how impromptu I need his chauffeur service, he will try his best to be available.

A farmer turned landlord
In the late nineties, due to China government’s development of Huangdao, Mr. Xue’s family inherited farmlands were exchanged for two leasehold flats approx. size of 80 sqm. In China, 80 sqm flat is actually smaller than Singapore. It includes non-liveable corridor areas shared equally by households on the same floor. Very often, floor plans can be overstated by unethical developers too. Each of Mr. Xue's flats cost ~400-500k CNY today, according to him.

Out of the two flats Mr. Xue owns, one is rented out at a rate of 2k CNY a month. As for income coming from driving, a 15km trip will earn him 25 CNY, while an hour airport trip (it is actually 2-2.5h for him to and fro) will earn him 250~300 CNY. Bear in mind, it is not easy for him to find clients like me frequently.

Mr. Xue is married with a housewife and a son in his early 20s. His son graduated last year, now working in Qingdao city earning 2k plus CNY a month. Both his parents also stay with them not working.

Thrifty and appreciates life
Considering Mr. Xue’s son mediocre salary, it is barely sufficient for himself. Mr. Xue told me that he needs to work very hard to earn and save more money to support his son future hefty marriage and household expenses.  Basically Mr. Xue is main pillar for his family. 

“Do you think that life in China is tough and are you happy?” I asked. Mr. Xue told me that his life growing up as a farmer was much tougher. Hunger is not unfamiliar then. Rice to fill up the tummy was happiness, meat was luxury. Hence, he is extremely appreciative of what he has now.n

Huangdao or Qingdao is under Shandong province. Mr. Xue told me that in general, people from Qingdao is known to have personalities that are direct, straight forward, and extremely 好客 , meaning treat visitors with great hospitality.  

2) Guangzhou Driver – Intelligent but negative about life

Next stop was Guangzhou, China third largest city after Shanghai and Beijing. Guangzhou is within Guangdong province. The province is populated with more than 100 million inhabitants, with famous cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Zhuhai etc and is very near to HongKong. Dialects in Guangzhou include Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew etc. 

Xintang area - one of the very old streets in Guangzhou

This time, the Driver I spent several hours with is Mr. Du. He is our company driver of 8 years. In his 40s (he does not reveal his exact age), Mr. Du is well-groomed and looks much alike his age. Mr. Du’s capability exceeds that of a driver. Besides driving for the company, he is also the company’s handyman. Mr. Du is smart, possesses good initiatives, eloquent, speaks little English, and also a kind person in nature. Mr. Du, a local in Guangzhou is married with working wife from Guangxi, and a 3 year old boy. 

Life is so tough in China!
I was told that standard of living in Guangzhou is high. A typical second or third tier-house for the average people will cost close to CNY 1 mil. He further grumbled that average person salary in Guangzhou is approx. CNY5-6k, how to manage such an expensive house.

“Do you think that life in China is tough and are you happy?” I asked. “How to be Happy…Life is so tough in China! The government is corrupted and highly incapable!”  - Mr. Du lamented. In fact I was with another driver for an hour, the same negative feedback was conveyed about Guangzhou and China.

Mr. Du then complained about the roads in Guangzhou being not well maintained, lights are dim, cameras installed by the government everywhere, merely to collect extra revenue and not for safety. For I am a frequent travellers in different parts of China, I thought the roads in Guangzhou are one of the best I seen. Traffic is much better than Qingdao, no nightmares traffic jams in Shanghai and Beijing. 

Moans about China...Full admirations about Hong Kong and Singapore
Throughout most of our conversations, Mr. Du speaks his mind admiring HongKong people’s efficiency and more cultured manners. He also thinks highly about Singapore, but praises are targeted to our “capable PAP government.” No mention at all on “capable Singaporeans?”.  Mr. Du also reckons that democracy is important which is why he has full support to the HongKong recent “umbrella” uprising against the government.

For most part of the journeys, there are only negatives and no positives about his country.

I then asked one question subtly if he travelled out of Guangzhou before. “Yes. I have been to Shenzhen, Guangxi, Macau and HK.” He said.   

3) Zhangjiagang Driver – A happy and positive driver

Zhangjiagang is a satellite city of Suzhou city, within Jiangsu province. It is located ~130 km (2 hours drive) from Shanghai. It is also near to Huaxi Village, termed “Number One Village Under the Sky” driven by former village chief Wu Renbao. Today, each villager is reported to have a net wealth of at least EUR100k - considered rich by Chinese standards of villager.

So many people in Shanghai

Always good to do more than what is required
The driver from Zhangjiagang hotel I stayed in (I did not get his name), is a 33 year old man. Spotting with a typical Chinese crew cut hairstyle, he is always smiling and very talkative. As an employee of the hotel, driving is not his only job. He is also the purchaser in the hotel.

I then asked “why are you driving when you are the purchaser?” He said “no problem, it is always good to do more, while you still can!” For most of our chats, he emphasized several times that money is not important to him and living life happily is far more important!

Not a rich man, but a happy man
Wait a minute….you hear that coming from a driver from China? LOL haha... He is not from Huaxi Village and not a rich man! He is originally from Yangzhou few hours drive from Zhangjiagang where his wife and kid is located now. 

“Do you think that life in China is tough and are you happy?” I asked. “Life is good nowadays and the Chinese government is capable and doing their best to improve the lives of the people!”  - The driver said.

The driver also mentioned that he does not like to give excessive pressure to his child in education. He wants his kid to be street smart. And as long as his kid is happy and be a good person contributing to the society, he is happy. Basically he is not a person with high expectations of material success.

Chinese New Year – Happy time!
It is going to be Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Spring Festival) soon, so I asked him how he is going to spend the holidays. I was told that on the eve, they will have family reunion dinner. After that, they will gather to guess 春联 Couplet (Chinese Poetry). When the clock strikes 12 midnight, they will light up fire crackers. After that everyone will have to 守夜 (meaning stay awake throughout till dawn). The night will be accompanied by Mahjongs and games of cards. Next morning, they will then visit their relatives with well wishes of the year.

“It is Happy Time!” The driver exclaimed.

Rolf’s Summary

There you have it….three drivers with different perspectives of life.

The 1st driver is simple and not educated, goes through a tough life growing up but appreciates what he has today. The 2nd driver is smart, earns more but staying in a stressful big city, he is unhappy about his life. The 3rd driver is positive and happy-go-lucky, but does not set high expectations in life.

Given a choice, which one do you want to be?


When you have seen or been through the worst, you will appreciate what you have.
When you are positive about life, you will be happy even if you are not rich.
When you are negative about life, no matter how rich you are, you will still be unhappy.
Our success is measured by achievements of what we really want in our life and not by how much we have in comparison to other people’s lives.
Do not live in the shadows of others!

Rui Yuan Photography 

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  1. Rolf!

    Welcome back and what a post!!!

    You have brilliantly captured the glass half-full and glass half-empty social angst that's quite evident in Singapore too.

    It's a post that blends the experiences of your humble childhood with your current success.

    The result is something real, something personal.

    I like!


    1. Hi SMOL,
      Thanks for commenting. Your compliments too big for me to handle. I am already filled with helium gas.
      Frankly, I must say you are one of my inspirations in my writing. I enjoyed articles you posted. Mine is pretty much what I see and hear on the streets, which I enjoyed sharing.
      Success? Where where where….cannot find leh…. Maybe should say happily contended now…more appropriate!
      I have to agree with you that this sort of social angst is evident now in Singapore.
      Should we focus on if the glass is half full or empty? least we still have a glass to hold to? Maybe we can also focus on how to ensure the glass does not break, and slowly fill it up the way we want it to be?

      Yes, Happy advance CNY....Cheers!

  2. Hi rolf,

    Great post! But hor, you very evil, ask people to choose one of the three... It's hard to choose, and why would I want to live their life lol! I'm very happy with mine and that's all that matters :) I think if you always try to live up to expectations of others, it's hard to be happy. Neither do I want to live the life of others because everyone has their own ups and downs.

    If only we can be kinder to everyone around us because they have their own shit to face, the world will be a better place ;)

    Welcome back and enjoy the company of friends and family ;)

    1. Hi LP,

      You are always so smart. Ok I agree with you to be happy with your life. I will not force you to choose just like someone else…LOL … haha.

      You and SMOL are two bloggers in my list of admirers (I still like women!)

      By the way (sidetrack), I am already reading halfway the book “Fooled by Randomness” - recommended by you. Such a beautiful book. The ideas conveyed is so unique and soulful. It definitely touched me, just like your article also.

    2. Hi rolf,

      Wah, you flatter me too much lah, pai seh pai seh!

      The book is good right? It's one of those books that I will read every now and then. I've probably said this before, nassim taleb is one of the best modern philosophers who also happen to be in finance.

    3. Hi LP,

      :-) . Nassim Taleb ideology is just so different and insightful. Not pretentious and so him!

      Happy V Day... Enjoy the day with your love ones.

  3. Hi Rolf

    Thanks for this.

    I enjoyed their stories.

    China may apoear they are on the brim of every growth but there are lots of people out there who are equally poor, not educated and are finding life hard to pass by.

    Good to see you back home and im sure your daughter will miss you :)

    1. Hi B,

      You are welcome. :-)
      China is just too big.
      Really glad to back at home. Feels so good.
      Happy V Day to you and your family.

  4. Money and Happiness is relative!

    How much is enough to make us to feel safe and comfortable?

    Many CPF members will have $XXX,XXX in their CPF OA after deducting the basic sum for CPF RA.

    Read? Money Brings Happiness??? (2)

    1. Hi CW,

      At first read, I thought "relative" your are referring to is of "friends, relatives" meaning Money is connected to Happiness.

      Then I realized it is more profound - Einstein theory of relativity!


      It is a mind game?