I apologize for re-hashing a well-known expat frustration and, I suspect, a local frustration as well. Because really, wouldn't you expect a taxi driver to know how to get somewhere?
This morning I got into a cab and told the driver to go to Niven Road, near Selegie Road. He drove off while looking thoughtfully and at the traffic lights said: "Nathan Road is not near Selegie Road, is next to River Valley Road."
So, using my Most Patient tone of voice I said: "Ni-VEN Road, yes, VERY near Selegie Road."
"No no", he replied, also Very Patiently, because obviously the foreigner doesn't know the city and isn't able to pronounce the names of the roads properly: "NA-than Road, River Valley. There is no NI-then Road."
The thing is, by now I know the odds are in my favour when getting into disputes with taxi drivers. Besides, I had looked up the address and it existed. So, I insisted: "Yes, there is. N-I-V-E-N. Near Selegie Road."
He said what all Singaporean cabbies say: "You tell me how to get there."
The thing is, I am geographically challenged. I do not know how to get to places. Which is why I take cabs if I need to be anywhere on time (no, I still don't actually manage to pull the whole being on time thing off, but at least I get to blame it on the cabbies). Also, Singapore, at least the part I operate in, is a maze of one-way-streets and short cuts, which means that even carrying a map is futile since the obvious route might for several reasons (such as building sites sprawling out into the street, road works or obscure religious festivals) be blocked. All of this would make a knowledgeable cabby worth his or her weight in gold.
And they should be knowledgeable. According to one such golden cabby (they do exist!) all taxi drivers must take an exam on traffic rules, taxi regulations and Singapore's roadmap. "It's a big city", many of the not-so-golden boys defend themselves (the few female taxi drivers I've met so far, were in fact all pure gold).
So too the cab driver who took me to Niven Road. "It's a very small road", he pointed out to me, as we turned in. The thing is though, that once I managed to convey my absolute certainty that this road existed and that I was going there even though I had no clue how to actually get there, he drove me straight to it. While apologizing for the misunderstanding. So he did know where it was, after all.
I mulled this over.
And this is what I came up with: it's to do with quality of service. Now, I am Dutch and therefore not used to any sort of quality in service. I am grateful if I get served at all. In Singapore however the people providing the service want to make absolutely sure I'm getting exactly what I wanted, down to the route chosen to go to my destination and the particular spot in which I'd like the car to stop (once a taxi driver circled around a block when he had missed the exact spot I said "please stop here"). This is, as you might imagine, quite an adjustment.
So if you please excuse me, I am busy learning Singapore's topography by heart to enable the cabbies to give me the service they aspire to.