Besides reading the local papers, I also like talking to the drivers during my overseas trips.
In the most recent one to Malaysia, the driver I had a good chat with was the one driving the limousine of the resort hotel. With the possible exception of one I met in Fiji, he is the driver I have come across that speaks the best English. Maybe this is a must for someone working for a luxurious hotel group. Or maybe, like what I noticed during my last trip to the country in January, most Malaysians speak pretty good English. The driver is also very laid back and well-mannered and I found him very likeable.
As our conversation moved from the World Cup and the psychic octopus to something more personal, the drive began to talk about how he and his wife support a family with four children. It was obvious that they find it quite manageable as both of them have jobs which are stable and not too busy. He drives guests to and from the resort hotel six days a week. His wife works as a clerk for the government, and as they live very close to his wife's workplace, she manages to go home to take care of many things during the two-hour lunch time between 12 noon and 2pm (what a luxury!). Her working hours are from nine to five and the driver says that in Malaysia people seldom have to work overtime so they have a lot of time for their children.
Ironically, the difference between the life of this Malaysia driver and the Hong Kong taxi driver who drove me home from the airport. The first thing I noticed after getting on the taxi was that there were altogether seven mobile phones on or near the dashboard - six of which were in operation. During the journey of 45 minutes or so, apart from driving, he was constantly on the phone (hand-free of course), most of the time speaking to a fellow taxi driver friend but also answer other calls to receive and direct orders. This sort of multi-tasking (euphemism for not concentrating on the task one is paid to do) is very typical of the workforce here. All too often I see colleagues, especially the junior ones, navigating between different windows on their computer screens, happily chatting away with their friends or even checking stock prices while working at the same time.
Anyway, it was not possible not to overhear what this taxi driver said with his friend. It was mainly about how he could not make ends meet, what with the rental for the taxi and fuel charges being very heavy, expenses for rearing his only child and his few big dogs very high and all that. He said he wouldn't have been able to sustain the family without working two shifts.
There is no doubt that Hong Kong offers more modern facilities and convenience compared with Malaysia, but seeing and listening to these two drivers, it is not difficult to tell who is having better quality of life.
The seven mobile phones - are they a blessing or a curse?