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Ear to the Ground

I'm sure you've heard the well-meaning phrase "if you want to know what the people think, you need only talk to the taxi driver". I had a cab ride two nights ago that illustrated perfectly how wrong the adage could be.
Like most cab drivers, he drove a little more aggressively than the usual Joe. Needing to cut past 4 lanes he slowed down and allowed a motorcyclist his right of way. The motorcyclist honked twice before zipping by.
"These motorbikes…if you give way to them, they'll act all proud as if they don't need your kindness", said the cabby.
At the next junction we stopped at a red light, beside a medium-sized car. There was a Malay family in the car, and both women wore the tudung, the traditional Muslim head covering for women.
"These Malays always try to copy what other people do. The women never had any of these head covering in the past." I thought about it for a while and realised that I really didn't remember such a prevalence of tudung-clad women in my childhood. I told the cabby that perhaps Singaporean Muslims were returning to more conservative roots.
"No lah. Last time the only ones who wore head dresses were the Catholic nuns. The Malays just copy them." He went at length on Southeast-Asian history and the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia, and that the indigenous Muslim women started wearing head covering so that they could trade with the Catholic Dutch. He stopped a hair's breadth short of a racist tirade.
Probably interpreting my stunned silence as agreement, he warned me that many Malays could now speak many Chinese dialects, and that I had to be careful not to be within earshot of them when talking bad about them.
I got out of the cab convinced that the world, like the blogosphere, has many conversations, but that we need not waste our time listening to all of them. And that a little skepticism is good when there is so much being said out there.

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