Profile: Taxi Sifu Reading Club

Published on 22 December 2015

Driven by cabbies, this first-of-its-kind reading club is still going strong after a decade.

BY pamela ho

The Taxi Sifu Reading Club could well have started because of Teochew porridge. When Read! Singapore — an initiative by the National Library Board — was inaugurated in 2005, one of its first programmes was a 12-hour reading marathon that ran from noon to midnight.

“Our challenge was the 11pm slot. Who would still be active at that hour? We brainstormed and thought of taxi drivers!” recounts Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, the club’s founder and advisor. “ComfortDelGro agreed to send 50 taxi drivers to Ang Mo Kio Public Library, and the Capital 95.8FM DJ announced that supper would be provided. In the end, over 100 taxi drivers turned up!”

For many of them, it was the first time they’d stepped into a library in years — and they enjoyed it. Two months later, in July 2005, the Taxi Sifu Reading Club was born. Starting with 15 members, the club has since grown to over 40-strong.

This Chinese reading club, spearheaded by cabbies, is the first of its kind in the world. “Their mission is not only to cultivate a reading habit among taxi drivers but also to nurture a nation of readers,” shares Kiang-Koh. “Their sessions are not confined to taxi drivers; they are open to the public as well.”

These days, you’ll find people from all walks of life at their sessions, with ages ranging from teens to those in their 70s. Secondary school teacher Lim Yueh Mey started bringing her students to the sessions because “I wanted to encourage reading among my students, to get them interested”. She even sends them home after the session! Lim is now a committee member, the only non-taxi driver and the youngest.

The two-hour sessions are held on alternate months at the Ang Mo Kio Public Library. A short story is chosen beforehand for discussion, and could be by a local or international author. Some are from the Read! Singapore collection, which has translations in all four official languages. Previous reads include Tanjong Rhu by Minfong Ho, Parting Gaze by Lung Ying-tai and Winterscape by Anita Desai.

The club’s biggest challenge at the moment is the lack of young blood in their leadership ranks; most committee members are in their 60s and 70s. But for now, they continue to attract members through their insightful book chats and regular outings, overseas trips and workshops.

To be going strong after 10 years is no small feat. For a reading club that started from an ad hoc event — with Teochew porridge as a dangled carrot — this little community of book-loving advocates has surely found a formula that works.

The next reading session will be held on 23 January 2016, 7pm-9pm, at Ang Mo Kio Public Library. Contact the library at [email protected] or 6332-3255 for more information.

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