PETALING JAYA : It takes a lot of guts to transition to a new line of work no matter how old you are.
For Fiona Chong Kam Mooi, the thought of her children and their futures was enough to give her the confidence to start over in her career.
After losing her job as a credit controller during the early 2000s, Chong decided to get a fresh start and become a taxi driver.
It was a bold move, especially since she was stepping into an industry where women were few and far between.
Now aged 66, Chong has spent over 20 years on the road and is one of Malaysia’s oldest female taxi drivers.
In conjunction with Mother’s Day this Sunday, Malay Mail spoke to Chong about why she got into the driver’s seat and the difficulties she faced going into a male-dominated field.
The mother-of-four said that the high cost of living in a city meant that she and her husband both needed to pull their weight to provide a good life for their kids.
“In Malaysia, where the standard of living in the city is high, a one-man show is not enough to support a family, even more so as a mother of four children.
“Because I want to provide the best to my children, I had to become the next breadwinner for my family,” said Chong.
It was an uphill battle to get to grips with her new job especially since she didn’t have the help of modern navigation tools.
In the days before Waze and Google Maps, Chong had to learn her routes in Kuala Lumpur the old-fashioned way.
“When I started, there was no GPS so I needed to familiarise myself with all the road names, routes, rules, and regulations.
“I learned the routes through a map or even through my passengers but it (was) difficult if I was ferrying a tourist or a foreign passenger.
“I either (learned) on my own or asked my taxi colleagues but eventually, I became an expert in navigation on Malaysian roads.”
Taking on a ‘man’s job’
It wasn’t easy for Chong at the beginning as the lack of female taxi drivers meant it was normal for people to see it as a “man’s job.”
She was also treated coldly by some of her male colleagues who were reluctant to share the roads with a female taxi driver.
“When I started, it was not common at all to see a female taxi driver in Malaysia.
“It has always been the assumption that it’s a “man’s job”.
“I had some male taxi drivers who felt threatened by my presence and saw me as a competitor in the race for their livelihoods and bread and butter,” said Chong.
Despite the hurdles, Chong was determined to press forward and prove her worth.
She spent her days not only working on her driving but learning the finer details of being a top-notch taxi driver as well.
This included customer service skills and the ability to pick out areas where she could find customers easily.
“I had to learn from scratch about the taxi business and industry and how to be a good taxi driver.
“It is definitely not an easy job. It is not just your skills in driving but I also needed to learn how to navigate the roads, deal with customers, find new rides, and more.”
Adapting to new challenges
Like many Malaysians, Chong was faced with several career challenges after the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year.
The movement control order and the resulting travel limitations meant that passengers were hard to come by.
Chong realised that she would have to adapt once again to the situation, just as she did two decades ago when she first lost her job.
She joined the e-hailing app Grab in October 2020 despite not being very tech-savvy and sought help from her kids and the platform’s help centre for guidance.
“I joined Grab after being asked (to do so) by my regular customers but I did hesitate because I am not tech proficient.
“This whole experience has taught me that in order to change a situation, I myself have to make the change.
“There is a first time for everything. I take it as a challenge and learn it step by step.”
What started as a way to earn a living has become a full-fledged passion and she has no plans to stop driving anytime soon as long as she’s fit to do so.
She loves how her job lets her meet people from various backgrounds and is proud of the fact that she can still earn pocket money at her age.
Ultimately, working hard for her kids has given her the greatest gift knowing that her children are grown up now and paving their own way in life.
“It has been a long and hard journey, but it’s been a pleasure to be a mother and I would like to say to all mothers, just enjoy being a mother.
“Now that my kids are all grown up and are thriving, I know that all my hardships and work has been worth it.”
By : TAN MEI ZI – MALAY MAIL