Monday, 30 April 2007

An A-Z of Taxi Drivers

Unlike in the UK taxis are a part of my every day life here. They ferry me to and from work, home from the pub, they are a shelter from both the heat and the rain and are the occasional place to nap in at times of extreme traffic. In this time I have been able to observe the phenomenon that is the Thai Taxi Driver.

1. Talkers

I am not a morning person and at 6:45 am I really do not want to engage in conversation on the way to work. However, my grunts do little to halt the barrage of questions I invariably get with this group. But we can further break it down into 2 groups:

a) English talkers: With varying levels of English this taxi driver will instigate a conversation about football, the weather and the state of the traffic. While they will struggle through each English sentence you on the other hand will be required to answer in thai. Yes I have had lessons but on the way to school thai is beyond me - I have yet to have caffeine and I am so space cadet it is very likely my underwear is on inside out.

b) Thai talkers: Encouraged by my basic thai of: I’ve lived here 18 months, I’m a teacher, I come from England - this driver will then to continue to talk at top speed about whatever comes into his head. I’ve found the best option is just to smile and nod but I’ve yet to have such an entertaining conversation as I did on Friday on my way home. I had gathered that he was telling me about his day – several key words were popping up about places and traffic and people, but although I did get the gist I had no idea about the specifics about what had happened. But it must have been a very amusing story because he could barely get it out he was laughing so much. His high pitched giggle was accompanied by tears which streamed down his face (yes I was concerned whether he could see or not) and a shaking body. I soon joined him and laughed all the way home. At the end of the journey he shook my and said “you have very good thai”. I couldn’t break it to him that I had no idea what he was going on about.

2. The Silent Type

In contrast the silent type will not speak to you at all. You state your destination and off they drive with no acknowledgement that they even know where are you are going. When the destination is repeated several times to ensure that this is where you will actually end up you may or may not be greeted with a grunt. At the extreme end the silent type will both ignore you AND refuse to drive anywhere. The first time this happens you may think that they are just waiting for a break in the traffic in order to pull out. You repeat where you are going and still they sit there. You try again. No response. Eventually you sheepishly get out of the cab and try again.

3. Spitters

Yes my least favourite variety of driver. Throughout the journey they snort, cough and wheeze until they manage to hawk up a big greenie. The door is then opened (yes even when careering down a 6-lane road) and the offending slime is expelled. A proficient spitter can repeat this every 3 minutes or so and is a huge contributing factor to why I wait to get to work before eating breakfast.

4. Speed Freaks

I’m sure Bangkok is unique in the randomness of its flow of traffic. There is no ‘rush hour’ as such, but you can be caught for hours at any time of day. You can be stationary for a good half hour and then just as suddenly as you stopped you start again and this is when the speed freak gets into action. He MUST get past as many traffic lights as he can before we once again snarled up in the traffic. He weaves from lane to lane while you slide from side to side on the plastic seats in the back. His foot swaps from accelerator to break with the speed of a rock drummer causing your stomach to dance to its beat. Even the doubting Thomas’s find themselves sending up a little prayer and kissing the ground when they finally arrive in one piece.

5. Slow Pokes

The yin to the speed freaks yang this driver is overtaken on all sides by horn honking vehicles. Often lacking concentration he may try to eat, engage you in conversation and play with the radio station while crawling along. Get out and go on the skytrain!

6. Flirts

While Bangkok has been a dating desert for me I seem to attract taxi drivers. I’m greeted with cries of ‘suay suay’ (beautiful, beautiful) and I have to try not to notice the winks in the review mirror. Admittedly, they might just want a good tip but sadly this actually perks my day up!

7. Worshippers

Unlike England teachers are actually respected here and once the taxi driver has worked out what you do for a living you will be met with appreciative oohs and aahs while you are questioned about the exact nature of your profession. My driver yesterday puffed up with pride that he was ferrying a slightly damp and disheveled teacher around (yes it was raining again) and insisted on calling my Khun Kru Alex at every opportunity. For a moment I actually thought he was going to get out and lay his coat over a puddle for me, but I guess that really is reserved for royalty.

While you may be able to choose from an assortment of colours a Bangkok taxi is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get on the inside. Enjoy the adventure!


Ange said...

nice summary Alex - but don't forget the other kind of speed freak, the guy who is actually on SPEED or YAA BAA! I'll take a spitter over him any day!

Anonymous said...

Loving it - havent read something so funny in a long time - having 'taxied' home in Ali's car many a time I think she needs another catergory the 'if you want a ride wind my radio' one.
Keep enjoying

alan said...

Very funny and educational post, Ali. I would add a new category: the ones with long polished nails. I've seen a couple of these. It's kind of creepy.
I'm thinking of translating your post into spanish for my blog, if u don't mind.

Ali said...

Hey Alan - no worries - it'll help me practice my spanish!

Wendy - shhh - I miss my wind up radio and rust bucket automobile!