A Year in Bangkok – Taxi Tales.

5 10 2010

Firstly, to pick up on the last post, I had an email from an ex-colleague in the US of A. We’d had to part company because he was so unreliable when it came to turning up for work and he was worried that he was Terry. I’ll call him John for want of any other name. In fact he’s half Terry’s age and the wrong nationality. Then, to my immense surprise, he knocked on my door on Friday evening, having (unknown to me) flown out to Bangkok the day before. He wanted to buy me a beer which, of course, I was unable to refuse. In the bar, he told me that he felt really bad about the line Now, I don’t suppose he’ll buy me a beer at the end of the semester.” Whatever, it was good to see him and to have a chat.

This post is about Bangkok taxis so there aren’t many photos – after all, how many pictures of taxis does anybody want to see? A couple of years ago, there was a survey which informed those of us who were interested that Bangkok has the cheapest taxis in the world. They are so cheap that I get a taxi to work every morning – 42 kilometres for exactly the same price as I paid in the UK for about 1 kilometre to the local railway station. I use the same taxi every day and have built up a friendly relationship with Chalee, the driver who has just switched from renting a taxi to having bought his own for the first time. However, getting a taxi here can be an interesting experience. I have had drunk drivers, stoned drivers, happy drivers, angry drivers and so on. Here are some of my ‘taxi stories’.

Chalee in his smart new taxi.

If I were to go and live back in England again, there are many situations that I would be unsure how to act in as I am now so used to the Thai ways. Getting a taxi would be one. It’s become second nature to hail a cab with the camp downward wave and finger flick near the hip that is customary over here. And taxi drivers back home just go where you ask them. There is none of the bartering, none of the struggle to persuade the driver that he should go to your destination of choice. Goodness, you don’t even have to give English taxi drivers directions. I’m sure I’d find myself talking to a taxi driver back home in the strange mix of English and Thai that I use over here. “Go, Thanon Rockingham. Chai?” It doesn’t really sound quite right.

On my second day here I went to the supermarket with people I had met while on holiday. I had naively assumed that we would need two or three taxis but no – all nine of us (four adults and five kids) managed to cram ourselves into a single Toyota Carina taxi. Another time, I was out in the country with a friend and we decided to take her nephews to the local zoo. They have a similar idea of how to use motorcycles here – as many as possible balance on a single bike. This trip to a free, smelly and overcrowded zoo involved all four of us going by motorcycle, about an hour’s journey. Crash helmets? No chance! She drove (this was before I summoned up the courage to drive myself) I perched on the back and the kids sat between us. Once the zoo visit was finished and we were riding back, both the kids happily fell asleep on the bike and I found myself holding on to them both while trying to keep my own balance. Not a journey I would like to repeat.

Rainy day taxi.

An aspect of Thai life which seems strange is time. In the west, we have two twelve hour periods in each day but, over here, there are four six hour periods. Therefore there are four ‘two o’clocks’: two o’clock in the morning, two o’clock in the afternoon, two o’clock in the evening and two o’clock at night. Most Thai people are familiar with our system and usually use it but that is not always the case, and I find it is very easy to forget about the Thai system. One of our teachers who also lives in the same building as me, a tall and leggy blonde, was flying home to California for a holiday. She had asked a taxi driver, not Chalee but one who we both use regularly, to pick her up and take her to the airport at five o’clock in the morning on the appointed day. At seven o’clock that morning, I got in his taxi. He said “Lay dee”. I said “No, man”. He said “Lay dee Bar bee”. Erica’s resemblance to a certain well known doll has not escaped anybody’s attention, even the students call her ‘Barbie’ so I was pleased to note that there were no flies on this taxi driver, who is also a thoroughly nice guy. He went on to say “Go ai-port, lay dee bar bee, fie o’crock”. “Yes” I said “but it’s seven o’clock so she’s gone”. “Chai” says he (yes) “Go ai-port fie o’crock, lay dee bar bee fry Amelica’. Well, we played verbal ping pong for a while and then, at last, it dawned on me. When Erica booked the taxi for five o’clock in the morning, she meant five o’clock in the morning. The taxi driver though had assumed she meant five o’clock in the morning, Thai time. And that is eleven o’clock in the morning to us. Our five o’clock in the morning is five at night to the Thais. So he was planning to go and collect somebody who had left six hours earlier and Erica, no doubt, had cursed the unreliability of the Thais as she tried to flag down an empty taxi at, er, ‘five’ in the morning.

Every now and then, a taxi driver will smile at me and say “rod my tit”. Naturally, my first assumption is that I am being invited to take part in an act of intimacy but I am also wary of my limited Thai language skills so my response so far has been to smile vacuously and nod my head. The vacuous smile and head-nod, often employed with a kind of short, grunting laugh, have become an essential part of my linguistic toolbox here. And I wonder why it is only taxi drivers who make such offers? Not a single one of the many attractive women I’ve got to know here have extended the same invitation which I naturally find a little disappointing. However, little by little, my language skills are growing and I now know that the taxi drivers are commenting on a relatively unusual phenomenon in Bangkok – that the roads are clear of traffic. Thank goodness I didn’t start gleefully peeling my clothes off in one of those taxis!

A friend has told me about a bar near the Victory Monument with a good band on tonight so two female friends (Da and Moo) and I head off down there later on. There is no invitation to indulge in bizarre sexual acts but I think I can live with that. Oh joy of joys, at last, I’ve found Bangkok’s equivalent of the Leopard in Doncaster. It’s a bit of a dive on first impression but it’s friendly and, if tonight is anything to go by, has great live music. Even better, they sell real chips made with real potatoes. As the dreadful Arnie said, “I’ll be back!”  We get home very late, about two in the morning and the girls decide we’re having another drink in Poo’s bar before bed. Saturday morning, I sleep until eleven.

One day, I got my nipple tweaked. I got a taxi home from work, as usual when I am working in the office, as it is cheaper than using public transport and a lot quicker. The driver soon took a right instead of a left. Bangkok taxi drivers often know a ‘quicker’ way which takes you all round the houses but I had a feeling this guy was genuine so I sat back to see where we went. His driving was more like low level flying and he produced a wonderful, maniacal laugh every time we had a near miss. However, it was a great way home and much faster than usual. As he didn’t respond to me in English, I assumed he didn’t speak the language. How wrong I was, and a good job I didn’t insult him because, as I got out of the taxi, he leaned over to me, tweaked my nipple, laughed maniacally and said “spik eengliss leettle bit”.

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2 responses

16 11 2010
Eric Jenkins

Magic! I’ve been to Bangkok. I know these guys. Great stories. Keep them coming, I just subscribed.

16 11 2010
Ben Salmons

Thanks Eric.

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