Monday, November 05, 2007

Taxi tales

I’ve got to the office at last today and found I’d got a squatter: a big cockroach - eeewugh. I showed him the door.

I caught a taxi this morning to my hospital appointment (we don’t have GPs here, we just go straight to the hospital and see whoever we need to see). We’d got about a quarter of the way there when I first looked at the meter: it was four times the price I’d pay at my destination. I caught taxi man’s eye in the mirror and pointed ‘not working; broken.’ ‘Accident’ he says, 60 baht okay?’ It was and I went back to my ‘Crackberry’ to answer an email. So I didn’t see if a policeman wouldn’t let us turn right or not up crucial road to the hospital and when I next looked up we were hurtling along in completely the wrong direction.

Well now, Bangkok roads look as though they were designed after hours in a bar following the consumption of too much whisky. Sometimes, believe it or not, you can legally drive up the wrong side of the carriageway – this rule appears to be invoked entirely indiscriminately. The first time a taxi happily swung off the road onto the opposite carriageway is still etched on my heart in claw shaped scars. So this cock up (policeman’s or my taxi driver – who’d already tried the meter fiddling trick on me) meant we had to drive another 4 miles around the one way systems in figures of eight to approach the hospital from another direction. Having agreed the price, taxi man had no incentive to drive on a tour of Bangkok so I don’t think I was done but it led me to wanting to tell you about the eccentricities of taxis here.

They are a most bizarre lot. Quite often you stop them, tell them where you want to go, and they refuse to take you. Frequently you tell them you destination and they have no idea where it is – you can ask them for the equivalent of ‘Trafalgar Square’ and they still have no idea how to drive you there. One time shortly after we moved here we couldn’t find the coffee house Husband had been recommended by work, and the driver threw us out of the cab after the second request to ‘u-turn.’ Yes, they are taxi drivers, but they only moved to the city from upcountry last weekend.

Husband had a taxi driver who told him he’d just got out of prison for killing two pedestrians. Several taxi drivers have fallen asleep at traffic lights, and I’ve had to wake them up when the light goes green. Many drivers decorate the inside of the cabs with offerings to Buddha - the one today was particularly beautiful. This appears to be so that they have continued good luck while they drive and read the paper. One of the habits to threaten me with spontaneous vomiting is to hoik the contents of their nasal passages into their mouths, open their door and deposit it on the pavement. Mostly they do this when they’re in a traffic queue.

But lots of taxi drivers are lovely. Delighted to speak some English with you; go out of their way to help you find somewhere (a map, directions, several landmarks and in Bangkok you still can’t find it). Last week Carol and I were on our way to the most famous sports club in Bangkok (not as members, I hasten to add) but I’ve learned not to make any assumptions about taxi drivers knowing the city. I had a map, the address in Thai, the address in English, the telephone numbers. He picked me up a few roads away from our destination and Carol up two roads closer, still he’d neither heard of it, nor knew where it was. Had I got the telephone number? He pulled over on a non stopping main road and with the world beeping and screeching at him, he phoned the club for directions. Still, we got there.

7 comments:

Lane said...

Apart from the hoiking (eurgh), every taxi rise sounds like an adventure!

Pacha said...

Sounds like so much fun (at least it does from the safety of my house) No taxi ride is ever the same...certainly not boring down where you are eh?

JJ said...

Lane, yes, an adventure. That's definitely what they are!

Pacha, it's fun when you've survived them, I guess!

JJx

Leigh said...

Perhaps he forgot that he'd agreed the price!

It reminds me of a visit to Zhuhai (in Canton), where the taxis just drove across the pavement if the lights were red (much as cyclists do here). Going by cab felt rather dangerous, but it was undoubtedly safer than walking...

JJ said...

Leigh, you're right. When we were in China summer before last, I found the traffic much more frightening than here. Here when you step into the road the cars stop, but there they drive round you: terrifying.

JJx

Rebecca said...

They sound very similar to the taxi drivers in Jakarta! - except for tghe hoiking and spitting in the hand bit which sounds, um, very very gross. :)

Jen said...

Mmmm, phlegm in a cab, scrummy...