Taxiii!!!1 Mar 2011
Dear fans and regular readers, I’ve been away a long time and there are lots of changes around the place that I’m still getting used to.
The view of the Twin Towers from Darling Mansions is almost obscured due to new developments and half the roads have changed direction, which is especially difficult for a man with my sense of geography.
The biggest change I have found when it comes to Malaysian life though was in my trips in taxi cabs. I’m a man of the people and the ol’ Merc is in the paint shop so I decided that the only way to travel was in one of KL’s humble taximeters. I love them.
There’s something brilliant about being driven around in KL’s famous red-and-white cars. Sometimes, when we get to the destination I even stop to pay rather than do a runner out of respect.
Now, I’m used to taxis here. Or at least I thought I was. So I knew something wasn’t right as soon as I hopped inside the car. In fact, it wasn’t just that something wasn’t right. Something was wrong. Seriously wrong.
For a start, the driver said, “Hello. How are you?” before asking where I wanted to go. No, really, he did. Just came out with it. Clear as day. I was gobsmacked. Then—and I hope you’re sitting down for this—he put on his meter. I didn’t ask him to, I didn’t tell him to, I didn’t threaten him with physical violence if he didn’t. He just turned on the meter and drove off towards my desired destination. This was weird.
I was on edge. This was not normal. And it was at this moment that I did another double take when I saw that the driver was wearing… a shirt. Yes, this cheery chap was actually wearing a shirt. It may even have been ironed. Very suspicious if you ask me.
Over this shirt was some form of sash, like Miss World wears. It was attached from one side of the car to a kind of clip next to his seat. If I didn’t know taxis in KL better I would say that he was wearing a seatbelt but surely that couldn’t have been the case.
Having travelled a good three kilometers without the driver opening the door to spit on the road or running a red light I was freaked out. This was like an episode of The Twilight Zone. At one point we were stuck in a traffic jam and there was a perfectly good hard shoulder to drive down but he just sat and waited for the jam to clear.
It was during this traffic jam that I noticed the big yellow sign in his taxi. It explained the “driver’s promise”, a kind of code of expectations such as being presentable, acting courteously and driving safely, that all KL taxi drivers must adhere to.
My God, I thought, this poor man. He’s being forced to behave against his will. His mind is being controlled by some kind of nightmarish Orwellian authority. As he drove along behind a car in the right hand lane with the inside totally clear it was as much as I could do not to force him to pull over and then drive myself so I could undertake for him.
I could see in his eyes he wanted this more than life itself but his pride and livelihood were being dictated to him by this yellow card of nightmares.
Progress some call it. I call it selling out. In today’s bland, corporate, faceless world we’re getting men of honour being told how to behave by a piece of yellow card slung around the headrest of a Proton. If we accept this today who knows where it will take us tomorrow and the day after.
When we arrived at our destination, the cabbie turned around and said, “Thank you. That is six ringgit and 80 sen.” In the spirit of brotherhood and understanding for his plight I did the only thing I could, the thing he’d have wanted me to do: I did a runner.