“Why Does This Driver Hate Me So Much?”: Riding in Taxis in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is an expensive city to live in. Rent prices are shocking, groceries per month are almost triple what they were in LA, and there’s no such thing as free, public school. If you are an expat, you must pay to have your kids attend a private school. That is, if you want your kids to understand what their teachers are saying to them.

But there are a few things that really stand out as being much cheaper here in Hong Kong. OK, one thing is cheaper- public transportation. You can ride the MTR (subway) for a couple bucks or a bus pretty much anywhere for less than that. You can ride a ferry to any outlying island for less than $4. And if you aren’t in a rush, you can have a leisurely, and quite scenic, ride on a tram one-way for 20 cents, no matter how far the distance travelled.

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Happy Valley

But, the TAXIS! They are so cheap! They cost about a fourth of what they cost in LA. On rare occasion do I end up paying more than $10 for a cab ride here, and it’s freaking marvelous. So, yes, I end up taking a lot of cabs, just like most people here do.

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Now, the thing about riding in a taxi here, is that you never know what you’re going to get. It’s a crap shoot, a grab bag, a blind date, and usually with a middle-aged Chinese man. What I’m trying to say, without quoting Forrest Gump, is you just don’t know what to expect. One thing is constant however, and that is my utterance of the phrase, “Are you kidding me right now?” at some point during the ride.

Like the time the taxi driver kept turning around and shushing Stella who was softly (and adorably) singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while we were stuck in traffic because he wanted to hear his Chinese easy listening radio station. Ummm, are you kidding me right now?

Or all the many times that the driver decided, after driving for 20 minutes, that he didn’t know where he was going, and made me get out of the cab, nowhere near the address. You’re kidding me, right?

Or the time when the taxi driver thought he was Vin Diesel and kept drifting every corner throwing me from side to side in the backseat as he blared Kenny Loggins (no joke). OMG! I’M GOING TO DIE!!! (Are you kidding me right now with this music?)

Or when the taxi driver decided to light up and smoke a cigarette with the windows rolled up while my kids rode in the backseat. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW? PUT THAT THING OUT!

Once, I hailed a cab outside the grocery store because it made more sense than trying to walk 6 blocks with 8 full bags of heavy groceries. The driver became a fire-breathing-dragon douche when he found out that I only needed to be taken a short distance home and proceeded to shout (profanities, no doubt) at me in Cantonese while making intense gestures at me in the rear view mirror. I yelled back at him and made some really stupid gestures in return. At some point, it got so ridiculous that I all but expected it to lead to a real kick ass kung fu fight scene. He’d throw his berry shaped air freshener at me like a ninja star and I’d spin and block it with my tub of sour cream in slo-mo. But instead, he just dropped me and my groceries off at my building.

In the first month of living here, I spent about 40% of my mouth energy bitching about how rude the taxi drivers were. They are all assholes! I would say at least once a day. But then it just got old, you know, mad doggin’ the driver, even if he had started the mad doggin’ first. Sure, I’d had some unfavorable, ridiculous, and scary cab rides. Sure, some of the drivers were dicks, but it was doing me no good to keep arguing back, to keep the negativity going, and to sometimes kick their tires. Besides, I was aware that most of the friction was simply from the clash of cultural norms and expectations, and it wasn’t personal. Once I stopped bracing myself for a bad experience every time a red and orange taxi pulled over for me, I started to have some not-life-threatening cab rides driven by drivers that didn’t hate me.

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In fact, a few days ago, something happened that gave me new life about the HK cabs. I was waiting outside the grocery store with Stella and a ton of groceries, when I got a cab to pull over. Normally, at this point, the driver would either wave me off and keep driving or begrudgingly agree to take me after discovering that I only needed to be taken a short distance home. But, SHOCKINGLY, this driver warmly smiled and motioned for us to get in. He waited patiently while I loaded several bags of groceries into his trunk and got Stella situated inside the cab with not one sigh of annoyance or grumbling under his breath. He even clapped and tried to hum along when Stella and I belted out “Shake It Off” during the short ride home. And once we got to our building, he got out of the car and helped us take all our bags of groceries into the building. I wanted to bear hug him! There’s hope! It’s all turning around. Thank you, taxi gods! I gave the sweet man a big tip, sincerely thanked him (he got scared when I tried to bear hug him) and beamed for the remainder of the day from the kindness I’d received.

That’s it. I’m going to stop being so hard on taxi drivers. It was probably me that had the problem all along. I’m going to start pulling to me all the kind, wonderful taxi drivers out there and stop attracting the not so kind ones to me with my bad taxi attitude. I’m going to totally reset my taxi perspective, and change my taxi life.

I felt like a new person when I went to bed that night, a person free of taxi angst.

The next morning, I went bounding with enthusiasm to the street, bright-eyed, scanning the oncoming traffic for a taxi. I waved excitedly at the first available taxi I saw, manic smile on my face. We made eye contact, the driver and I. He has kind eyes, I thought, as I pursed my lips and cocked my head in tender appreciation. He slowed down, pulled over, and rolled down his window. And just as I started to move forward to open the door, he noticed Stella in the stroller sitting next to me. With that he sharply said, “Oh, you have a baby!” and quickly drove away, leaving me standing, arm outstretched with that goofy smile still sitting on my face.

Are you kidding me right now???… 

About Andrea Wada Davies

Ninja by day, flying squirrel by night.

2 comments on ““Why Does This Driver Hate Me So Much?”: Riding in Taxis in Hong Kong

  1. So you said you’d like to hear some Singapore Taxi stories….

    This is not really a story, but an observation.

    Over the years, I have noticed that many Singapore Taxi drivers – especially the older “uncles” – seem to be incapable of maintaining a constant speed on the expressways. What they will do is accelerate for a bit, and then suddenly remove their foot from the accelerator (that’s “gas pedal” for you Americans) for a few seconds, and then start accelerating again.

    Rinse, lather repeat. Ad infinitum…

    The effect of this on the passenger sitting in the back is that you find yourself constantly lurching backwards and forwards. At best it’s mildly annoying, and at worst it leaves you feeling quite nauseous – and which end of that scale is usually somewhat dependant on how much alcohol you have in your system 😉

    I have a theory for why they do this.

    Many years ago, all taxis in Singapore were fitted with a speed monitoring device that would set off an audible alarm (ding! .. ding! .. ding!) inside the taxi whenever they exceeded the speed limit. Many (most?) drivers developed a habit of accelerating until the alarm went off, at which point the alarm would startle them into removing their foot from the pedal. And then when the alarm stopped they would start accelerating again.

    So my theory is that it’s an involuntary behaviour that they were conditioned into by these alarms. The alarms have been gone for many years, but old habits die hard and many of them still do it. I’m quite convinced that they do it without actually being consciously aware of it. The interesting thing is that I’ve never seen a younger driver do this. Which would make sense if my theory is correct because the younger ones would never have driven with the alarms installed.

    So there you have it. The next time you visit Singapore, pay attention to how the driver uses the accelerator on the expressway – and see if you agree with me :-)

    • Wow. This is a very intriguing phenomenon! Knowing the history with the alarms, your theory makes PERFECT sense. You know, I have to say I vaguely remember noticing how lurchy a few of the taxi drivers were in Singapore. I can’t remember if they were both older drivers, but I do remember getting ill. I’m laughing at the fact that there were ever speed monitoring devices in taxis at all. That is so Singaporean-style! Love it. I am planning to be back there within the next few months, so i’ll def take notice. We’ll all have to hit the town together when I’m there. Hope you are well! xx

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