Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ride at Your Own Risk!

As I have mentioned before, taxis are our main form of transportation as a family. Now in some parts of Asia, the taxis are really nice. Leather seats, a spacious back seat, clean and well-kept--this could describe the taxis in Hong Kong and Singapore. If you take a taxi in those cities, you feel refreshed and relaxed when you arrive. In our city, sorry to say, this is not the case. Occasionally I'll be in a taxi that seems less rickety and fairly clean, but the vast majority have washable (and therefore moderately clean) seat covers but are incredibly dirty everywhere else--the windows, the insides of the doors, the floors, the ceiling, yuck! So usually when I'm in a taxi, I try not to touch anything, especially if I am wearing khaki pants. Brush up against the inside of the door as you're getting in and your pants instantly need laundering again! When we first moved here, John always instinctively would try to put on the seat belt, which of course was covered in dusty dirt. After realizing the extremely adverse affects to his clothes, he gave up on the dirty seat belts! The worst taxis, however, are the ones with the pack of cigarettes up on the dash, since the drivers who smoke don't hesitate to do so, even if you and your two children are sitting right next to him. Yuck again.

Cosmetic issues aside, traffic is another whole story here in this Asian country. In the west, driving is a science. The light turns red, you stop. The road has a double line, you stay in your lane. The car in front of you uses its turn signal. No one would ever think of passing someone on the right by using the curb. Blasting your horn at someone is reserved for extremely serious situations. However, driving a car here is like an art form. There is a lot of free-flow between lanes (lanes? what are those?), no one uses a turn signal, the lights even at major intersections are considered mere suggestions. The motto seems to be: "If there's room for me, I'll just edge in there!" Horns are used in many ways: there's the short beeps which simply mean "look out! I'm coming your way!" There's the long blasts which could mean "get going! We're all waiting for you!" or "Move over! I'm trying to get through!" There's also the warning honk for bicycles that suddenly veer into your lane or pedestrians who are trying to cross the road in random places.

[Sidenote: crossing the road here is like that old video game "Frogger". First you look to the left and walk ahead, slowly and as you have opportunity, and then you are "safe on the yellow line" so you can stand and wait in the middle of the street before attempting to cross the next lanes. I have had times where buses were bearing down on me and cars were coming the opposite direction as I stood stock still in the middle of the road. The key in that situation is don't move! If you move with traffic around you, nobody knows where you're going and you could get hit. But if you stand still, people are watching out and will take care not to hit you. Of course it's better not to get stuck in the middle of the road, but sometimes with traffic what it is, it's the best option.]

Even being accustomed to what normal (crazy) traffic is like, occasionally I get into a taxi where the driver thinks that since he is carrying a foreigner, he must go to great lengths to get the foreigner there faster. Last night was one of those times.

I was headed out to meet some friends and was amazingly alone--both of my children were at home with John. How nice, I thought. I can just enjoy the taxi ride, look around at things, no need to restrain small hands from playing with the meter or rescue Doll from the dirty floor. Well, instead I was in for a ride that rivaled any amusement park roller coaster.

My driver started off well enough, though he took a different route than I was expecting--he continued straight when I thought he would turn. He zoomed down to the next corner, in and out of lanes, passing other cars on the right and the left, and when we reached the next red light he pulled all the way up into the left turn lane. Great, I thought. He'll just turn here. Oh, no, he didn't! He simply waited for the light to turn green, then put on the gas and veered to the right, so as to cut off the entire line of cars waiting in the proper lane.

At the next corner he pulled the same trick and I was starting to get a little motion sick. It was then that I noticed how frequently he was using his horn and starting counting...from that point until our destination he used it no less than 28 times! (It might have been more, I could have missed a couple.) He just kept zooming in one lane and then another, narrowly missing other cars, people on motorcyles, there was even a scary moment with a couple of pedestrians who had stepped out before they looked. Usually, since the roads are so congested, drivers can't manage to go very fast, but this driver was definitely the exception, and if he had hit those pedestrians there would have been very serious injuries.

I breathed a sigh of relief as we arrived at my destination, in one piece and not surprisingly, in record time. Whew! What do you think, want to go for a ride?

3 comments:

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Angela said...

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Rachel said...

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