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31 August, 2012
God, I hate this country. A sacrilegious thing for me to say considering that today is Malaysia’s Independence Day. For my unpatriotic sentiments, I put the blame on Malaysia’s national treasure (and I am sprinkling this phrase with sarcastic undertones). I am referring to the taxi drivers.
As we know, New York is a city that’s famous for its legendary yellow cabs and the characters who drive them. Perhaps their appealing notoriety has much to with how they are projected in films and even travel documentaries. Case in point: the movie Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro and his much-quoted line, “You talkin’ to me?” Malaysian taxi drivers, on the other hand, are notorious for mostly the wrong reasons. There isn’t a cool, suave, eccentric, tough-talkin’ image attached to the red and white taxis here. Only the imagery of, let me think, the evil cat Lucifer in the Disney version of Cinderella. Or worse. Of course, I shouldn’t include the good eggs, the samaritans in disguise in this diatribe. And trust me, there are good eggs and samaritans in disguise behind the taxi wheels. But, in general, dealing with the taxi guys in Malaysia requires a special skill set - like having the ability to rein in your temper and violent tendencies when provoked by, to put it mildly, a driver’s uncooperative behavior.
It’s not easy, let me tell you this, holding on to your sanity especially after you’ve been rejected by a slew of taxi drivers who wouldn’t take you from point A to a point B that’s not really far away. I’ve experienced this first-hand. Yesterday 15 taxis have refused to take me as a passenger. 15 refusals within the span of 3 hours. Where was I? Subang USJ. My choice of destination? Singapore? No. Melaka? No. KLCC? I knew better than to ask a cabbie in Subang to take me to the far ends of the world, also known as the KL city centre. My destination was Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, a neighborhood that’s only a 20-minute drive away, if the traffic is good and smooth.
Fair enough. Eveyone knows that if you’re in Subang during the evening peak hours, it’s best to bring a good book or a urine bag as traffic will be at a standstill. It was foolish of me to expect an obliging cab at the deadly time of 7pm. But come to think of it, I wasn’t being entirely naive. I did anticipate a few rejections - four or five ‘nos’ would have been acceptable. It was the total of 15 rejections that did me in.
Why didn’t I take the bus? I hear you ask. There were no buses for me to take. Unless I wanted to travel deeper into the unknowns of Subang and end up in the middle of nowhere. Why didn’t I I call a taxi company and order myself a ride instead? That was how taxi rejections number 13, 14 and 15 came into the picture. Before I go any further and talk about my special fondness for taxi number 16 which I did procure through a phone call, allow me to back track and talk about taxi number 6. A memorable one because its driver gave me a disgusted look when I uttered the words ‘Taman Tun Dr. Ismail’, as if I was carrying a highly contagious disease. Taxi no. 9 gave me the same look of disgust and added to the insult by claiming my request as an act of stupidity. I slammed the door in response. I slammed the door so hard, he could have stormed out of the car and taught me a lesson with his fist. He didn’t - I believed he could sense my thirst for taxi driver blood. And the expression I had on my face was evidence that I was welcoming a fight. So, he drove away.
The sensible truth is I should have stepped inside the shopping mall and bask in the air-conditioning to tame my bubbling blood. What happened was, after taxi number 9, I had become a crazed woman with a mission. To stay rooted to the tarmac and flag down taxis that I knew would turn me down. I wasn’t expecting a ride home anymore. What I really wanted was to slash every driver in the country with malicious words and cruel curses. When taxi number 11 declined with a slight hint of an apology, I yelled for him not to waste my time with his useless excuses. I slammed the door once again, let out a string of profanities in the full view of the public and was immediately a washed with guilt afterwards. So much for the plan of being the ruthless killing machine with no emotions.
At 8.30 pm, I became completely worse for wear and hence, decided to finally lug my body (and its battered soul) to the mall for a drink that could hopefully douse my angry flames. Eventually, sanity claimed its rightful place in my head and the worst version of myself made a brief exit only to come back when I received my 13th taxi rejection over the phone. I realised then that hearing no from a faceless operator was no better than looking at the drivers’ disgusted and smug faces. By the 14th and 15th rejections (both delivered from the passionless voices over the phone), I was on the brink of tears.
If there is a moment where light streams in through the clouds with angels singing in the background, the sight of taxi number 16 stopping in front of me would be it. Taxi number 16, at around 10pm, was the proverbial knight in shining armour. When I stepped into the cab, I almost made a proposal of marriage to the old driver out of sheer gratitude. He did look a bit frightened by my overwhelmed expression. I didn’t care. I was about to go to the one place I longed to go - home. And miracle of miracles, there was a taxi that would bring me there.
Throughout my years of taking taxis, I have come to expect little in the way of knowledge (of roads and routes), politeness and cleanliness (most cabs reek of sweat and bad breath). Yesterday’s encounter with the 15 taxi drivers who chose not to go to a well-known neighborhood (even at 9.30 pm) has left me wondering about the country’s lack of action to improve the taxi system. I am certain that Malaysia doesn’t deserve to be hated on account of its taxi drivers. Nevertheless, I am angry disappointed and ready to write letters of complaint . It is said that the progress of a nation is measured by the efficiencies of its public transportation. I’m not sure if it’s something I’ve read or some thwarted conclusion I derived from my miserable experience.
I am sure this bitterness is fleeting. As for now, the least I could do, is to wish my country a happy birthday.
Happy Birthday, Malaysia.
p.s. If this isn’t a good enough reason for me to start taking driving lessons, I don’t know what is.
Anderson Cooper’s CNN Windbreaker