Thursday, April 17, 2014

Uber cool or Overrated?

Despite the fact that Bangkok has an abundance of taxis on the streets at all hours of the day and night, more and more locals and visitors are turning to the Uber mobile app to get a cab rather than hailing taxis with their red wahng, or available, lights turned on. Passengers using the app will avoid headaches with cabbies who decline to give them a ride, drive recklessly, and refuse to turn on their meter and instead ask for a flat rate. Those in need of a cab simply 'pin' their current location on their smart phone or tablet and wait to be picked up, and when it comes time to pay, their credit card is automatically billed. Never mind that the fare is at least double the normal cost or that the taxi will most likely be lacking in the talismans and other decorations that make Bangkok taxis charming and unique.     

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Happy Songkran!


It's that time of year in Thailand to bust out your loudest, most colorful, tropical shirt. Whether you're traveling, partying, or working during Songkran Festival, this is currently the national uniform. And if you're like the cabby in the first picture, you won't forget to wear a towel around your neck. You'll need it to wipe the sweat off your forehead in this extreme heat and for drying yourself off when you get splashed with water from Songkran celebrants.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blowing the Whistle

There are many people in Bangkok who want to "blow the whistle" on the current government and put a stop to their antics, but it's rare to see Bangkok taxi drivers who do not support this Prime Minister. I asked the cabby about his political views and he told me that he isn't in favor of any particular party, but he believes that there needs to be big changes politically in this country. Oh, and he thinks it's fun blowing his whistle at rallies.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Taxi Pagoda

On the dashboard in the taxi last night there was an elaborate multi-layered display with a menagerie of lucky icons. On the lower levels, Thai monk statuettes faced the driver and passengers, and on the top tier there was a Garuda mythological bird figure spreading his golden wings in front of two Buddha images. This setup goes above and beyond your average taxi dashboard altar in Thai taxis. It's more like a little pagoda.        

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Taxi or Scooter?

Advertisements for motor scooters seem to regularly appear in Bangkok taxis. Are they trying to target passengers who are fed up with traffic jams and rude cabbies? Doesn't promoting the use of motorbikes ultimately hurt the business of taxi drivers? And why is that Lady Gaga impersonator awkwardly perched on the bike's seat? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sleepy Heads

Besides snapping photos and talking to the drivers during long commutes in Bangkok taxis, I admittedly take occasional naps. Riding in the backseat of a cab can be relaxing, presuming the driver isn't blaring the radio or talking loudly on their phone, as long as the roads are smooth, and provided there are no ambulances with loud sirens passing by. Today, it didn't help to have a sleepy dwarf plush toy with heavy eyelids sitting in the back of the car near me. Just like when someone yawns and it causes you to yawn, looking at the drowsy character was outright sleep-inducing. I ended up dozing off for most of the ride, and when I woke up, I felt a little bit like the sluggish troll in the taxi, minus the green stocking cap and long white beard.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Glitzy Taxi

If there's two things that most Thais love, it's glitz and glam. From ostentatious jewelry to flamboyant costumes to crystal chandeliers, many people in this culture are attracted to all things sparkly. Even the driver of this taxi likes to be flashy. He personally glued rows of dark blue and clear crystals onto his steering wheel to add a little bling. Even the Toyota logo twinkles in the sunlight. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love the Buddha

Happy Makha Bucha-tines Day! Not only is Valentine's Day being celebrated in Thailand today, it's also Makha Bucha Day, an important Buddhist festival that venerates the Buddha's teachings. The occasion is observed in Thailand every year on the full moon day of the third month in the lunar calendar, and this year it just so happens to fall on Valentine's Day. In a place that likes to mix and match various styles and beliefs from different cultures and religions, the combination of a Buddhist holiday with one that has Christian roots is perfectly acceptable here and is even embraced by many. Today, Thais can love the Buddha even more than usual.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Turning Japanese

Thais are obsessed with all things Japanese these days. Ramen noodle shops can be found in every mall, some street vendors now sell sushi, middle-aged ladies wear Hello Kitty accessories, Japanimation dubbed in Thai is regularly shown on TV, Japanese-style goods are available at 60 baht stores, and Pok√©mon characters, including Pikachu, decorate Bangkok taxis.          

Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year


Happy Year of the Horse!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thai Taxi Mythology

In Buddhist and Hindu mythology in Thailand, there's a host of creatures that are part human and part animal, or sometimes these beasts are made up of a combination of two or more critters. Today in the taxi, the driver created his own mythological creature out of two talismans. It has the head of a tiger on the side of a fish. I guess this is what you would literally call a catfish.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Taxi Rules

After I read the driver's list of rules for his passengers posted on the back of the seat, I asked him about it. He said that he was tired of customers eating in his cab, leaving trash behind, and hurling in the backseat. He's hoping that his sign will deter his patrons from making a mess in his vehicle. I didn't have the heart to tell him, but I don't think drunk passengers who can't see straight will read his decree before retching out their guts all over the inside of his taxi.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Southern-style Thai

The taxi driver who gave me a ride today hails from the South of Thailand where these characters stuck to the console in his cab originate. These three figures are from Nang Talung, a type of folk shadow play that involves puppets made out of cut and perforated leather. Typical characters include demons, comedians, hermits, gods, and royalty, and the themes range from family conflict to the adventures of a wandering hero. At one point during the ride, I looked up at the driver and realized that he resembled one of those guys with a big belly and a long pointer finger.     

Monday, January 6, 2014

Roar of the Tiger

In Thai culture, those who possess the symbol of the tiger generally want to obtain some of the attributes of this creature, including strength and fearlessness. Images of tigers are commonly seen in Thailand in the form of sak yant tattoos and on magical yan cloths, but in this case, the taxi driver stamped an ink depiction of a tiger on the back of his seat. It seems that he's warning passengers that they better act properly or else he'll get ferocious.        

Friday, December 27, 2013

Burmese Taxis

I just returned from a trip to Yangon, Myanmar. It turns out that taxis are a good way to get around there. They're plentiful and many of the drivers are quite friendly. Some of the cabs even have Buddha statuettes, fresh flower garlands, and other decorations, including flags. Unlike the taxis in Bangkok, the cabs in Yangon don't have meters, so you need to haggle sometimes. The fares generally cost somewhere around 2000 or 3000 Myanmar kyats within the city limits which might sound really expensive. But we're actually talking about only two or three US dollars. Not a bad price for getting around town.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Roll of the Dice

Thais seem to appreciate anything that's considered "classic", so I guess it shouldn't be too surprising to find fuzzy dice dangling from a rearview mirror in a Bangkok cab. These automobile accoutrements have been around since the 1950's. Like most of the other decorations and charms in Thai taxis, they're yet another symbol of good luck. Even more auspicious is the fact that the dice are showing "snake eyes".      

Thursday, December 5, 2013

King and Father

Today marks the 86th birthday of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Because Thais consider the King to be the father of the country, father's day is also celebrated in Thailand today.

Happy Birthday to the King and Happy Dad's Day!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hand Talk

Humans have been using their hands to make marks on surfaces since prehistoric times. So when I spotted this handprint of a monk on the ceiling of a taxi alongside other magical yan drawings, it reminded me of Paleolithic cave art. It also made me think about all of the art through history that includes hand gestures as a way to communicate to viewers. In Buddhist art, the Buddha is represented with various mudras that symbolize his actions, including teaching and blessing. According to the cab driver, this particular hand gesture stamped on the ceiling is supposed to activate dormant energy. Considering that taxi drivers spend long hours sitting in the front seat, I hope this handprint keeps this cabby alert and awake.      

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Gambling Man

When I saw these stickers in the taxi, I thought perhaps my driver has a gambling addiction. Does he spend his time-off placing bets at Muay Thai boxing matches or cockfights? Or does he stop off at snooker clubs between picking up fares and wager all his money? As he drove like a maniac through the streets of Bangkok, I figured it out: he likes to gamble with his own life (and apparently the lives of his passengers, as well).  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Lucky Charms

Many Thais, including taxi drivers, don an amulet (or a dozen) dangling from a necklace with images of the Buddha, monks, Hindu gods and goddesses, and other lucky icons. The charms reflect the wearer’s personal beliefs, values, and superstitions. When many Bangkok cabbies begin their shift, they remove their amulets from around their neck and hang them from their rearview mirror while saying a prayer. The talismans thus serve to protect the car, as well as the driver. I also like to believe that they then keep passengers, like myself, safe from harm.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Speedy Cabby

Today, my cab driver wildly swerved in and out of lanes and almost sideswiped a guy on a motorbike. So, I politely asked him to "cha cha noy" or slow down a little, but he laughed and kept driving like a madman. Had it been a Nascar race, we may have won, but there are no checkered flags on Thai highways, only checkered patterns on the interior of this cabby's vehicle.     

Monday, October 21, 2013

Think Pink

In Thailand, the color pink doesn't carry the same associations as it does in the West. Here it's a color that everyone seems to fancy, including the King and owners of taxi fleets just the same. Today, the interior of my taxi was coated in pink vinyl with a damascus pattern. If you ask me, this look is straight out of a bordello circa 1973, but for my taxi driver, it represents the ultimate in good taste and luxury. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Good Deed for the Day

In Thai culture, providing aid and assistance to others is a surefire way to "make merit", which in turn, will ensure a peaceful existence now and in the future. In the taxi today, the driver told me that I could make merit by donating money to a temple in his village upcountry. Seeing the pictures from his hometown and knowing that I might be helping fund someone's education, bailing a family out of financial trouble, or maybe even helping a farmer buy a cow, I decided to make a donation. As I inserted a wad of cash into his wooden money container, a rush of good karmic energy immediately flowed in my direction. Without a doubt, it's the best investment that I've made in a long time.    

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ad(s) Nauseam

You can't escape advertising in Bangkok. It bombards you everywhere you go. Shophouses display vinyl banners that advertise everything from Coca-cola to new condominiums, department stores hang three-story high signs announcing sales, presenters in malls scream into microphones to promote new products, and the skytrain has monitors that show commercials non-stop. Now, you can't even avoid advertising when you're in Bangkok taxis. Lately, TVs showing only commercials have sprung up on headrests in some cabs. Regardless of the type of ads they show, this in-your-face tactic is annoying, even if they are only advertising things like dog shampoo. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rich and Happy

In the past few years, a lot of interesting findings in the field of happiness research have surfaced. Some researchers now claim that we can make ourselves happier regardless of the circumstances in our lives, and most studies have come to the conclusion that there is no correlation between money and happiness. This figure of Budai, the Chinese folkloric deity, on a taxi dashboard with a gold ingot in his hand, however, sends out a completely different message. In a not-so-subtle way, it suggests that costly treasures will bring a permanent smile to our face.   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Taxi Furby

The Furby craze over the past year has, without a doubt, made its way over to Thailand. Despite the fact that here they cost almost double the price you would pay in the States, some Thais with money to burn consider this to be a "must-have" toy. For those who can't afford one, like my taxi driver today, there are alternative ways to get ahold of something Furby-like. In his case, he opted for this green stuffed non-robotic version that he bought at a local market for sixty baht, or roughly two US dollars. The best part about it is that it doesn't make annoying sounds or talk back at you the way real Furbys do. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Taxi Fashionista

If you saw the video about Bangkok style on nytimes.com last week and haven't been to Bangkok before, you would probably come to the conclusion that all Thai fashionistas are under the age of 25 and hang out in Siam Square. The truth is, you can find fashionable folk all over this city who range in age from toddler to senior. Today, even my cabby was donning (fake) Italian designer sunglasses with his shirt collar turned up for a sporty look.       

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Siamese Cushions

If you get married in Thailand, you'll need a pair of matching round wedding pillows like these. One is for the bride and the other is for the groom. After the ceremony, they usually end up as decorations in homes. Or if your husband (or wife) happens to be a taxi driver, the set of sparkly cushions will most likely be proudly displayed in the back window of their cab.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Harley Lover

The driver of this taxi is a huge fan of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He knows all about the company's 110th anniversary celebration going on August 30th, 31st, and September 1st in Milwaukee, USA, the home of this icon. He wishes he could be there among Harley lovers from around the globe. But first, he would need to find someone to drive his cab while he's gone, and secondly, he would need a Harley.     

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Paradise Driver

When I hopped in a Bangkok cab today, the first thing that jumped out at me were pictures of white sand beaches, tropical resorts, and the crystal clear waters of the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. This driver, like many others in this city, are available to take you anywhere you desire within the borders of the country, including these breathtaking locales. I was tempted to abandon everything and tell the driver to take me straight to paradise. Instead, I decided I'd better go home, but I definitely jotted down the phone number of this cabby so I can call him next time I need to get away from it all.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

All Smiles

Here in the "land of smiles" as Thailand likes to bill itself, it's true that the locals seem to smile often. In addition to expressing pure bliss, the smile is used as a sort of defense mechanism and in tense and awkward social situations. After all, Thais avoid "losing face" at all costs. Even action figures in Thai taxis sometimes grin from ear to ear.      

Monday, July 22, 2013

Magical Ceiling

The cab driver told me that the monk who had made these yan drawings on the ceiling of his taxi had created them specifically with him in mind. The writing and symbols include magical formulas that are supposed to provide protection for him and ensure success in his life. I asked the cabby if they're working and he retorted, "Are the stars in the sky working?".