Hello Kitty, the kawaii feline character, has long made a guest appearance in Bangkok cabs. In the past week alone, I spotted this Sanrio-brand cat in seven different taxis. Why is this character so popular among Thai cabbies you ask? Considering that Hello Kitty has no mouth and is expressionless, maybe the drivers are hinting to their passengers that they should keep quiet and remain calm while riding in their vehicles.
You never know what you're going to find in a Bangkok cab. It most often involves a pleasant surprise, but occasionally it turns out to be a disturbing affair. When I hopped into this taxi, the first thing I noticed were the exoskeletons from a certain kind of critter affixed to the ceiling in a marching formation. After the driver told me what kind of insects they were in Thai, I did a bit of searching on my smartphone and figured out that they were cicadas, the type of bug that makes loud buzzing noises. I've definitely heard them at certain times of the year here in Thailand, but I had never been so close to them before. Despite a long conversation with this cabby about bugs, I'm still not clear why he collects and displays them in his cab. All I know is that it made my skin crawl for the rest of the day.
Season's Greetings from Thailand where old Santa Claus loves to spend the off-season. Here you'll find Father Christmas water skiing, surfing, swimming, chilling out at the beach, and riding orca whales. How does he get here, you ask? Well, he flies to Thailand in his UFO, of course.
Have you ever noticed how some people resemble cartoon characters? Today, my Bangkok taxi driver had all the hallmarks of the Minions. He was sporting bright yellow and blue along with "goggles", and he seemed very happy just like Bob the Minion hanging in his cab. But unlike the animated characters, he is in service to regular people, like me, not commanding super villains.
We're in the midst of the hot season here in Thailand. There are two ways one can deal with it. You can either complain incessantly about the flaming heat as sweat drips down your back, or if you're in Bangkok, you can hop in a taxi with air-conditioning on full blast. In either case, it's important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and it's better to wear loose, cotton garments. For a little summer fun, pop on a flowered Hawaiian shirt like the cabbie in the picture below and embrace the hot, tropical setting.
I just returned from a trip to Hong Kong where getting around is easy. They have quite a range of public transportation available, including the subway, ferries, trams, double decker buses, cable cars, and taxis. The cabs in Hong Kong remind me of those in Tokyo as they also use older Toyotas and as the doors open automatically, too. Not surprisingly, the starting fares are higher than in Bangkok, but the meters don't increase as rapidly, so when all is said and done, the fares are pretty comparable to those in Thailand. Some Hong Kong taxis also have Buddhist amulets and other decorations on their dashboards. This, of course, makes me feel right at home.
Pha Khao Ma, a type of rectangular woven cloth with checkered or striped designs, have been utilized in Thailand for hundreds of years. Traditionally, they are worn by men as sarongs, wrapped around the head or neck, and are sometimes used as towels or to carry things. Today, the cloth has also been adapted for modern usage in the form of tote bags, throw pillows, and book covers, and occasionally you can even find them in Bangkok taxis.
When you buy a new car in Thailand, the first thing you need to do is have a Buddhist monk bless the vehicle. This involves a ceremony where the monk creates a yantra, or yan as it's known in Thai, by drawing lines and dots, as well as adding squares of gold leaf on the ceiling or other surfaces in the car. Each yantra contains certain magical spells that protect the driver and the car, and each design is unique. I don't mean to sound blasphemous, but this one in the taxi today reminds me of the famous Disney castle with fireworks going off above it.
Tonight in the taxi, my driver was wearing one of those neck cushion thingys that some passengers like to wear on airplanes. I've never seen another Bangkok cabby wear one before. Did he just arrive back in Bangkok after a long flight? Was he planning on taking a nap during his shift? Maybe it was a gift from one of his regular customers. Or perhaps, as a result of his poor driving skills which I experienced first hand, he was suffering from a serious case of whiplash.
The decorations inside Bangkok taxis are sometimes literally a reflection of Thai culture and Thai ways of thinking. Many Bangkok cabbies place images of the Buddha, revered Thai monks, and other auspicious symbols on their dashboards to cast reflections onto their windows. This picture of the Buddha statue not only reveals the religious beliefs of many Thais, but also brings to light the ingenuity and aesthetic sensibilities of many Thai people. I probably would have never thought to do this myself, but the effect that the reflection creates is both serene and ethereal.
During the past ten days while traveling in and around Mandalay, I took a few taxis just to compare them with Bangkok cabs. The main difference is that you always have to negotiate the fares in Mandalay, while in Bangkok passengers can usually rely on the set price of the meters. The other difference is that Mandalay taxis are painted white on their exteriors compared to the plethora of cab colors in Bangkok. What makes the taxis similar are the Buddhist decorations, flower offerings, and superstitious paraphernalia on the dashboards and hanging from rearview mirrors. The taxis in Mandalay also commonly include an accoutrement that can be found in many Bangkok cabs: Glade air fresheners.
Thailand should be called the land of festivals and holidays, especially at this time of year. Tomorrow is Loy Krathong, an annual festival that involves floating small decorative 'krathongs' traditionally made from slices of palm trees, banana leaves, and flowers, down rivers and canals to appease the water goddess. Next is the King's birthday in early December which will involve a 'Bike for Dad' event this year to celebrate his 88th birthday. Then, of course, comes Christmas and New Year's. One of the highlights in Bangkok during this season is the sparkling lights on the trees near Chitralada Palace. Alternatively, you can make a trip to one of the city's mega-malls to check out all the Christmas decorations. Never mind the brash commercialism and the fact that most Thais are Buddhist.
Today, when I got into this taxi with the undulating stripes on the ceiling, I felt like I had stepped into some kind of mind-blowing Op Artartwork from the 1960s. The effect was dizzying and disquieting. I tried looking away, but it was impossible to escape from the groovy patterns as all of the seats, doors, and even the steering wheel were covered with this trippy design. When I finally arrived at my destination and got out of the taxi, I was happy to make a break from the illusionistic "art" in the cab and arrive safely back in the year of 2015.
Considering how many Thais have lived and traveled abroad, and taking into account how much the Western world has influenced Thai culture, it's not surprising that Halloween has begun to catch on here. More and more Thais are dressing up in costume for the occasion, Halloween parties are becoming more common here, it's getting easier to find trick-or-treat candy in the stores in Bangkok, and it's not unusual to see decorations with witches, pumpkins, ghosts, and goblins in certain businesses these days. Even some Bangkok taxi drivers are getting into the spirit, like this cabbie whose ghost face stares hauntingly at passengers in the backseat of his cab.
While there are many international fast food franchises in Thailand, the concept of drive-thru windows has never caught on here. Perhaps most Thais would rather eat-in at these kinds of joints. Or maybe they're so used to food vendors approaching them while waiting at stoplights that they don't want to bother placing their order at a faceless microphone and picking up their food at another window. Today, my cabbie bought fried bananas and fried sweet potatoes from this seller standing on the road. The best part was that he shared some with me, and to tell you the truth, I would take her treats over a fast food burger any day.
If there was a soundtrack of popular English language songs regularly covered and played in Thailand, it would have to include at least one Bob Marley song. Probably the most well-liked tune of his that you can hear on every Thai beach and on Bangkok's infamous center of backpacker culture, Khao San Road, is No Woman, No Cry. Today in the taxi, even my cabbie was bobbing to the beat of reggae music blasting on his car stereo as his rastafarian talisman led the way. Decked out in the obligatory red, yellow, and green, and standing near an image of the Buddha and a Thai monk on the dashboard, this smily character brought to mind another Marley track, Positive Vibration. Here's an original performance of the song from 1978. Enjoy.
I once read that the term "okay" is the most recognized word in the world, and in Thailand, taxi drivers use it a lot. Cabbies here also love to express their approval of something by saying that its "number 1". For example, when I speak Thai to the drivers, they often say, "you speak Thai #1". And then, of course, there's always the thumbs up signal which, in my opinion, is the ultimate universal gesture of endorsement.
I hear a lot of folks in Bangkok, both Thais and foreigners, grumbling about the taxi drivers in this city, but rarely do you hear people raving about the ones who are friendly, polite, honest, trustworthy, or smart. While it's true that some Bangkok taxi drivers can be gruff and unhelpful, my experience is that the vast majority of cabbies in our City of Angels are good-natured fellas who are just trying to make an honest living. On the way home today, my conscientious driver took a short-cut to save me a few baht and some time, adjusted my seat and the air temperature for comfort, and was apologetic for his lack of good English skills, which, contrary to his belief, were excellent.
Have a Holly Jolly...Buddha? For someone who's just arrived in Thailand, it might seem strange to see all the Christmas garlands and other seasonal trimmings used as decorations all year long, but if you've spent some time here like me, you barely notice it after a while. So, never mind that blinking Christmas tree in the corner of the mom and pop restaurant in July or the glittery banner wishing you a "Happy New Year!" in a public bus in summer. Be Merry and Jolly all year long!
Being in good spirits this afternoon, I decided to strike up a conversation with the driver of this taxi by asking him about his collection of Buddhist amulets and small statues of revered monks on his dashboard. According to the cabby, most of them are there to protect him from evil spirits. But after answering my initial question, he gave me the cold shoulder. I hope that he didn't consider me to be one of the "evil spirits" to which he was referring.
It has been more than a week since Thailand lost one its most revered monks, Luang Phor Koon. Many Thais, including taxi drivers, have long looked to him for guidance, especially relating to finances as he was known for his ability to raise millions of baht to build temples and schools in Nakorn Ratchasima Province where he was an abbot at Wat Ban Rai. Born in 1923, he dedicated most of his life to studying Buddhist teachings and to helping the needy. He will be missed by many, but his memory will live on in the hearts of many Thais and in the form of amulets, small statues, and stickers in Bangkok taxis.
In Thai culture, two always packs more punch than one. After all, this is the home of the original Siamese twins. In the local language, words are often repeated for emphasis, and even when English is used, you often hear the "same same" words spoken twice. In the case of Bangkok taxis, it is common to see duplicate decorations on dashboards and in the back of cabs. I'm wondering if these cloned characters and twin talismans are supposed to bring double the luck, or did the cabbies simply pick them up at "Buy one, Get one" sales.
Today kicks off the three-day Thai New Year celebration known as Songkran. Traditionally, the festival involves gently pouring water over the hands of others, as well as Buddha statues, as a gesture of purification and cleansing. In more recent times, however, the celebration has turned into an all out widespread water fight. If you happen to be in places like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, plan on get completely drenched with water, or better yet, grab your Super Soaker and join in the fun!
Today marks the 60th Birthday of Thailand's beloved Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, or Princess Prathep, as she is commonly called. There are countless celebrations around the country today, and driving around Bangkok, one can't help but notice all of the photos of her currently displayed throughout the city. Sometimes you can even spot her picture inside businesses and vehicles, and this afternoon I just happened to get in a cab that had this classic image of her posted above the driver's seatbelt.
Happy Birthday to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn!