Lately, I've been noticing a lot of bananas setting in back windows and on dashboards in Bangkok taxis. One driver told me that they are an offering to the gods. Another cabbie explained how they attract more customers and compared his passengers to monkeys. Then one taxi driver told me that they were ripening in the sun and that he couldn't wait to eat one. And finally another cabbie informed me that they were there to provide protection. As he recklessly swerved in and out of traffic, I prayed that his bananas were working.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
As I sat in a taxi staring at a sticker in the form of an eight-sided Chinese bagua with a yin yang symbol in the center, I wondered if the driver was trying to provide a sense of well-being and balance for his passengers in the backseat. Certainly, I, myself, could use some of the positive energy that this feng shui diagram is supposed to impart. Yet, the placement seemed odd. These symbols are typically found on doorways, at dead-ends, in offices, and in homes. The few times that I've seen them inside cabs, they were in the front of the vehicle. My curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to ask the taxi driver why he put this sticker on the back of the front seat. It turns out that it's covering up a hole in the vinyl upholstery.
Posted by Dale at 10:03 PM
Monday, September 15, 2014
Besides elephants, chickens could be considered a national symbol of Thailand. You can find real chickens prancing around on Buddhist temple grounds and even on some city streets. Furthermore, cockfighting has long been a form of popular entertainment and roosters are a traditional Thai motif that can be found on ceramic bowls, in the form of offerings at sacred shrines, and even printed on stickers. And poultry is one of the main staples in the Thai diet. Once you've eaten gai yang (grilled chicken) with sticky rice or chicken satay on the streets of Bangkok, you'll see why these feathery friends are so popular here.
Posted by Dale at 9:18 PM
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
While taxi drivers in Tokyo sport white gloves, some of the cabbies in our fair city opt for more flamboyant accessories. Take, for example, the driver of this cab who is wearing striped purple gloves. Maybe it's just me, but this look seems completely out of place in a tropical environment. Perhaps he should consider turning down his air-conditioning just a notch.
Posted by Dale at 2:46 PM
Monday, August 25, 2014
Posted by Dale at 1:11 PM
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
One question I often get when people see my taxi photos is, "Do the drivers mind when you take pictures in their cabs?". I assure them that I always ask the cabbies if it's okay and I often tell the drivers about this blog or my book, Thai Taxi Talismans. Most of the time the cabbies are thrilled that I'm interested in Thai culture and are more than happy to let me take photographs in their cabs. But there have been a couple of instances when the drivers resisted. In one case, the cabbie was very superstitious and told me that he thought it was bad luck for me to capture the images of the Buddha and monks. Another driver insisted that I go to a temple instead where there were more things to photograph. While that may or may not be true, at the time I got the distinct feeling that he was just trying to rack up the fare driving me around Bangkok.
Posted by Dale at 1:14 AM
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
From the moment I asked the driver to take me across town, I could tell that he wasn't so excited to make the journey. He immediately complained about the distance and the likelihood that we would encounter a traffic jam at that time of day. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that he turned off the air-conditioner, and a few seconds later, he pulled the car to the side of the road. I asked him what was going on and he told me that the car was overheating. It made sense in this city of intense heat, but strangely, there were no red warning lights that went on and there were no other signs that the car was facing a problem. The only thing that was overheating was my body from the lack of air-conditioning and my temper from the whole situation. But I got out of the taxi anyway, and as he sped away, the car was miraculously working just fine again.
Posted by Dale at 8:11 PM
Friday, August 1, 2014
According to news reports, travelers flying into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport will soon have less to be crabby about when queuing up for taxis upon arrival. Within the next few weeks, new kiosks will be installed along with a "state-of-the-art" computerized system. This will replace the antiquated method of airport staff manually writing down passengers' destinations on slips of paper. It should dramatically improve the airport taxi service so that travelers won't have to wait in seemingly endless lines for taxis after long flights. Let's hope that they will also train the staff working in those kiosks to be more efficient and that they'll find a way to keep unscrupulous taxi drivers in check.
Posted by Dale at 12:41 AM
Monday, July 21, 2014
While some cab drivers in Bangkok puff away in the front seat between fares, many cabbies prohibit smoking in their cabs. It's common to see No Smoking signs in Thai taxis, but they're usually the plain kind that have a symbol of a cigarette with a red slash through it. This sticker has those symbols, too, but this one is much more personable and politely asks passengers to kindly refrain from smoking. The Thai government should use this same upbeat tactic to warn people about the dangers of smoking rather than requiring local producers of cigarettes to print gruesome images of black, tar-filled lungs on their packages.
Posted by Dale at 10:05 PM
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Herbs have been used for aromatherapy in this part of the world for centuries. Today, you can readily find herbal nasal inhalers for sale in pharmacies, supermarkets, mom and pop shops, markets and convenience stores throughout Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. Some people, including this taxi driver, even make their own inhaler using a small bottle and their own recipe of fresh and dried herbs. Thais claim that the herbal inhalers can cure headaches and alleviate cold and flu symptoms, and many people here also use them to relax and de-stress. This cabby was inhaling his bottle of herbs every few minutes to relieve tension in the heavy Bangkok traffic. At one point, we were stuck behind a bus for ten minutes, so I could have used my own inhaler in the backseat to calm my nerves, too.
Posted by Dale at 9:33 PM
Sunday, June 22, 2014
For some Bangkok cabbies, a plain grey car interior where they spend as many as twelve hours a day working, is simply just too, well, plain. The driver of this taxi, for example, added some flair to his cab with shiny patterned vinyl on the ceiling. It makes sense that some Thais would have an appreciation for decorative motifs when you consider how Thai architecture, decorative arts, textiles, and handicrafts have long included pattern in the design. This geometric pattern, however, is obviously far from traditional. It looks more like it came out of a 1980's music video.
Posted by Dale at 1:40 PM
Sunday, June 8, 2014
In Thailand, there's no such thing as having too much of a good thing. The general attitude here is that more is better. Even the driver of this taxi keeps adding and adding to his collection of amulets and statuettes of the Buddha, Hindu gods, and other icons. He believes the more sacred images he stockpiles, the more he will be protected from accidents, vile passengers, the police, and other evil spirits. The cabby is also convinced that his assemblage of talismans will attract more customers, and consequently more profit. I can't speak for others, but from the moment I caught sight of the driver's collection on the dashboard, I wanted to ride in his taxi.
Posted by Dale at 2:36 PM
Sunday, June 1, 2014
The image of the bull on the magical yantra cloth on the ceiling of the cab was an apt symbol for the driver of this vehicle. From the moment I hopped into the taxi, the cabbie was talking nonsense. He mostly rambled on about politics, the popular topic of conversation in Thailand these days, but everything that came out of his mouth was rubbish. Rather than arguing with him or telling him to stop babbling, I decided to tell him some crazy stories, too. As the old saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them.
Posted by Dale at 2:54 PM
Sunday, May 4, 2014
If you're in Bangkok and you're a photo enthusiast, I highly recommend stopping by Kathmandu Photo Gallery. Located in Bangkok's "mini India" near a Hindu Temple and run by one of this city's most prominent contemporary photographers, Manit Sriwanichpoom, and filmmaker, Ing K, it's an outstanding space to view photos with a point of view.
From now until June 29th, I have the exciting opportunity to show twenty of my favorite taxi photos in the gallery. The exhibit includes both black-and-white portraits of the cabbies reflected in their rearview mirrors, as well as color photographs of talismans in Thai taxis. Hence, the title of the exhibition, Reflections / Protection. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might recognize some of the photos being displayed in the gallery.
Posted by Dale at 4:10 PM
Saturday, April 26, 2014
On my recent trip to Bali, I took a few taxis, and for the most part, it was unlike taking cabs in Bangkok. First of all, in Bali there are few taxis on the road to hail. Instead cabbies sit alongside the streets holding up "taxi" signs while waiting for customers. The taxis look like regular cars with no emblems on the side of the vehicle, nor special lights to designate that the cars are taxis. And there are no meters which means you need to haggle the fare, unless you don't mind getting overcharged for the ride. Balinese taxis, similar to Bangkok cabs, however, often have offerings to the gods on the dashboard. Palm leaf baskets filled with flowers and fruit give the Balinese taxis a tropical flair. And to add to the exotic vibe, some of the drivers even tuck small blossoms behind their ears.
Posted by Dale at 9:31 PM
Thursday, April 17, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 11:47 PM
Sunday, April 13, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 2:40 PM
Sunday, April 6, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 12:44 PM
Sunday, March 30, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 1:31 PM
Sunday, March 16, 2014
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?
Posted by Dale at 12:25 PM
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 10:29 PM
Friday, February 21, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 10:25 PM
Friday, February 14, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 12:08 PM
Saturday, February 8, 2014
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 Pokémon characters, including Pikachu, decorate Bangkok taxis.
Posted by Dale at 3:04 PM
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 9:05 PM
Sunday, January 19, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 9:26 PM
Sunday, January 12, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 8:24 PM
Monday, January 6, 2014
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.
Posted by Dale at 11:08 PM
Friday, December 27, 2013
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.
Posted by Dale at 10:45 PM
Thursday, December 12, 2013
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".
Posted by Dale at 7:14 PM