Saturday, June 28, 2008

Monk Drawings

In Thailand, Buddhist monks bless businesses by making designs on the walls or ceiling using powder and small squares of paper-thin gold leaf. In shops, the drawings are usually found near the sign on the storefront, and in taxis, you can see the creations on the ceiling. The designs vary, but are generally made up of white dots, lines and swirls along with a few symmetrically-placed gold squares. The designs look like a Thai temple or Buddha's head and are meant to represent Buddha's enlightenment. They're intended to bring good luck and good fortune to business owners, and in the case of the taxis, the designs are meant to protect and help the driver, the passengers, and the car itself.

Sometimes in businesses, the monk drawings are small. But, in some taxis, half the ceiling is covered in white powder and gold. I asked my taxi driver the other day if the size of the monk drawing affects the potency or the meaning in any way, and the cabby told me it doesn't make much difference, and that it's up to the monk's creativity and mood. Some of those monks can get pretty artistic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Many Bangkok taxi drivers worship the elephant-headed Hindu deity, Ganesha. For Thai cabbys, he represents success and good fortune. But, Ganesha is also a patron of the Arts, and is believed to bestow intellect and wisdom upon his followers. If you're in need of creative ideas or brain power, you should have a chat with Ganesha. This god is also believed to be a remover of obstacles, and if you were a cabby in this city of traffic jams and road construction, you'd be praying to Ganesha, too.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fare is Fair?

Compared to some cities in the world, taxi fares in Bangkok are reasonable. The existing fare hasn't gone up in almost twelve years. But, due to the soaring prices of fuel, Thailand's Transport Ministry has just approved raising the taxi fares in Bangkok. The initial 35 baht fare will remain the same, but starting next week, the fare will increase 50 satang (half a baht) for every kilometer travelled.

The cabbys that I talked to about the new fare are pleased because it'll help take the edge off the cost of the fuel. It's become more and more difficult for the drivers to make a decent salary. But, the higher fare also means customers who take taxis regularly, like me, will have less baht to spend on other things.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lady Driver

It's rare to see female taxi drivers in Bangkok, so when I got into a taxi yesterday and saw a woman, I was a bit surprised. When I asked her why she chose to be a Bangkok cabby, she told me it's the perfect job for her because she enjoys driving and talking to people.

She also mentioned that she's been a cabby for over ten years, and that when she first started driving there were only eleven lady taxi drivers in Bangkok. She claims that there are now over one thousand female cabbys in this city, but I find that hard to believe. I've taken hundreds, if not more than a thousand taxis here, and have had only three drivers who were women. If the other lady drivers in Bangkok are as friendly and pleasant as this driver, I'll be sure to look for more women cabbys in the future.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Inside Out

Yesterday, in a taxi, the driver had a collection of metal reliefs with images of Buddha. The driver told me that they were from temples in different regions of Thailand; one was from Chiang Mai in the North, another was from Phuket in the South, there was one from the old capital city of Sukhothai, one came from Khon Khen in the Northeast, and another was from Bangkok.

The metal reliefs faced the outside to protect the driver and passengers on the inside. But, even from the interior, the relief images were striking because of the concave effect and because of the patina surfaces on the back of the metal. I took many photos of the backs of the metal plates, but the driver wasn't convinced that my photos would look good. He insisted that I photograph the images of Buddha from the outside. So, he stopped the car on the side of the road and told me to get out and take some pictures. I appreciated his concern and good intentions, but, to be honest, the photos from the inside turned out to be much more interesting.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Recycle Taxi

It seems like there's finally starting to be some awareness of environmental issues in Thailand, but we have a long way to go. Some Thai people are starting to use cotton canvas bags when they go shopping, rather than taking the plastic ones when they check out. And, there are many people here who recycle plastic and other materials for cash. The other positive aspect is that Thais are extremely resourceful and re-use many things that might otherwise find their way into the trash, such as the plastic bottle cap platform for Buddha in the photo.

Unfortunately, the overabundant use of plastic bags here, as well as the eco-unfriendly product packaging used in Thailand, is still a big problem. For example, in franchised convenience stores, it's common to see clerks putting each item into separate plastic bags, and then enclosing it all in one big non-biodegradable sack. Even worse, much of the product packaging here includes layer-upon-layer of plastic and styrofoam.

It's nice to see many Thai people walking around with natural cloth bags that read, "Say No to Plastic" or, "Save the Planet", even if it's just a trend (hopefully, it'll last). As individuals, we can each do our part if we cut down on using harmful materials. But, businesses here, big and small, need to get into the act, too.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Taxi Bank

Some Bangkok taxi drivers love collecting coins and displaying them on the front of the dashboard and on the car's ceiling. It's interesting to see the various designs on the money, and to think about the international passengers who have taken a ride in the cab. It's also fun to try and guess the origin of the different currencies.

During the conversation in the cab, I joked with the driver and asked him if he likes to collect Thai baht, too. He replied by telling me that his piggy bank is completely empty, but I can contribute to his collection. I decided to give him an extra tip and dropped two ten baht coins into the slot of his piggy bank, and I also dug deep into my coin bag and found a quarter dollar from the States to add to his other collection.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Taxi Meditation

Sometimes riding in a taxi can be a meditational journey. Staring out the window in a cab with a seated monk statue leading the way, it's the perfect time to clear out a cluttered brain. If the driver doesn't feel like chatting and if the radio isn't blaring, it's an ideal moment to take a deep breath and focus on a single positive thought. By the end of the ride you feel refreshed and ready to take on the outside world.

Of course, you don't need to be in a Bangkok cab staring at a Buddhist monk statue to meditate - you can do it anywhere. I have to admit, however, being in Thailand helps to set the mood.