Saturday, October 31, 2009

Extra Lucky

The taxi driver told me all about the individual amulets on the pedestals of his taxi shrine. He told me which temple each one comes from, which amulets are the luckiest, which ones attract a mate, and how much each charm cost. I asked him about the empty spot at the top, and he told me a passenger bought it. Apparently, the one that was purchased is supposed to be extra lucky. And that's why the driver charged him double what he originally paid for it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Karaoke Taxi

No Eating, No Pets, and No Smoking. But if you want to belt out a tune, on the other hand, this cab's for you. Simply mention the word "karaoke" and the cabbie will flip down his DVD player attached to his sun visor and hand you a wireless mic. Choose from a long list of Thai songs with videos that include Roman letter subtitles spelling out Thai words, or take a walk down memory lane and select from the driver's collection of English language oldies. Which will you choose, Luk Thung, The Beatles, or Elvis?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Spring Chicken

When I got in the taxi today and saw the golden chicken bouncing around on a spring, I couldn't help but wonder if it was part of some religious or superstitious belief. So, I asked the cabbie about it and he laughed and told me his nickname is "Gai", which means chicken. I should have guessed as many Thais have animal nicknames. Since I've been in Bangkok, I've known a few Birds, Cats, and Lions and I've met some people nicknamed Kratae (squirrel), Noo (mouse), and Mee (bear). As a corny joke, I said to the cabbie in my best rendition of Thai, "you're no spring chicken". But by the look on his face, he clearly didn't get it. Obviously, my stupid joke got completely lost in translation.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hodgepodge of Gods

I've often wondered why some religions insist on having only one god. What's wrong with worshipping a host of gods, goddesses, deities, idols, and talisman? It seems to me that the more divine beings we worship, the more we increase our chances of getting what we want and need.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

True Colors

Thais love color. They're especially keen on bright colors combined with other vibrant colors to create a rainbow effect. It makes sense when you consider that this country has a tropical climate. And maybe this love of color has something to do with the cultural influences from India. It's also true that Thai people are attracted to anything that says "fun and happy" and these brilliant colors definitely fall under those categories. It's unfortunate, however, that the taxi driver in this cab wasn't as cheerful as his colorful taxi accoutrements. In fact, I would say he was downright miserable.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The other day, someone asked me if I've ever been scammed by a Bangkok taxi driver. "Of course I have. This is Bangkok", was my answer. When I first arrived here, I fell victim to a few cabbies who drove me around the long way to jack up the fare, and a few times I had a driver who didn't turn on the meter and then tried to charge me an exorbitant rate at the end of the ride. Despite these bad experiences, the odds of getting scammed by Bangkok cabbies are pretty small (I've taken hundreds of taxis here and have had only a few problems), especially if you're aware of the potential scams and use some common sense.

Following are a few simple rules to follow to avoid getting burned by cabbies in the "City of Angels":

1. Do not take taxis that are sitting and waiting in tourist areas.
2. Make sure the driver turns on the meter.
3. Carry a map as a guide for yourself, but don't expect your driver to use it or look at it.
4. Bring a business card or get the address of your destination written in Thai.
5. Do not believe some recommendations or claims from your cabbie such as, "I know this great seafood restaurant" or "The Grand Palace is closed today".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Going for the Gold

Gold has long played a role in the history and culture of Thailand. Even the original name of Thailand, Siam, means "gold" in Sanskrit. The gold trade in Thailand dates back 2,000 years and gold is still this country's second largest export. Gold is also a big part of the most prevalent religion in Thailand, Theravada Buddhism. In Buddhist literature, the Buddha is often described as having a golden complexion. And anyone who has ever been to Thailand knows about its temples and statues covered in this precious metal. For me, a little gold can go a long way. Especially when it's fake and made out of plastic.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Photographic History

When I got into the taxi today, I had to ask myself, "What year is it?". Judging by the photo of the driver on his taxi license, it's 1852. The color and the image appear as if it were made with a camera from the early days of photography. Even the serious expression and clothing style of the cabbie in the photo hark back to an era gone by. I didn't ask my driver when this photo was taken, but my guess is that it was taken before cars were invented.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Green Pendant

In New York City, it's estimated that half the taxi drivers are Muslim. In Bangkok, it's a much lower percentage. How do I know? Just take a look inside Bangkok taxis and you'll usually find images of Buddha and Buddhist monks. It's not often you see an Islamic item inside the cabs, such as the green pendant with golden arabic writing and decorative motifs on it. I asked my driver about it, but it turns out he isn't Muslim. He's Buddhist. So, I questioned him on why this Islamic object is in his cab. He told me simply, "I like the color".

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great Balls of Fire!

Today, I asked my taxi driver from Northeast Thailand about his Buddha statuette with the seven-headed serpent, or Naga, surrounding Buddha's head. He took the opportunity to talk about the annual Bang Fai Phaya Nak Festival taking place this week in Nong Khai province near the border of Laos where fireballs shoot up from the Mekong River. As Thai legend has it, this phenomenon is created by a Naga living under the river. Since moving to Thailand, I've heard all about this extremely well-attended festival that features hundreds of flaming orbs rising up from the water. I've never been to the festival, but I hope to go someday to see Thailand's very own flame-throwing Loch Ness Monster.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Thai Heroes

In Thailand, we don't need another hero. We already have Buddhist monks and Doraemon, the Japanese manga character. When I first saw the image of the monk with the Doraemon figurines in the taxi, I couldn't hold back my laughter. There's something hilarious about the combination of a meditating monk next to two ecstatic blue cats from the future. Yet the more I thought about this funny juxtaposition, the more I realized that strangely enough there's a similarity between Buddhist monks and Doraemon: both of them teach moral lessons and both of them have no fur (Doraemon is a robot and monks shave their heads).