Bangkok traffic is so bad that a couple of times a month I come across the news about a woman giving birth in a taxi on a tollway. I know somebody should have done something to fix the traffic conditions in Bangkok, when almost every time after the plane I took lands I kinda expect to see another baby-born-on-the-road short notification splashing onto my iPhone screen.
It’s always taxi drivers who deliver those babies as they cannot wait for a team of medics in an ambulance stuck in a hopeless traffic jam. Every time I wonder “Where do they learn that skill?” “Is it in our animal instincts buried deep inside our genes that only resurfaces to help our own kind deliver the result of our reproduction?” I think as I scroll the news up and down my Twitter’s feed. Were a pregnant woman seated next to me in the window seat to start crying out in labour pain, the best I could do would be to faint, so the flight attendants could easily remove me from the scene.
The bright side of this is that it shows that Thai taxi drivers are highly skilled in providing advanced medical assistant to passengers, much without the help of a doctor, especially around women’s reproductive organs. My thoughts were reassured when one late night as I left Suvarnabhumi airport and hopped into the back of a taxi that smelt as if somebody had broken a bottle of cheap cologne in there. The driver looked like he’s in his mid-forties. I looked at his license to check his date of birth and noticed his name was Mr. Nana.
“Yeah, a lot of people asked me who gave me that name.” Mister Nana spat as I glared at his name tag. “I was born on that road.”
Nana is one of the major business districts in Bangkok where most of the businesses come alive at night and the workers are required to wear as few clothes as possible in order to close a small business deal with a white man in a Hawaiian shirt. It’s a seedy side of the city that balances the image you must have seen in the conservative Amazing Thailand promo-videos produced by the Thai government that airs on the plane before landing.
It’s a common thing in Thai culture to name an infant to align with the birth’s occasions. Mr. Songkran was born during the festival and same goes for Ms. Pee-Mai which is the Thai translation of New Year’s. Sometimes it aligns with the birth place. My colleague Samui was no doubt born on Koh Samui. However, it was odd to name somebody after this district, given its reputation. It’s the kind of name that put your children in a place where they belong—in this case it’s a taxi.
“I guess I was too excited to wait and was born while my mama was stuck in the traffic jam in Nana. That goddamn road.”
It never occurred to me that I might have crossed path with people who born on a road. The chances might be very slim but in the city with 8 million people I must passed one of them while waiting for the elevated BTS train or in shopping mall.
“I guess my baby penis was active then so I started to kick her womb to get a peek of them titties.” One has gotten used to the dirty talk with taxi drivers, one has to learn to find his way to deal with when a taxi driver shifts their nastiness into the highest gear.
“Oh, good for you.”
“What is your name?”
“That’s a good name. So you have a farang name, eh?”
“Yeah, it was given.”
“I consider myself lucky with the name mama gave to me, too. Thais laugh at me but it sounds international and it always gets me some good tips from those farangs. Every. Time.” He said each word with an elaborate tone and enthused capital letters in his voice—indirectly saying that he expected some tips. “Those Thais who are so proud of their perfect Thai names… Look where they are now? See who has the last laugh!”
Mister Nana said, in a way that suggested he made a better living than most Thais at the top of the hierarchal chain. Like somehow the social pyramid can be flipped by people like him and the people at the bottom will start a revolution.
As we entering the city area, Mister Nana shared things that one can only have learned from driving through every nook and cranny of the city. “Here is where you can slow down your vehicle if you want a quickie.” “Here is where you often see a group of cadets hanging with hookers and sometimes they have outdoor sex you can watch if you’re into that sort of thing…”
My apartment is in the business district where people wear suits and ties, where million-dollars business deals are negotiated, so it was inevitable that we drove past Nana. The district so over-populated with white men in their mid-fifties surrounded by brown-skinned Thai women. The purple neon lights from one of the pubs flashed our faces and massive noises from random techno remixes that surely been in the Sony CD Player of the club since 1999 floated into his car.
“I love white girls. Do you like white girls?”
“They are fine.”
“I knowwwww. But why do they all think we have small penises? Maybe the Chinese made us all look bad. I wanted to say that I have eight inches down here.”
And I wanted to say that it isn’t just the penis size but the look from the outside as well. You can win their hearts with your manners and, maybe, money if you’re minted. If it’s true that his baby penis was working before he was even born, then it’s reasonable to assume growth of your tool to eight inches, despite your genetic pool. Instead, I suggested he should change his working area to Khao San road if he want to pick up white chicks.
“But that isn’t where you make money. I tell you. You go there only for the affection. I used to drive around there because I wanted white girls in my car, as customers. Long enough to know most of them are backpacking on a budget and just… you know drunk and loud. Right now Indians are paying the most. The Arabs next—they leave smells behind but all smell like money to me.”
Uh, that explains the smell of cheap cologne in his car I suppose.
To show that you’re not thinking of them as lesser than you—you make up stories and pretend to be spontaneous. Nodding your head in fake agreement and giving your driver a wink in the direction of his rearview mirror. If your taxi driver is a sexist, anti-feminine, and a racist, you sort of play along and put on the role of a sexist, anti-feminine racist to make sure you get home safely, especially after midnight, especially in Bangkok.
In other cities like Melbourne, though, the scenario is quite different and it seemed that I have failed the test from the start when I hopped in an Uber from the Etihad Stadium after the end of a football game.
“Why don’t you sit in the front with me?”
My Uber driver Attaf. I later learned that many Uber drivers in Australia are Middle-Easterns and that there is an unspoken rule that applies in developed countries like Australia that you have to be social and show courtesy, the common way to do that is to sit in the front seat with your driver. Language barrier is one thing, the stuff we could talk about is the other, there was not much Attaf and I could talk about or discuss. Instead we were just sat there in silence—me with my own Google Maps providing direction.
The local radio broadcasting the message that will stick with me for the rest of my life “Melbourne, the most livable city in the world.”
“For eight goddamn-consecutive-years.” Attaf mumbling at the same time as the American female voice from Google Maps emerged from my iPhone “In three hundred meters, turn right.”
Attaf shoot me an unfriendly look “Dude, you’re in Australia.” He said. It’s as if my act of looking at a map was being hostile and that whatever idea I had about getting into a taxi from a third world country where he assumed I came from had to be dropped at the immigration check-point.
He dropped me off at my Airbnb in Flinders Street. “This is where you stayin?”
“Good area to stay. You must be rich.”
I pulled out the keyring which held five keys, each with different sticker color indicating which door it could be used to unlock, and two keycards. “It’s the safest place.” The voice of my Airbnb host rang in my ears while I was entering the place to find warmth.
It was the place where my prestige Uber rate was brought down to 4.8 from 5.0.
Mister Nana stepped up his game as we were approaching my apartment. “Do you like getting high when fucking? I have some and can give you for special price if you want. You know white girls love this.”
“No. I don’t do drugs.” I said and at the same time thrilled to be offered to buy drugs for the first time by a taxi driver. It means I looked like someone who can afford to waste two thousand baht on sexual substances after years of being looked down upon and judged.
“How about some pussy tonight?” Mister Nana said. “I know a place where you can.” Before he could finish, I slammed him with an icily answered “No.”
I can handle dirty talk from the local taxi drivers, but the word pussy is my limit. I remember I had sworn countless times that I would never put myself in this kind of situation again. But here I was, once again, instead of taking control of the situation I just let things happen.
The only time I took control of the situation, I ended up destroying my relationship between my father and I.
I was living and studying in Chiang Mai at the time when, for the first time in two years, he would be driving past the city on his trip with his new wife. That’s when he called me and we arranged dinner. And he arrived at my apartment to pick me up in his car. His eyes were bloodshot from driving but he insisted we went for dinner anyway. The restaurant was outside of town and we had to drive on the highway.
When I heard about my admission result, I told my aunt and then I told him next. His reaction wasn’t joyful nor did it contain any sense of pride. It was a relieved sigh—the kind of sigh that said “Thank God Now I Can Get Him Out Of The Plate.” Chiang Mai University wasn’t an awful choice, but clearly not the best. If he had been paying more attention he wouldn’t have let me accept the university’s offer but would have made me consider the other options.
I gave him the wrong direction and he missed the exit. Then he accelerated the car and drove furiously. His sigh was louder this time and it wasn’t a sigh of relief but a sigh emitting rage. I had no intention to start the fight so when the car slowed down for the traffic I decided to throw myself out. And that shocked everyone. I gained my balance pretty easily and ran in the hope of disappearing from his sight as fast as I could. I wanted to show the man who gave me the name Nathapong, which, in Thai, means a considerate thinker, could also act crazy.
Since that event our relationship has never be the same, nor has my ability to take control of sticky situations.
Mister Nana’s final card was helping me with my luggage so small I could lift it with one finger. “Alright.” He said while after dropping my luggage at the door of my apartment. “I guess you’re too tired to do anything.”
Here is how I tip taxi driver in Thailand. “You keep the change.” I said. An in direct way of tipping and to get the feeling of guilt out of the way so I could have a better sleep thinking what kind of story will be blasting my iPhone screen the next time I switch off the flight mode when I land.