I normally hate making small talk. I would rather read a newspaper or stare out of the window. But in Singapore Taxis I prefer to keep the driver in conversation as this undoubtedly and without fail will keep him wide-awake. To start off the conversation just say something stupid like, “hot day today” as if Singapore is any different from one day to the next. He will invariably turn the conversation around to asking where you are from and then talking about football and Liverpool or he will turn to the state of the economy.

“No profit in taxi driving anymore, no customers and cars cost more to buy than ever before”. This should keep him going for a half an hour or so, more than enough for the trip.

I think these drugs may have alternative side effects. I have noticed on some occasions that drivers are a bit high spirited. Now whether this is an effect of the drugs that kicks in a couple of hours later or due to something that is completely removed I know not. I am just trying to make a connection as when the drivers take their “keep awake pills” nothing happens.

Anyway, I have often climbed into a taxi and been surprised at the activity of my driver. One memorable trip started off okay until he found out that I was from Scotland. I spent the next twenty minutes of the journey listening to bagpipes and a donkey heehawing whilst being thrown violently against the drivers seat and the rear window in turn.

No, it was not music or anything like that but the driver whilst jumping up and down in his seat, imitated the bagpipes and in between breaths became a horse. He used to say “Scotland” at frequent intervals as if to reassure me that he knew where I came from.

Weird! I had another bad occurrence in a taxi when he started to get aggressive against a football team and he spent more time trying to clamber over the rear of his seat, to reinforce his opinion than looking where he was going. I got extremely worried about him and decided that I should leave his taxi as quickly as possible. I jumped out at an intersection and decided that I would not pay for such a ride. I could hear him shouting as I ran away down the hard shoulder – but I don’t want to pay to be harassed!

Apart from all of the above, the typical taxi journey passes without note. Some of the drivers will seriously annoy you or make you feel sick when they open their door and spit a big gob of mucus onto the road side, or worse, carry the stench of years of body odour!

But this is the way that they do it. I have asked one driver not to do that again – and he didn’t. But generally I just try and ignore that. They also tend to get a bit vocal inside of the car if involved in a near miss with another car or have to sit for any length of time due to an accident up ahead. This is due to the fact that if a driver gets out of his car and shouts at another driver then he can quickly and without question be hauled off to jail. The government does not tolerate drivers making a scene in public and so drivers just do not do it, ever. This is all-and-well, unless you happen to be the poor passenger that has to take the brunt of his “road rage” whilst pretending that you are not sitting in the back seat of that particular cab.

Sorry, I seem to be putting them down. The taxi system and the drivers are quite excellent and safe in Singapore and no less than any other town or city the world over. When hiring a taxi in Singapore you are ensured of a rapid and free journey to your destination and the cost is not prohibitive, you are safe and looked after at all times.

One thing does puzzle me though, that of why the drivers constantly ask the passengers which way they would like to go. Having just arrived in Singapore I pick up a taxi at the rank just outside the airport. I give him the name of the hotel and off he sets. After five-minutes this driver will invariably turn around and ask me whether I would like to go by the PIE or by the East Coast Road. Stupid question really, as the average person arriving at the Singapore Airport and especially one who is going to a hotel would not have a clue about the transport system in Singapore.

I used to think that the drivers where testing their passengers as to their knowledge of Singapore and that if they showed ignorance then they would be carted off on a tour of the city without knowing any difference. But this has not been the case as I have often put it to the test. The driver has asked me and I have given him no inkling as to my knowledge of the city – and he has taken me the quickest route! Such is life!

Listen everybody: the Taxi Drivers in Singapore are of excellent quality and any prospective passenger is assured of an easy, safe and smooth-drive to their destination – don’t listen to me. Just keep your eyes open and the driver’s as well, if you can!

– Ieuan Dolby, from Scotland ,is an Engineering Officer in the Merchant Navy. He has been travelling the world for 15yrs on an endless tour of cultural diversification. Currently based in Singapore he writes various articles for magazines and newspapers and is working on a marine glossary. ieuandolby@lycos.com http://www.seadolby.com

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