Thursday, January 21, 2010


There comes a time when you can be both shamed by your laziness and ineptitude, and frightened for your life, and at the same time stricken by guilt at your casual betrayal of your own ideals.

There also comes a time in everyone's life when they have to take a taxi from Central to Causeway Bay.

Sometimes these events can be combined, and that is at least efficient.  There's not much else to be said for the conjunction of these two things.  You'll pile into a taxi, ready to go home, and perhaps no longer even aware that the only things you can attempt to (mis)pronounce in Cantonese are the name of your street and "thank you".  And then you discover to your chagrin that your taxi driver has a great command of the English language, and is prepared to use it.  Whereas no matter how long you hang around in Hong Kong, you've never got to the point where you could hold your end up in a conversation in his native language.

First the shame.  Then the terror, because every taxi driver in Hong Kong wants to play chicken with the oncoming buses.  Or perhaps they're playing chicken with your bowels, wondering who's going to vent first - the man with a death wish and a steering wheel, or your easily startled colon.  And all the while, the conversation doesn't stop.  And here comes the betrayal of your ideals.

Because it doesn't happen very often, and not every taxi driver has learnt English to propagate views like this, but it will happen from time to time that as your taxi driver propels you down Queen's Road East at some multiple of the speed limit, he will turn and fix you in the eye, and tell you the problem with the country is "all the blacks."

"All the blacks"?  Did I travel through a time-tunnel into England in the 1970s?  Was Enoch Powell reincarnated as a Chinese taxi driver?  (I imagine he'd be quite cross about that, given his views on race, or the possibility that I'm misrepresenting his xenophobia about Indians leaving Uganda, rather than, say, the passengers on the Windrush in the 1950s.) But either way, I'm hurtling down the street in the care of a man who wants to lecture me about how an excess of melatonin makes people undisciplined, citing the examples of Africans and Italians as proof that no gentleman of colour could ever achieve anything.  Well, you don't see a black president of the USA, do you?  I guess I should have mentioned that.

Or any achievements of Italians, either. Perhaps I should have pointed out what the Roman Empire got up to, but what had the Romans ever done for the Chinese?  And if they had, would this imply some insane racial taxonomy that he'd devised to determine exactly where each race belonged? And the sad fact of it is, how do you remonstrate with a man not in full control of his vehicle or common decency and sense?  One's rational beliefs and ideals are sacrified on the altar of being too scared that your taxi driver is going to kill you via ramming a minibus. So, rather, not wishing to provoke an argument with a man who thinks that the colour of your skin is a good way to judge your character, I ummed and ahed and didn't give the loon a tip.

Nobody ever tips the taxi driver in Hong Kong, so that's a very, very paltry victory.  Next time I'm in a cab, I'll lecture the driver on the idiocy of racism, but given the chances of him understanding my befogged English accent, who knows where we'll end up.

Shek O, perhaps.


Unknown said...

Hi, James.
You all right?
Can't believe you only gave Girl on the Landing one star.
If you want real rubbish, I read something by Harold Pinter's wife, it was monumentally silly.
Hope you are OK anyway.

Unknown said...

PS obviously it's not 5.16am where I am.

Mr Cushtie said...

Hello Denise,

all's good with me - I'm back in the UK for a week in February - will have to try to catch up with you if I can...


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