Thursday, September 15, 2011

Driven in Penang

The plane was delayed flying from Singapore by an hour, so I didn't get into Penang airport until 1:20 in the morning, and then I had to get out some money, and pay that to the taxi kiosk, and then get into a slightly shabby white taxi, so I had no hope of getting to bed before two o'clock this morning.

I wasn't feeling particularly sociable at this late hour, and I wasn't expecting the taxi driver to say anything (perhaps I've spent too long in taxis in Asia and now detest all conversation by default) but after a while he started up a conversation. It turned out that he used to work in the clean room of a factory, making hard drives, before packing it in to become a taxi driver. So you learn a new thing every day, and what I learned was that Penang is wreathed with factories making parts for computers. Dell are here, and Intel, and Western Digital, and a series of other manufacturers he rattled off that I'd never heard of. So perhaps not everything is made by a depressed chap in Shenzhen somewhere, but by some industrious types in Malaysia. It's good to spread it out a bit.

This was a much better conversation with a taxi driver than some of the ones I've had in my life. Back when I was working 24 hour days at my first company and then taking a taxi home at stupid o'clock, nauseous with sleep deprivation, I heard many strange or frightening things.
I fell asleep driving down here yesterday, went straight through these lights before I woke up
or, more enigmatic and somehow also more ominous,
I used to be a professor of mathematics in Belgium, but I don't like to talk about that.
Well, I daresay I wouldn't like to talk about it either, but I wouldn't bring it up while navigating the mean streets of Crystal Palace late one night / early one morning. He was the sort of chap that it wouldn't surprise you to have renounced academia in favour of driving a cab. He had the sort of enormous beard that said 'eccentric in possession of the Highway Code' if you know what I mean.

My taxi driver last night had no enormous beard, which was a good thing. It's hot in Malaysia, after all, and excess facial hair might have done for him. He dropped me off at the hotel, and I tried to check in, behind three bad tempered Australian coves. One had a broken arm in plaster, one was a bit chubby and the other was irate that his travel agent had booked them a room at the hotel from tonight, when, as they'd arrived at 2 this morning, they needed a room there and then. The lady on the desk was not particularly helpful, telling them that they could have a room in twelve hours, but I guess she was probably a bit narked off to be up that late dealing with people. Or that early. She told them to call their agent in Sydney, which also wasn't very helpful, unless Australians love getting up and answering the phone at 4am.

I didn't stick around to see what would transpire, but fled to the hotel room, where my room mate was snoring like a chainsaw. Never mind him, I fell straight to sleep, waking up five all-too-short hours later for a day in a freezing cold conference room, occasionally stabbing at my laptop keyboard in a rage, and once being startled by an enormous transparent spider that ran across the table in front of me. It's an exciting life I lead, alright.


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