Morning breaks with dull white skies and drizzling rain on the last day of 2009. It is the perfect morning for staying in bed and garnering strength for this evening’s festivities.
I, however, am heading to Sanchong to judge a singing contest, and there will be no lazing around for me today.
The day gets off to a bad start. Traveling down from the 24th floor, the elevator stops on the 12th floor and hits every single floor after that. Naturally, I miss my bus – and I’ve forgotten my umbrella, a habit of mine that I’ve never managed to break.
As I step out into the frigid early morning air, I feel a sense of dread at hailing a cab. It’s always on mornings like this that I run into crazy taxi drivers. And, yes, I do mean crazy. Visit any Taiwan-based blog and you’ll find at least a story or two about taxi drivers in Taipei.
To give you a good idea of what I’m talking about, meet my most memorable early morning cab drivers from the past three months.
The Filthy Guy: A greasy unwashed hairball with a cab so dirty I could barely breath for the stench. I didn’t touch anything in the cab and I still disinfected when I got out.
The Raving Lunatic: This driver had a really strange glint in his eyes when he picked me up, and when he started railing against the injustices of being a taxi driver, he hammered his wheel. Twice.
The Sleazy Guy: Constant harassment. ‘Nuf said.
The Personal Groomer: The driver who picked me up in front of my home and drove me twenty minutes to Shulin. During that time, he shaved, combed his hair, talked on the phone, chewed betel nuts, and spit out his window – all while watching the portable mini television set on his lap! No wonder he missed his route.
I hope that you can now understand my apprehension about getting in a cab. I never know what or who I’m going to run into.
Anyways, back to my story.
Right on cue, a cab pulls around the corner and screeches to a halt. I can hear the faintest sounds of a zither emanating from inside. A quick glance at the innocent-looking driver and a more thorough inspection of the interior bodes well in my eyes. Seems safe enough.
Pro tips: Always look at the driver and check the interior first as well. I strongly recommend taking a sniff too, because drivers here LOVE to chew betel nut.
As I get in, I get a loud, “Harro! You Ah-mer-i-can?“
I shake my head. “Canadian,” I reply drily. No one ever gets it right on the first try.
“Ho!” the driver says loudly, “I love Canadians.” Next come the usual questions and statements.
“How long have you been here? How old are you? Are you a teacher? Your Chinese is so good!” he cries.
“Since 2006, I’m 34, and no, I’m not a teacher,” I reply.
He seems delighted, whether it is with my answers or my Chinese, I am not sure. Then, “You like BG?“
I rapidly run through a list of possibilities. BG? Hmm…Is he talking about food? A person? A place? I have no idea.
He turns around, gives me a wink, and extends his hand to crank the volume on his stereo system, flooding the car with those funky beats from Staying Alive. He squeals again and does a one-two punch in the air, completely in sync with the punchy beat.
“Ai, ai, ai, ai, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,” he sings. “E-Z-listening,” he cries as he points at the stereo, “the BGs!“
I can’t help it. I start to sing along with him and lean forward to get a better look at this little guy who has suddenly made my last morning of 2009 into a moment of cheer.
Wearing a blue baseball cap with a black and gold cravat, I notice his feet are bare, but he’s pumping them up and down on the gas pedal and the floor like a professional dancer.
Our voices join in unison as we rocket into How Deep Is Your Love. As he rolls to a stop, he glances in the rearview mirror at me and tells me he wishes he had children. He tells me my father must be so proud to have such a beautiful, smart daughter. With a flourish, he produces a gold-wrapped Ferrero Rocher from his front pocket and hands it to me with a smile.
“Happy New Year, Miss!” he cries as I exit the car.
I stop to watch him pull away into traffic. With his window down, I see his hand come out to wave farewell. I feel a bit like crying, overwhelmed by the feeling of warmth and pleasure at this most unexpected adventure in Taiwan.