October 16, 2008

Not all taxi drivers are created equal

Sometimes it seems like everyone fits into nicely defined categories. I talk to pretty much every taxi driver I ride with about the political situation in Thailand. If not politics, then the economy is usually my fallback topic.

Taxi drivers always have something interesting to say. And while I try not to generalize about people too much, their stance is usually variations on this theme: Thaksin made their lives better, even if he was a crook, and the PAD is making their lives worse, regardless of its motives.

This morning was out of the ordinary. The driver was quiet at first, perhaps thinking my Thai was limited to stating where I wanted to go, so I left him to eating his unripe mango, alternated with driving like he had a woman in labor in the backseat.

Then we nearly got into two accidents within the space of 30 seconds. A lady driving a minivan made a sudden lane change with us in her blindspot, and then just a few meters up the road a dingy truck did a U-turn across three lanes in front of a green light. So while my cabbie was cursing like a sailor at the other drivers, I decided to jump in and play the commiserator, which started our conversation.

Unlike most taxi drivers I've ridden with, this fellow was pro-PAD. He treated me to all the classic anti-Thaksin rumors: Thaksin hates the King and has been seen trampling His Majesty's picture, Thaksin is from the แม้ว (Hmong) hill tribe and grew up in the drug trade, etc. And the guy had heard you could find all the evidence for this "on the web". Yes, that bastion of trustworthiness, the web.

It was an interesting conversation, to say the least. At first I tried to provide counterpoints to his ideas, but as they got further and further from empirical reality, I decided to just go along for the ride. So I khrap-ed and mmm-ed the rest of the way.

Despite being my dad's age, he spoke like we grew up together in the same upcountry muban. I don't offend easily, which is good, because I heard more blue language in that 15-minute conversation than I've heard in six months. One choice soundbite: ทักษิณแม่งขี้โกงเหี้ย. Them's fightin' words.

I guess this is why I like talking to taxi drivers. There's less of the fake civility and polite talking-in-circles that happens in "normal" Thai society. I can ask a direct question and they tell me exactly what they think. Not the best strategy in every scenario, sure, but I think we could do with more of that in the world.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't that the truth.

    I tend to hear much more insightful political comments from talking to taxi drivers than from your average Western forum poster or surprisingly many middle class Thais. Maybe it has to do with taxi drivers having the opportunity to listen to the radio news and whatever debate programs are on, as well as with their talking with people daily about these matters, as opposed to many people from the middle class who are too tied up at work to be able to follow.

    I share your liking for people who don't pretend, and don't do the usual 20 questions about Thai women and spicy food to 'the farang who can speak Thai'. That kind of thing was okay the first 10-20 times but proceeded to get old rather quickly.