Sun, Jun 21, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Taiwan tales: Taipei’s ‘baddest’ taxi driver

The nation’s taxi drivers generally make for interesting conversation — even the criminally inclined ones

By Perry Svensson  /  Staff reporter

You never know what to expect when you get into a taxi.

Photo: Perry Svensson, Taipei Times

At any given time, there are about 50,000 taxis on the roads of Taipei and New Taipei City, according to one cab driver I’ve talked to. I don’t know if that’s true, but many people have come to depend on always being able to hail a cab at any time of the day. Many of the drivers are strong personalities — which makes for some for memorable rides. I’ve been on a couple, and this is the story of one of them.

When I got in the taxi and told the guy where I wanted to go, I could hardly hear his reply, his mouth was so full of betel nut.

— I want to go to Roosevelt Road (羅斯福路). Could you go down Heping East Road (和平東路) and then turn left at Roosevelt, please. I’ll get off before you hit Shida Road (師大路).

— Heping West and Roosevelt?

— No, just go down Heping East and then turn left onto Roosevelt.

— Are you getting off on Heping or on Roosevelt?

— Roosevelt. Just go down Heping East and then turn left onto Roosevelt. I don’t know the exact address, but I know the place. I go there every week.

— Okay.

He stopped. He seemed to get it. Then he handed me a whole bag of betel nuts.

— Here, do you chew? Have one.

— No, I don’t. Thanks, though.

— Your Chinese is good. You been here long? Are you an English teacher?

He spit in the plastic cup he had next to his seat, already brimming with old nuts and blood-red spittle. But at least he held the cup up to his mouth before he spat in it so he wouldn’t miss. Then he managed to squeeze another betel nut into his face.

— Thanks. No, I’m a translator. You have to be a native-English speaker to be an English teacher these days, and I’m not.

— Where are you from?

— Sweden, so I speak Swedish.

— Northern Europe. Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. See, I’m good.

— And Finland. You know your geography. Have you ever been to Europe?

— No, no. I’m not leaving this place. I owe the government too much money, NT$8 million or NT$9 million, so they won’t let me out.

I was wondering to myself why he would talk of such things to a complete stranger, but I was curious.

— What did you do?

— I didn’t pay my taxes.

— Really? You make that much driving a cab?

— No, I was in construction, and the company went belly-up.

— So how much do you have to owe the government before they stop you from leaving the country?

— Oh, NT$1 million, I think. But I owe much more than that. NT$9 million.

— How long will it take you to pay it back?

— I ain’t paying it back. I owe the government, I’m not paying them back.

— How come they don’t put you in jail, then?

— I’ve done time before. I like doing bad stuff. I just can’t do good things. It doesn’t work, I can only do bad things. See, I’m not allowed to turn here, but I’m turning anyway. I don’t care.

He’s just dying to show me how bad he is. With all the cars whizzing past not expecting us to do what we’re doing, I’m sure now I’m going to be in another crash. The last one I was in going to Jiufen (九份) was really quite innocent. The only thing that happened was that the driver couldn’t open his door and had to get out on the right side of the car. It was caused by our taxi driver who drove on the left side of the road through a bend. Then he blamed the oncoming guy for driving too fast and in the middle of the road, almost over on our side of the road. Afterward, he still wanted us to take his taxi back to Taipei.

— Yeah, I see. That’s alright, though, it’s in the right direction.

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