As a foreigner and visible minority, I'm keenly aware of the impact my words make on the Chinese I meet.
I try to be extra polite and leave behind a good impression, even if those I meet are less than polite in return. I like to think they go home with wonderful stories about the great gwai lo they met.
However, I had no choice but to break that rule and let the ugly side of me out of the bag (I'd better not get any smart-ass e-mail; just let it go). The recipient of my indignation was a taxi driver.
This is what happened:
Mabel and I climbed into a taxi at the Sha Tin train station. When she gave the driver our destination, instead of acknowledging our presence, he stared in the rearview mirror with a sullen expression. At the same time, another taxi let off a woman in the lane to our right. As our cab began to roll, the woman walked in front, forcing our driver to stop. Strung way too tight, he was seething.
After she passed, the driver floored it, jerking the car into the first curve of the exit ramp. As we rounded the corner to the main road, the tires squealed in protest. Mabel grabbed my hand; I leaned over and whispered I hoped we'd make it home alive.
At the first two intersections he accelerated, despite that cars were stacked up and waiting for the green light. When he saw they weren't going to move, he stomped hard on the brakes at the last possible second. This dangerous driving was starting to piss me off.
As we crossed the bridge, he swerved out from behind a saner driver and then cut in front with barely enough room. At the third intersection, he made a sharp left turn, throwing us about in the back seat as we held on to the Jesus Handles (for the uninitiated, the Jesus Handle is the one above the door that you grab while praying: Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, please let me live.
Two additional hard corners later, we entered an area where taxis are allowed to let passengers alight. Mabel asked the driver to stop. He slammed on the brakes and yanked the car over to the kerb.
Mabel exited the taxi, glad to be free of the menace, but I was angry. I opened my door, tossed the fare at the driver, then stepped out. As I closed the door, I leaned in and called him an a$$h@le before slamming the door. He sped off and we walked home, grateful to be out of peril.
Understand, I know it was a terrible thing to say and certain to leave a bad impression, and I normally don't beak off that way, but the maniac jeopardised our lives.
But if there's an upside, he'll have a colourful story to tell over dinner. He will portray himself as the working-class hero who prevailed against the foul-mouthed foreign devil that polluted his taxi with curses.
I can live with that.
October 13, 1999
Next Tale: On Safari in the Concrete Jungle