Understanding Different Countries’ Cultures Through Cab Drivers

I just came back from a Taiwan trip and I was seriously scorched to death. It was so hot that I even lost my appetite for the mouth-watering food I was so looking forward to, and which was in actual fact a big part of the reason for my trip to Taiwan – to gorge myself on food.

The weather aside, I still had a pretty good time shopping and walking around. This time round because it is so hot, I just pretty much cabbed everywhere. Which brings me to my point that cab drivers are really the windows for you to take a glimpse of another country’s culture.

  • Taiwan

Cab drivers in Taiwan are usually friendly middle-aged uncles who are always ready for a chat. I had the same cab driver for two of my short trips in Taipei, and through these two short journeys I already got to know how many kids he have, his children’s age, his daughter’s ambition, seen his family’s photo, learnt about his political inclination, understood more about Taiwan’s retirement schemes and got to see Taiwan through his eyes as a middle-class local.

As a foreigner or a tourist to a new country, it is pretty hard to really have a conversation with anyone because you just don’t know where to find this opportunity. You will definitely have a chance to interact with the waiter who served you, the vendor who sold you your souvenir etc., but it is not easy to properly chat with someone, except for cab drivers, whom you share a small space with for a period of time. This is especially so if you are going to a faraway place; you could easily spend one hour with the cab driver.

As a former student and frequent traveller to Taiwan, I just know that I love Taiwan because it means cheap travelling, cheap shopping and cheap food to me. But I’ve never properly thought about its cost of living to the locals, whether the polices really help the locals or if the locals appreciate the policies. As cab drivers are sort of their own bosses, they are usually really candid when it come to sharing of their views, so they really provide a local’s perspective of how they view their country.

As they interact with many different types of people on a daily basis, they are also often quite knowledgeable about the country, the best restaurants to go, the best shops for cheap shopping etc, offering you hidden gems which you will never find on travel websites online.

  • Thailand

When I was in Thailand, it is harder to have a conversation due to the language barrier. But when I do board the cab, the feeling I get is that the cab drivers are pretty poor. It is like they are trying hard to make a living. Whereas when I take cabs in Singapore, Taiwan or the U.S, I feel that they can make a reasonable living even if they might never become a wealthy person.

When I went to Thailand last time, I think it was during the time when there were quite a lot of hoo-ha over ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. When I read media reports, I know that Thaksin is popular among the poor and unpopular among the rich. And when I was in the cab with the Bangkok cab driver, it offered me a first-hand glimpse of how the lower-income locals viewed him. Although the cab driver wasn’t good in English, he managed to say “Thaksin is good” several times to me when the radio happened to broadcast a news related to him.

Another time in Chiang Mai, a local tour guide I met was incredibly impressed when I showed him a picture I took together with Thaksin (cos I bumped into him when he was in Singapore haha). He was really so amazed and he kept asking me about Thaksin. He was also a supporter of Thaksin. However when I went on an exchange in the past and got to interact with Thai students (the rich kind), they were really against him.

  • The U.S.

Well, I only boarded the cab a few times in the U.S. cos it is incredibly expensive to me. I usually get around with Uber and Lyft. One thing about these drivers is that I realised that they are generally much younger. And they really need their GPS to navigate around. Also many of them are not locals. I am guessing that Lyft and Uber offers many people, especially foreigners a chance to earn money when it might be slightly harder to get a job elsewhere.Oh ya, and for the cabs in the U.S., a tip is expected, something that is not expected in the rest of the Asian countries I went to.