“Are people always burning stuff by the side of the road?” I asked my cab driver as we took off to take in the Gardens By The Bay light show.
People burning stuff on nature strips in a city renowned for it’s cleanliness was genuinely unexpected.
“Is for the dead,” the taxi driver explained. He spoke perfectly understandable English, but that’s not to say it was the Queen’s own. The one unsettling thing he did was insisting on making eye contact when he spoke, and sometimes insisting on making very long sentences. “One a year they do this to feed the hungry dead.”
“When I die I’ll expect to be fed more than once a year,” I joked – or at least I thought I did.
“No, just now is festival. Just now,” he frowned at me like I was a very silly boy, before glancing briefly back at the road.
Apparently, it’s a Buddhist and Taoist festival. He went on to tell me there are four main religions in Singapore: Buddism, Islam, Hinduism and – he’d paused as though searching for the right word – “the one with the Jesus…Christianity.”
Then he asked me if I believed in ghosts.
“Only the ones I’ve met,” I told him with a grin. Strike two. “Not really,” I corrected myself.
“You believe in heaven?” he asked. “When you die?”
Oddly, we were kind of on the same wavelength.
“So your car, is it in kilometres or miles?” I asked, shaking my head no but for the most part ignoring his question while looking firmly at the speedo and attempting pointedly to change the topic.
“Kilometers. You know, the people in Siberia,” he said, again making way too much eye contact as the conversation careened in much the same way the taxi was now dancing across lanes, “they dig down twelve miles until they couldn’t go any further. You have the internet? You look it up. They dig and find nothing.”
It occurred to me at one point as we shot along the three or four lanes of meandering highway he seemed to prefer whichever was the inside lane. I wanted to ask him if perhaps he was entered in the upcoming Singapore F1 Grand Prix. It wasn’t just the professional lines he was taking into the corners either.
“And the roadsigns?” I said. “They’re in miles per hour, are they?”
“No, no, no,” he said. “All kilometers. “They put a camera down and saw nothing. Then they put a microphone down and you know what they heard?”
“I’m only asking because there seems to be a fairly dramatic difference between the numbers on your dashboard and the numbers out there on the signs.”
“Moaning and screams. Where do you think they dug to?” he asked, still looking squarely at me. It was now his turn to ignore me as the car again edged its way into still another lane. We were just lucky there were so many available. Conveniently nice wide roads in Singapore.
“North Korea?” I suggested. Even fearing for my life I still manage to wheel them out, but alas, another zinger lost in translation.
“They hear moans,” he said, “all the way in the middle of the Earth. I think that is hell they found. I am not a Catholic, but it makes you wonder, eh. Yes? You look it up. It’s on the internet.”
I promised I would. (I did – here’s the link).
And then he called me an idiot. At least I think he did. He sort of did, said he wasn’t calling me personally an idiot, and then called me an idiot again. This went on for most of the remainder of the trip.
“You think about it,” he demanded, shaking his head and looking over his shoulder at the road just long enough to dip the wheel to the right and avoid a truck which was perhaps more closely adhering to the speed limit. “I am not trying to make you a Christian, but I think you must be idiot if you not think about it.”
His customer service was certainly up to speed with his driving – a nice distraction from the possibility of testing out which of us was right about the afterlife.
If anything I grinned even harder. Not for the first time, I think I might have actually laughed out loud.
“I don’t mind,” he said finally. “There is a high probability you are a good man. You are a happy man. You smile a lot. You laugh a lot. I think you are a good person.”
“Thank you,” I grinned. Despite subconsciously checking my seatbelt every thirty seconds or so, and consciously looking for airbag stickers, I was actually having a wonderful time, although I’d pretty much stopped talking in sentences now and was trying to keep my answers short to give him more time looking at the road.
“But you are idiot if you don’t think about it,” he repeated. “I am not a Christian. I have not been in a church ever, but you be a idiot to die and not think about it.” He was staring pointedly at me again, and again we moved into another lane. Not all the way or anything overly committal like that. Half a car at most before we started to drift back and mercifully pulled up at a red light.
“I’ve thought about it,” I assured him, enjoying being still for a minute. If I was the praying type I’d have been muttering in tongues by now.
I wondered if I should mention we were sitting at a green light waiting for it to change but decided in favour of postponing death for another minute or two and enjoy our conversation a bit longer.
“Maybe you leave my taxi and you think about what I’ve told you,” he said. “Maybe you learn something from me.”
“I will think about what you’ve said,” I assured him. I knew I’d be thinking about this wonderful cab ride for a long, long time to come. The light flicked red and then green again, and this time he decided to move forward.
“Maybe you learn something from me,” he repeated as he pulled up at our stop, and added generously, “and maybe I will learn something from you.”
He didn’t sound convinced about that last point, but I already had a suggestion.
“Like how to use the indicator?” I suggested, handing him some money.
Despite ducking, turning and weaving through Singapore, and even taking a couple of actual corners, I’d arrived unscathed at our stop with no thanks at all to any of the car’s many, and presumably pristine, signalling devices.
He paused as he handed me my change, looking confused and answering wonderfully-
“What’s an indicator?”
scariest best taxi ride of my life.
Can’t seem to link in galleries, so I’ll add them here for anyone who wants to check things out:
These are the bloggers I had this experience with:
Raising a family on little more than laughs
Although I somehow still managed to spend about AUD$1000 (those towers of beer don’t come cheap) this trip was totally gifted to me and the other bloggers so of course I’ve shamelessly plugged the companies involved in the hope they decide to do this again – please decide to do this again. Nearly a week in the Maldives and Singapore – you totally would too!