Expat@Large

Hey Nineteen

Posted in immaturity, stupidity, taxis, useless self-pity by expatatlarge on December 18, 2011

Taxi driver (female): Where you go?

E@L: G******* Rd

Taxi Driver: Ah yes,, G****** Rd.

E@L *thinks*: She knows G****** Rd?

E@L:  Yes. Off N****** Rd

Taxi Driver: What number, No 19?

E@L: No, number 11.

E@L *thinks*: She knows G****** Rd in detail!

E@L *thinks again: Why did she say 19?  Do I look like a No 19 person?

~~~~~~~~~~~

E@L ambles back from the N****** shopping centre carrying two plastic bags of shopping (full grain bread, full cream milk, full of potassium bananas, full of pulp orange juice – his staples) with the handles wrapped over his hands so that weight falls on the back of his wrist, a new technique after fifty-four years that takes the pressure off his fingers (can’t teach an old dogs new tricks? – Hah!), up a slght hill, puffing as he tries to whistle some Audioslave rocking beat, thinking of things he has done and said in the past, and occasionally sprouting a “fuck” out loud or “you fucking idiot” as he recalls the stupid and reckless and damaging words he has uttered to girls over the years while trying to make them understand his urgent desires, often ensuring that they would not come anywhere near him and that they now consider him a lech and a creep, thereby exploding whatever trusting and friendly relationship he might imagine they had established over the period (long or short) of their acquaintance.  Expressions of interest [e.g. “let’s fuck”] that work in OT at 2am (“you don’t need to try hard, it’s 2am,” Bruce once told him) do not work on pretty girls he has the hots for at 10pm in pubs and wine-bars along Robertson Walk.  Why does he not know how to woo girls?  Why is he a fuckwit? Even with guys he has no skills at small talk, nothing except deeper conversations at his call and even they only come out after a few alcoholic drinks, when everyone starts feeling philosophical as well.  He sits silent around the table listening to others chat about topics he has  zero interest in, zero knowledge about, or probably has forgotten about (he blames the medications).  Cars, football, cricket, blokie things.  Why is it so hard? 

He looks around to see if there is anyone walking near him who might have overheard his expletive ejaculation, and if there is (he doesn’t notice them because he is listening to the music and day-dreaming about the stupidity that has plagued his existence and, not a bad thing, kept him single these last twenty years) and if there is anyone there, he awkwardly attempts to sing a few muted words of the song in his ears, or whistle them away, hey, these are the lyrics I am calling out, E@L is not a lunatic wandering the streets mumbling foul words for no reason whatsoever.  He has reasons for mumbling rude words – he is a fuckwit, a stumbling tongue-tied failure with women.  

He blames his mum for not marrying again, not giving him a male role-model. He blames not being much good at sports, or not interested in sports as he matured from a high skill level in primary school to not giving a fuck, and so not getting into the change-room banter and stories of what works and what doesn’t in the picking up and making out with the horny Catholic girls from the convent school down the road (it’s muscles mainly that seem to work). He blames the solitary pursuits of surfing and playing the guitar (never remembering the chords, even when he was young – maybe it’s not the meds) and reading on his poor socialisation.  Then getting married at nineteen.  Nineteen.  So young, fresh out of school, or one year out actually, not so much a gap year year as a pit year, a year spent fucking up an Arts course (poetry, what the fuck does Dylan Thomas mean to him, the wind is from the north-west, Southside – the left-hander behind Bell’s Beach [remember point Break?] would be pumping, well it would it there was any swell)  and there was the surfing trip to Queensland and New South Wales in a car with six bald tyres (lots of stories about that trip, if he had the time to  tell them) and the job at Fords engine plant, fettling (yes it’s a word) away some part of a lifter, or bashing camshafts out of their hot sand molds, face black and gritty at the end of a shift. 

And so incompetent at the accurate and reliable deployment of condoms, so young, so fucking stupid.  First ever girlfriend (No 1 son though, what a marvelous lad) too.  Out came the moral shotgun and that was it for E@L.  So E@L never went through those years of pick-up lines, never learnt the chat-up process, never played the game.  He never learned what is nice too say, what is amusing, what is endearing, what shows understanding and interest, what opens a girls legs. No wonder he fucks up.  He only became single, really independent when No 1 one son went to live in England. That’s when E@L moved to his career in the Cosmo-Incompetent Medical Company, was stationed in Hong Kong and there, in Wanchai at 2am, there was no need to try so hard.

He checked out the numbers of the houses on the street.  They seemed to jump enormously from house/condo to condo/house.  55, 47, 33.  And he was almost at his front gate.  Where was No 19 going to be?  How is it going to fit in here, there were only two plots to go, semi-detached units.  The first was 27, the second, even though it was on the same plot jumped down to 23.  Then he was at his gate.  11.  There was no 19.  What the fuck was that taxi driver talking about?

His 19-ness was all in her head. 

Nineteen, he thought again.  Is he a nineteen person?  Is there something of his nineteen history that she saw inside him as she glanced in the rear-view mirror??

~~~~~~~

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E@L

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Smile

Posted in taxis, toast by expatatlarge on September 23, 2011

E@L has had enormous problems with the incompetence and insanity of taxi-drivers: To quote Mark Twain in his recently released unexpurgated diary, “All over the world there seems to be a prejudice against the cab driver.” And he (E@L not Twain) has taken and given some shit to kopi vendors. You may have noted these themes over the years. So many years. Taxis. Toast. Tired.

OK, listen, E@L hasn’t read Twain’s Diary, or even purchased it in 3D (i.e. a real book) or electronically, he merely saw it in a bookshop and randomly opened it and the first thing he read, sorry he lies, the second things he read was that quote. IKYN. Had to laugh. Wouldn’t read about it. Well, yes we know you are reading about it at the moment, but E@L mean that rhetorically. So he typed/Swyped(tm) it into his PDA (why don’t we call them that anymore?) / smart-phone for your considered delectation.

For those who are now puzzling, the first thing E@L read was something about how foolhardy we humans are to believe that we are nice creatures or that we don’t lie to ourselves about a host of crucial things. We are pricks of the highest order, he maintains. And there are lots of other bitter, old-man, depressing shit, wonderfully written of course, which the photo E@L took of in order to transcribe it here didn’t turn out, and when you’re in a bookstore you really shouldn’t take photos of the pages in a book and then retake them if they don’t turn out, as his didn’t, because you don’t want to be kicked out, right? You don’t want to be recognized next time you try to go in, and get blocked by the security guard and told you are not welcome in their store, or just watched suspiciously as you browse (spooky eyes over shoulder feeling), or have to hand in your camera-phone just in case, sort of thing. So you, faithful readers, you don’t get the transcript of the philosophical bit that E@L felt like copying out for you (or himself) here today/tonight.

You. The awake/observant/returning ones, you know. E@L has had enormous difficulty with staff in certain kopi shops. Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc… Follow the internal links, you lazy bastards.

You know, kopi, Malaysian archipelago stuff, the sock coffee, strained through a pair of clean (one hopes! – ho ho, made that joke up) stockings, sometimes ostentatiously poured from jug to jug over arm-stretched distances with an accuracy that doesn’t really impress because you know they’ve been doing it for years. Or is that the tea? Teh tarik, pulled tea. Fuck.

Meanwhile back in reality-land, kopi is a deadly thick, spoon dissolving, GORD-inducing, grit-your-teeth, morning pick-me-up-and-throw-me-upwards-through-the-roof-like-I-was-Ironman caffeine boost, sweetened with both condensed milk and evaporated milk (when done properly) to a point where it nearly isn’t black any more, a drink that E@L loves. Craves like heron. His favorite birds.

Think of it as very runny Vegemite, with caffeine. Not the taste of Vegemite, OK, nothing salty or necessarily horrible, although some people can’t abide kopi and purchase multi-million machines to hiss out a bitter thimble full of, what, they call that coffee, in seeking to appease some status anxiety fad that, essentially, George Clooney and other Hollow-wood LA ostentatious pricks are responsible for, just as some people, such as Amanda Palmer might not like Vegemite and prefer to place stuff like “jelly” and peanut butter on their toast, but a taste like concentrated… coffee No, no, no, we refer to Vegemite in the sense of love it or hate it, not as a drink. And for once, it is not cancer on the toast we are in discussion about today. It’s just that they’re both black.

Now we are on about kopi and eating toast with kaya jam and butter. And a specially prepared toast it is.

The toast has to be um, not really toasted, but slowly desiccated. E@L may have blogged about this before, he remembers vaguely (everything he remembers is vague these days) reminding readers of the first short story in Beckett’s “More Prick Than Kicks,” something about a lobster and Dante. (Let me know if you need more information. Or a link.) The toasting process is completely different from traditional bread toasting methods (i.e. E@L’s). The toast-cooking auntie (usually, but sometimes a pasty-faced student male) places two thickish slices of brown bread on the low heat griller, waits, turns them over on the low heat griller, not once but twice. Take your time. This is an art-form. Only slightly browned, with the lines from the heating element faintly outlined.

The kopi is already in the cup, on the table, but the toast will be a while.

It is toast-dried to a crunchiness that when sliced horizontally, i.e. though the middle of the toast, through the thinnest dimension, they slice it horizontally with toast flat on the bench, they lean on it with a slight pressure to hold it still and with a long flat, round ended knife split it in two, quite clever really, that it is so crisp you would think it is almost ready to fall apart. Almost, but not quite. Because there is a hint of softness yet in the middle. A simmering warmth. A large dollop of sweet Kaya jam (basically sugar held together with some green colored coconut and egg(!)) picked up on the bread knife is spread across the inside of the halved slice with a single sweep that creates a uniform thickness. Three pats of frozen butter, with one positioned centrally so that when the slices are placed together ready to be cut transversely the knife goes through the middle of the butter in order to reveal its full cream (it’s often Western Star butter, E@L notes, from the district of Victoria, Australia, not Hong Kong, where he was born – you can run but you can’t fucking hide) yellow richness. Both of the pieces of toast are sliced at the same time – one crust snipped off first at some places – and placed on a rectangular plate that they carry out to your table and take away your brown block with a number on it, but leave the used plates and cups from the previous person or persons at the table.

By the time you have the toast in front of you, the kopi is almost gone. You can’t get up to order another cup, as when you get back the toast on the table will be cold. You want the toast to still have some calorific memory of its toasting, the butter just starting to melt. Warm still, the crunchy toast brittle snapping between your teeth, the kaya sweet and the butter both warm and melting, yet cold and firm in the middle as well, oh my god. To solve this issue, you order an upsize cup, 30c extra and nearly double the amount. There’ll still be plenty left – fuck it’s hot, you’ve got to let it cool down – when the toast arrives.

Or you could get it all to take away if you still worked in the office upstairs, but you don’t, you are stuck in fucking Tampines, but do not place the brown paper bag inside a plastic bag as the toast will sweat and become sad and soggy.

So anyway, E@L was in Harbourfront Center today to open a bank account for Super Maid Joyce (who is now signed under his name) and set up a gyro to pay her levy, and he visited his old local, the BF Wang’s on level 1. It has been nearly six months since the Great Tampines Disruption. Even so, the lad behind the cash register, the same lad who took his order when he was in Singapore, when he was at the office and when he had missed breakfast, each morning looked at E@L with a smile and said, “Welcome back, sir!” and called, “Kopi upsize, kaya butter toast,” and clicked it all into the register before E@L could smile back and offer him a $5 note, something different from the fistfuls of coins he used to fob off on them in an effort to return the three thousand dollars in 5c pieces blocking the doorway to his spare room to general circulation. (If E@L came home with fewer coins than he went out with, he’d punch the air! These small victories, as someone said recently. Was it Obama?)

The skinny girl is still there, the one with the hair that falls over her face. She has got a new style, bobbed, but it still falls over her face because she leans over each milk-prepared cup as she pours in the kopi and a splash of hot water, and she stirs with such an earnest ferocity, such professional velocity, that she has developed a kyphosis. She’s a shoo-in for a Gold Medal in the Kopi Stirring at the KL Olympics, coming soon, watch this space. She’s there at Wang’s for life, and happy with the prospect. Doubt that her health plan will cover the spinal surgery she’ll required later in life (cervical spondylosis, you can almost watch it evolve in real time). E@L always wanted to tell her to straighten up – good posture, my young lady, good posture!

She doesn’t look up at E@L. He didn’t get to catch her eye, but she recognizes him all right. He could tell by the way she ignores him. She still hates E@L from the time he asked for a small(!) cup, and not an upsize and she looked at him because she had already poured the upsize, which is Not What He Ordered, but he was in one of his weird moods (before he had his foot pain more or less sorted with thousands of dollars of drugs, perhaps) and he was pissed that she got the order wrong and then he insisted on a small cup, so she had to pour the large one into a small cup and throw the rest out, and, seriously, why the fuck didn’t he just take the fucking upsize one, what a fucking dickhead he can be, Christ he hates himself sometimes, which makes two. Twain was right, we are all shitful people. Sometimes.

But the register guy recognized him. And he smiled. And that nice man brightened E@L’s day.

The taxi-driver home, man, he was a total cunt.

E@L

Taxi-Twitch

Posted in sigh, Singapore, taxis by expatatlarge on August 26, 2011

E@L is in a taxi and the driver goes the wrong way (i.e. the long way) and is an ancient man with serious twitching issues (sigh – E@L attracts taxi drivers with Tourettes the way Bruce attracts desperate hookers) and, as he assumes all expats require refrigeration, has the air-con set to cryonics. He seems nervous and when E@L mumbles something about turning right and not left he looks back at E@L briefly in the mirror with a expression close to fear in his copper-cornea eyes and the twitches accelerate, though the taxi does not. He seems an overly cautious driver, perhaps because of poor vision and liver disease, perhaps because he wants to give snails a chance to get out of the way.

Taxi-uncle is slowly building up speed as they approach an intersection where he has to turn right (to correct his navigational error) and as the lane breaks off from the forward lane and starts to expand into two where the median strip narrows, he drives in the invisible fourth lane (so common in Asia, but also seen in Italy and France) between all the others.

E@L says, “Uncle…”

“WHAT!?” he screams in a panic and slams on the brakes; E@L is tossed forward, well he is forced to lean a little bit forward as the car screeches to a halt and blocks both of the right turn lanes and half the forward lane…

They are lucky there are no speeding cars, heavily loaded trucks, cement mixers, emergency or military (some army place full of ancient Jeeps nearby) vehicles coming up behind them (they have all overtaken the taxi already) or E@L would not be typing this.

No-one, in fact, would be typing this: if a post-mortem hacker tried to break into one of the four (including tab) computers they’d fail as E@L’s password is unbreakable. No, not “unbreakable” but, you know,like difficult to crack. No, not “difficulttocrack” but … Oh, you get the point. No, “yougethepoint” is also NOT E@L’s password.

OK admission, it is “password”, the No2 most common password in the world of cybersecurity (E@L is always second best, where is the justice in that?) and the encrytped sub-directory with all the good porn is called “allthegoodporn, and the password is “unbreakable”.

[In Unrelated News: Winning joke at the Headinbra comedy festival: “The computer asked for an eight character password, so I chose Snow White and The Seven Dwarves.” Boom boom!]

“Um,” says E@L, completely amazed by the taxi-uncle’s slight overreaction, but he continues, “uncle, could you please turn the air-con down…”

Taxi-uncle nods a few times quickly and mumbles something in an apologetic tone The taxi starts to move again, slowly enough for him to turn the fan down a notch way before they reach the intersection.

E@L slowly shakes head, puts his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of nose, sighs, etc…

~~~~~~~~~~~~

E@L

Communism or Taxi-Driver – You Be The Judge!

Posted in communism, taxis by expatatlarge on March 11, 2011

Just had to steal this and give it a local flavour.

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Driving habits of communists [taxi-drivers], according to J. Edgar Hoover:

– Driving alternately at high and low rates of speed. [Singapore taxi-driver]

– Entering a heavily traveled intersection on a yellow light, hoping to lose any follower or cause an accident. [Singapore taxi-driver!]

– Turning corners at high rates of speed and stopping abruptly. [Singapore taxi-driver!]

– Suddenly leaving a car and walking hurriedly down a one-way street in the direction in which vehicle traffic is prohibited. [Beijing or Mumbai taxi-driver going for a piss! No, actually they just stand next to the car.]

– Entering a dark street in a residential area at night, making a sharp U-turn, cutting into a side alley, and extinguishing the car’s lights. [Hong Kong tax-driver about to rape their female passenger!]

– Driving to a rural area, taking a long walk in a field, then having another car meet them. [see previous!]

– Waiting until the last minute, then making a sharp left turn in front of oncoming traffic. [Singapore taxi-driver again!]

– Stopping at every filling station on the highway, walking around the car, always looking, then going on. [Yep, that’s a communist alright! Or someone with a noisy wheel bearing.]

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“Always there is the fear of being followed,” he wrote in Masters of Deceit (1958). “One Party couple registered at a motel, then the husband parked the car several miles away. He walked back and climbed through a side window. Maybe in this way he would conceal his next night’s lodging!” [Singapore tax-driver and second wife in Jurong!]

E@L

Top Gear

Posted in autobiography, cars, gears, reminiscence, taxis by expatatlarge on March 9, 2011

Now I has been around for a while. No, not round, *A*round. OK, maybe just round as well.

One of my first memories is that of being in a car and turning into the street of the house in which I would grow up. If my memory serves me right (what were we talking about?) I was in the back seat, either that or “in the back” behind the back seat, in the luggage space of our blue Hillman Hunter (sorry Milos, no relation), similar to the one below, but an Estate (wagon). Hence the child accessible rear space. I used to love it back there. A playroom as we drove! Before mum told me off (crazy woman thought it was unsafe!) and I had to crawl forward to the rear seat, or even over again to the front seat. There, I’d put my head in mum’s lap as she drove and I’d go to sleep. Snug, safe. Those were the days of wonder and innocence.

But one thing troubled me about driving with mum from Colac, or from Melbourne, back home. How could she stay awake for over an hour? It was beyond me. My sister and I counted the lines whisping underneath us (or so it seemed – I hope mum wasn’t driving in the middle of the road!) one whisp, two whisp, three whisp, bored. Asleep in three minutes. Maybe someone else came in magically and drove for her, maybe there was an auto-pilot that only came on when I was asleep… I’d wake up and we’d be home, turning up the drive.

The car, back to the car, would have been a 1956 vintage, or maybe an earlier model. My father died in 1957 and maybe it was his car. Was it? [Maybe my sister will correct me on this. ADD: No, mum bought it when she came back to Colac – Dad worked and died in Shepparton]

I have always held this memory precious as one of three that I recollect from when I was aged three years old. The other two are not relevant here (though I do miss when our pretty young maid used to bathe me so gently, so slowly and so comprehensively.*)

OK then, the real second: Grandmas’s birthday was one day before mine, and there was an upsurge of disappointment I felt when the penny dropped that this big family gathering at my Uncle Ed’s was for her, not me. For my birthday I received a plastic pencil holder, full of colored pencils, that was shaped like a pencil. I recall holding it, and stifling a sob. I recall the emotion as vividly as I recall the party.

Third: looking at a dark brick house, up near Geelong College primary school, that I think Mum was considering buying before the house in the other street, (car, corner, remember)? This was an emotionally neutral occasion, thankfully.

Mum was changing gear as we turned the corner. I can see the car from the outside, in a wide-view, turning past the empty block on one corner and the Smith’s (not that name but I can’t remember) on the other. How can I have seen this view and remember it so vividly when all the while I was in the car? Spooky mystic weird. It’s a mystery.

Since that time I have been in many, many vehicles. I remember being driven to the Saturday morning Legacy children’s group in Mr Grenville (name? Paula help me out, again)’s Mercedes. His model had a speedometer like a barber’s pole – weird, eh? It was the first car with automatic transmission I had been in. I was maybe six or seven. I was cheeky, I was restless, I was who I am now, only more-so (as I have said before.)

All the other cars mum owned (a 1966 Holden HR, registration JPZ-367, a 1972 Datsun 180B – second hand) or any that my older sister owned (can’t remember the makes, but one of them was so light we nearly got blown off the West-Gate Bridge when I borrowed it one time [or was she driving?] – another time we were stoned/pissed and got pulled over by the police, and I talked my way out of it, amazing since I could hardly stand up [don’t tell her OK?]) when I was growing up (to the point of getting married, the growing up stopped) were manual transmissions.

Mum gave me the HR when I left school so I could drive to LaTrobe Uni (and to the beach), and she kept the 180B (which was the car I did my license test in). I promptly lost my license for speeding in the HR two months later. I used to run out of petrol all the time too. I once put 42c of petrol in and expected to get to Bell’s Beach and back… Idiot.

The first car I bought myself was after I was married (or just before). It was a Triumph TC2000. It only broke down four times a month. The sump cover was held on with three bolts (one stripped) and a mess of gasket-goo rather than four bolts. It had a nice 4-gear stick-shit in the centre console and was great fun to drive. Once, early on, the transmission seized in the middle of an intersection in Torquay. I had gone surfing. The car just froze and people started tooting. I tried to push it out of the intersection, but it wouldn’t move, downhill even. It wouldn’t come out of second gear and the wheels wouldn’t turn. The road was semi-blocked by my car, which had a surfboard sticking out the window, until a tow-truck from an RACV garage came, an hour later and took it away.

We figured that the sales-yard had used the old trick of putting banana skins into the gear-box to silence the noise of wear.

It was not a station-wagon, though there was one in the yard but that one was beyond my meagre loan acceptance earnings. I have beautiful pictures of No1 son, then a curly-haired, rosy cheeked, completely lovable cherub of three himself, standing in the open rear trunk of this car. Why? I think we were packing for a picnic or unpacking from one, and had put him in there to keep him out from under our feet for a while. So funny. Note, it was not a station-wagon but still here is evidence of an hereditary need to get “in the back”.

Eventually all the breakdowns were getting too much for us and we had to get rid of it – note the wood panelling the doors! – before it drove us (ha ha) broker than what we were.

The next one that came was a Chrysler Sigma; yes, a station wagon (estate). And a big drop back in social status. Most of this model were branded Mitsubishi as they bought Chrysler out at about this time. It was Japanese car under the bonnet anyway. It turned out to be an ex-rental and I determined that the yard had wound back the mileage, as the service manual showed it had had its 30,000 km service while the clock read only 26,000km. I took photos of this. I got $400 bucks off (about 5% of the purchase price) when I threatened to take them to some authority or other and sue the bums. That was the first time I sold my soul, btw.

Then over a few years (maybe eight) as the Sigma started to fall apart, I sensed the embarrassment No1 son was feeling whenever I parked next to the Mercs and Beemers and Land Cruisers as I dropped him off at college. So I dumped it for next to nothing and went for a Holden/GM Berlina (the 5 litre V8 of course) – again a station wagon (notice the melancholy search for the warmth of love, the reassurance of having a mother [Dad had died, remember], of not being ignored as kid, of moving away to Geelong from those horrible people who hurt my feelings in Colac – as represented by my love of station-wagons. The fact that I could put my surfboards AND my golf clubs “in the back” had nothing to do with it) but this had an automatic transmission. I bought it at a big, reputable dealer this time. I was told it was an ex-rental. I was told the rear-end – the differential (another long story) – needed work. I was told that the electronic drive for the rear-left window was not going working. But at least it was not falling apart and it was presentable enough at school. This beast took me up and down from Melbourne to Sydney many a time after I had run away from home at 38 and had moved up there to work at Westmead Hospital.

No, I didn’t ever crash – I chose that photo because it was the same colour (white) and everything!

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Once, on a holiday to Ireland, way before this car (was it late 1983 early 84?) we rented a car. There were five of us crammed into one the smallest cars in the world at that time (model?), even though we had ordered a medium sized vehicle. Another fucking shyster. As I was driving around, occasionally I would have to drop a gear, back into 3rd, say, whenever a leprechaun or a whiskey distillery jumped out in front of us. But sometimes, only sometimes, the car would unexpectedly lurch down, the engines would rumble instead of whine and the RPMs would DROP significantly. WTF? My father-in-law accused me of fucking up the gears, riding the clutch or something, basically calling me a bad driver – even though he was a mad dangerous skill-less killer himself behind the wheel. Then it happened to him and he realized something other than MY clutch-work was amiss!

We had been told (and it was etched into the gear-stick! and in the driver’s manual) that this car had a transmission with four gears. Guess what? It had an undocumented fifth gear! A fifth gear was a rarity in those days, a new luxury that had trickled down from the big boys. This is why we didn’t suspect it straight away. Four gears were new enough! The fifth gear had a lower ratio that, of course, was not meant to be engaged when I was trying to slow down, but rather when I was cruising! My father-in-law failed to apologize to me, btw.

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And in my first few years here in Asia, taxis and the people driving me around all had manual transmissions. Then HK taxis went automatic, we guessed it was because so many drivers were fucking up their clutches, riding them up the steep-ish Cotton-Tree Drive towards Mid-levels or up to The Peak. So I moved to Singapore where taxis are still mostly manual. And here the drivers tend to ride the clutch too, but as there no hills in this Euclidean plane (i.e. two dimensional… i.e. flat) city/country, it’s not such a big strain on the gear-box…

(Made of candy-floss – will melt and disappear in rain)

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Point of excessively long preamble down memory lane:

There is a very large, but finite and countable number of automobile gear changes that I have experienced in my life. Lots. Down – Up. 1>2>3>4>5<4<3<2<1 … Up – Down. Real lots of them. 53 years (nearly 54 – pay attention to FB) of driving or being driven in manual transmission cars. Think about it. So many changes of gears. Sure, sometimes you cruise for miles and miles without a change, but if you're in traffic you change (or you should) as the flow demands (or in an automatic, the car does it for you). There has been a lot of drive chain ratio changes that I have experienced. I'm thinking hundreds of thousands, if not more. Several trillion. Got the point? Let's move on to the punchline.

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So, Monday (tonight is Wednesday) the plan is: drinks with Madame Chiang and Indy at a bar in the Esplanade Theatre complex, then I’m gonna be walking over the Helix Bridge to the Elvis Costello concert at the MBS, right? I SMS a taxi with my new Galaxy/Google Singapore Taxi app. Works well, SMS comes, my taxi is on its way…

E@L: The Esplanade.
TaxiDriver: Huh?
E@L: The Esplanade. The theatres.
TaxiDriver: Huh?
E@L: The ESS PLAH NUT.
TaxiDriver: Huh?
E@L: The ESS PLAH NAYDE
TaxiDriver: Huh.
E@L: The ESS PLAR NARD. The Big Durian!
TaxiDriver: Oh, oh, OK. Durian, yes, can … We call that the Esplanade.
E@L: *aaaaarrrgggghhhh*

~~~~~~~~~~

So we head off.

We start in 2nd gear and in the first 5 metres he has changed up to 3rd. Huh? As we come out of the driveway, he drops back to 2nd, then moves onto the road which requires 3rd obviously. As we putter forwards about 15km/h he goes up to 4th. Then we cruise down a slight incline and he goes down to 3rd, to gear-brake perhaps. He pumps the accelerator a bit, then back to 4th. We approach the intersection at D****** Rd and he pumps again and brakes at the same time, creating an inertia neutral event, but he doesn’t quite stop as the traffic comes along. He creeps in with the car in 2nd and as soon as he finds a slot between the oncoming cars he goes to 3rd. Before he straightens the wheel to follow the road he is in 4th. Pump. This is weird.

He drops back to 3rd again. The traffic light ahead is green so he moves up to 4th and down to 3rd again just to be sure. Obviously he is not certain. Pump. Because he shifts up again to 4th, and decides to go back to 3rd. Maybe 4th was better after all. Pump… I KID YOU NOT!

This went on for at least 15mins until I got to the Durian/Esplanade,(near the new Marina Bay Sands). Gear change, pump, gear change, pump. Relentless. At least four to five changes as we went past Chjimes (a small block) at 40km/h – maybe 4 secs.

There is something wrong here. This man has a psychological problem. That is why he was deemed suitable for a career in the taxi driving profession!

He is one of the millions and millions of taxi drivers in Singapore, and Hong Kong to be fair, who are fucking nutters, with ticks and jerks and obsessive-compulsive disorders. One of my friends thought I was joking about this, that I was making it all up. Then one night, as we shared a cab to Clarke Quay, I nudged him to look up – the taxi driver was sweeping his hand back over his greasy hair every five seconds. Sweep. Sweep. Tourrette’s.

There’s something going on. I was told today that I sound like a conspiracy theorist. There’s nothing like the facts – someone IS sending these crazy people to drive me around for a goddamn reason! And it can only be that the GAHMEN tracking my movements, in case I do or say something seditious!

~~~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile, back to gear changes…

THE NUMBER OF GEAR CHANGES I HAVE EXPERIENCED IN MY LIFE DOUBLED – *AT LEAST* – ON THAT 8km DRIVE ON MONDAY!

Sigh. I kid you not.

E@L

* wasn’t this a case study from Freud?

Kopi Talk

Posted in kopi, lee hsien long's salary, stasi, taxis by expatatlarge on June 26, 2010

My taxi driver from the airport tonight was very fond of conversation / the sound of his own voice. Like most taxi drivers you ask and probably many other Singaporeans (only 66% voted for the monotheistic PAP last election) he had some very negative and probably seditious things to say about his beloved home country…

– first 20 years of LKY, very good, it work, but last 20 years very bad – just make money for Lee family.

– everybody think [know? I can’t recall exactly what he said] Lee Hsien Long [current PM, on $3.8 million a year] is an idiot.

– Singapore people no talk politic in kopi shop, people listen. Never talk politic. You talk politics in kopi shop, man follow you out, take you away for two days. Is true, everybody in Singapore know this.

– there no transparency in Temasek – (see note 1) money come in from our CPF [superannuation] where it go, where it invested? [Keep your hands on the wheel, Uncle!] We cannot see. We have no say. Temasek it lose money in crisis, invest in Citibank [actually it was Merrill Lynch and Barclays], and that Thai Shincorp [don’t start him on Thaksin]…

– Hong Kong is much better, so much freedom, do what you want, say what you want [I did not prompt him on this, I swear!]

– people, you live here in Moulmein [where we at the time], they know how you vote in election, next year you in other area, change change, you in Moulmein but vote for other area… [gerrymandering]

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Australia did not escape unscathed either, in a backhand sort of way.

– Australia, what going on? Everything good, best of all country in Asia, no problem after finance crisis. So why you change Prime Minister? You crazy people. Nobody else would do that!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

All in all an interesting ride home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Regarding the Stasi-like eavesdropping in the coffee-shops, I notice that “Emma Larkin” has a new book out. Her last one, Finding George Orwell in Burma (US title) was a wonderful and frightening look into the ongoing oppression in Burma, reported through non-conversations in tea-houses of Rangoon and Mandalay, etc… (She refuses to use the new names as she feels that this legitimizes the current military regime.)

I saw a copy of her next book in the Ko Samui airport Bookazine. It’s called Everything Is Broken” and is about the corruption and arrogance during the least reported (suppressed even) enormous human tragedy in Asia* since the killing fields in Cambodia, the hurricane Nargis that devastated the Burmese coastline in 2008, leaving 140,000 dead.

* You can’t say that news of the 2004 tsunami was suppressed or went unreported!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

That (to cheer an old man up), and David Mitchell’s latest are on the list.

E@L

What I Have Learned About Singapore Taxis (The Six Years Of Living Taxieriously)

Posted in foreign workers, going insane, Singapore, taxis by expatatlarge on May 31, 2010

1: Taxis evaporate when it rains (they are afraid of accidents because the drivers must pay a $3,000 excess on any damage to the car)

2: Taxi drivers don’t know the street where I live

3: Taxi drivers ignore my instructions (“turn left” means go straight ahead, “go straight ahead” means turn right, “go to the back” means stop at the front)

4: Change of shift is highly correlated with when I need a taxi, and I don’t live in Jurong or Bishan (see 2)

5: Taxi drivers have tics – body spasms and obsessive-compulsive mannerisms (this has been independently confirmed)

6: On Friday evening 75% of all Singapore taxis are at the airport, unless your flight arrives Friday evening

7: Taxis will park 100yds away from a crowded taxi-stand and wait for a booking call from that very stand

8: Taxi drivers just started on this job last week. Previously they were in the building trade (now all construction work is taken by quasi-slave labourers from India and Sri Lanka who are CCTV-ed while they have showers – to make sure they don’t “waste” water in their efforts to get clean*) [Oops, distracted again]

9: In the early morning when clubs close and bars shut down taxis are probably at the airport because it is the only place where they can have a nap and not get fined

10: Taxis will have a green light on until they see me waving by the side of the road, then it will flip to ‘busy’ red and driver will wave with their right hand across to the left side of his face as this indicates, “no, cannot”

11: Taxi drivers won’t come into Orchard Rd if they don’t have a passenger because they will have to pay ERP (road tax) *plus* they can’t sit at empty taxi-stands for more than 5 minutes without copping a fine for waiting around (because CCTV cameras monitor the taxi-stands) (see 6 and 9)

12: Taxis lining up at a crowded tax-stand queue will still accept bookings even though they are in the next in line (see 7)

13: When I have no cash, the taxi will not have credit card facilities and I didn’t check when I got in because I was drunk (and broke)

14: Taxi drivers in cars with manual transmission ride the clutch 100% of the time

15: Between five minutes to and 9pm, empty taxis will pull over and wait for the ERP to shut-down

16: Seven taxis with green light will drive along the main road as I walk up from my side road, then there will be none for 25 minutes (see 10) Then it will start to rain (see 1)

17: Taxi phone bookings are unavailable when it is raining as all the lines are busy (see 1). Therefore when it is raining there is no way I can get a taxi, even though because this is the time when people really *need* a taxi. I will have to walk to the MRT in storm, with an umbrella if I didn’t leave it at work the last time it rained, and with all my bags and take a train crowded with damp smelling passengers to the airport, with three changes of line (or I call a friend with a car)

18: Taxi drivers think they know how to get my office better than I do, even though I have been going there through various routes for the last 5 years

19: Being a taxi driver drives you crazy

20: Being a taxi passenger drives me crazy (go to my previous blog and do a search for “taxi”)

E@L

p.s.

Seen and hurt
FOR the past few months, a group of foreign workers at a Jurong dormitory have had to shower with twin electronic eyes peering down at them from the ceiling. The reason, says the dormitory…
[must pay to read the rest : http://www.straitstimes.com/PrimeNews/Story/STIStory_533293.html%5D

Other than that, all the usual services are available.

Singapore Drivers / Donut / Tempest

Posted in donuts, drivers, kiasu, plagiarism, Singapore, taxis, theatre by expatatlarge on April 10, 2010

click to enlarge, baby
You may have to click on the picture again.

I haven’t been complaining about Singapore for a while, but someone sent me this scan of a page from the local magazine, expatLIVING, something I wouldn’t ordinarily buy. (Internet killing reading? There are MILLIONS of magazines for sale all over the place!) The writer/complier (Deborah Goldman) no doubt plagiarized these jokes from a variety of sources, so hopefully I won’t be sued. I’ve heard most of them before, received wisdom sort of clichés – a bit like the ‘You Know You’ve Been In Hong Kong Too Long’ jokes in Nury Vitachi’s old column in the SCMP (who can remember that?)

The bit about the cupcake (no.5) remains very true. Singaporeans (and Hongkies) will cue forever to get whatever is the vogue food item, free or not. (Remember the Hello Kitty queues in HK in 2001 or so – was that the McDonalds fracas?) Here in Singapore, two years ago, the mass hysteria was for donuts.

Donuts? Donuts.

As I would walk though Vivocity Mall at lunchtime I’d always see a queue going back around the block at the new donut shop there. OK they’re nice soft, very fresh donuts. But they’re not THAT good! It’s just that if someone else has something (like a choc-coated, nut-encrusted ring of carbo-foam) they have to have it too. They don’t want to miss out on what is apparently an orgasmicly good gustatory experience! It IS the kiasu thing. (Look it up.) I’ve never seen a group of more fad infected fools.

Cut to today… The staff at the donut shop stand forlorn and unloved, their once essential product now forgotten by those fickle Singaporeans.

And you know what that means?

That means I don’t have to queue for my donuts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Neither do I have to queue for tickets to Sam Mendez’s Bridge Project production of “The Tempest.” Heaps of seats, obviously not a fad.

I missed Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf) in “King Lear” and Ethan Hawke (Ethan Hawke) in “The Winter’s Tale” in the previous tours of The Bridge Project through Singapore and I am not going to miss this one… Seat AA46 (circle, front-row, slightly to the right – perfect seat!), matinee performance…

To the theatre!

E@L

Death Cab For Taxi Driver in HK

Posted in taxis by expatatlarge on June 28, 2009

I was going to post the about the amazing article before this one (scroll down after you’ve checked this one out), and maybe if I have time I’ll chat tomorrow about building standards over here, but for the moment, this is the one that grabbed me!

What is it about Australians and taxi drivers in Asia? E@L has never been quite so pissed off as to be complicit in one’s death! Holy shit!

E@L

Mr Grumpy Takes The Train

Posted in Mr Grumpy, Singapore, taxis, trains by expatatlarge on October 6, 2008

Mr Grumpy had to get into the office on time this morning. That would mean peak time for calling a taxi here in Disneyland WTDP. Hard one to get taxi, lah!

Calling a taxi early would also mean several extra charges on top of the actual per/100m fare. In non-peak times, since the price changes last year, Mr Grumpy’s typical taxi fare to work is $12. Before the price “rationalization”, it was about $8. With the $3.50 booking fee and a$2 surcharge for this, and 30% surcharge for that (Mr Grumpy has long since ceased trying to figure out the reasons behind all these surcharges) a peak-time taxi ride from Newton to Harbourfont Centre could be as much as $16.

However, taking the train would cost $1.10, plus a short bus trip at 90c. Decisions, meh!

One downside of the bus/train combo is that he has to walk some distance. Mr Grumpy has sore feet. Mr Grumpy has had sore feet for a while and even an expensive and complications ridden operation didn’t make Mr Grumpy’s sore feet go away. It made them sore in a different way.

This is not the reason that Mr Grumpy is grumpy, but it doesn’t fucking help either.

Mr Grumpy hates walking because of his sore feet. But as Mr Grumpy has been spending shitloads of non-insurance-refundable money on a series charlatans and shysters who prod and probe, squeeze and squash his limbs in farcical attempts to relieve his pain (therapy based on whatever mystical hogwash they were trained to believe causes all illnesses), he is financially inclined to humour them in that maybe he IS getting better after all. He must be, otherwise why would he continue to spend all that money? It only stands to reason.

Every now and then Mr Grumpy tries a positive attitude on for size.

As Mr Grumpy took the 47 types of pills and herbal anti-oxidants concoctions that are supposed to be doing something to relieve his pain and cure the root of the problem and purge his system of “toxins” and make his hair grow (it is only working on nostrils and ears so far), he looked at himself in the mirror. He turned on the nose-hair plucker and made the decision to take the freaking train this morning. He can walk that distance without exacerbating the pain, he really can! Yeah, right.

Now, now, let’s not be cynical! We’re with you, Mr Grumpy!

Bus, OK – it’s not raining. Train, crowded beyond all shite. About 8 people alight through the door in front of him at Little India Station but this seems to make no difference to the density of the crowd inside. It’s like everyone else expanded just a little to absorb the gaps. Parkinson’s Rule of Commuter Trains.

Mr Grumpy ignores the seething demons of hell that inhabited this carriage trying to prevent his entry through their sheer numbers and just walks on at his usual steady pace, briefcase on its shoulder strap, with the resulting momentum of a heavy man, as if nobody was in front of him. Remarkably the expansion effect has its antithesis in an absorption effect and he melds into the crowd with imperceptible ease and almost immediately finds himself by the central pylon where three curved hand-holds linked the floor and ceiling. There are about four layers of people between him and the doors, but he is wedged now and can no longer move. By the time the doors are closed and the train starts to move, he is fixed in position, as if the super-saturation of commuters has set into a unbreakable crystalline formation. He has a grip on the pylon’s hand hold. People around try to tumble down due to their inertial resistance but they are held up in position by the crystal matrix effect of bodies around them.

Everyone on the train has headphones on. Mr Grumpy himself is listening to the rock band Audioslave:

I’ve been walking the sideroads

I stare straight into the sun

I don’t know why people are dying

Long before their time has come…

As the train approaches the main Orchard Rd interchange at Dhoby Ghaut where 75% of these people would get off, Mr Grumpy feels a tap on his arm. He opens his eyes. Who is disturbing this quality time with himself, and WHY?

A man on the other side the central pylon indicates to Mr Grumpy with a nod of his head and a raising of his eyebrows that he would be alighting at the next stop.

“Well, hoowee!” thinks Mr Grumpy.

This unreasonably tedious request makes Mr Grumpy quite grumpy indeed. OF COURSE the man is getting off at Dhoby Ghaut. EVERYONE (well 75% of everyone) is getting off at Dhoby Ghaut. Mr Grumpy, not being a sheep-like follower, is planning to NOT get off at Dhoby Ghaut and indeed to find a vacant seat for his continued ride down to Harbourfront Centre once those 75% have departed the carriage. But there is nothing he can do about it NOW. He is wedged and crystallized in place. If he couldn’t move at all to maximize his own chances of obtaining a seat, how could he do anything about someone else’s issues? The man who had indicated that he wanted to get off could get fucked. What could Mr Grumpy possibly do? How could he do anything? He couldn’t get out of the way; there were people all around him. He couldn’t try to slide around and exchange places with the man as the central pylon was between them. What the fuck did the man want him to do? What the fuck did he expect?

Mr Grumpy wondered later if the man expected to be told to fuck off. Probably not. But that’s what happened. Mr Grumpy thought later also that he showed remarkable restraint in not punching the guy several times in his great fat ugly face as well, but that would have difficult due to the confinement of his arms by the crowd.

Stupid person. Mr Grumpy shows an exasperated face to the man, mouths the words, and turns away to pointedly ignore him.

The train shudders to a stop and people not holding on nearly fall, but again they can’t break the matrix. As Mr Grumpy had predicted, about 75% of everyone gets off at Dhoby Ghaut, including the stupid (now offended, his entire day ruined) man, without Mr Grumpy having to move an inch. As they slide around him and continue to file out the door, he feels the pressure ease, feels himself expanding to fill a certain proportion of the gaps now available. Then Mr Grumpy is easily able to out-maneuver an elderly, blind cripple to the last of the newly available free seats. He closes his eyes and sits back, listening to his music:

I walk the streets of Japan till I get lost

Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

With a graveyard tan carrying a cross

Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

I like studying faces in a parking lot

Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

I like driving backwards in the fog

Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

[Chorus]

The things that I’ve loved, the things that I’ve lost

The things I’ve held sacred, that I’ve dropped

I won’t lie no more you can bet

I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget

These words make Mr Grumpy feel a little bit better, make him feel a weight has been dropped. He does not know what the weight is, doesn’t even know what the fuck the words mean. Maybe it’s the music…

While Mr Grumpy walks up from the train through the platform and along the corridor to the escalator that leads to Harbourfront Centre his feet continue to give pain. This is no big deal, they ALWAYS give him pain. He is constantly aware of his feet. It’s enough to turn a Mr Nice Guy into another Mr Grumpy.

But then his toes start to fire off brief electrical spasms. The big toes especially rage into a numbness that burns, like instant frost-bite. Each step he takes past the HFC shops cracks this ice and spurs fire into the depth of the bones. Ow. Ow. Mr Grumpy hates walking.

Mr Grumpy should have called a taxi and then everyone would have been better off, especially the Lee Kwan Yew family (aka The Singapore Government) who own the taxi service, and certainly those innocent bystanders in the commuting world who would feel less offended and depressed, and maybe a little less grumpy too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Next story in this series: Mr Grumpy goes to the Newton Circus hawker stall for a cheap, quiet, fresh-air, mind-his-own-business dinner. Oh what fun!

E@L