Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I Hate Taxis

I’ve had some misgivings about this post, nay, downright embarrassment about even sharing this in full as best I can. Since this incident occurred, I’ve found myself unable to share the story in full more than once or twice. I’ve thought no, I can’t talk about that; I can’t blog that, I shouldn’t say that…

But it has also occurred to me that if I’m too chicken to share this story, how can I hope to speak for women who have been through much, much worse? I performed in the Vagina Monologues for crying out loud, and I’m performing in Memory, Monologue, Rant and a Prayer in early June. If I’m too embarrassed to talk about the time a taxi driver decided to hold my hand and suggest we get it on and my frantic evaluations of how to get out of the situation safely, what does that say for where women stand today?

Deep breathes. So here goes.

I was running late to meet a friend for coffee/tea what have you and conversation, and I had gotten caught up talking to another friend I ran into which put me extra late. I planned to grab a motorbike taxi, however upon examining the two moto spots near me, they were both deserted. I looked to the sky. Dark. Thunder. Storm coming. I could hoof it to the boat, but I’m unsure the sky will hold, and I’ll have to walk from the boat as well. Taxis were good shelter from the water fighting of Songkran (though I was traveling with a friend in that case), why not, just take a taxi.

Allow me to interject a few things here. First and foremost, that I’m still na├»vely using my American logic. Silly me.
In my first two weeks here, I sat in the back of a taxi and was hit on and given the guys’ phone number. This incident was more endearing than irritating as it was the first and involved no inappropriate touching, just a lot of ill-advised I love you’s, a fare discount and a phone number on a slip of paper. As such, the idea of sitting in the back of the taxi or the front of the taxi being a factor in such matters did not occur to me. This happens to me one way or another.
The back seats of taxis do not have seatbelts. Being a silly American girl, I had taken to sitting in the front in order to have a seatbelt. Right. My mistake, as we’ll soon see.

Back to our story. I stood at the side of the road and hailed a taxi, I refuse to patronize the guys parked near my soi that never leave me alone. Their loss. I hail a pink cab, ask about my destination (though it’s illegal to refuse passengers, it happens all the time, I have particularly notorious luck in this matter as well), hop in the front seat and buckle my seatbelt.

We get driving and things seem fine at first. The rain comes, as expected. He asks my age, which nearly every Thai person asks for their age-structured social order, so I’m not phased. Then he starts with really bad broken English to ask if I have a boyfriend. Except he basically asks if there is a man I’m having relations with, complete with a lovely hand gesture and ‘squeaky, squeaky’ sound effects. Then he asks me if I have a baby. He asks this several times. “You, baby?” Uh dude, no. No baby. No. I already said no. Weirdo.

The rain is getting heavier, and as is typical of Bangkok, rain means everyone forgets how to drive and the city becomes a near parking lot. But we’re headed the right way, what else can you do?

We talk about the Thai word for rain, and wind, and I teach him the English words. Or attempt to any way. I say I’m a teacher. And then things start to get a little weird.

I’m a bit fuzzy on the full details now, I meant to write this down sooner. But basically he starts suggesting I be his boyfriend, in Thai, and really terrible broken English that doesn’t even have the same meaning. He starts telling me he loves me, and he wants me to say it back. I do the awkward smile, giggle, pretend you don’t understand through the language barrier defense. Considering I see his temper just below the surface, the benign clueless card seems most pertinent to play.

He wants my phone number. He again makes his lovely hand gesture, this time he says “You, me, squeaky squeaky” as he makes the crude hand rendition. Oh joy. I lost count of how many times he did this during the rest of the ride.

I assess the situation. We’ve got three lanes of traffic. We’re in the middle lane. Monsoon season has come early, this is a real doozy. This guy is being inappropriate, but he’s also operating the motor vehicle I’m in and I can sense his temper. If I get out of the cab, which is an option, I’m stepping into traffic and monsoon. Ok. Deep breathes, keep playing the clueless “I don’t understand what you mean” card. Get to your destination or some place you won’t step out into traffic and possibly get hit.

The rain gets worse, the traffic gets worse, my situation in the cab gets worse.
He starts reaching, grabbing and holding my hand.
Internal dialogue: You are kidding me. This is not really happening. WTF. Well, this will be an interesting story. Now how do I get out? How do I keep from pissing this guy off?

He keeps asking “No problem? No problem?” But just like his insistent and unyielding attempts to get me to say I love you, and be his girlfriend, and ‘squeaky, squeaky,’ he doesn’t take awkward giggle/demure attempt at reclaiming hand or no for an answer.

I’m constantly reassessing the situation but this awful scenario is just on repeat as the storm rages outside. “No problem? Squeaky squeaky? You, me? Something in Thai, frustrated huffing.

He wants my phone number. I tell him actually, my phone was just stolen, this is a friend’s, so I don’t have a new number yet. Phew. He gets a piece of paper and writes his phone number and name on it. Well, he gets me to write it. He gets me to promise over and over that I will call him. He’s still got my hand. I’ve wrestled it away once or twice, if I’m more forceful I think this guys’ gonna blow his top. He’s already on the verge of that. He’s still driving.

Internal dialogue: Ok, this is really inappropriate, this is not cool. The bastard has his report me placard turned backwards too! ARG! I don’t even know how to go about reporting him, nor do I have much faith in the Thai authorities, but bastard! Also it would blow my “my phone was stolen I don’t have a number to give you” to whip out a phone. Ok, so he already saw it and I told him it was my friend’s phone. Still, I should pretend I don’t know how to use it. Who would I call right now any way? I don’t have anyone’s number. I’m not sure why this is logical. This situation sucks. Wait…he’s not even going the right way. Where are we going? Oh crap I have bigger problems – and if I bail out now, which I am very close to doing, in the middle of moving traffic and torrential rain, will I be able to get another taxi to get some place safe? Keep from getting hit by a car? He’s very close to crossed that line. And then.

He takes my hand and puts it on his leg. I’m just gonna jump out of this damn cab. Oh buddy, if we were stationary right now, you are so close to my last straw, you don’t even have another millimeter to spare…He’s just started petting my arm, and locking his fingers around mine. The nail of his pinky index finger is about an inch long. He shows it off, he’s proud of it. I feel like vomiting. He’s motioning me to kiss him on the cheek. He’s drawing hearts on the steering wheel with his fingers. I reassess the rain and traffic for the umpteenth time. No, this still doesn’t justify the odds of getting hit by a car in our current traffic pattern. And if I smack him we’ll swerve…

Ok. He’s driving the right way now, a really long asinine I want to spend time with you way, but we’re going to my destination. The broken record of inappropriate has not let up. Get me out. Get me out. Get me out. He asks if I’m going shopping. Yes, sure, I’m going shopping. It’s none of his goddamn business, but it’s an easy enough ‘yes’ answer. He wants to go shopping with me. Could this get any more surreal? I insist no. He actually listens to that. I tell him I’m late to meet a friend. A girl. This fact, that I’m meeting a female, keeps him at bay. He continues to make me promise to call. He finally drops me off a ways off from my destination; he brought me the wrong way around. He knocks at least 50 baht off the fare. Good, he took me out of the way and was a total creep. I finally get out of the cab and bound off into the rain.

I meet my friend, and proceed to rant about what just happened. She informs me that if I were to hit a guy, the fine is only 500 baht, if he’s got the balls to take it to the police. If I’m faced with such a creep who is not driving me, in the middle of moving traffic lanes and a monsoon with a temper, that might be 500 baht very, very well spent. In the mean time, I’m almost eager for another creeper to harass me, so I can give this skeezy cab driver’s number to him. Payback is sweet.

When I talked to a couple of friends about this, I received the following responses:
“Well why were you wearing a seatbelt?”
“Why did you let him do that?”
“Yeah. It sucks because you shouldn’t have to worry about it. But, we do. You learn the longer you’ve been here.”

I would like to add I’ve had plenty of perfectly acceptable taxi experiences in Bangkok as well. I’ve even had a driver pull out a Thai/English phrase book once or twice and had appropriate language exchanges. It’s too bad when one person ruins it for everybody else. Ok, I get it, you sit in the back if you’re alone and female. You don’t get a seatbelt, just try to position yourself behind one of the front seats in case of a crash. You don’t talk besides discussing the destination, whether or not to take a highway and give the driver the toll money (accepted practice) at most. You have to be quiet, maybe even slightly bitchy. Or, you can fend off molestation attempts in the front. What really gets me, is the simple fact that of global destinations, Thailand is supposed to be one of the better ones for solo female travel.
I have never been so cognizant of my race and gender as I have been these past six months in Bangkok.