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Essay

No ordinary ride

By Samantha Loong

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When I take a taxi, I don't expect much. I just hope the driver knows the way and isn't a serial killer. But I do think that you can always learn something from taxi drivers.

In New Zealand, while talking to a driver on a late-night taxi home, I realised she was the mother of an old high school friend. We reminisced about the delicious Serbian cheese bread she always had ready when her daughter's friends invaded their home. She was a brilliant scientist before she had to immigrate to New Zealand to raise her two children alone. I found myself inspired by her resilience.

Another memorable ride was with an extremely chatty driver in Osaka. With my limited Japanese, I wasn't prepared to talk much. My driver however, was. In what seemed like one long sentence, he talked about the government, the economy and (possibly) tax. I only understood about 10 percent of what he said, but didn't want to seem rude. So I laughed when he laughed, and enthusiastically agreed when I heard him say something like "... isn't it?" at the end of his sentences. He made me realise what areas my Japanese needed working on.

Then, there was the taxi driver in his late fifties. I usually got him after finishing teaching at one site in Ehime. He looked surly, but was actually quite friendly, and originally from Osaka. We exchanged our frustrations about bureaucracy, and on how formal and humble phrases in Japanese can make it difficult for people to get to know each other. He made me realise that I was wrong in thinking that I'd never have anything in common with Japanese men in that age group.

Recently, I've been taking taxis from an industrial part of Kobe. It's a short five-minute ride, and most drivers stay silent. But one driver always wears a big smile. He is full of life and always greets me with a cheery "Miss Samantha!" Our first conversation was about a doping scandal. Once, he animatedly announced: "Spring has come!" He made me realise that even in five minutes, there's always time to brighten someone's day.

It probably won't be long before cities around the world implement driverless taxis. They'll be multilingual and have built-in information systems. While this sounds like it'll add convenience, what's going to be taken away? Will these driverless taxis be able to reconnect me with inspiring people? Will they teach me life lessons? Will they make their passengers realise things about themselves and the world?

I highly doubt it. Human taxi drivers might not always know the way to your destination. But in my experience, they can always show you where you are in life now, and where you could be going.

特別なドライブ

自動運転タクシーの開発が進む昨今だが、人間の運転手ならではの魅力もある。タクシーのドライバーからはいつも何かしら学ぶところがあるという持論を持つ筆者の体験を紹介しよう。

The Japan Times ST: April 6, 2018

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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