I remember in no particular order:
-a lingering hug which, when translated into words, would mean “I’m happy I’ve met you”;
-man-made lake, in equal parts pretentious and grand;
-four pairs of feet trying to outrun time;
-a grey and black hijab in front of the steering wheel.
The last one is something that when remembered, floods my thoughts with positivity and inspiration.
One great thing about travel is the opportunity to meet interesting personalities. In many ways, they unwittingly offer new insight on the kind of place you are in.
We had just started what turned out to be a long walk from KL Menara Tower to Merdeka Square. At the base of a ‘hill’ on the Tower site, one of our friends who work in the city introduced us to a taxi driver. I remember about five Proton cars lined up on one side of the street. The drivers were waiting for tourists coming from the tower.
Her name is Siti. She is a lady taxi driver. And more. Even these two other words do not completely describe who she is and how she forever altered our impression of Kuala Lumpur as a City.
That evening, we found ourselves riding the Malaysian-made taxi driven by Siti. We visited a ‘tourist attraction’/’amusement park’ in Shah Alam. In hindsight, I was neither ‘attracted’ nor ‘amused’. I think there are better ways of spending a night in KL. This is coming from someone who wore shorts and sandals knowing that the main ‘attraction’ in I-City is the Snow Walk (so take the following sentences with a grain of salt; the level of tolerance from person to person varies). It’s not the temperature that caused the disappointment. The rented boots and jacket did. In my mind, I was entertaining all kinds of smell; and germs feasting on my feet. If you really want to visit the place, you better bring your own jacket. And make sure you wear thick socks. Remember this: you’ll find redemption in a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Our driver’s engaging personality erased whatever disappointment I had with Snow Walk. She talked about her family; the tourists she has driven for – including the jokes and greetings in various language she picked up from them; and most importantly, she talked about Kuala Lumpur – the culture, politics, and its people. Her extensive knowledge and insight on the place she calls home for 19 years (she’s originally from the northern part of the country) was impressive.
The following day, we asked her to take us to Putrajaya – the federal administrative center of Malaysia. Just like the day before, she served as a taxi driver and tour guide rolled into one (note that we hired her as a driver only). She later explained that as a taxi driver, she feels it is her responsibility to offer all her passengers a positive memory of Malaysia. This made me wish for the same taxi drivers in Manila – one who doesn’t take the heavy traffic against you (in words: “Boss,plus 100 nalang po kayo ha. Ang traffic eh!”) ; or one who has not developed a habit of greeting his passengers with a line full of positivity and politeness: “pa-garahe na kasi ako eh kaya dito lang ako umiikot as Makati”.
We arrived early at Putrajaya. She helped us choose what to have for breakfast – “something a typical Malaysian would eat”, she said. She took our pictures and waited for us while we rode a boat in the man-made lake.
I was awestruck by the buildings and bridges of Putrajaya. For a moment, I felt sorry for my city (but one I’ll continue to love, no matter what).
Later that day, Siti also drove us to the airport. While we were saying our goodbyes, she gave Joie a lingering hug and wished each one of us a safe plane ride home.
We were probably still ‘on a high’ such that we ate slowly at a fast food restaurant in the airport completely ignoring our departure time.
We barely made it.
On the plane, while reading the pages of Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, I entertained the idea of resigning from my job and becoming a full-time taxi driver; Or probably owning a taxi fleet with well-trained, polite drivers. They will be presentable in their Light Blue Polo Shirt, Khaki pants, Canvas belt and Chuck Taylors – something I see myself wearing. They would not smoke. They will greet passengers and help them with their bags. They would even ask passengers what kind of music they want to listen to – there will be Metallica, Beethoven, U2, ColdPlay, Tchaikovsky, Eminem, Psy, Rihanna, Adele…everyone, maybe except Beiber. They will not grumble when the traffic is heavy. They will be knowledgeable about places of interests in Manila. They will not ask for “dagdag”, but there will be a tip box which I imagine is full of 20 to 100 peso bills from passengers who were impressed with the service. I smiled while imagine these things.
When I arrived in Manila I asked myself again: What kind of face does my city offer? (a probable answer would be this article:http://ph.news.yahoo.com/pinoy-cabbies-kindness-cited-125016120.html)
We sent her this! We felt that she was, in many ways like the iconic Philippine Jeepney – innovative (in terms of service) and welcoming. (Photo credit: Glenn Montano, for 2nd and last photos)
note: the form of this entry’s opening paragraph was taken from Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.