Many have asked me about my worst travel experience. When I come to think about it, there are many candidates: climbing Mount Fuji in a stormy night, navigating through the noxious fumes of Kawah Ijen volcano, or hanging from the sides of a van for four hours in Karo highlands. But none of this has the power of the one and only; still giving me the goosebumps; the dread whenever I think of it; a complete desire to never attempt it again in this life or for that matter, in any of my future incarnations. Alas, I don’t have a choice; for my worst travel experience is the short taxi ride from Singapore’s Changi airport to my home.
Whenever I have taken this ride, I have felt utterly humiliated, debased, and petrified. Upon reaching home, I have played Ozzy’s “Suicide Solution.” I have begged to gods of all living and dead religions to pardon my sins. And I have dug my head into my pillow and sobbed all night.
The issue is that the ride from the airport to my home in Simei is only worth 15 dollars. The taxi driver, a fine man, greets me with a warm smile. But my knees wobble as I approach his taxi. My luggage trolley offers resistance. I know it is trying to say, “Let’s go back buddy.” But I put my head down and move on. He greets me emphatically, “How are you, sir?” What nobility! What grace! What finesse! I know he will soon ask the usual taxi driver question to form a life-long friendship, "Sir, are you a PR?" But the wretched me just mumbles, avoiding any eye contact. As we settle down inside his car, he asks me, “So, where do you want to go, sir?” What professionalism! What charm! What efficiency! But despicable me, utter the words, “Simei, please.”
What an ignominious act! I could have said, “Jurong,” just as the earlier passenger at the taxi queue would have told for sure to his taxi driver, a good 40-50 dollars ride. I could have at least said, “Ang Mo Kio,” just as the next passenger would have done for sure. But no, impudent me, couldn’t control my tongue, a tongue worthy of Edward Scissorhands.
The world comes to a still. Often the taxi driver just spares me with a volley of his frustrations, “Haiyaa, alamak, what bad thing I did to get you? I wait for one hour and then get Simei, alamak, haiyaa..” These kind of taxi drivers are the best examples of whatever human civilization has to show for. A perfect gentleman. For now I can relax. He has already expressed his anger at my insolence and life can move on from here. I almost see a halo appearing behind his head. But more often than not, I am with the other kind of taxi drivers, those who respond to my “Simei” with dead silence. Now, I am trembling. For I know that with these drivers, there is no forgiving. I collapse in my rear seat. There is no escape. The engine has started.
I smell something and start feeling dizzy; the fart exposure has begun. I squirm. Then comes the aural onslaught. The music volume is going higher and higher. I wriggle. And then comes the phone call. I can sense he is angry, really, really angry. He is speaking in a language I can’t fully understand. But I know it’s about me. I am being exposed for all the crap I am worth. He is talking about my pettiness. He is letting the word know of my disrepute. He is rightfully complaining about my audacity of taking a taxi. I hang my head in shame. I am swallowing nervously. The car is accelerating, unbelievably fast. I understand. He needs to terminate this shameless trip as soon as he can. But I am clenching my teeth. Will this be my last ride? Well, I deserved it.
Thankfully, the ride is short. He stops where he sees a prospect passenger. I am glad it’s almost near my home. He gives me back my change with a flung of his hand; one final act to show his displeasure. I take it like a beggar and mumble, “Thank You.” His silence is cold as steel. I squiggle out. Now I am standing with my luggage, looking at his glorious trail.
I beg him for forgiveness. I promise him that I will work harder to be able to get a house further away. I get determined to grow old faster so I can buy a pension house in Johor, a long enough ride from the airport. I promise to be a better man; worthy of a taxi ride back home.