Cremations and cab rides across town
Four different taxi drivers kicked me out of their cabs on the weekend. Each time, the same conversation took place:
“Where you want to go?”
“No, can not”
“No. You get out”
Then along came Mr Sanga, in his bright pink taxi with a green stripe down the side.
“Where do you want go?”
“Bang Na,” I replied reluctantly, waiting to be kicked to the oppressively-hot curb due to the fact that I wanted to go to the other side of town which, apparently, wasn’t worth the effort of the average taxi driver.
“Sure,” he said as he put on the meter.
As we drove along the expressway, through the thick grey air, past endless high rise buildings he told me, in almost-perfect English, about how he missed the clean air of his hometown in northern Thailand.
“But I must work here in this big city. I have no way to earn money if I leave Bangkok”.
When I asked how it was that he spoke English so well, he picked up a Thai-English dictionary from the passenger seat and a small exercise book which he handed to me. Inside – pages and pages of hand written vocabulary. The last entry:
“Oh! This one is so difficult! The words sound the same, no?” he chuckled, “But one of them – I can not eat!”
He became quiet as we drove past a large banner of the former King.
“Maybe you can help me learn a new word in English? How do I say this thing that will happen to the King of Thailand next month?”
“Um, oh, do you mean, um, what will happen to him, uh, now that he is dead?” I hesitated to finish the sentence knowing how precious this topic is to the Thai people.
“Yes, we have a big ceremony but I don’t know how to say it in English. It will happen on October 26”
“I think the word you are looking for is cremation. It means to burn the body, is that what you wanted to learn to say?”
“Yes, yes! This is the word I want to learn. I want to tell my English passengers about what we will do on October 26…about this special ceremony for my beloved King. Cremation, yes?”
“Yes, that’s right,”
There was a moment of silence between us. It wasn’t awkward. It was just a space that needed to happen as I penned the word into Mr Sanga’s exercise book and as he sat, hands on the wheel, pondering it.
“Cremation. Cre-may-tion. Cremation” he repeated gently.
As we arrived at my apartment building, I thanked him for picking me up on the other side of town.
“You know,” I said, “Four taxi drivers did not want to take me to Bang Na so I was very happy when you said you could drive me. Thank you so much, Mr Sanga.”
“Thank you!” he exclaimed, “You have made me very happy today. I think I am lucky those drivers said they could not take you because you came into my taxi and you were my kind English teacher. You taught me a new word! Yes, I feel very lucky and happy to be your driver today”.