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British Expat Newsletter: October 2011

Hello, and welcome to those of you who have just signed up.

In this issue

This month

We’ve been travelling a lot this month again. First of all we had an unexpected trip to The Pavilions, a luxury resort in Phuket. We’ll be publishing more about that trip soon, but meanwhile Dave has written about one part of the entertainment we enjoyed there – a Cantonese opera performance – and a photograph I took of one of the singers is our most recent Pic of the Week.

Then only a few days later, we were on the road again. Well, not exactly the road as we flew in to Kuala Lumpur, stayed a couple of nights and then took the train from KL to Singapore. That was a comfortable enough experience and we found it to be less hassle than flying between the two cities – as you’ll see if you read our article about the journey.

Then we had a few days in Singapore. Again we’ve much to catch up on with our articles, but we hope you’ll forgive us as we’ve been so busy.

Our latest Quick Quiz focuses on airports – we’ve listed five notable people that airports have been named after, and asked you to name the five cities. See how much you know about airports around the world!

We’ve been busy elsewhere too, with our other ventures. Whew! And we still found some time to keep in touch with everyone on the BE fora and do various other things.

Editorial: Taxi!

The notion of being able to hire a vehicle more or less at will is so commonplace that we take it for granted. But there’s an amazing amount of variation around the world.

Take the colours that taxis are painted in. We were amused to see a letter in a Bangladeshi newspaper asking why taxis everywhere in the world were black with yellow roofs. The reply, quite correctly, pointed out that in fact they aren’t – the black body and yellow roof pattern is very much a South Asian thing. Taxis in New York are traditionally yellow, as per the Joni Mitchell song, and London taxis are usually black.

There are other variations around the world. German taxis were required to be beige from 1971 until 2005. The most usual colour scheme for Malaysian taxis is red-and-white, while in Iraq they’re often white-and-orange. And Bangkok has a variety of two-tone colours, with the lower body painted one colour and the upper body and roof the other. Green-and-yellow and red-and-blue are probably the commonest, but there are some very garish purple-and-pink ones too!

How about the make and model of vehicle? The classic London taxi produced from 1958 to 1997 – the Austin FX4 – is iconic, but the more modern “jelly mould” variants have been used at various trade promotions around the world too. The boxy “Lego” body introduced in the 1980s never seemed to establish itself as a popular choice. Germans have favoured Mercedes for many years, as have many Norwegian and Irish companies.

Indian cities have the Hindustan Ambassador, essentially the 1950s Morris Oxford. It seems to be both ubiquitous and perennial, despite its ancient design and technology, or perhaps because of it – it’s easy to repair, and parts are technologically simple and thus cheap.

(Costs matter when you’re competing against three-wheelers – known as autorickshaws in India, baby-taxis in Bangladesh, or tuk-tuks in South East Asia. Cycle rickshaws are only for the poor, at least on the sub-continent. Elsewhere, for instance in Penang, Singapore and even Oxford, they’re for tourists, who by definition have plenty of disposable income to be relieved of.)

One characteristic about taxis that doesn’t vary around the world is the guy behind the wheel – taxi drivers the world over are notorious for being awkward or even dodgy characters.

  • There’s the situation where the driver decides it’s nearly the end of his shift and he can’t be bothered driving miles out of his way, knowing that he’ll be late back to the depot with no chance of picking up a fare on the way back. (Londoners will be familiar with this as “Not going South of the River” syndrome.)
  • There’s the attitude clash problem – they’re either surly when you’re feeling conversational, or more often you can’t get them to shut up when all you want to do is sit in the back and switch off.
  • There’s the objectionable politics problem. Most taxi drivers’ politics seem to be somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. (“I had that Nick Griffin in the back a couple of weeks ago, very clever man…”)
  • If you’ve got a garrulous driver, the chances are you’ve also got a safety problem – he’ll be far more interested in turning round and looking at you while he’s talking to you, than on keeping his eyes on the road.

It’s bad enough if you’ve got to put up with bad attitude, but much worse if you have to try to avoid being ripped off too.

Taxis to and from airports seem to be the worst. If you’re coming from the airport and you want to go to a specific hotel, they’ll tell you it’s closed, or very dirty, or full, and that they know a very good one. From which they’re getting commission, but they won’t tell you that.

Or if you’re going to the airport – and thus, the driver assumes, in a hurry – he’ll get so far up the road before telling you that if you want to use the expressway it’s an extra hundred rupees. (No matter that there’s no tolls on the expressway.) He’ll warn you that the normal roads are very prone to jams at this time of day.

By far the most common scam, though, is the “faulty” meter. Which usually means simply that the meter’s covered over with a cloth. This one may come in conjunction with another one at journey’s end: “No, I said fifteen dollars” for a journey that would have been six dollars on the meter and you’d agreed to pay ten dollars for. If that happens to you, we found that an effective remedy was to ostentatiously take the driver’s cab number and ask for a receipt – suddenly the original price was acceptable.

But not all drivers are like that by any means. We’ve probably all come across news stories from time to time about taxi drivers returning valuable items left behind by their passengers, often turning down rewards.

We’ve just got back from a visit to Singapore, where we were very impressed by the taxi drivers. There were no rip-offs at all, not even attempted ones. (One driver told us that drivers faced tough penalties for upheld complaints – a first offence led to a ban for two weeks, a second for three months and a third for ever). They were also friendly and well-informed. But they were still mostly very talkative. (Apparently they’re encouraged to do a bit of tourism promotion.)

Have you had a particularly pleasurable or painful experience in a taxi? We’d love to hear from you, so please post on our forum discussion.

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British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

Magazines can be a great source of useful tips and hints to help you get round problems in everyday life. However, sometimes the “tips” can be, er, a bit odd. The Web being what it is, it’s no surprise that someone’s taken it upon themselves to republish a few of them on a website. We challenge you to read this page without doing at least one facepalm…
Life! Death! Top tips!

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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