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Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001


In South Asian taxis, chaos is the rule

It's summer vacation, when many of you will find yourselves clinging to the inside of taxis in South Asian countries as the drivers try to get you to someplace like your hotel as fast as possible, as if it will get up and move to another location any moment. The result is you get the life scared out of you without the hassle of a funeral.

It all starts when you're walking down the street and a man standing next to his taxi yells, "Where are you going?" Your answer could be "Africa" and the taxi driver would still say, "Would you like transport?" As if seeing the taxi sitting there isn't enough for you to change your mind about walking to Africa.

I can hear them at the annual Taxi Drivers Anonymous convention lamenting the passing of the visual-only days of yore. TDA President: "People these days just don't have the attention spans for mere visuals anymore. Nowadays, everything has to be audiovisual. So from now on, the buzz word will be "Transport!"

Thus, walking down any busy street in Southeast Asia is nothing but a chorus of taxi drivers standing next to their taxis yelling, "Transport!" Most often, you're just walking around, or maybe headed to the corner store. "Where are you going?" yet another driver asks. "Nowhere," you tell him. Never risking the chance of missing a sale, he says, "Would you like transport?" I wonder how much he would charge you to just sit in his car for an hour.

Other times, you will need to take a taxi. Despite what the taxi drivers believe, you will know when you need a taxi because there is an innate sense in human beings that tells us when someplace is too far to walk. The audiovisuals will kick in about 10 seconds after you have made your decision.

Once inside the taxi, and inside the world of moving chaos, you may be tempted to ask the driver if people really need a driver's license to drive in Southeast Asia. When he says yes, you think, "You mean all these drivers actually passed a driving test?"

Whether you decide to rent a car and drive yourself, or you're just a scared passenger, knowing a few rules of the road will help. I have put together some guidelines that I have deduced are included in the Southeast Asia Driver's Handbook.

The first thing you must know is the intricate horn patterns, a type of Morse Code for moving vehicles:

Honking the horn every 500 meters is nothing to be alarmed about. It is every driver's way of simply saying, "This is a road and I am in a car." Honking the horn once when passing a car in your lane means, "Move over so I can pass." Honking the horn twice means, "Move over so I can pass without hitting that oncoming car." Honking the horn three times means, "Move over so we can drive three abreast as you pass that motorcycle while I'm passing you."

Honking the horn relentlessly means, "Move over and slow down so I can pass."

In addition, honk under these conditions at the following intervals: every time you see a car attempting to turn onto the road or enter the traffic flow: about once every 1,000 meters; when passing pedestrians: every 100 meters; when passing animals such as cows and goats: every 50 meters; when passing chickens: every 10 meters.

As you have learned from driving in your own country, knowing the meaning of the painted lines on the road is an integral part of driving. Here is a guide to the meaning of the lines:

Solid yellow line: none; two solid yellow lines with broken white line in the middle: none; broken white line: none; white line on shoulder of road: none.

And here's a guide to the meaning of road signs: speed limit signs: none; dangerous curve signs: none; slow speed ahead signs: none; stop signs: none.

Lastly, keep these two points in mind to ensure you have a lively and exciting time on the road:

1) Any two-way road can momentarily become one-way as long as there are no oncoming cars just then.

2) Always stay two coconut lengths behind the car in front of you (three if it's raining).

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