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Thursday, April 8, 2010

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Taxi driver Shahidul Islam Khan


Shahidul Islam Khan, 40, is a cab driver at Royal Limousine in Tokyo. Born in Bangladesh, Khan moved to Japan in 1994 and ran a successful import business until 2008 when the economic downturn forced him to close shop and start driving instead. In the notoriously difficult Japanese cab system, Khan is special: Alongside a few Chinese and Koreans, he is one of very few foreigners driving cabs in Japan. Khan has always loved driving and now that he has managed to turn his hobby into a living, he can't stop smiling. As he says himself, "All roads lead to a new ride and another adventure," and, of course, to Mecca, where he hopes to take his whole family very soon.

Shahidul Islam Khan
Shahidul Islam Khan JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

When you hear that the grass is greener on the other side, you should jump over quickly — before a drought destroys it. I have friends in London and Canada so I could have gone to either of those places, but one of my buddies told me that Japan was a fun country where people were very good and it was easy for foreigners to live. I came here immediately and a couple of my friends followed me!

No matter how well a business is going, it can go down any second. I used to sell ethnic clothing, but by 2000, Chinese-made similar-looking and much cheaper goods flooded the Japanese market. To make matters worse, at least for importers like me, the Indian and Bangladeshi economy steadily improved. So while prices increased there, they dropped in Japan. I had no way to survive.

Losing one's dream is a nightmare, but if you have a good family, you can go back to dreaming. When I was 38 and out of work, I felt lost. But my family was so supportive, telling me to take some time off to think. One day my daughter said: "Papa, you drive well. You can be a cabbie."

The best way to learn Japanese is through manga and anime. Both have good storylines and well-developed characters, very much like novels and serious movies.

Food is culture, so the same rules should not apply to every nation. Japanese have been eating maguro (tuna) for thousands of years. Now suddenly they are expected to live by international rules and stop consuming it? The next ban should be "Don't eat beef!"

When you're lucky enough to live in peace and prosperity, it's easy to forget how tough it is in other parts of the world. Japan's a great place to live where everyone has a chance to do anything. In many countries kids don't even have the opportunity to go to school, and when they do, they have to walk 5 to 10 kilometers to get there.

Driving a car is a high-level hospitality service in Japan. Our cars are luxurious, the roads are in perfect condition and we provide a very professional service. I'm proud to be a cab driver, so I smile and enjoy the ride. And back at our base, my mates are like family, so I'm always happy.

Knowledge that seems useless today might end up being your ticket to a great new profession tomorrow. There is only one requirement to pass the Japanese cab driver test: To know Tokyo very well. From 1994 to 2008, I used to drive goods to shops around town, and my hobby was to memorize the names of buildings and which corners had a convenience store. I had no idea that this would ever come in handy.

"An eye for an eye" is a very shortsighted idea. If we follow it, we will all be blind soon.

Taking care of one's relatives is a responsibility but it's also a pleasure. I have six sisters and one brother, and they have 14 children. I have two of my own, so there are 16 young people to look after in my family. So far, I have invited two boys to Japan, both of whom have graduated university here and are working in Japan as businessmen. I feel blessed to have been able to introduce them to the country.

Women are the greatest diplomats. I respect my parents, but I'm a man, so I decided to marry the person I love, even though I knew that my parents would oppose. First, I told my younger sister, then she told the other five sisters, then our mother and finally, our father. This process took about one year, but it worked! In my wife's case, we visited her family during the New Year's celebration. About 35 of her relatives were there, and they were all very nice to me, but it was hard to break the ice with my father-in-law. My wife's sister said: "Talk to each other, guys!" And so we did. Women understand that men need some pushing to get going.

If the Japanese government wants to increase inbound tourism, they must make visa requirements simpler. One of the richest Bangladeshis had to wait for one and a half months to get a Japanese visa. If getting here is that hard, most people will just go elsewhere.

Visualization can improve our performance, but it is prayer that really does the trick. If I imagine picking up someone, about 20 percent of the time it works like a charm and I get a ride. But when I pray for help, I get a long ride, thanks to Allah!

Your questions tell others where you're coming from. When I pick up foreigners at the airport and they ask me how come I drive a cab here, I know they've been living in Japan for a long time. But tourists aren't stunned, because in many countries, cabbies are often Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Out & About." Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/



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