Taxi drivers in Singapore occupy a broad spectrum, from surly and uncommunicative to warm and friendly, via talkative and enraged at the government, and voluble, blithely unconcerned by road conditions, and of course unreasonably enraged that not every customer brings the exact amount for their fare rather than needing change. However, whenever I catch a taxi from behind the Ibis hotel on Bencoolen Street, they’re always doing a good impression of somebody who’s really pissed off at me.
Sometimes this seems to be because I’m interrupting a cigarette break. As far as I’m concerned, that’s tough on them. If you have the for hire light illuminated, you can’t act offended because somebody decided to hire you.
Maybe they’re all skulking round the back of the Ibis because they’ve found there’s hardly ever anyone looking for a taxi there. But then if your job is primarily driving people from place to place, you can avoid doing it as much as you like, but I really don’t think you can throw a grump when you get caught out and actually have to transport a paying customer.
But these don’t seem like reasons why they’d always be so cross when I ask to be driven to Keong Saik Road. Finally, today one of my friends explained a different reason to me.
Keong Saik Road is full of licensed knocking shops. Whereas in England, although prostitution is legal, a brothel isn’t, according to my friend it is in Singapore, as long as you have the right certificate from the government. Paperwork rules everything, and perhaps that area was identified as a centre of excellence for sex workers. Or, the other argument goes, the guys running the brothels would only go out and commit crimes if they didn’t have this steady income, so it is better just to license and regulate them. And everyone knows this.
(I didn’t know this. If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have stayed in so many of the hotels down that street when I was commuting to Singapore in 2011.)
I’m not sure if any of this is true, although there seems something comic about a bureaucracy focused on brothels, but then al industries require some sort of regulation. There then followed a long and possibly libellous story about an entrepreneur, a governmental institution and unspecified filth, which might seem plausible if you believe government is nothing more than an untrammelled stream of corruption. I can’t give total credence to that, because every day I hear someone complain about something or other, and then I look it up and find they’ve exaggerated the actual situation by at least an order of magnitude to make it sound important, so all that really shows is that lots of people have opinions that may not be quite in accordance with reality.
Which hardly makes Singapore unique.
However, if my friend believes it, it’s quite possible all the taxi drivers waiting behind the Ibis hotel believe it too, and so when a scrawny, scraggly bearded bit of Eurotrash flops into their car at 3pm and asks to go to Keong Saik Road, the only reason they can think of is that he’s in the mood for some mid afternoon commercial coitus.
Either disgusted at this depravity ("it’s not even dark and these satyromaniacs are at it") or envious that, while they’re stuck working, somebody else is partaking of all Keong Saik Road has to offer (if you exclude the coffee shops, the hairdresser, the Seven-Eleven and the smattering of good restaurants), they’re reduced to an enraged and belligerent silence, as they drive me to the wrong end of Keong Saik Road each Saturday afternoon.
(Yes, there is a wrong end: I know this to be true, if only because the right end, close to where I live, is served by a car park, a durian stall and the Old People’s Benevolent Association building, none of which resemble a facility for the commercial delivery of sexual services. The taxi drivers reject that end of the street out of hand and take me to the part with the karaoke joints with blacked out windows, then look at me like they’re worried I’m going to give the upholstery a social disease.)
I’m not sure what I should say to the drivers to put their minds at rest. Or maybe I should take the train home instead, and stop fuelling the stereotype that is flowering in their minds.