There is a common cliché that claims taxi drivers of all corners of the world know everything. They are well-read, often updated on the local happenings and could talk politics for all night. But of all places, I never expected to discuss Malaysian politics with a taxi driver here in Kunming, Yunnan.
“Wait, there are 2 train stations?” I looked at the oh-so-reliable Google Maps on my feeble smartphone screen. I was stranded at a street near Xiao Xi Men intersection. My night train to Lijiang was about to depart in 45 minutes and I couldn’t find the bus to take me there.
The girl at the hostel told me that by getting to the bus station nearby, I could take bus no.2 to the train station. But as I waited there, the aforementioned bus bypassed my station with no intention to stop. Thus I thought that I would have better luck by walking towards the direction of the train station, I could find a bus station where the bus stops.
But I took a wrong turn. And I then I realised there were 2 stations and wasn’t sure if I was leading myself to the correct station. I could backtrack and figure it out again, but I would lose precious time. Trains aren’t cheap in China, I didn’t want to miss it.
Before I could make a decision and, a taxi stops in front of me. I hesitated for awhile, and then thought, “Ah, what the hell,”
“To the train station, I’m going to Lijiang”
RMB25 (USD$4 / RM12.50)
More than 10 times the cost of a bus ride.
For the peace of mind, I bit the bullet.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the taxi took off. It was silence in the car initially as I reflected on what took place. Now that I’m here, I thought I might as well as strike up a conversation.
“Do you know how long does it take to Lijiang?” I asked the driver.
“Well… It should reach at about 6am in the morning,”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Malaysia”
“Ahh… What’s the capital called? Kuala Lumpur is it?”
“Yes, I’m from KL!”
“What is the guy’s name? Mahathir (Malaysia’s 4th Prime Minister)is it? Is he still alive?”
“Ah yes, yes he’s still alive,”
“What about Badawi?”
“Yes, he’s still alive, but he has been quiet recently.”
“What about Anwar (Leader of the opposition party, once deputy of Mahathir)?”
“Yes, he’s currently the leader of the opposition party.”
I was taken back a bit by his questions. I didn’t expect anybody here to know much about our country, much less the names of our politicians.
“Ah yes, I remember the time when Anwar was brought up by Mahathir. And later because of a disagreement or something, he was brought down by the same man. He was accused of sodomy and homoswxual acts. I thought he’s still in jail?”
“Nope, he got out of jail already and is currently the leader of the opposition party. The government tried to accuse him the second time but failed to put him behind bars. In fact now, his daughter is one of the politicians in the opposition party,”
“I see. I remember when Anwar was convicted, he was young. About 40 over years old. Now he’s old”
I was curious about his knowledge on Malaysia politics and thus I quizzed him. He said that the Chinese media was providing ample coverage for Malaysia news. Apparently it’s because of the Chinese presence there. When it comes to countries that have a significant Chinese presence, they are usually on the news. As such, he was aware of politics in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.
We talked about Lee Kuan Yew and the independence of Singapore. He praised Lee Kuan Yew for his foresight in getting separated from Malaysia and a lot of the success of Singapore owes to the brilliance of the man. He also said in terms of economy and political advancement in Asia, Japan was the best, as are countries like Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. Even Taiwan was making strides these days.
He has good words for Malaysia, however I said that corruption is still a huge problem there. He agrees and went on to add that it is a problem generally in the region.
“Oh, and we are having an election this May,”
“China too has a change of leadership last year right?”
“Yes, but in China it’s different. In Malaysia, after many years of colonisation, you have a good democratic system. With China, it’s all planned behind closed doors and agreed for a long time. In fact, it’s difficult to get to the top in China. You have to first enter the party and work your way up slowly. The people don’t have the choice as it’s the way the Communist party operates,”
It amazes me how much a taxi driver knows. In one conversation, he defied my general perception of the Chinese people. First of all, they are aware of their autoritarian government and understand their advantages and pitfalls. However, they consent to not having the power to influence governmental decisions. Secondly, not everybody in China detests the Japanese.
The conversation then took on a lighter mood. I told him that it was my first time to Kunming and I quite liked it here. We talked about the drought as it is a serious problem and has gotten experts scratching their heads. It rained for the first time in a long time the day before but not enough, shifu says.
We then talked about how pleasant the city is.
“You know, because of the construction of the underground, there are lots of dust flying about. Kunming was even cleaner before that!”
“Eh? But I found Kunming to be quite free of polution!”
“No! Maybe by other Chinese state’s standards, but it used to be much cleaner!”
What he said is true. Kunming is unlike the stereotypical city. The streets are relatively clean, it is noise free and most of all, the traffic is mostly in order. Unlike the drivers in Vietnam, people here don’t seem to have a honk installed to their cars. Shifu also told me that the people in Kunming love to plant flowers, which maintained the beauty of the city.
Then he asked the totally unexpected,
“There’s this chef from Malaysia, what is his name again?”
There is only one guy. The true celebrity chef before the term celebrity chef was coined.
“You mean… could it be… Chef Wan?”
“Yes, yes, Chef Wan!”
I laughed out loud, “How do you even know Chef Wan? I’m wasn’t expecting that!”
“Why yes, he’s quite popular here in China. You will be surprised. Ask any average Chinese citizen and he won’t be able to name a single Malaysia politician. But I’m sure they will know who Chef Wan is!”
“Really? He has a following in China?”
“Yeah. I don’t know if he can cook well but he can cook both Malay and Chinese food. Some people like him because he’s friendly, cheerful and enthusiastic. He has some fans in China,”
“That’s something new for me!”
I wanted to ask him if there is any changes since the change of leadership in the country. I wanted to ask what he thought of the Senkaku/Diaoyu incident. I wanted to stay to knokw more.
But alas, RMB25 could only buy you so much time.
I asked him what his surname was, he said “Guo,”
As the taxi comes to stop in front of the train station, I thanked him, “Xie Xie Guo Shifu,”
“You are welcome. Good luck with your travels!”
I then rushed to the train station, just in time to catch my ride.
On March 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and travelled to various places for 5 months. I returned home in September and decided to blog all the memorable stories and photos. I believe it’s the best way to conserve these memories and also to share them with my friends. All posts are tagged to the category 2013 Travels, should you need to browse the entire series.
I was in Yunnan, China from April 10 to May 3. Most of the shots were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, with either the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens or the original Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. They were shot in RAW and processed, edited in Adobe Lightroom. Others shots were taken with my HTC Desire HD smartphone.