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taxi adventures

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve!

It still doesn’t exactly feel like Christmas right now, but it’s close enough–I’ve filled up the last two weeks with such a variety of Christmas-y activities, and it’s been wonderful. But more on those later. I’m a little bit sick and praying that my sore throat and achy muscles won’t turn into something more severe in the coming days.

Anyway, a few days/weeks ago (it’s always hard to tell), I was tasked with “finding Christmas” here in Amman. So armed with my stealthy point-and-shoot and occasionally just my phone, I tried to photograph every Christmas tree or light I saw. Unfortunately, my boldness didn’t extend quite as far as I would’ve liked, meaning I let a lot of awesome Christmas-y sights go un-photographed to avoid drawing attention to myself. Still, sometime next week, I will compile them all and explain what Christmas looked like for me this year in Amman.

For now, just this random post about taxi drivers: Taxis are a very necessary and important part of my life here, although they are my least favorite form of transportation (walking is my favorite, even though it can be quite hazardous; serveeces are my next favorite). Still, if I’m ever taking a cab alone, I have a routine: I get in and politely tell the driver my destination. I make sure he turns on the meter. Then I put/keep my sunglasses on if I have them, turn to face the window, and make it clear I’m not interested in conversation, answering any questions with the briefest of responses. One big downside is that I only get a side-view of my journey, and seeing as how I get easily disoriented, I still don’t have a good handle on a few repeat routes of mine. But generally, I’ve found most drivers to be pretty good about picking up my signals…and anyway, I’m not nearly as intriguing as a blonde American, for example. They’re pretty content to leave me alone.

Of course, it’s not just taxi drivers who–if you give them an inch–will have you uncomfortably squirming beneath their not-so-veiled questions about your marital status and personal life. Once, I was sitting in a serveece with two women in full niqabs and a little boy, and the driver still tried to engage me in uncomfortable conversation, even attempting to force his phone number on me in case I or any of my female foreign friends wanted to take a day trip somewhere and needed a ride. When I lied and told him I didn’t have a phone, he just took advantage of the bumper-to-bumper traffic to write it down on a piece of paper for me. Uh, points for perseverance?

But anyway! On Wednesday I had the privilege of having the most entertaining conversation with a cab driver ever (though I guess there’s not a lot of competition since I don’t generally converse with them). It went like this:

Him: Where are you from? China, Japan, Korea, Philippines?
Me: Korea…?*
Him: South or North?
Me: South.
Him: Oh. Well, too bad. North Korea is very good! An excellent country!
Me: What?! Why?
Him: Because their government is very strong, and America is afraid of it. That makes them a great country.
Me: Uh, all the people who live there are also afraid of the government too…
Him: Yes, but as long as America is scared of them, they are a great country. Because I am Palestinian, and America is with Israel, which means it is against me.

Hmm. First of all, this kind of thinking ties in a lot with the tendency towards conspiracy theory in this part of the world–yes, it’s simplistic and kind of insane to say North Korea is a “great” country simply because it makes America nervous, but it’s also, in a twisted way, pretty easy to understand how he came to this conclusion. Especially when you consider how personally people take international politics over here. See how it all came down to him being Palestinian? This is no comment about the theoretical effects of America’s policies in this region…it’s about his own life and personal history.

Me: “Well you know, I am really an American. My parents are from Korea, but I was born in America. So you just mean you hate the American government, right?”
“Oh, yes. I love American people! American people, they are wonderful. It’s just the government I hate.”

Granted, I kinda fed him that one, but it’s still a common enough sentiment, of course.

He then went on into a most entertaining analysis of the rise and fall of international powers, that went something like this: America’s star is falling anyway! In fifteen years, China will have taken over the world and America will be nothing. A powerful country grows and grows until it eventually dies, and a new one takes its place. Look at history: it started with Rome, then Islam, England, Germany, America…next up China. [No, that list doesn’t really make sense, which is why it’s so awesome.]

Speaking of Asia…next up was an enthusiastic monologue on Asian intelligence: The Japanese mind is great! It works hard, very good, very smart. The South Korean mind is good too. The Chinese mind is pretty good. But the American mind–there is no American mind, just like there are no American people. Just English-Americans or German-Americans or Korean-Americans. (I debated whether I should bring up the technicalities of our history with the indigenous peoples of North America, but decided he probably didn’t need more fuel for his fire). Anyway, back to minds. His evidence? Cars. He is, after all, a taxi driver. Hondas–great! Toyota–great! Mitsubishi–oh, wonderful! Hyundai, Kia, not as good as the Japanese ones, but still excellent, so Korea still comes out on top. American cars? Oh, no, no, no!

I had to give him that one.

As he pulled up to my slightly obscure destination in record time (I had already told him I spent forty-five minutes in a cab two weeks before trying to go there; traffic, plus my driver got lost about four times), he sent me off with a hearty “Here we are, your 3mmo [uncle] knows exactly where to go. God be with you, goodbye.” It was the most comfortable and entertained I’d been in a taxi yet, which was a kind of Christmas miracle of its own.

Also a Christmas miracle? The conversation (okay, monologue) was entirely in Arabic, and I pretty much understood it all and had no difficulty voicing my little interjections, either.

*I usually have this whole line about how I was born in America but my parents were born in Korea, but I only say it about half the time now because people often give me this “duh” look and say, “So yeah, you’re Korean.” Of course, you have to remember that this is a country with a majority “Palestinian” population, where people who were born here in Jordan will still tell you they’re Palestinian without missing a beat.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    December 25, 2010 8:18 am

    Merry Christmas! I’m looking forward to those Christmas photos!

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