Taxi Drivers

Last updated 2013-07-23 05:47:10 SGT

Ohrid to Sveti Naum, round-trip, 800 dinars

While hunting for taxis to bring us to Sveti Naum (monastery dedicated to this guy) we happen across an oldish man with a magnificent moustache that obscures the rest of his wizened face. He offers to bring us to Sveti Naum at one-third the meter rate. Upon our acquiescing, he brings us to a random taxi on an adjoining street (with someone already in the front passenger seat), passes the driver a wad of banknotes, and assumes command of the taxi. We accept despite the suspicious walkie-talkie chatter that ensues when we get in (because we're disingenuous that way).

“Singapore? Ah, city! Also country! City is country. Drive on left, no? Which country drive on left?”

Zhi Hui takes vindictive pleasure in rattling off a list of countries that drive on the left side of the road.

“Singapore, was colony, so also drive on left. But Japan, not colony. Why drive on left?”

This is a more penetrating question than we expected from a taxi driver, and forces us to readjust our cultural expectations accordingly.

“I do for little money.” He says this almost to himself on the way back, but Ming Yang, being Ming Yang, figure out that he's making a profit of about the cost of a decent lunch, after fuel expenses (diesel isn't much cheaper than Singapore in this part of the world).

Ohrid to Struga, one-way, 450 dinars

After returning the bicycle to the hostel, I run over to the bus station where, as it turns out, Ming Yang is negotiating with a taxi driver (apparently he approached them while they were waiting for me/the bus).

“Singapore! Very nice. My brother, he works in Australia, and every time he goes there and goes back, he goes through Singapore. Very clean! I go there some time.”

He makes a slight detour to pick up a woman and her daughter (to send them to school for no apparent cost), and along the way he talks about his not-very-secret double life in America: how he works as a taxi driver in Ohrid only sporadically, and his other job at Garfield, NJ, working with “solar systems”.

A few minutes of silence ensues.

“Solar systems, you know, they are few metres wide? I install them on houses, very good money.”

Along the way to Struga he gives us a miniature lecture on the peoples of the Balkans which essentially can be summarised thus: “People in the Balkans are very nice and friendly, especially when juxtaposed against the false and superficial niceties of the Occidental cultures including but not limited to those of America and Western Europe:

“We are very friendly! But you go America, you tell them you are Singaporean, they tell you, fuck off and they don't care! You tell them you are Macedonian, they tell you, fuck off and they don't care too!.”

Shkodra to Kotor, one-way, 51 euro

Our host Florian informs us that he has booked a taxi for us to bring us to Shkodra's town centre, whereat we will transfer to a bus to convey us to Ulcinj, whereat we will disbark and board a bus to bring us, finally to Kotor. What he didn't tell us was that he had also somehow found a second taxi to bring us to Ulcinj for the same price as the bus. For some reason, Zhi Hui lets slip that our ultimate destination is Kotor, and somehow the driver picks up on this.

Immediately he calls his son, who speaks English, and in broken English the son explains to me over an ancient handphone that he, the father, is interested in conveying us all the way to Kotor, at no additional cost over the bus rate. Confronted with this suddenly available option, we take longer to discuss our choices (probably because my Chinese was terrible) than the driver is comfortable with; he pulls over at the entrance to the highway and summons his son over.

After five minutes with no son in sight, we decline the offer; this causes an angry phone call (probably to the son) and a few minutes of speeding abruptly terminated by rapid fumbling for the seat belt just before a police checkpoint.

At the border, he repeats his price, but on paper; we eventually agree (cue suddenly less sullen countenance). His spirits are high enough now that he gives us a staccato guided tour of the Montenegrin countryside as we speed past intervening cities on the way to Kotor.

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