February 04, 2004


As an unpaid member of the Hong Kong Tourism Commission (I told them the light and fireworks for the tourists of TST was a waste of time) I'm proud to present the one guide you really need to get around in Hong Kong: the Hong Kong Taxi Guide. This has been made necessary as part of my campaign to have Hong Kong taxis listed as a World Heritage item by the UN.

Hong Kong taxis come in three colours: red for the Island and Kowloon, green for the New Territories, and blue for Lantau Island. Theoretically taxis from each region cannot work in other areas. Why this should be so is a mystery lost in the annals of Hong Kong history. However usually it comes down to each area trying to restrict the number of drivers. Each taxi is individually owned which means the drivers tend to work 28 hours a day and consider their cab more like a home.

So to the rules:
1. Not all red taxis are the same. If they have a sign saying out of service on them, it actually means they are in service, but not going where you're going. If they're on the Island they are only interested in going back to Kowloon. Silly you thought they were all meant to service the Island and Kowloon; easy mistake for beginners to make.
2. Your taxi driver can have three conversations at once, and yet not one of them is with you. They have their radios, their mobile phones (complete with wires dangling for an earpiece) and many like talking to themselves.
3. Your taxi driver knows where they are going, but they know a completely different route to the way you know. Hong Kong being a complete rabbit warren with random street placements means all roads lead everywhere. There's no such thing as lost in Hong Kong. You just drive long enough and you get somewhere that gets you somewhere else. (NOTE: there is one exception to this rule. Never get into a lane that says Kowloon if you're on the Island, because you'll be in a tunnel before you can leave the lane. Unless you wanted to go to Kowloon, in which case no-one will let you into the lane you need to get into).
4. Taxi drivers are the masters of HK road etiquette. This simply means they are pushier, more aggressive and more unyielding than regular drivers. Unfortunately this includes busses.
5. Taxi drivers are masters of spacial perception. Their ability to weave a sedan into a space is unparalleled.
6. A taxi's radio will also be on the same station, which seems to mix Canto-pap with some DJs who clearly mixed too many amphetamines into their breakfast.
7. The taxi will have one climate: freezing cold. This is a relief in summer, but a worry in winter. Don't bother asking to adjust the temperature - it's not an option.
8. A taxi driver can only ever change a $100 note at best. This is despite the massive wad of cash they peel off notes from. Sure the guy next to you in the bank depositing thousands at a time is also the same guy who dropped you at the bank in the first place, but a $500 (or worse $1000) note is like doing a fart in the cab. It's just not done.
9. Taxis work only by distance travelled, rather than time (except for waiting time). This means a taxi has an incentive to get you to your destination as quickly as possible. Obeying road rules is optional.
10. If you've had a big night out, and there are two ways home, the cab will take the twistiest, windiest and most convoluted route possible. They will invoke the random braking provisions of their licence to induce nausea.
11. Taxis have automatic doors on the passenger side only. The driver's side is locked. This means the door, in theory, can be opened for you by the driver. It won't be. But it could. On the other hand, the door will tend to swing open before the cab actually stops at your destination.
12. Seat belts are highly recommended. Even if your driver isn't wearing one. In fact that's a better sign you do need one.
13. A taxi's boot is like Dr. Who's Tardis. While seemingly limited in size, a taxi driver can in fact fit a family of 6 into their boot. This is despite the boot also containing assorted car cleaning items, some assorted personal gear and lunch.
14. The taxi driver knows your destination. They just don't understand you and your cr@p Cantonese.
15. It is a taxi driver's right to add random charges at the end of your journey: tolls, return tolls, luggage charges, passenger charges. You cannot argue these - they're in the fine print somewhere.
16. A taxi driver looks nothing like the photo licence they have on the dashboard. Usually because it is someone different driving the cab.
17. Never question a driver's personal hygiene or driving ability.
18. Respect the wisdom of your driver. He's been studying the form guide for Wednesday's races far longer than you have.

There are plenty more rules but that's enough to go along with. Feel free to add more.

Posted by Simon at February 4, 2004 11:54 AM | TrackBack

19. A taxi's dashboard should always be decorated with a tasteful menagerie of springy flourescent toys, scentless air fresheners and religious idolatory. The drivers love being complemented on their dashboard arrangements.
20. Instant male bonding and even moments of comedic hysteria can be achieved with a taxi driver by tutting and pointing out that the appalling display of driving by the car in front is almost certainly being perpetrated by a 'lady driver'. On this subject, HK cabbies are in complete agreement with Gweilos. Women are better in the kitchen than they are on the road.

There is one driver who i have had the pleasure of being driven by twice. His english is faultless - at least he can sing in perfect english. In fact, his Louis Armstrong impression is alarmingly good. He is hugely entertaining and well worth an extra couple of spins round the block. He does have a card - but i lost it. if anyone comes across the Great Singing Louis Armstrong Driver please could they get his details. cheers.

Posted by: Aaron at February 4, 2004 12:31 PM

21. Not many people give them a tip these days but if you do, see the sudden change of facial expression which makes you wonder why they aren't in the movie business in the first place.

22. If you are impatient in a traffic jam, they will remind you that they are suffering more than you are. Add a bad facial expression here as if you are the sole reason for all their troubles.

23. Cancels (22) when you ride for a short distance and they have been waiting in a queue for one hour. In that case, they wish for a traffic jam even if your destination is two blocks away.

Good topic Simon. Keep the guide going, I am sure many can add lot more.


Posted by: Ron at February 4, 2004 03:52 PM

Simon, red taxis can go everywhere including the new territories, except in restricted areas of Lantau.

Green taxis can only travel in the new territories and upto the exchange points at Kowloon near Tsuen Wan and Shatin. They are allowed to go to the airport on Lantau.

Blue taxis are the most restricted ones.

These mysteries are left by the British. Though fares of green and blue taxis are cheaper due to above limitations.


Posted by: Ron at February 4, 2004 03:58 PM
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